Parentus weekendus: natural history of the “weekend parent”

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Pity the toddler who grabs those ropes now!

I contemplated a lonely, half-eaten piece of pizza that was perching like a prairie dog on the back edge of one of the few playground tables this Saturday. The garbage in itself was no surprise, since such offal trails after young children wherever they go. But the leftovers still felt incongruously abandoned. We playground adults usually take responsibility for our own kids’ jetsam: it’s part of our jobs. So the playground is usually — well, if not spotless, then at least fairly tidy.

On this visit, however, nearly every table and bench and several walls hosted a plate or two of semi-eaten food, an abandoned drink, or crumpled gift wrap. Why the sudden lurch toward litterbuggery?

And then it hit me: it was Saturday: Not my usual day. I don’t go to the playground much of a weekend; we had made an exception for the sakes of Boobaby’s godbrothers, visiting us on their way back from China and in desperate need of an day unfettered by any more sights to see.

From my little experience of our playground’s weekend culture, I’ve gleaned that birthdays are the norm, and indeed, there were two parties thundering around the backstretch when we arrived and another just stirring at the gate. It’s a big, accommodating space, though, so I knew we’d have no trouble enjoying ourselves.

But the trash was surprising. Certainly it’s hard to keep the refuse of four and twenty kidlings confined, yet adults who bring groups on weekdays somehow manage, mostly by confining their charges to one table while they eat rather than letting them spill out all over. These weekend parents were — I admit it — just more mellow than I am. Yes, perhaps, given the preponderance of party detritus, they were a tad too lenient, but nonetheless, they seemed pleasantly relaxed, and so did their kids.

No, the weekend parents weren’t being malicious by any stretch: they simply have a different culture around parenting.

We have a big merry-go-round at the playground; on weekdays, a parent almost always positions herself nearby to make sure that the 8-year olds don’t spin the thing into orbit while a 2-year old is reaching for the bars. On weekends, the parents seem to pretty much let the kids work it out, and though that forces the parent of that 2-year old to be a little more vigilant, the older kids probably come out feels a little more independent.

One side of the coin is “helicopter parent,” the other is “permissive.”

So it’s a wash, really: weekend and weekday parents work differently, but neither approach is better on its face. What really dispirited me about Saturday was the depth of the schism between the two cultures. On a weekday, we chat all the time, and informally share-parent in an effortless, non-intrusive way. It can be your first time at the park or your hundredth: you’re going to find some kids and adults to play with. Weekends, though, most folks come with groups that stay insular, like those birthday parties. I didn’t get a single conversation started — and for me, that’s just weird.

After a lot of playground anthropology, I finally came up with this key to tell the two types of parents apart:

Weekday parents befriend their kids’ friends’ parents.
Weekend parents’ kids befriend their parents’ friends’ kids.

Clear as coffee?