Childhood Family

It doesn’t always take a village

I appreciate when folks are concerned about other people’s kids. As a parent, I’d like to think I do my part in helping keeping an eye out to make sure other parents’ kids aren’t in danger, especially during that split second every parent has at some point where their incredibly elusive child darts from the reach of safety.

That said, I try really hard not to parent other people’s kids. What I find acceptable or unacceptable in my house is my business, and I certainly don’t feel the need to exert my parenting style on others, in particular strangers.

And most of it is pretty cut and dried, especially with younger kids. See a get darting into traffic? OK to step up and parent and stop the kid. Don’t like the way a kid is talking to his parents? Yeah, not really your business.

But in particular as kids get older, there are those gray areas. And I find myself being on the receiving end of those gray areas a good bit.

My family and I spend a lot of time outdoors. One of our favorite places is a popular marsh spot near our house where we love to go crabbing and fishing. At low tide, there is a vast amount of mud flats that are easily accessible. Generally, anywhere from 25-50 percent of my family is up for venturing out onto the flats.

But it’s usually just my son out there. He’s 13, and certainly knows his away around the outdoors. At this particular spot, we have gotten to know the flats well, too. We know where we can walk and when, and we know how the tides behave in this spot. In short, we know what we’re doing.

There is one particular sandbar that my son likes to go fishing and cast netting on. At dead low tide, he can wade out to the sandbar and set up shop. He also knows, when the tide is coming back in, when it’s time to wade back, lest you have to try and swim the 20 feet or so, dragging all of your gear. He usually does this by marking a spot on the sandbar with a clam or oyster. When the water hits there, time to walk back to the mainland when the water is still just knee-deep. He’s a smart kid.

Whenever he’s out there on the sandbar, I leave and go knock out some errands. He’s fine.

Ha! Some bad parenting humor for you. I’m always right there, mainly because I want to see what he catches, but also because, you know, parenting.

I’ve chuckled at the times I’ve overheard concerned passersby comment on my son. “I think that boy is stuck” or “Why is that kid out there by himself?” are two responses I have heard.

I’m never confrontational. My response in the first comment: “Nah, water’s only a few inches deep to get out there. See that clam on the sandbar? When it hits that mark, he’ll come back in.”

To the second remark, I did the sensible and mature thing, which was to throw a handful of bait at them, leading to a seagull attack that would have made Tippy Hedren proud.

Ha! More bad parenting humor. Rather, I said, “He’s mine,” followed by the explanation that I gave to the prior comment.

After a few minutes of chatting about the marsh and what we find out there, most folks decide that I am not, in fact, an awful parent, and that my son is just out in nature doing what little boys do.

One time, as my son was out on one of the flats, an elderly woman walked up next to me as I leaned on the railing, watching him throw his cast net. “Is he yours?” she asked. Uh-oh, I thought. Lecture time.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

She turned to me and smiled. “He’s living the life, isn’t he?” Yes, ma’am, he is.

I appreciate the concerns of the other parents, but I really appreciate the woman who surveyed the situation and realized that a teenage boy out communing with nature is, in fact, living the life.

That said, if he makes a break into traffic, any of you folks are welcome to grab him.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.


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