Is my neighbour the problem, or am I the problem?
May 14, 2010 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Issue with a neighbour that involves, among other things, his parenting. I can't tell if it is the problem that is the problem, or if it is my attitude that's the problem. I'm mildly obsessing about it, and there are some complicating factors, including the fact that his wife is my GP and this is a small town. I need some perspective.

I have neighbours down the street that have two small boys-- one is probably 1.5, the other 2.5. We live in a town of about 4,000, and we are fortunate to be in what's considered the "nice" part of town. I've always lived in big cities, and I'm really unclear about small town politics, but I'm getting progressively more upset about how this issue is making me feel, and I want to know if I should take action or get over it-- and if it's the latter, some advice as to how to just let it go.

The actual problems:
-- More than once I have seen the youngest at the bottom of their driveway, partly in the street, with the (stay-at-home) father up by the driveway or by the side of the house. Once the boy was wearing no diaper, and the father was just coming out of the backyard. I'm concerned for the safety of this young child-- sure, it's a nice neighbourhood, but there are asshole drivers everywhere and I'd feel incredibly guilty if I did nothing. Rest assured that if I see this happen again, I will call the police. The other issues are a bit more fuzzy, though.
-- They take walks twice daily down my cul-de-sac. The boys are on tricycles and often ride far down the street, out of control of the father. I worry about cars hitting them-- the electric company truck nearly did the other day-- but more annoying is that the father expects that the vehicles should be looking out for his kids and that he does nothing to control them.
-- He brings his two dogs on each of these walks and lets them wander across all of the neighbours' lawns. We just moved in before the deep freeze of winter and as this is a new house, the landscaping hasn't been done yet. I'm not concerned about the dogs in my un-landscaped lawn now, but when we're done with the work, we obviously don't want them walking over freshly seeded lawn. His sense of entitlement here is what pisses me off.
-- Two days ago I saw them at the hardware store. At first the boys were running around unsupervised, and when he was at the counter he put the older one up on it and let him create chaos with all of the tools and pens and other items. When I spoke with one of the employees about it, he said that the last time they'd been in the father had both boys up on the counter, behaving just as badly. Again, it's the entitlement here that gets to me.

The complicating factors:
-- His wife is my GP. The first time I saw her she was quite rude, but the second time she was warm and kind. At this point have no issue with her on a professional level and even quite like her.
-- When she takes the boys for a walk it's the same story. I saw this for the first time yesterday.
-- This is a small town. I can't avoid them and I'm unclear about how my actions, if any, would play out long-term.

Possible relevant details:
-- This remote town has trouble getting doctors and the ones they do get (whom they import for 2-3 year placements) are treated quite well. Could this be part of the sense of entitlement?
-- The family is from South Africa (he's white, she's of mixed race). Perhaps there are child-rearing cultural differences? Or perhaps this is a spurious detail?

Why it is a problem for me:
-- I am, by nature, an overly polite and non-confrontational person. [My boyfriend, on the other hand, is very much an alpha-male (who grew up in this town) and would have no problem solving this with very strong words (or more...) -- I'd like to avoid this to keep the peace].
-- As a result of my disdain for this man, and because of my anger about having no control over the situation, I have been behaving in a way that is for me, quite rude-- not making eye contact, giving curt waves in return for his friendly ones. This makes me feel like shit, and is totally out of character for me, but this is one of those rare situations where I am so livid that I can't fake niceness.
-- I work from home and see this family from my office and from my car when I'm out running errands daily. It is actually affecting my day-- I obsess about what a confrontation would look like and am mentally daring him to leave his child in the street again so I'll be forced to call the cops.
-- I don't think it is at all appropriate for me to be talking to someone about their parenting skills. At this point, I know that I could say something about keeping the dogs off the lawn once it's landscaped, but I would want to do this in a calm and reasonable matter and my anger about the other things makes me worry that I'd be rude about the matter. I also have this unhealthy idea that if I'm kind to him it would be somehow condoning the rest of his behaviour.
-- If I don't do anything, and something happens to one of the children, I fear that my guilt would be awful (and, worse, that something bad would have happened to a child because I didn't act). But again, I don't know how to do this in a proactive way that doesn't cross boundaries-- do I just have to wait until it would be appropriate to call the cops?

