Jun 11, 2013

How not to handle a confrontation in front of your kids

A couple of weeks ago I got into a confrontation with strangers in front of my kids.  And I didn't handle it well.

It was a sunny Sunday and we decided to go to Oakleigh, a suburb with a well-known Greek strip, to have coffee. It's always busy there and on sunny days it's even busier, so it can be difficult to find a car park.

We went to the car park we usually go to, and sure enough it was full. My husband, unlike me, is very patient when hunting for a park, and will circle and wait until a spot frees up.  (I, on the other hand, hate waiting and prefer to park further away and walk the extra hundred steps, but whatever).

This particular car park has cars parked down the middle with lanes either side. So you can back out of a spot or drive out straight ahead, and people can drive into a vacant spot from either side.

After a couple of turns circling, we saw a couple getting into their four-wheel-drive and my husband put on his indicator. The woman of the couple loaded a couple of things in the back, glanced at us briefly and then got in the passenger seat. After what seemed an age they finally drove forwards out of their spot and we drove in behind them.

As we drove in, we came face to face with another car waiting to enter from the other side, and two angry occupants.

So we had both been waiting for the same spot, unknown to each other, but because we'd been behind the vacating car which drove out forwards, we were able to drive in and get the spot.

The two women in the other car immediately complained. I felt bad but it had been an honest mistake; we'd both been waiting for the same spot and we had got in first.

"Oh my god!" said the first woman, "you stole our spot!"

"That was so rude," said the second woman, her passenger. "So rude!"

My husband was unperturbed and ignored them entirely. I defended us. "No, we were waiting for it too," I said.

"You knew we were here!"

"No we didn't," I said.

"You did, you saw us waiting here!"

"No we didn't," I said. "If we'd seen you we wouldn't have taken the spot!"

"We've been waiting here for ten minutes. We followed them in!"

Her friend said again, "That was so rude, what you just did."

"We didn't see you," I said. (And I knew ten minutes wasn't true, because their car hadn't been in the car park when we drove in less than ten minutes ago).

"Leave it," said my husband, who had already moved on.

"That is so rude," said the second woman, and she kept on saying it. "That is so rude, you're so rude!"

I'm not good in confrontations, and in this case I was simultaneously dismayed, embarrassed, defensive and angry. I was annoyed at her manner with the "you're so rude". I'm fully aware it sounds paranoid, but it felt like she was purposely adopting a superior, measured tone to convey "I'm the mature, fair one and you are 100% in the wrong." I hated her tone. I hated that she wasn't listening to me, and I hated that we were being made out to be bad guys when we weren't.

I snapped, "No we're not rude. You thought it was yours, we thought it was ours. No one was rude, it was a misunderstanding."

She suddenly changed tack, flicked her hand in the air, and said contemptuously, in Greek, "Calm yourself."

And that did it.  I had been calm, but now I was not.  I stepped out of the car and yelled "And you can f*** off!" 

The women shook their heads and that made me angrier, so I kept going: "Go on, f*** off! Get the f*** out of here, go! F***! Off!"

My husband gave me an exasperated look, the women sped off, and I turned to face two seven-year-olds staring at me with mouths like doughnuts.

Damage control.  "Okay," I said, "Mummy did the wrong thing there, and I should never have said that, but... she was really rude to me!"

I heard the plaintive tone in my voice and the ridiculousness of my defense, using the same words that had made me so mad coming from someone else. I might as well have said "She started it!"

And I thought of all the times we tell kids to be strong, rise above it, bounce back, handle their feelings, manage arguments... when we (okay I) can't always manage it ourselves.

I know full well what I should have done, and I did tell my kids just that later. Firstly, I guess, we could have let them have the car space. But we hadn't actually stolen it - we had been waiting for it too, and we were already in it when we realised what had happened. But once the confrontation was underway, I could have stated our case and then ignored them when they continued, instead of blowing my stack over nothing. Then I could have explained to my kids later why I had walked away and ignored them instead of prolonging a confrontation. 

But I didn't do that, did I?

Have you ever lost it in front of your kids? How did you handle it with them?


  1. I would like to say I would have just said, "I'm sorry you feel that way, have a pleasant day." but I probably would have gone to the dark side as well.

    Just tell the kids, "Sorry, l lost my temper and I should not have."

  2. God Jackie! Felt anxious just reading that! Totally understand why you got so angry, but it leaves such a bad taste doesn't it. I have lost it with someone in front of the kids - again driving - a woman who nearly caused an accident. At the lights I wound down my window and told her what I thought... The kids were so embarrassed, and when the anger faded I was really cross with myself. They still remember it!

    1. I know, that's the worst part, isn't it - how you feel afterwards. I was so embarassed and my
      kids still tease me about it. Really hope I never lose my cool over something so dumb again!
      At least in your case it was justified because the woman probably scared you nearly causing an accident !

  3. I've tried to find parking in Oakleigh on a weekend, I completely understand!

  4. Sometimes you just wish people would just move on - but they don't - so us sane ones tend to loose it. Think I would have gone off as well. Don't feel too bad. Just hope your children are not old enough to tell news at school!!
    I really enjoyed the clip.

    1. Well I did have to talk my kids out of writing about it in their 'what we did this weekend' school journals! At least I THINK I talked them out of it...
      It's a great clip isn't it?

  5. Aaaargh, I feel the frustration just reading that. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have screamed, but I certainly wouldn't have been letting them have the spot!

    1. It was SO frustrating. But I still don't quite know what came over me!

  6. Sorry but proper laughing at this! Can just picture you giving them the finger and shouting obscenities! (sorry!)

    1. Well to be fair I didn't give them the finger. But I should have!

  7. Sorry but proper laughing at this! Can just picture you giving them the finger and shouting obscenities! (sorry!)



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