"What's the right way to handle playground "rules" set by other people? Sometimes when we're at the playground some other parent will say to
their kid "no swinging on your stomach" or "no going down the slide
backwards" or "no shouting" or "no jumping in puddles" or some other
perplexing rule that I never thought of, and then their kids (no
dummies) say "But he's doing it!"–meaning mine.
I totally, totally get how this makes their life difficult but 1) I
don't get the rule itself, I never thought of it, and I don't see why
it matters and 2) I don't really want to mess with my kid's head by
saying, Oh OK, this random adult made a new rule, let's follow it.
(I'm not letting him throw dirt or woodchips, I'm not letting him mow
down other kids, I'm not letting him hog all the pails & spades or
anything that would CLEARLY be rude/dangerous, at least to me. )
What's the social contract say on this? I missed that chapter. Can we
have separate playgrounds for the intense parents and us lazy parents?"
You know, I think one of the big challenges of parenting is establishing your own policies and sticking to them in the midst of social pressure from other parents (and society at large). Parents of older kids can probably confirm that this gets more and more difficult as the kids get older. Violent video games, violent movies, Bratz, hoochie clothes for tweener girls–it seems like there are a lot of things that we're going to have to work hard to maintain a stance against.
So think of this time of dealing with other people's rules on the playground as little baby steps of preparation for telling your child that, no, she can't go to Cancun alone with her friends for spring break because they're only 14.
The parents I know have always operated under the assumption that you can make whatever rules you want for your own kids, but you can't make rules for other people's kids (assuming the other kids aren't hurting yours), and that enforcing your rules is your own business. Add you can't resent other people for having their own rules.
So that means that you have a perfect right to bring grapes as a snack for your kids, but you can't get angry at another mom for bringing Oreos. You can let your kid run around with shoes off at the playground, and even if I think it's stupid of you, I can't resent you for doing it, even if it causes me extra trouble to keep my kids in their shoes*. I can casually mention the recent cases of kids who've had their feet burned by the asphalt on the playground, but only to help you out, not to tell you you have to parent the way I do.
And, the other responsibility is being able to explain to your kids that "they do things their way and we do things our way" without saying or implying the words "irresponsible," "lazy," "helicopter," "controlling," or "dumbass."
So, basically, you make the policies for your kids, and other people make the ones for theirs, and you don't have to go by theirs and they don't have to go by yours. The stuff you're dealing with now at the playground is small potatoes compared to the stuff that'll come up later, so use this time as practice for helping your kids separate your family from what "everyone else" is doing and making that process explicit. That way later on they'll be less tempted to jump off the bridge when their friends are.
* A tip for that is to get water shoes and call them the "special playground shoes" and hype them as a cool thing they get to wear instead of that they have to wear. This won't work forever, but it will buy you a summer or three.