I know that none of this is big-picture important, or that it shouldn't be in my life. I just want to get rid of this obsession. Should I act, and if so, how? If I need to let it go, how can I do this? When I drive past them I say over and over in my head "I have no control over people, places, and things", but this just isn't cutting it anymore.
posted by mireille to Human Relations (37 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: poster's request -- cortex

If they do something that directly affects you (let their dogs destroy your lawn, mess with your stuff, etc.), you can say "please don't do that." Otherwise, the mantra I would repeat is "this is none of my business." Stop gossiping with other people about this family. There is nothing here to be solved, and you (and your boyfriend) should not get involved or do anything.

All of your theories about culture and entitlement and whatever are, I think, just making you more upset. There is probably no explanation for this other than that some people are different from you and will behave in ways that you think are bad. They may even be objectively rude, in the sense that they inconvenience others. So what? If you're really going this apoplectic other people letting their kids play with pens at the hardware store and ride their tricycles farther than you think is wise, I think you're going to be very unhappy in life. There are lots of parents out there who will raise their kids in ways that are different from the way you would prefer children be raised. They will do things that you believe to be unsafe or unhealthy or inconsiderate. You will have to learn to live with it, or you will go slowly insane.
posted by decathecting at 8:02 AM on May 14, 2010 [22 favorites]

it's your attitude. ask the GP for a referral to a therapist. you need to talk to someone about your control issues.
posted by elle.jeezy at 8:04 AM on May 14, 2010 [14 favorites]

I ask this in the kindest way possible: do you have a job or something else to do during the day? You seem to know a lot about their comings and goings and I'm wondering if you had something else to distract you then you wouldn't focus on them so much.

Living in a small town is rough, I know, but surely there's something else you can do besides peer out the window at them?
posted by sugarfish at 8:07 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, please do not phone the police. Letting kids roam within eyesight of their parents is absolutely normal. Kids will fall down, and they will fall off their tricycles, and it is not your business.

How to cope with letting it go? Say to yourself "I need to learn to be happy and carefree, like this excellent family".
posted by Meatbomb at 8:10 AM on May 14, 2010 [8 favorites]

You need to chill out, if you let people's lifestyle and child-rearing choices bother you you're gonna be crazy with anger all the time, big city or small town.
posted by ghharr at 8:11 AM on May 14, 2010

In the event that you do, in the future, need to speak to these people about their dogs crapping in your freshly planted yard, I assure you it will be easier to do so if you have a friendly relationship with them. I'd start practicing now.

I don't know what to tell you about the rest of it. It has yet to really become your business, and I hope as you do that it never really does.
posted by padraigin at 8:12 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I find it hard to believe that a 1.5 year old or even a 2.5 year old could ride a tricycle independently far down a street. Sounds like you're misinterpreting their ages and overreacting.

Also, you live on a cul-de-sac. It actually IS safe.

This really scared me: "It is actually affecting my day-- I obsess about what a confrontation would look like and am mentally daring him to leave his child in the street again so I'll be forced to call the cops." There's a reason you're obsessed with this family, but it's not the safety of the kids. You should seek help and try to understand your obsession.
posted by acidic at 8:15 AM on May 14, 2010 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the perspective so far, guys. Yeah, I'm pretty isolated here (I work from home) so that might be part of the issue. I have to say that I felt so much better for having just typed the whole thing out and getting it out of my head. Talking to someone about it might help even more-- I have an appt. with my psychiatrist this morning and I'll talk to the therapist there about setting up some time to talk.

I guess on some level I'm asking "permission" to just let it go. My main fear is that something bad will happen that I could have prevented, but as everyone is saying here that it is just none of my damn business-- well, thats' a relief, believe me, and it will help me move forward. I'm not saying that I'm seeking MeFi absolution but your responses thus far have been helpful.
posted by mireille at 8:17 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have been known to get worked up (in my head) over perceived "bad" parenting. It's easy to do, especially when you're not a parent. Not that child-free people can't recognize bad parenting when they see it, it's just that as a parent you tend to have more sympathy for the way others choose to raise their kids - mostly, that is. Sometimes I find myself judging like crazy and I know I've been judged by other parents.

I don't think you need therapy, I think you just need to let this go. Even if you were to say something to them, I seriously doubt they'd change their parenting style. If you personally witness one of the kids putting himself in danger while the dad stands by and does nothing, you can always call out in a friendly way, "Oh, be careful, Junior! There's a car coming!" or whatever. It does take a village to raise a child, as the saying goes, and hopefully if it's done in a friendly way the parents won't get their hackles up.

