As a favor to our good friends, we offered to babysit their two kids while they went to Berlin to see Imagine Dragons in concert. We went to the park today and experienced one or two joys of the Polish kid culture.
The first case in point: Polish babcie (grandmas) seem to have a social mandate to dispense free advice. On our way to the park, the said advice referred to one of the boys’ shorts – a sure recipe for a cold if not covered with a blanket – this is, mind you, on a 22C/70F day. At the playground, I became the target of what is perhaps the babcias‘ favorite method of offering advice: addressing someone other than the intended target. As one of the boys began climbing a rope course, the babcia said to her (presumably) grandson: “See that boy over there? He is way too small to be climbing here. See, his mommy is watching him, but she’s holding another baby, so if he starts to fall, she will have no way to catch him.” Ehm… I’m right here! Well of course – that’s the point.
The positive side of the constant advice column is that it stems from a communal sense of responsibility for children that you no longer see in the US. There, it’s assumed that a child is their parents’ sole responsibility, and commenting on someone else’s parenting, telling their child how to behave, or even intervening in apparent danger is in bad taste. Not so in Poland – when a child is present, it’s assumed that whoever is closest will keep an eye on him or her, and intervene if anything bad is going on. There is not the fear of getting sued, or the assumption that if you are an adult stranger around other people’s kids, you’re most likely a child molester. Parents in the playground trust other adults to watch over their kids and even to tell them to stop if they’re misbehaving. As long as there is one person watching, it’s assumed that the kids are OK. So when one of the boys tried escaping the playground yesterday, one of the dads immediately noticed and offered to watch the other one as I ran after the fugitive. As Western individualism takes deeper root, I’m sure we’ll see less of this attitude towards children, but for now, with two toddlers in tow, it’s turning out to be quite handy – all disapproving babcia stares notwithstanding.