The Washington Post

When parents need a referee

What happens when kids disagree? A parent can step in. What happens when their parents disagree? Well, that can be trickier.

As a group of Northwest Washington parents are finding out, parental infighting can lead to unpleasant consequences and hurt feelings that linger.

The trouble for this group started last week, when the staff at First Baptist Church Child Development Center in the Dupont Circle area opened their center after the Memorial Day break. They discovered a leak that had spread and created water damage throughout the day care area.

Everyone agrees on that much.

But the 50 or so parents who have enrolled their children, from infants to five-years-old, began to quickly disagree on what happened next. How extreme was the damage? Was the church administration responding appropriately? Was the clean-up effort sufficient? Could this lead to mold?

The parents e-mail chain lit up with debate. The usually cohesive group, which one longtime First Baptist mother called “family-like,” splintered.

One side said: Calm down. This is no big deal.

The other side said: This could be dangerous.

Side number 2 took action. One or more parents notified the authorities.

Before the week was out, inspectors from the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education arrived. For the record, Larry Carr, the Director of Compliance and Integrity at the OSSE acknowledged that his office received parent complaints but would not confirm that they triggered the site visit.

The inspectors determined that children should not be in the water- damaged area. But there was no other suitable space for them. The center, one of the few in an area with notoriously few child care options, closed indefinitely at the close of business that day.

Families were given exactly a weekend’s notice to find alternatives. Administrators declined to comment other than to confirm the closure.

“I was livid. I actually cried,” said Margaret McGowen, a Mount Pleasant mother who is squarely in camp number 1 of parents. She works full-time as a scientist and had depended on First Baptist to care for her 4-year-old son.

McGowan said the First Baptist e-mail chain filled quickly with attacks and counterattacks. The argument has now spilled onto a DC Urban Moms and Dads forum, where the posts are public, anonymous and nasty.

“You belong in the courtroom or better yet, Hollywood, and not in any collaborative group forum where people come together to solve problems.” wrote one poster to another.

“Your last comment is crazy! The reason why regulations are in place is for the safety of the children. It is our responsibility to keep children safe,” another poster responded.

McGowan predicted the episode will ultimately change the close-knit feel of the First Baptist community. Once it reopens, she predicts parents will act like “ships passing in the night.”

Regardless of the merits of either side in this particular case, the flare-up begs the question: To what extend can parents be “collaborative”?

We all have our own parenting methods, our own parenting concerns, usually that we work out in the confines of our home.

What happens when we have to negotiate those priorities with other parents? Is there a more workable approach? Unlike our kids, we rarely have a referee.



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