1-800 How’s My Parenting?

Please phone Image: Sinead Fox
Please phone
Image: Sinead Fox

I know that by writing this post I’m in danger of being labelled “one of those” parents.

I’m not sure exactly what that means, which colour coded bin that I’ll be fitted neatly into, but it seems to me that as a parent every interaction that I have with my children in public is being watched and judged by a bus full of backseat drivers. I’m not sure how I’m doing but recent events would indicate that some feel that I could try harder.

I’ve already vented about toddler tantrums and how the intervention that I experienced frustrated me so much. I’m in danger of becoming a moaning minnie.

But today things reached a new low. I was berated for my parenting by a complete stranger. I’m still not the better of it as I this type this hours later. Here’s how it happened:

Photo Credit below
Photo Credit below

I was in a coffee shop after school, one we hadn’t been to before. We were all getting a treat after doing some supermarket shopping.  I had the two boys in the queue with me, Mam was at our table with the baby.  One boy was tired and a bit sad, the other was a bit excited and giddy. I was giving my attention to the tired one who could turn whingy at any moment and trying to prevent any tantrum activity. My older boy stood quietly in front of me in the queue waiting for the barista to produce our drinks after we had paid.

As we waited the lady in front of me in the queue nodded at me and drew my attention to something that my five year old was up to, my own view being slightly blocked by the counter. I looked and saw that he had taken the chocolate sprinkle shaker (or whatever it’s called) and was merrily shaking it all over the plate it was on and on the counter creating a big chocolatey mess.

He’s five, only five, but he knows better. When I saw what he was doing I immediately sighed, said his name crossly and jumped into action, tugging  his jacket to pull him back from what he was doing and to get his attention.

My queue mate changed her tune. “Ah he’s OK” she told me, him watching on. “He’s not” I replied, “he knows better”. I did the textbook stuff, I got down to his level and made eye contact.  I asked him (crossly) if he knew what he had done wrong and he nodded. I told him that what he had done was  was bold (label the behaviour not the child) and  that he would have to apologise to the barista for making the mess.

He accepted this, apologised and she said “it’s fine”. That should be where this story ends. But that wouldn’t have me writing about it, so you know that it didn’t stop there.

After the brief apology my son and I returned to normal. My queue-mate didn’t think things were done. She continued to tell me  “ah, it’s OK he’s only a child, he’s fine”. The boy was listening, hearing mixed messages from two adults. He knew that he had done something that he oughtn’t have, we’d dealt with it, but here was another grown up telling Mammy that what he had done was OK.

I took a deep breath.

Calmly (I hope) I explained that her saying that it was OK wasn’t helpful to me at all, as I was trying to teach my son right from wrong and that making a mess of other people’s things wasn’t OK.

She didn’t expect my protestation, of that I am sure. She looked slightly aggrieved and nodded her head. One of her drinks arrived and she walked to her table to deliver it to her companion. When she returned a few moments later I was still waiting.

She couldn’t let it lie and she engaged “Children should be let play” she told me assertively, her voice assuming a cross tone. She looked satisfied that she had stood up to me.

I saw red. In fact, I saw many, many shades of red. Steam may have come out of my ears.

I would love to be able to cite verbatim what I said  but I am shaking even typing this now. I was FURIOUS. I felt undermined, I felt betrayed, I felt ashamed. In those five words this woman that I  had never seen before was judging me, judging my parenting and how I treated my children.

Perhaps she had been watching me go around the adjoining supermarket chasing and calling after the boys who were up to hijinks. Who knows? For whatever reason she felt that she needed to get this off her chest and that I needed to be told.

My calm tone left me.

I assured her, that my children are let play, that they play a lot, and that she had no idea.  I explained that I was trying to teach them right from wrong and the last thing that I needed was someone disagreeing with me in front of them.  I told her that I know my children. I said a jumble of other things in my defence that I can’t remember exactly(but no swear words honest, I wasn’t going to give her another stick to beat me with).

She had hit a nerve. After observing one isolated incident she had questioned my parenting.

I took it as a personal affront, I can’t think what other way it was meant.  I didn’t expect to have to prove how good a parent I was in a coffee shop. I wanted to give her evidence, to show her the permanent art table in my dining room, the scribbles on my walls, I wanted to tell her how much I let my children play, how we adventure, how we collect sticks and jump in muddy puddles, we bake together, we get up to silliness. I had no reason to make a case in my defence, but in those five words she made me doubt myself, I was shaken.

What I didn’t say, what I didn’t ask, what I am kicking myself for not asking, was what gave her the right to call my parenting into question, to undermine me in front of my children, to tell me off in front of the counter staff and other customers. I’m not sure that I’d have been brave enough to do that. But I could not let that “advice” go without reply.

Image: Sinead Fox
Image: Sinead Foxpe

I’m trying to understand it, why do strangers feel that they should comment? Do they believe that they know better than the parent who knows their own child?

Perhaps they mean well. But it seems that  all social barriers, all manners and restraint  go out the window when confronted with a parent and child.  The same people are unlikely to approach unaccompanied adults to tell them that they are being rude, or behaving inappropriately, but when a child is in tow, all bets are off.

A little boy made a mess, his mother told him off and insisted that he make amends. If I had ignored his behaviour others would have judged me for letting my child carry on like that.

