What’s the Deal with Park Etiquette?

What’s the deal with park etiquette? I am familiar with gym etiquette, road cycling etiquette, wedding etiquette and driving etiquette. Though I am not saying I necessarily follow the driving etiquette. I’m a Rhode Island-ah, after all. But  parent/child social interaction is largely virgin territory for me. I’m not talking about the stuff you’re thinking of… A simple Google search of “park etiquette parents” turned up the obvious pointers, like supervise your child, don’t bring a sick kid to the part, and be respectful.

I’m wondering how friendly or unfriendly are you supposed to be with the other parents/caregivers.  Because yesterday, it was all awkward starfish at the neighborhood park.

It started out normal. We rolled up and upon sweet exile from her stroller, Sweet Pea was all about the gravel. The climbing structures, the swings, the miniature house? Not even on her radar. As far as Sweet Pea was concerned we were at an All You Can Eat Gravel Buffet. She was hitting the gravel hard and going back for seconds, thirds, and fourths, oblivious to my repeated imperative “Not in your mouth!”

And then she caught sight of the other kid and the gravel was nothing more than a distant memory. She ambled up the concrete stairs with laser sharp focus, her eyes on the little girl with the bear hat, yelling “Ha! Ha! Haey! Hi! Hi!” until she caught the girl’s attention. Their eyes locked. From a distance of eight feet with only the plastic walls of a miniature house between them, they were caught in each other’s gaze, Sweet Pea grinning her (mostly) toothless grin, while the little girl stood silently with a shy smile.

I smiled, first at the child, and then at the adult companion (presumably the mother). But she wouldn’t make eye contact. I said hi. She did not engage. Now, I’m not looking for a new best friend. Or even a park buddy. Or anything, really. Seriously, not even a babysitter or a tax accountant. I’m good with all that. But what do you do when your child is engaged in a staring contest to end all staring contests and she’s too little and too unsteady to be so close to concrete stairs for you to walk away and the parent of the other child won’t acknowledge your existence with even the vaguest hint of a nod?

Believe me, I get wanting to let your child roam free in a safe area while you catch up on email, Google Reader, Twitter, and/or Facebook. I mean, in the theoretical sense of course, I can understand why one might do this. Not that I have ever gone to the library for exactly this purpose. And not that I’m annoyed that I can’t do this anymore because Sweet Pea has discovered the joy of walking around all areas of the library with a piece of chalk that she either has in her mouth or dangerously close to the pages of the books. 

But this woman wasn’t letting her kid roam free. In fact, the kid fell sort of on her face (from a height of about 18 inches) at one point and appeared to be 100% fine and the mom made this huge deal out of it. Admittedly, for all I know the kid has issues that I don’t presume to understand and it would actually be a huge deal if she fell on her face, so I am not judging. I’m just saying, the mom was less zoning out and more swooping in.

So she wasn’t there to let her kid run free while she chillaxed and she wasn’t there to make friends. But even a half nod could have conveyed so much. In her eyes I might have understood I am so over this miniature house, I sit in here for like five hours a week. I’m tired, my house is a mess and I don’t have the energy for a full nod or even a hello, but I know you feel me, sister. I totally would have gotten that.

Instead, I was left to wonder how long we were going to act like the other didn’t exist (indefinitely, it turned out) and whether I was being way too sensitive (probably, yes), and if there is some unwritten code of Park Etiquette. And if there is, can you fill a mother in? Thanks.

6 thoughts on “What’s the Deal with Park Etiquette?

  1. tracey becker says:

    She just wasn’t looking for socialization for herself, I guess. It happens. Sometimes, I do my half-smile and then I remember that my “half-smile” looks like a grimace and that I may have inadvertently scared potential friends away.

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  2. April says:

    I am the overly friendly mom at the park, not because I want more friends but because I like to talk. And I like talking to other moms. My husband is an introvert and socially awkward so he doesn’t know how to talk to other people at the park. Maybe she was just socially awkward.

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  3. Pam says:

    Thanks… Good to have a different perspective. I seem to forget it’s not all about me and shy/ non-talkative people don’t necessarily hate me.

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  4. Stephanie Sprenger says:

    I totally get this! I immediately thought of that awkward rec center un-conversation I had with the mom who was not interested in talking to me. Maybe I have a more pronounced interest in connecting with other moms than your average lady… I too can relate to the desire to tune out on my phone while my kid plays, but we are not going to be there for several more years. You bring up some valid points about social etiquette, be it at a park or elsewhere! The worst for me is when people blatantly ignore my sweet toddler yelling, “Hi!” at them. I’m all, just wave back….or I’ll punch you!

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  5. School of Smock says:

    This is so true! I’m never sure what the other parents want: to be left alone or not. It’s also awkward when there are acquaintances that you know a little bit, but not well. In my city, the “rules” also vary widely from park to park. Some are really friendly, even if you don’t go there regularly. Others are just not. Great post!

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