To The Strangers Who Criticize My Parenting
It doesn’t happen often. Thankfully, in fact, it is quite rare.
Nonetheless, every now and then, I’ll be out with my toddlers bouncing, distracting, warning, counting to three, and trying to appear sane; my number one goal is getting from point A to point B with the least amount of failing, zig-zagging, and whining as possible when a stranger pops out nowhere to criticize my parenting.
My most recent encounter with a disapproving outsider was less of a direct insult so much as it was a passive-aggressive demonstration of disapproval. We were in the children’s section of a bookstore. A frequent hot-spot for toddlers on rainy days, it is a place we frequent. I’m a sucker for kids’ lit and the store has demo toys available for kids to try out. As usual, my kids were having a good time. My daughter was seated, lining up a set of mini cars as my two-year-old son decided to put on a Star Wars mask. Now, I will be the first to admit his boyish nature can seem borderline deranged at times. Despite his Godzilla-like behavior, I encouraged his imaginative play. I think it’s pretty awesome when he can get in character (albeit a growly and monstrous one) at such a young age. I had just finished telling him he looked cool when a mom, who had overheard me encouraging his play, looked at her grade-school-aged daughter and asked, “Are you okay? I can’t believe she’s letting him act like that!” My blood started to boil as the mom locked eyes with me and very clearly proceeded to ask her daughter again if my son’s growling was bugging her. I bit my tongue hard and breathed deeply as the woman’s daughter told her mom to stop and that she was, in fact, fine.
As my heart rate decelerated and the moment passed by, the experience got me to thinking of run-ins with other parenting haters in the past.
There are a handful or so that come to mind.
Like, the time a friend of a friend asked if my four-month-old was sleeping through the night, laughed, and then proceeded to ask me what I was doing wrong. Or the time I was scolded in the grocery store because my nine-month-old had taken off her socks for the umpteenth time and, that particular time, I had decided not to put them back on. And there was the time a store clerk very sternly lectured my daughter for using the turnstile to get into a store one too many times. And then told me, I would have to pay the bill for its repair if she broke it. Ummm really? Or the time a woman yelled at me saying I was raising animal abusers because I let both my kids chase seagulls. It’s real shame birds can’t just fly away from a kid isn’t it? But I digress…
Though each of these encounters present in different ways, when my day is interrupted by the disapproval of a complete stranger I feel upset, flustered, and wanting to defend myself. I want to give context to whatever was taken into question. I want to tell say to these parenting critics that the only appropriate form of interaction with a parent, and complete stranger I might add, is support, empathy, encouragement, or, all of the above. But I have a sneaky suspicion that the people who criticize strangers feel like they‘re on the right side of humanity – that they’ve imparted wisdom or discipline, or a life lesson on me. So even if I did find the proper retort after being hit unexpectedly by judgement, I have a feeling that I wouldn’t really be heard anyways.
So instead, I’ve decided to challenge myself. The next time I have someone I don’t know impose their negativity on my parenting, I’m going to remind myself to take inventory of all of the random acts of kindness I have been lucky enough to be the recipient of.
I’ll try and count how many people who have offered me a dry grocery cart on a rainy day; the number of times people have let me in front of them in the grocery store line-up when they see me trying to lasso my two kids in line without losing my spot; or, of all the people who have held the door open for my double-wide stroller. I’ll remember the woman who put her hand on my shoulder and told me she had been there too when I carried my tantruming son out of a candy store. I’ll reflect on the cashier who bought my kids treats with her own money the day my daughter got lost in the dollar store; and everyone who passes on compliments and kindness as I’m clawing my way through the day, in dire need of sleep.
Because, when I do take inventory of these acts of kindness, I really realize that the critics represent such a small fraction of people out there. It becomes evident that I can’t begin to recall all of the warmth bestowed on me and my kids, but I can count the hate. Even if the haters rattle me momentarily, it’s pretty clear they’re an anomaly.
So the next time a perfect stranger meets me with anger, I’ll do my best to see the opportunity to give thanks for all of the kind people out there.
When Alana Pace found out she was pregnant with her second child only six months after having her first, she knew she had to get creative fast. Fortunately, spending so much of her childhood outdoors with a mother who specialized in Early Childhood Education, learning through play was almost instinctive. Each morning with her kids marks a new opportunity to explore and seize the day. Family and writing are her passions. Visit her at, Parenting From the Heart, where she writes about her experiences, life lessons, activities, etc. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter to find out what she and her kids are up to next!