About a week ago my son walked out to the car after swim practice. He said that someone inside wanted to talk to me. Specifically he said that a man asked “are you Andrew? Tell your dad I want to talk to him.”
Concerned, I went inside and the other dad found me. He told me that he wanted my son to stop teasing his kid. I asked my son if the accusation was true and he looked a little confused. I glared at him because it is not the first time he has gotten in trouble at swim practice or at school, but he has never been unkind to anyone. He may call out or be otherwise disruptive, but never hurtful.
I told the dad that I would follow up with my son and have a discussion about this behavior and we parted ways.
Within about 15 minutes, I was so mad at myself for how I handled the situation. Let me share all of the things I would have done differently today.
1) I would have asked the other boy to join us in the discussion. I was hearing things third hand and I think that if the 4 of us sat down together we may have found a version of the story closer to the truth while still acknowledging that something may have happened to cause the other boy to be upset.
2) I had the conversation in front of a couple of people which definitely caused additional embarrassment for my son. I should have moved the talk to a more private location.
3) The three of us stood in a triangle pattern which isolated my son. The other dad was over 6′ tall and much larger than both of us. I am sure my son was intimidated as he felt like it was him against two adults. Looking back I would have stood next to him with my hand on his shoulder so that he felt safe and supported even if he made a mistake.
4) Worst of all, I assumed my son was guilty. As I said before, he has never been mean or hurtful to anyone. Taking the word of a stranger over that of my own son upsets me still today. My son is far from perfect but after 13 years I know his patterns and personality. I should have supported him better as we learned the details of the teasing incident.
Parenting is not for the weak of heart, but if you make mistakes you can learn from them and build stronger bonds with your children.
PS – The other boy apologized to my son for his dad’s behavior the following day.