Don’t get me wrong, I regularly ask for advice from friends, family and colleagues.  I beg for help with my fussy eater and my nightwaker. But when I’m on an outing with my children I seem to have a neon sign around my neck with the message “How’s my parenting? Let me know”.

It feels that parents simply cannot win. We are constantly judged on our children’s behaviour, on our own behaviour towards our children, on our children’s behaviour towards others. If we do not meet the exact requirements of complete strangers who are in the vicinity we should be prepared for and accept their criticism.

So next time you’re in the supermarket, or in a coffee shop, at the school gates, look left and look right, because the backseat drivers are  watching.


Photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

photo credit (hot chocolate): Silky Sienna via photopin cc

17 thoughts on “1-800 How’s My Parenting?

  1. Random strangers who have negative opinions to offer you, Sinead, are not worth your time or energy. I know how furious you must have felt. I would never comment on someone elses child, it’s not my place and none of my business, that’s just my opinion. There will always be the “do-gooders” out there, who feel, oddly enough, that they know better than you, even though it’s nothing to do with them. Try to forget about her, she’s just not worth it.

    1. Thanks Colette. I needed to get it off my chest so where better than my blog. I suppose I should try to concentrate on all the people that tell me how adorable and well behaved my children are, but then nobody wants to read that 🙂

  2. A really great post that brilliantly captures the ‘no win’ situation parents often find themselves in when setting limits in public. Your reaction is perfectly justified – and for what it’s worth, this well meaning stranger was simply rude and completely wrong to step in.
    Well done standing up for yourself – and for your son who needs the fun times and the boundaries in equal measure x

  3. She is obviously an expert who reared amazing children herself! Just like all those who advise us all regularly. You did the right thing in the way you disciplined your child. Never feel judged she was just being busy, and disliked you for telling her off.

  4. This is “easy” to write, but harder to put into practice…but I suggest that you know best about your children, it is your right to discipline them and explain right from wrong, and what your expectations are…BUT since you did initially give an explaination, leave it at that….it was none of her business; calmly take your child back to the table and explain that other families and mammies have different values but in your family these behaviours are expected. Your are right, it was none of her business to comment or interfear but she was probably only meaning well, totally unaware of the fact that you felt undermined…most of these offences are committed in ignorance, not a personal attack. I have been at the receiving end of my daughter in laws explainations about how my actions (giving the child a sweet in a hospital visiting situation) underminded her parenting. I was hurt, I was taken back BUT I totally understood her point of view…and even admired her courage in taking the risk to tell me how she felt…so I do know where you were “coming from”.

    1. Hi Ruth, thanks for commenting. I think she was only meaning well to begin with, I’m used to that, I think it was the final comment, the general “advice” that really got my goat, that’s what made me feel judged. The grandparents and sweets issue is an age old one, my Dad won’t visit without sweets for the boys, I accept this but then when other visitors come they expect the same so it can cause problems as they make demands from the front door! I’ve explained to Dad, and I know that he wants to spoil them so we’ve tried to calm the boys and bit and stop them begging and searching pockets for the sugar rush!

  5. God, how annoying. I’m with you – I would have seen red. I know there are people who can take these things in their stride and calmly think to themselves “She doesn’t know me or my family, so her opinion is irrelevant”, going on about their business unperturbed. I’m not one of them. Sometimes a few well-chosen, civil words can be relieving to you while “correcting” their misconception of you. She corrected you, so why not vice-versa? I’m sure she didn’t like it and will probably call Joe Duffy 😉 but she might think twice next time. It takes me days to shake off these kinds of interactions, so hope you’re feeling better now.

    1. Thanks for commenting June, I did shake, I could talk about little else for about 24hours, I think I’m over it, sort of. Writing the blogpost and getting such support has been very helpful!

  6. Your reaction in an infuriating situation was completely understandable…external interference is neither welcome not warranted. If someone truly wants to help either say something kind to support the parent or say nothing at all.

  7. I would have been equally furious.Luckily, I have never had a similar encounter and hope I never do because parents really are judged. every single time. And yet the good things we do are not equally acknowledged. She did mean well, but should not have persisted after you explained teh first time. I will hold your words and if it ever happens to me, will express very clearly how it is mixed messages and undermines my parenting in a snapshot moment that my child will hold forever. Not helpful. I will also take away that if I see a tantrum unfolding in front of me, I will ask the mum if I can be of any help, instead of offering advice. It’s a very tricky situation for all.

  8. Your frustration and upset is so tangible in that post. I think you handled it very well. I have had people say ridiculous, CRAZY stuff to my smallest kids and my brain just froze in horror and disbelief. Needless to say I blogged about it afterwards too! People is mental.

  9. I hope you don’t either Muuka. There are good comments too, but they’re less frequent and less memorable in one sense, and they rarely say “you’re an amazing parent” but more “Isn’t she so pretty?”.

  10. I sawt this post on the m word and had to click through to the blog to comment because I really wanted to say “well done you for standing up for yourself”. How dare this woman insist on butting in, especially in front of your children. Im a mother of 2 under 2.5 years and also feel like Im on stage at times….like a public forum….”please one and all, come, observe, comment, judge, gossip, Im simply dying to know what you think Im doing wrong”.
    I can imagine you were boiling with rage. Try not to dwell on it and remembee that probably the whole coffee shop were silently cheering you on!

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