Like a scene out of the controversial telemovie The Slap, police were called to a parental dispute over a swing in a park in Sydney this week.

The blame for the altercation was over the length of time one little person was using the swing for.

Yes, you read right. Apparently there is a limit to the time a child can kick their legs in the air and yell ‘push me higher, mum!’

The story was shared on Facebook and it went something like this:

I was just at the park and the police arrived. Seemingly a mother was pushing her little girl on a swing when a father approached and said he was also waiting for the swing. The mother replied that they would be another 5 minutes or so. The father proceeded to stop the swing in motion and tried to lift the daughter out! The mother was very upset and called the police. Another parent in the park thought this was a little overboard. What would you do?!? Would you call the police?

The mother of the little girl has since explained that she felt threatened and, as a regular to the park, she wanted her space to feel safe.

On the one hand, I completely understand, but I don’t think I would waste precious police time dealing with it. I’d just headbutt the stranger who tried to touch my daughter and then go home. On the other hand, however, five more minutes on a swing is like 10 hours to a little person and I can feel the dad’s frustration.

The incident has opened a can of parenting worms.

When is it OK to touch another child?

And if you are over five, is it OK to fight over a swing?!

I think it’s a given that unless a child is in danger or distress, you don’t touch another person’s child.

And no, it’s not cool to fight over a swing. With the secret law of most small parks being that there is pretty much only ever two swings — a bucket one for the little ones and a normal one for older kids or mum (yes, mums like a good swing sometimes too) — swing waiting lines are a regular occurrence in my world. But when I take my daughter to the park I find it’s a perfect time to teach her patience and sharing. The patience to wait her turn, and the courtesy to share and not take too long.

Maybe this time it’s the parents that needed to learn the lessons.

But the real can of worms was opened by Dr Justin Coulson from happyfamilies.com.au today. A professional swing pusher of six daughters, he believes if it were an argument between two mums it would have been an entirely different situation.

“I’m not the mum who went through it and we don’t know her history, but if she felt this man was being overly aggressive and dominant and she just felt she was unsafe, I think she was well within her rights to do it. I know it does sound a little over the top, but we don’t really know the situation. I can say this though, I don’t think that man would have been so willing to take the child off the swing if their dad had been there instead of mum. I think that says a lot about how we respond to people based on their gender.

“As a dad and as a man, when I’m at the park I am very conscious of my interactions with other people’s children. If we are doing something publicly and clearly being helpful we can probably get away with it, but in most cases we may still offend somebody and I guess it’s one of those contextual things.  I’ll often be at a park and I’ll see a child who’s distressed and crying. The mum’s hands are full, she’s effectively helpless, and I want to help, but I hesitate. There are two reasons for this; a fear of judgment, and it’s also a self-protection mechanism. It’s all about not wanting to be accused of anything, and if I stay away entirely, there’s no risk that that accusation would happen.”

Now I don’t know what the sadder part of this story is — parents fighting like children over swing time, or the discovery that decent men like Dr Coulson fear park play because of their gender.

But it begs the question, do you think Dr Coulson is right? Would two mums have reacted in the same way? Was it a gender thing?

Or just a wicked mood swing?