On Parenting Poorly In Public

I was reading an annoyingly bratty article titled, “Hello Stranger On the Street, Could You Please Tell Me How to Take Care of My Baby?” when it hit me that I have never once been offered parenting advice from a complete stranger. I’ve frequently heard, “Your baby is so cute,” “How old is she,” and “Oh, she’s so smiley!” but never once has anyone ever come up to me to tell me what I should or should not do with my child.

So, I got to thinking, “What if these women — who write irritating and defensive articles about their parenting — are, in fact, doing such a lousy job at rearing their children that complete strangers feel compelled to intervene in some fashion?”

I remember once walking past a child who was crying from a scraped and bloody knee, while his mother poured water over it and impatiently asked, “Does that feel better?” Yes, because we all know that the healing properties of water can instantly take away all pain. It took everything I had in me to stop myself from chewing out the mother and taking the kid to get some real medical attention, and if the injury had been any worse then I probably would have.

Another time, in another state, my Lover and I watched a woman pushing a stroller with a screaming toddler. Every time she stopped and stepped to the side or the front of the stroller to look at something, the toddler would reach out toward her to be held, but the mother seemed determined to ignore him. We watched this for a few minutes, until my Lover felt compelled to yell at the woman to hold her child, after which she was very quick to attend to the toddler’s needs.

I have seen parents scream at their children, ignore them, punish them unfairly, or just be downright incompetent, and I know that I’m not the only one who has seen events like this, because they all happened in crowded places. So, what are we supposed to do? Intervening may cause the parents to become angry and defensive (there seems to be a strong correlation between bad parenting and aggression), or they may go home and write bitchy articles to publicly shame anyone away from standing up for children.

Parents already have a lot of leniency; it’s taboo to intervene when a child displays emotional upset in public — which in and of itself makes sense; children can be volatile and unpredictable creatures — but there is a line between a child throwing a tantrum because they can’t have something they want, and a child who clearly needs some parental affection, or proper medical care, or simply some reassurance that they’re loved and cared for. It’s not hard to see why someone who treats their children like animate dolls might find themselves subject to unsolicited advice, and it’s impossible to make the argument that just because it’s “someone else’s kid”, that a decent human being hasn’t the responsibility to stand up for them.

3 thoughts on “On Parenting Poorly In Public

  1. When you do not know much, if anything, about the child and the family, you run the risk of jumping in and intervening and perhaps even making a difficult situation worse. You cannot always tell whether or not a child has special needs by looking at him or her and sometimes what may seem like ill attuned, uncaring, or incompetent parenting may be just how the parent needs to be with that particular child in that particular situation. For instance, I have parented a number of children with behavioral issues, many of which were are due all or in part to experiences of abuse and/or neglect. There are times when people have probably thought my child was just some run of the mill spoiled brat that I did not discipline sternly enough. There were also times when I have had to use selective ignoring to deal with behavioral issues that I am sure at times make me seem cold, insensitive, and uncaring to someone who is unfamiliar with our particular family situation and times when my parenting might have seemed overly accommodating and permissive.

    I am not saying to ignore what is happening. There are times, for the child’s safety and well-being, that you need to have the courage to say something, intervene, or report what you see to Child Protective Services if it seems like it may be warranted, even if it puts yourself in a potentially uncomfortable situation. Better to do this and be wrong than to risk a child being put in danger by not saying or doing anything. However, because we never know what a person or family may be dealing with, it is best to do so in a manner that conveys care and concern for for both parent and child and and with keeping an open mind and non-judmental attitude until you have all the pertinent facts about the situation.

  2. I never implied anything about children being “spoiled brats” or parents being “overly accommodating and permissive.” That was you wrongly inserting yourself into the article. What I actually wrote about is what people should do when parents are clearly failing their children, like when the child is injured and bleeding and Mom is failing to provide any medical attention or emotional support.

  3. All I was saying here is that it IS possible that what may seem like an obvious and clear parental failure to an outside observer may not actually not be the case. You are right, I am writing from my experience just as you are writing from yours. I did not say anything at all to suggest that you were implying the children were brats or that parents were overly accommodating and permissive. When you posed the question, “What are we supposed to do?” when one encounters “incompetent parents” I assumed you were inviting a discussion on the issue.

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