But yeah. I think it's mostly your problem at this point.
posted by cooker girl at 8:17 AM on May 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Huh. I'm not really seeing the problem. It would be a tragedy if this guy watched his kid get hit by a truck but what a life lesson! It's so not your problem. Running around naked for a little kid is a blast -- why do you care? My across-the-street neighbors let their little girl have quite a bit of freedom but they are always nearby and ready to swoop in if trouble pops up -- she sometimes runs around naked, too. It cracks me up! She's around 2 years old. I think if something directly affects you -- dogs crapping in your yard -- then you should speak up about it. If their dogs crap in someone else's yard -- why do you care?

It's up to the shop owner to police what happens on their counters, not you. It also sounds like you're thinking that your complaints will drive the doctor and her family out of town? I'm curious what type of complaints you're planning on doing. Calling the police? Child services? If this stuff really bothers you, go talk to them. Tell them that you're worried that their little kids are going to get hurt in the street. Maybe they'll keep them on a tighter rein when they know you're there obsessively watching from your window.

Anyway, you say it's an obsession that is unhealthy, I agree. One way to try to get over it is to be way more friendly to these folks. Wave enthusiastically. Go out and talk to them when they're out in the street. Be friendly. It's always good for kids to have neighbors they can go to if they need help or are in danger. Be that neighbor. And see if you can talk to another doctor about your concerns. It's bothering you so buck up and seek help.
posted by amanda at 8:18 AM on May 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry -- didn't see your reply before I posted. It's great that you're seeking help. And, yes, you can absolutely let this go. Think of all the crazy things you probably did when you were a kid that were probably objectively unsafe or stupid -- you made it to adulthood okay; they will, too.
posted by amanda at 8:20 AM on May 14, 2010

we obviously don't want them walking over freshly seeded lawn.

A simple string- perimeter with a sign saying "Freshly seeded lawn - PLEASE KEEP OFF" should help. Later on, a small sign that says "Please keep off the grass".
posted by hermitosis at 8:20 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend, on the other hand, is very much an alpha-male (who grew up in this town) and would have no problem solving this with very strong words (or more...)

What the fuck is this supposed to mean? It sounds like you two are serious trouble; the neighbors from hell, really. Mind your own business, and if minding your own business drives you crazy, get treatment for the crazy.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2010 [20 favorites]

When I drive past them I say over and over in my head "I have no control over people, places, and things", but this just isn't cutting it anymore.

This isn't really the issue, to my mind. It's not your lack of control over their lives that is driving you crazy, it's the fact that you think they should live how YOU think is appropriate, not how they do. That this family doesn't hit your standards is the start of your inappropriate obsessing and the desire to apply your standards is the problem.

The idea of calling the police of allowing a child to go to the end of the drive, within site of the parent on (from what I can gather) a cul-de-sac (ie not a thoroughfare with lots of traffic) is pretty bizarre. You'd certainly be the weird crazy neighbour if that situation unfolded. I can't see you retaining a friendly, or even cordial, relationship with that family again if you called the police for that 'issue'.

Can you move your home office so you can't see out the front? Move your desk? Can you take this 'problem' further from your focus, and then get the control issues dealt with (as suggested above) otherwise?
posted by Brockles at 8:23 AM on May 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't understand what you expect the police to do in the event that you call them and report a child is at the end of the driveway of the house he lives in. Do you think they'll.... come over? Or?

I do occasionally see people do things that surprise me or strike me as unsafe. But that's just part of life, and it's rare I give it a second thought. I think you are overreacting.
posted by kate blank at 8:23 AM on May 14, 2010

Best answer: As someone who grew up in a small town the same size as the one you describe, I implore you not to interfere with your neighbours. I realize you're seeing the immediate irritant of how the two little kids are being parented, but I assure you, if you act on this irritant, you will feel the aftereffects of it for as long as you continue to live in that town. Small towns thrive on the interconnectedness of their inhabitants, and we are talking about the family of the town GP, after all. Amanda has the best suggestion - amp up the "good neighbour" behaviour without being intrusive. This will stand you in the best stead in the long run.
posted by LN at 8:33 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Letting kids take risks is a conscious choice people make. Taking risks is how kids learn - the job of the parent is to make a judgement about what risks are appropriate at what age.

