I’m tempted to write a dozen disclaimers about how I do not condone jumping to conclusions about other parents or assuming the worst about them. I won’t offer the disclaimers because (1) they’re boring, (2) you wouldn’t believe them anyway and (3) I’m more focused on the instances where it may be in a kid’s best interest for nonparents to be judgmental. Or discerning. Or suspicious. Or concerned. Or nosy.
I’m talking about those instances where you observe something in children that you know reasonably well– something that seems off. At first you can’t decide if you are just being Judge McJudgerson or if it is something that should be explained away with “well, some families do things differently than ours.”
For example, how do you know if a family simply has different hygiene standards or if the kids are being neglected?
This inquiry was sparked by my observations of some neighborhood kids that were part of a playgroup with my kids. To this day, I don’t know if my concerns about their situation (showing up borderline filthy and reeking of human body odor) was an offensive and arrogant insistence that other people bathe their children as often as I do, (which, in all honesty, probably isn’t nearly often enough) or if it was compassionate engagement. (For more on this, please check out my recent post on Mom.Me.)
I have no idea.
I suspect it’s not the last time I face this quandary. What do you do when a family’s decisions are so different from your own, but you’re not sure if a child’s safety and welfare are at stake? Maybe it’s all a matter of taste? But then again, what if it’s not?