The following is an actual scenario that I experienced in real life.
I was sitting with my family in the little cafe area at Target. (Naturally.) My husband was waiting in line at Starbucks, and my four kids, miraculously, were sitting and/or playing quietly while I worked on my grocery list.
A mom and her two young boys were sitting at the table next to us, and at one point I looked up, caught her eye, and smiled. She did not smile back. That should’ve been my first clue that something was wrong with her. Instead, her eyes had a panicky look that said, “Help! I’m being eaten by fire ants and I don’t know how to get them off of me!” For a minute I considered slipping her a note that read, “Just blink twice if you’ve been kidnapped and need the cops.” But then I thought, Nah, those two little boys have at least ten years to go before they’d be capable of kidnapping.
So I went back to my grocery list. A moment later, the fire ant lady called to me. “Excuse me, are you with him?” Her panic-stricken eyes indicated she was referring to my 5-year-old son, Raymond, who was still being remarkably quiet compared to his usual Target behavior.
“Yes,” I said.
“What he’s doing is dangerous. You need to make him stop.” She squeezed her lips together into one, thin line.
I glanced over my shoulder at Raymond again. Had he gotten a hold of a knife or a blow torch since the last time I peeked? It didn’t appear so. He was climbing up and down from a stool over and over again. Climbing up and down. From a stool. A clean, 3-foot-high stool, just inches away from his mother.
I crinkled my eyebrows and looked at her like, Are you serious? But she just opened her eyes wider and squeezed her lips tighter.
So I said, “He’s fine.”
Fire ant Lady: I am very uncomfortable with my children seeing this! He’s setting an example for others! This is a public place!
Me: Well, you’re free to take your children somewhere else.
Her: You’re allowing him to climb on a surface that people eat on!
Me: He’s climbing on a stool. People don’t eat off of stools.
Her: I’m sure the staff wouldn’t be happy about this. You’re putting them in danger. I could call someone over!
(Psht. Good luck with that, lady. They love me here.)
Me: You know what? You can raise your children, and I’ll raise mine.
Then she loudly proclaimed to her children that what Raymond was doing was WRONG and DANGEROUS and they were not to follow his example. After that she stomped off in a huff and actually DID complain about me to a woman who works at the Starbucks counter! The employee told me about it, laughing, and said she wanted to hide in the back till that lady left the store.
GOOD GRIEF!!! OK, I know all you moms out there have experienced at least one judgmental comment from someone, somewhere. Everyone seems to be an expert on other people’s kids. Amiright, ladies?
As I steamed over my encounter with the Judgmental Stranger of The Year, wishing I’d come up with a more cutting reply than, “You raise your kids and I’ll raise mine,” I wondered: What is it with people who want to tell every parent they see that we’re all doing it wrong? Why can’t they resist criticizing us? Do they really have nothing better to do?
“America has a new favorite spectator sport: parent judging. Almost anything parents do/say/read/give to their kids can and will be interpreted by the masses, usually in the least favorable light possible. It’s as if there’s a lollipop waiting for anyone who can explain how when X did Y to little Ava, it all but assured that Ava will never recover.
“We have been encouraged to turn on our fellow parents by a media that lives to shame, a litigious society that avoids even the mildest of risks, and a general, ungrateful sense of doom and distrust, despite the fact we live in the safest times in human history. The rest of the world and all of human history would LOVE to live in 2017 America, yet we treat it like World War III out there, wondering why anyone would ever trust her kid to walk three houses down to the bus stop.”
To all my fellow moms out there, can I please ask you for a favor? Can we please all just agree that no matter what we witness another parent doing or not doing, unless we actually see them beating the kid, there’s a good chance it’s not child abuse? The majority of parents are not abusive or neglectful, and I say this as a social worker who spent the first few years of my career in foster care. There are awful parents out there, but it’s more than likely that the woman you see at Target letting her son climb on a stool is not one of them.
And while we’re at it, a child’s parents are the people who are most qualified to judge whether an activity is safe or not. Here is a short and incomplete list of things that are not dangerous for kids to do.
- Wait in the car for 5 minutes while mom runs into the store.
- Walk to the bus stop by themselves.
- Climb a tree.
- Ride a bike.
- Eat whatever the heck food their moms want to serve them.
- Sleep in a car seat.
- Jump on a trampoline.
- And a zillion other things that will not fit in this blog post.
And if you encounter one of these judgmental strangers like the lady I met at Target, do me a favor. Use the comeback that I SO wish I had thought of while she was standing in front of me: “Oh, don’t worry. He has to do ten more of those to earn his beer and cigarettes. Later I’m going to make him run with scissors.”
I love getting comments from my readers! If you’ve got a judgmental stranger story to tell, please do! Another safe kid activity to add to my list? Send it over! And please, if you’ve got a story about a time that someone could’ve judged you harshly but treated you with kindness instead, I’d really love to hear those. That’s the stuff that warms my heart!
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