Every time I drive my car, I make a judgement that the risk is worth it. Of course, if I have a fatal accident I have "lost a bet" in a way, but that doesn't mean it was the wrong choice. It just means I was unlucky.

So, if the guy lets his kids climb a tree, and they fall out and end up in hospital, it doesn't mean it was wrong to let the kids climb the tree and it doesn't mean you were negligent because you couldn't persuade him to keep them on the ground. It just means that they were unlucky. Plus, when they get out of hospital, they will still have the tree climbing skills that they learned.

The time that you need to say something is when you know something about the risk that he doesn't. In which case, you can share this information with him in the style of a gossiping neighbour, and let him make his own mind up about the kids.

the father expects that the vehicles should be looking out for his kids

When driving down a cul-de-sac, the vehicles SHOULD be looking out for kids. I'd go and tell a truck driver off for zooming down my cul-de-sac when there could be kids playing, before I'd tell a parent to keep their kids from playing in the road.
posted by emilyw at 8:35 AM on May 14, 2010 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I live on a street with 12 kids, ranging in age from 1 to 7. Most though, including my own are 2 or 3. Old enough to be mobile, not smart enough to understand danger. It's a through street, so non-residents often drive down it. I, and my neighbors, expect them to do so slowly, and to keep an eye out for kids. Last night someone drove down, doing at least 35, while talking on a cell phone. She got yelled at to slow down by at least 3 different people, and one of our neighbors started to step out in front of the car, forcing her to slam on her brakes, at which point she got a gentle talking to about the dangers of speeding in a residential area. Be that neighbor. The one who thinks your street is for kids on their trikes and kids testing their boundaries, to see how far they can get away from their parents. Make cars slow down. Talk to your neighbors about traffic calming measures like speed bumps if there is a genuine issue. There's also nothing wrong with kindly asking your neighbor to keep his dogs off your lawn. Don't be confrontational about it, just say 'hey, we're getting the landscaping done, would you mind not letting your dogs run on it?' Get to know your neighbors and having conversations about things like this will be much easier. Respond to friendly waves with a bit of small talk and your neighbors will soon be stopping to make conversation with you. I find that having a fridge full of beer in my garage helps too.
posted by IanMorr at 8:39 AM on May 14, 2010 [16 favorites]

I agree with other posters that the real problem here is you. When you complain about the father's sense of entitlement, consider your own: it seems pretty strong.
I'm glad to see you're getting help and seem to want to let this go - please don't become one of those neighbors who is hostile to children for being childish, or to parents for not keeping their kids locked up indoors where they won't bother anyone. Have some sympathy and some patience, and remember that norms and boundaries in small towns can be very different than in cities.
Also: definitely don't call the police.
posted by phisbe at 8:40 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing you might do, if you haven't already, is talk to the parents next time you see them and just mention the delivery truck (or any other dangerous vehicle you've seen) and say something like, "It's pretty clear they're not watching out for pedestrians, and I know your boys love playing outside, so I wanted to be sure you knew about this nutcase driver." It's up to the parents to decide how they'll respond, but you can walk away with a clear conscience knowing you've done what you can. Because, really, that's all you can do. Also, if someone is driving dangerously in your neighborhood, call the police about the driver.

And obviously, when your lawn is not in a condition to be walked on, put up a sign and talk to your neighbors about it ("Hey guys, once our lawn is healthy and growing, it'll be dog-friendly again, but for now can you keep Rover off it while the sign is up?"). Or, if you don't want the dog on your lawn, period, just talk to them and be clear about it--don't wait for them to screw up, just be clear that "Now that our landscaping is done, can you keep your dog away from it? This grass was nightmare-expensive to put in, so we're treating it with kid gloves."

For the rest, you, um, kind of need to take a chill pill. If it matters to the store that this person not let his kids make a mess, the store manager will say something. I'm guessing they prefer to have his business and just let their minimum-wage-earning staff clean up after his kids. This is pretty much a major part of what minimum-wage-earning retail staff are paid to do: clean up after customers (or their kids) who rifle through merchandise and knock stuff over and make messes. It sounds like you don't like the dad, and it's ok not to like someone. But I think you just need to come to terms with not liking him and stop thinking that your dislike obligates you to keep tabs on him or check in with store employees or call the cops about his inappropriate (to your mind) behavior and parenting choices. Acting like an entitled jerk is not illegal, and most of us should be grateful for that as it is entirely too easy an identity to slip into...
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:44 AM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a toddler on a cul-de-sac in a small town and live near other toddlers. [Yes, 2.5 yr olds can boot it down the road on a trike] One can hear a car coming, one can step on it and fetch the toddler when a car is en route. Everything you are describing is par for the course on a quiet road in a small town (and the hardware store stuff is arguably also normal). And what on earth is the problem with the lack of diaper in a driveway?

