explorations of mindful fatherhood

Karma Police


kismet10cSometimes I have no fun at all, and sometimes it’s my own damn fault.

Random groups of children and parents set the stage for some of my most frustrating experiences. For instance, this April vacation, my son and I had some alone time and planned a day around robots. A local museum was hosting free guided tour of its robotics exhibit for kids and families. The issue was that it was free and first-come-first-served to only 25 participants, which was a set-up for all sorts of anxiety.

My son and I made a day out of it. After taking the train early and having breakfast, we charged through the rain and stood outside of the still-closed museum under an awning. Eventually making it inside, we had to wait until 30 minutes prior to the tour to receive a free ticket. We scoped out the reception desk, and at exactly 10:30, they started giving tickets away. Someone’s dad cut in front of a line that included me and women with strollers. I was mildly annoyed, but got my tickets and we waited.

When the tour started, they cordoned off the entire wing, so that only tour participants could take part. We felt very special. The tour started well, with the curator giving the kids stickies to put on the exhibits they found most interesting and most scary. I noted that the tour seemed small, with only about 20 people. Finally, about 10 minutes late, another family of five, a mom and her 2 pre-teen girls and 2 teenage boys showed up. Her kids started on the periphery of the group, while she found a bench all to herself, staring at her cell phone.  It took about 5 minutes for her girls to stray from the group and wander the deserted hall, and after about 10 minutes her boys followed suit, until the entire family was doing their own thing and mom was staring at her phone.

I kept glaring at them. I kept thinking about how disrespectful it was to the tour guide. I kept thinking about all the other families in the museum who had the opportunity of a private tour stripped from them by these people who weren’t taking advantage of it.

About 30 minutes into the tour, that family left the exhibit, never to return. I was left up on my moral high horse, alone with my frustrations.

The issue with being up there on my moral high horse was that I wasn’t down in the tour with my son. It was hard for me to put away my anger and instead focus on the fun that was happening right in front of me. This happens to me a lot, especially around children and their parents. Inevitably there’s somebody that’s out of control or at least troublesome: the kid who runs around, or disturbs the group, or makes fun of the exhibits, or barrels over other kids. But that’s not the unnerving part; after all, they’re just kids. In most cases, these kids are chaperoned by parents who aren’t doing anything. They sit back on their phones, or appear oblivious, or throw their hands up with a “whatcha gonna do” face. This is the thing that drives me bonkers.

“We live in a society, people!” my inner George Costanza screams. The only way to enjoy the fruits of society is by sharing them. When parents don’t teach their kids to share space, time, and resources, then kids become self-serving, domineering adults. And so standing in that tour group, my mind wanders to the future; to these kids growing up and populating a world where my son has to share the highway with them as they swerve through traffic, or stand in line while they cut in front for their morning coffee, or work in an office where they steal his ideas and pawn them off as their own. I think of a million different scenarios about how the world is (and will) become a worse place because kids aren’t taught about how to respect others.

It all sounds very good as a write it. In fact, there’s a part of me that wants to stop there. End of post. People suck.

But what I’m really trying to convey is the way I feel obligated to be the morality/karma police in these situations. Looking around the tour group, there were obviously children who were participating, and their parents appeared just as engaged. Even the curator seemed to be ignoring the wandering family and going about her business, touring the group. Why was I the one steaming? Why did I feel as though I had to hold the weight of other people’s decisions?

I think that is the hardest part for me. I don’t want to lose that part of me that discerns behaviors that I don’t want to cultivate in my son. I also don’t want to be so fixated on that discernment that it takes over my mind and disallows me from enjoying the moment in spite of others. I’m sure the other parents in the group noticed this wandering family. I’m sure some of them even made judgements about their behavior. But somehow, they were able to live and let live, or perhaps even forgive and forget. For me, it never feels easy.



Author: CJ Nigh

I am an East Coast writer with a Midwestern soul. Undead Dad is a blog about mindful fatherhood in the deadening age of hyper-technology and over-work. I also write science fiction for young adults.

6 thoughts on “Karma Police

  1. This happens to me as well. I feel some sort of moral outrage on behalf of all the parents working their butts off to raise decent human beings. Because we hear all the time how parents completely suck, yet I know myself and many of my parent friends are diligent, disciplined and working hard to give our children important lessons on civility and responsibility. I, too, have to remind myself to focus on the moment with my child instead of boiling behind judgmental glares.
    There is a practice that Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, talks about – learning to soften one’s heart and not get hooked on these sorts of things, but the scenario you describe would make it awfully difficult to remember!

  2. I just try to remember that if I let myself be consumed with frustration, I am no more present for my children than those on whom my irritation lands. If I can’t just drop it, I try to transform my irritation with the errant parent into loving-kindness (or at least pity) for their children who probably know no better… and suffer most greatly by having to be around their parent all the time…

    It is difficult to realize deeply that it is so very easy to be a bad parent and so very, very challenging to be a good one.

    Please be well!

  3. Oh dear, I know what you mean and often I feel the same as you in situations like this. My feelings can overwhelm everything else. But with three kids now, I often run late and it’s not because I haven’t got up early and tried. Really exasperatingly hard. And they fight amongst themselves over the most trivial things. They can be particularly hard to control in public. I also work from my phone (when my kids are present) and sometimes need to reply to pressing emails. Maybe I’m being devils advocate here. It does sound like her children were impacting on the experience of others. But her life sounds far from perfect which is kinda what you were expecting that day. If you think about the many variable factors that may have led to her disengagement that day you may find a softness for her ways.

  4. Everyone has their own way of parenting, but when in public, I think it’s really inconsiderate and rude to say the least when parents are not watching their children. I witness almost every day when I see random kids running around in stores and restaurants. Hello?! Where are your parents? Someone could just snatch you up!

  5. C.J. – are you still out there? I miss your posts. I hope all is well for you and your family….

    • Clay!!!! So good to hear from you. I’ve had a dismal few months, and haven’t sat down to any writing. I really miss it, but life keeps pulling me away. I hope to get back to it sometime soon. Thanks for checking in. How is everything with you in sunny New England????

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