It's so easy to get caught up in the details of parenting when your babies are infants, but the truth is, parenting gets much more layered as they start to grow. Suddenly you're teaching abstract concepts of kindness, fairness, and how to manage emotions and behavior. Add in their interactions with friends and their friends' parents and it gets even more difficult. You try to teach your kids about stranger safety, but the truth is, you may not always know what to do either. So what should you do when you get a bad feeling about another parent? What's the right way to react?
It's no secret that you won't always like the kids your children choose as friends for a multitude of reasons, but where is the line when it comes to adults your little ones are around? Is that gut reaction you have for the parent of your child's peer something to consider, or is it your own judgmental perspective (we all have one) that's getting in the way?
According to Ann DeWitt, licensed marriage and family therapist, the first step is to try to specify exactly what this bad feeling is and why you might have it. "If you don’t trust another parent to keep your confidence," DeWitt says to Romper, "then I would advise parents to not be open with that parent."
But, if it's something more than that, then you have to go with your gut. "If you don’t trust them to deal appropriately with your child, then I wouldn’t leave them alone with your child, or let your child go over to that parent's house for a playdate," DeWitt says.
And don't worry about pressure to hang out, DeWitt mentions. You can remain friendly and polite, and still keep your distance from other parents at your child's school. Most won't even notice as many parents in general are just too busy to engage with others more deeply.
Dr. Carly Snyder, MD, psychiatrist and Women's Mental Health Specialist, encourages parents to really dig into why you're feeling the way you're feeling. "Are you sure you are reading them correctly? Are you fairly judging them for a witnessed action, choice or behavior, or are you extrapolating from a single, otherwise benign event and making it bigger than it really is? Or alternatively, perhaps you are correctly picking up on subtle red flags that warrant concern," Snyder says to Romper.
When you listen to your "gut feelings" on a regular basis, you know most often when you are right, adds Eileen Lichenstein, MS. Ed. Lichenstein warns against discussing your concerns with other parents (besides your partner), as gossip gets around, and the most important thing is for your child to be safe. "If you can," she tells Romper, "discuss the peer with your child without revealing your concerns. They might reveal something to you that confirms or denies your feelings." Also, it's a good idea to make an appointment with the school counselor or head teacher if the concern is serious.
Unfortunately, sometimes the concern you have can be serious and might endanger the well-being of your child, or theirs. Dr. James Millhouse, PhD, Licensed Psychologist, tells Romper, "Too many parents do not follow their feelings, and leave their children vulnerable to adult predators. Feelings are sometimes difficult to identify, but good effort needs to be applied for the sake of your child." Parents sometimes think they're just being paranoid, Millhouse continues, and that is a reasonable thing to consider. "If you think there is a predator under every bush," Millhouse notes, "then, it may just be you."
But, if you have an actual concern, it needs to be explored sufficiently. Parenting is no easy gig, and you won't make all the right decisions all the time. The best you can do sometimes is just to try and do right by your kids and hope that's enough. So, trust your gut on all things, whether it's avoiding someone or eating another doughnut.
Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:
Check out the entire Romper's Doula Diaries series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.