Rest assured that if I see this happen again, I will call the police.

Nay, your shrink is the one you want to call. Really, parents can hear their children from another part of the yard. I am not wholly unsympathetic as everyone has their personal heebie-jeebie limit and occasionally my neighbours' limits are noticeably past mine, but unless the parents are drunks or some such, rest assured that they are indeed aware of where their child is and what the score is with cars &c. Nothing here merits your attention, much less that of the police.

You say My main fear is that something bad will happen that I could have prevented but then there's all the stuff about diapers and hardware stores and...yeah. If you want to exercise your right to crazy and "do something," call the electric company and complain to them that one of their drivers wasn't paying attention to the kids playing on your street.
posted by kmennie at 8:45 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, amanda, cookergirl, and LN-- that's good advice.

In my defense, here, guys-- I came in asking for perspective, because I knew I had none. I wanted this shit out of my head and it wasn't leaving on its own.

We are actually very good neighbours-- we're quiet, we don't drink or do drugs, don't have people over, and are very cordial with all of our other neighbours. We have caused no problems in the neighbourhood and are very happy and fortunate to be here.

I said from the start that the problem has been my head. My thoughts about potentially involving the police was regarding the safety of the child-- I imagined that they would come by and quietly express concern to the parents directly, not run them out of town. Upon everyone's advice, I will definitely not do this. I now understand that it's none of my business and, truly, from a parenting point of view a non-issue. But again, I said I had no perspective.

With regard to the hardware store-- my boyfriend's parents own it, and I am friendly with the staff.

I'm going to go with the improved neighbour behaviour (genuinely friendly waving, speaking politely about the lawn when it's time, etc.). I suspected that this would be the antidote to my negative feelings, but again I was worried about possible guilt. I appreciate everyone's advice that it isn't my concern-- I really needed to hear that.
posted by mireille at 8:47 AM on May 14, 2010

You know, I frequently see signs in neighborhoods reminding drivers that there are children who may be playing there (like the classic Slow Children At Play).

I think, if you do build a rapport with this family, it would not be out of bounds to suggest looking into having such a sign installed. The kids are only going to be outside more, and with less supervision, as they get older. And if there are other children in the neighborhood or other families are likely to settle there, it would be good to establish it as being a safe space for kids to roam.
posted by padraigin at 8:51 AM on May 14, 2010

If they do something that directly affects you (let their dogs destroy your lawn, mess with your stuff, etc.), you can say "please don't do that." Otherwise, the mantra I would repeat is "this is none of my business."

Yeah, no. Blanket non-intervention is not a good mantra. The Kitty Genovese story may be largely urban myth, but there are plenty of real life examples of what happens when neighbours don't give a shit about each other.

Try a strictly utilitarian, cost-benefit approach. Intervening comes at a cost; it's intrusive, embarrassing, it potentially embroils your neighbour in conflict with government authorities, it has ramifications for your own life. But if they're really letting their 2 year old play unsupervised on the street day after day, and you've seen them almost get run over a few times, the cost of intervening is outweighed by the benefit of avoiding a likely accident.
posted by dontjumplarry at 8:55 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you have kids? I'm assuming that you don't. I have one, a 3-year-old. Before I had kids I had all kinds of ideas about what was and was not appropriate. Now, though, I ask myself 2 questions. 1) Is my child on fire? 2) Has my child set anything on fire? If the answer to those two questions is "no," then we're golden! If I were a GP with 2 kids under 3; hell, I'D be setting stuff on fire.

Seriously, one of the very best things about having kids for me was that it made me drastically re-prioritize what I'm willing to get upset about. I used to be a lot like you, it sounds like: very alert, very concerned, possibly over-involved. But having a kid changed all that and made me a way more empathetic, flexible, and compassionate person.

