I’m Sick of Strangers Judging the Way I Parent My Child

A few weeks ago I found myself in the throes of a mommy moment not unfamiliar to those of us with toddlers. I had just dropped my husband off at the airport with my 16-month-old in tow, and was facing a week alone with the tot and two pets. I work for myself from home but we can’t swing full-time childcare, so every day is just a little bit crazy to begin with. I had a few errands to run, and it was late-afternoon, typically our chillest time of the day. I figured we were safe to run a few quick errands while I already had her out of the house, as well as a bag stocked with toys and snacks for emergencies.

Man, was I ever wrong. The kid cooed and giggled like a champ in the seat of the shopping cart while I grabbed a few necessities for the week, but once we reached the checkout line, it was game over. It started because she wanted to walk, but when given the chance, was aggressively clearing all the low shelves of their contents. I tried to hold her and distract her with a silly song, but she decided that repeatedly slapping me across the face was a much better way to pass the time in my arms. Calmly, I placed her back in the seat of the cart and told her gently that she needed to sit there and relax, and that Mommy would pick her up again when she could stop hitting. Tears ensued, but it was nothing outside the norm of toddlerhood.

Not according to the woman in line in front of me, though. At first, she just stared. Then her fixed stare turned into a gaping mouth, followed by an actual tsk-tsk and the shaking of her head. I looked back finally with a gesture of, “What?,” at which point she chastised me, “Pick her up!” After I told her what she could do with her unwanted opinion, she went on to talk about me to the checkout clerk loudly all throughout her transaction. “What kind of a mother…?”

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What kind of a mother, what? What kind of a mother gently places her unruly toddler on a calm “time-out” in the seat of a shopping cart to keep the child from repeatedly hitting her in the face? What kind of a mother sets boundaries in an attempt to teach a growing mind right from wrong? This woman didn’t know anything about me, or my daughter for that matter, and her blatant criticism was completely unwarranted. And needlessly added to my existing stress.

But it happens all the time. How many moms have been stopped on the street and informed that their child should be wearing a hat, or socks, or that they’re not properly positioned in the carrier? I couldn’t even begin to count the times I’ve been told by complete strangers that I shouldn’t have my baby out at “this” hour, that she looked cold, and that her hair bow was going to “hurt her head” (insert massive eye-roll here). Typically I just tell them “She’s fine,” and keep moving, but there have been times (like in that checkout line) when I lost my cool and told them to mind their own business.

Here’s the thing: Being a new parent, or any kind of parent, is tough stuff. There’s so much to navigate and kids change all the time. We read all this stuff on the blogs and in the books; all our friends do things differently from each other; our own parents insist that “the old-fashioned way” is best. But as moms we need to figure out what works for our kids. Sure, I might have my daughter out at a restaurant on a Friday night because she took a four-hour nap that day and we’re celebrating a special occasion. Not only does this not mean that she’s always out at 9 at night in restaurants, but it shouldn’t warrant a comment from anyone — least of all someone we don’t know — about age-appropriate bedtimes. 

Look, if something abhorrent is going on, and a child is being harmed by their caretaker in public, that is a totally different matter. But differences of opinion related to nap schedules, toddler discipline, clothing choices, and so on are simply not the business of anyone outside the parents. What you’re doing when you criticize someone’s parenting is not helpful it all. Telling me to pick up my screaming toddler when I have a plan to leave her in the cart for a full minute in an attempt at teaching boundaries, is not going to make me pick her up. Instead it’s going to make the moment even more stressful for me than it already was. 

When you put down a stranger’s parenting, you’re likely putting your own misplaced anxiety or guilt onto them, and in the moment you’re making them feel defensive and angry, especially when it’s a sore spot. Trust me, I wish more than anyone else in the store that my little girl didn’t feel compelled to smack me across the face. But she’s one-and-a-half years old and we’re working on it. I’m already sweating and fighting back tears. Can you please just let me get through the next 10 minutes with as little extra drama as I can? Judging me (aloud!) for how I handle it doesn’t solve our problem or end the tantrum — it only makes me feel even worse about a constant daily battle I am trying to fight as a new mom. 

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