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Out at a family dinner recently, my friend Shelley and her husband were suddenly interrupted by a woman at the next table, who dressed them down for ignoring their 3-year-old and having an “inappropriate conversation” in front of him.
Shelley was shocked -- they had been talking about a friend’s plan to move out of the neighborhood and her kid wasn’t exactly eating by himself -- and speechless. Back at home, she immediately emailed her inner circle for their take. “I’m trying to determine if I should put some stock into what she said, or chalk it up to her being an unhappy person,” she wrote.
Since the dawn of time, “well-meaning” bystanders have offered unsolicited advice to tired, overwhelmed, and sleep-deprived parents. “When kids are involved, some people think they have the right to interfere,” says Jan Faull, MEd, a parent educator and author of Amazing Minds: The Science of Nurturing Your Child’s Developing Mind with Games, Activities and More. But unless a child is mistreated or in danger, it's never appropriate, she adds.
While there’s no one right way to respond to parental buttinskies, experts generally advise that something short, sweet, and dismissive, like “Thank you! I will keep that in mind,” can bring the discussion to a close. Try to avoid being defensive (we know – it’s hard!) or responding to specific points, since that will only prolong an already unpleasant conversation. Here are the most recent infractions we’ve heard. Please be sure to tell us yours!
“My 5-year-old son was riding his bike and asked if he could ride alone. I said yes and he rode off. Fifteen minutes later, my son was sitting and crying, a woman standing over him. He’d decided to climb a tree and fell, scratching his knees. The woman was outraged and called me an irresponsible dad. I thanked her for looking after my son but she ranted more. Finally, I said: ‘Is this your son? Are you responsible for him? It is my decision and not yours, so don't lecture me.’ She stopped and felt embarrassed. I continue to let him ride alone but taught him what to do if he is injured.”--Barack Levin
”I had a mother tell me I shouldn't let my daughter run around the park without a sweater on a cool San Diego afternoon. I was irritated because I wasn't being a careless parent; My daughter wasn't cold and didn't want to wear her sweater.” --Pamela MacPhee
“A few winters ago, I let my girls walk on the piled up snow next to the curb as we walked to the park for sledding. This older woman starting chewing me out that they were going to slip and fall. I had them totally bundled up for a snow exploration and they were filled with joy, but she had very different expectations for what little girls should be doing on a frigid winter day. I was furious!” --Will Craig
“I became a single parent when my kids were 3.5, 2.5 years-old and 9 months. Once, I was out having a rare meal in a restaurant and receiving the worst service possible. After about 30 minutes of being ignored and trying to keep my hungry kids restrained, I let them run loose. The waitress finally came and took our order. Five minutes later the manager came and started to lecture me on my kids behavior. I told him, ‘When they were behaved I was ignored. I got service, didn't I?’ He didn't say anything else!" --Mark Robben