I'm not saying you should have a kid to solve your problem. But it does give me an idea of what might:

The best advice I ever heard about what to do when you see parenting that concerns you was related to me by the head of the Social Work dept. at UGA. She said she saw a mom spanking her kid and yelling at him in the grocery store, something she thought was wrong. She went up to the mom and said "Can I help you? It looks like you've got your hands full." This compassionate response (instead of a condemning one) reminded the mom of her own humanity and shook her back to reality. She burst into tears and said "Oh, I'm just so sorry, I know this is wrong." If my friend had yelled at the mom or given her a mean look, the mom would've just gotten defensive and taken it out on the kid.

If you see the dad in Home Depot with the kids running wild again and REALLY feel like you have to intervene, maybe offer to help? Say, "Is there something I can do for you? It looks like you've got your hands full!" You come off looking nice because you are being nice, the dad is gently made aware of the fact that his kids are running wild, and maybe he actually gets some help from a friendly neighbor.
posted by staggering termagant at 9:23 AM on May 14, 2010 [24 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, everyone. Slightly embarrassing update, but I think I owe it, and maybe it'll help someone who sees this down the line.

Just back from the psychiatrist, who says that this is part of a manic episode. I'm bipolar and generally well-medicated, but the doc says that the upswing is likely influenced by a recent traumatic surgery and recovery. I usually know when a spike is coming but this one caught me by surprise.

I knew this all felt unreasonable but the obsession was pretty strong. I'm glad I had the self-awareness to know that it might have been all in my head. Meds have been increased, and I will lay low until I feel more "right". I will still take the route of extra-friendliness to ALL my neighbours.

Thanks to all those who provided kind advice. I am glad I reached out for help and that I didn't act inappropriately.
posted by mireille at 10:01 AM on May 14, 2010 [12 favorites]

Obsessing over stupid shit like this is one of the unfortunate side-effects of working from home that nobody ever talks about; sooner or later, you'll find yourself noticing every minor anti-social transgression or irritating behavior of your neighbors. I call it Gladys Kravitz Syndrome.

People who suffer from Gladys Kravitz Syndrome usually find relief in one of two ways:

Cultivating a beautiful backyard garden and resolving to stop staring out of the front room window.

Starting (or joining) the neighborhood homeowner's association, where they can put their control freak tendencies to better use.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:13 AM on May 14, 2010

Congratulations on recognizing your own mistakes! Maybe you could start training yourself in recognizing the coming of these episodes. Write these signs down, so next time you'll know quickly, and you'll know how to act.
posted by Tarumba at 10:13 AM on May 14, 2010

Thanks for the update and for taking some (imo) unnecessarily harsh advice/comments graciously.

Medical issues aside, I do think some of this is small town vs. big cities. I grew up in a small town and streets were for kids to play in. (Sure, there were fields too, but you can't skateboard in a field.) Now that I live in a city, cars and bikes are king. When I go back to a small town it takes me a little while to readjust.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2010

Good luck to you, and I hope the situation works itself out a bit better soon. The winter freeze will come again, so maybe the kids will be indoors more and they won't be so visible/audible. (I actually miss the days when my next-door neighbors' kids were little enough not to have their own computers and stereo systems, but that's my own grargrargrar moment.)

thesmophoron, that was a bit uncalled for and judgmental, especially when the OP said she was having a manic episode.
posted by vickyverky at 10:37 AM on May 14, 2010

I actually do believe it is a tad your business. I do not believe in the nuclear family is the complete and total unit for child rearing. Those children are part of your community. When I see a child walking unattended in front of my house, yes, I do go out and help him find his way back home. I also might make a gentle suggestion to the parent about, say different kinds of gates that will be harder for a toddler to open. But not in an accusing way, just helping them cope, making things easier for them.

But, I would not freak out, either. I would just ask, not in a judgmental way, but in a caring way. City life is different from country life. Having a friendly conversation with them would probably clear that up, and would let them know that their children are even safer, as they are watched out for by the community at large, and you would learn about the different ways in different places.

We are all in this together. Finding a nice balance of compassion without control is a wonderful place to come from.
posted by Vaike at 11:36 AM on May 14, 2010

In a small town, you're upset about a dog walking across your freshly seeded lawn? Dogs are 'sposed to run around. It's okay to politely ask people to pick up their dog's poops. Perfect lawns are not environmentally friendly, and the dog probably isn't causing harm.

I think you will be a happier person if you start looking for things that are right. This dad spends lots of time w/ the kids. Kids are free to be nude outdoors occasionally. Dad isn't over-obsessed with keeping kids within boundaries. Please Google Free Range Parenting, including the lively MeFi discussion, for more on this topic.

For depression, maybe some time outdoors, planting a garden, walking, etc., may help.

It's okay to say to the dad, "I get awfully worried about the speed of traffic on our street. What d you think I could do?" You'll find out the dad's thoughts and it may ease your mind, and maybe you'll take some action.
posted by theora55 at 11:46 AM on May 14, 2010

It is great that you are getting help and understand how irrational your thinking was. Just also adding that us South Africans are not crazy people and aren't out to get you. ;-)

Some practical suggestions that might help you: a fence? big plants or hedge? thick curtains? have music and/or TV to provide some background noise? greet them and offer them home-baked cookies when they go by? ask them about the world cup that is happening in a month in SA?
posted by meepmeow at 1:37 PM on May 14, 2010

Response by poster: I just wanted to come back in to say this:

I'm really surprised by the harsh tone many commenters took in this thread. I came in here asking for help on how to change my thinking, recognizing from the start that it could have been the real problem, and asking for ideas as to how to handle a delicate situation. I did a little venting and told you all what I was thinking and feeling-- but in real life, outside of my head, all that I had done was wave less nicely back at my neighbour. I may have been thinking like an asshole, but I was trying to find a way to not ever behave like one.

I was seeking help and advice, and some of you gave that, and I will certainly and gladly put it to use. However, I have to say that many people here and out in the world wouldn't divulge their nasty thoughts with others in the interest of making a situation better, and still others (many who ask questions here on the green) wouldn't follow through on seeking help, even when advised to do so. I'd like to think that I'm a good example of how AskMe can work, in spite of the negativity that resulted.

Again, I really do appreciate the proactive and practical solutions that were provided here. It makes me a bit sad that it went down like this, but I don't regret asking the question, because I got a lot of good ideas from the comments, and for that alone it was worthwhile.
posted by mireille at 2:35 PM on May 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mireille, yes, I am sorry people were so harsh. It confused me, too. I appreciated the question greatly, as I tend to be very community oriented yet often place myself on the conservative side of those boundaries (keep it in my head), even when I feel compelled to take action. And I really see how the guilt of inaction could weigh so heavily.

So, thank you for asking, and also seeing past the harshness. You did not deserve that.
posted by Vaike at 2:52 PM on May 14, 2010

I'm really surprised by the harsh tone many commenters took in this thread. I came in here asking for help on how to change my thinking, recognizing from the start that it could have been the real problem

As unpleasant for you as you suggest it was, I don't see the harm in hearing some honest and open comments about how your views stand on the sliding scale of 'other people's opinions of how life should be'. I'd be surprised if knowing how far your perception of the situation was from the majority view wasn't in any way helpful.

I mean, it's not nice to hear that you're way off in how you think, but surely knowing the size of that distance helps you gain some level of perspective?

I was seeking help and advice, and some of you gave that

Half of your question was 'is this a problem'. People answered that honestly, and the only nasty answer I saw was actually deleted. The other half was 'help me if it's me', and those seem to be the answers that you're happier with, but hindsight is the main reason these are more appropriate, it seems to me.
posted by Brockles at 2:54 PM on May 14, 2010

I think one of the big areas of miscommunication between parents and non-parents is that concept of 'supervision'. A friend was once angrily telling me how her sister-in-law wasn't watching her kids and letting them in the kitchen with her and grandma but how 'she came running quick smart when I threatened to smack her kids hahahahaha' - being able to come running is supervision (and one suspects that leaving them with so called loving grandparents is okay as well). Coming round the corner as your kid is hoofing it down the drive is supervision. Yes it only takes a split second for tragedy to strike but the reality is that you cannot have your entire focus be on the child for the entire time you're with them. Hell, baby anachronism was in my lap and nearly took a header off because I looked at my plate and had a fork in my hand. I can totally see being in the back yard and sitting down when suddenly there's a lonely nappy in the middle of the yard with a bare butt bolting around the corner. Part of learning to ride is going beyond arms reach as well. It can be hard to understand how far is too far away when you aren't in that exact situation with those exact kids.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:09 PM on May 14, 2010

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