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A Little Perspective

A number of years ago, a co-worker related something she saw during a visit to the nearby mall. She observed an elderly woman approach a mother and her young daughter -- no more than 5 or 6 years old -- and ask, "Are you enjoying your shopping trip?"

"GET AWAY FROM ME!"

The woman recoiled from the little girl's full-throated screech with a grimace of horror and embarrassment. But the woman's expression changed to open-mouthed shock when the mother turned with deliberate calm to her daughter and said, "Good girl."

My immediate reaction: "Unbelievable! She taught her child to be rude? To a nice old lady?" The tale-teller nodded in agreement.

And then another co-worker said: "I think it's great."

A heated argument ensued. "Look, this is a dangerous world we live in" ... "But her mother was standing right there!" ... "So you should teach your kids to be afraid of everybody?"

And then she played the Parent Card.

"You just don't understand. You don't have children."

Both the person telling the story and I were -- at the time -- single and childless. Therefore we lacked the perspective to comprehend her arguments. Debate over.

I am now the father of a 6-year-old. For most of the first three years, I worked at night and took care of my child during the day. I was the one going to activity groups, attending music classes, arranging play dates, pushing the stroller. I held my child in my arms and looked into those eyes more times than I can count.

I've worked the other end of the street too, helping to shepherd a teenage relative through the last years of adolescence. I have also had nearly 15 years to reflect on what my co-worker said to me that day.

And my opinion has not wavered.

I would never assume that one person's qualifications to offer opinions about parenting are better than anyone else's. I don't care if they've had 17 children of their own and adopted another 10, or are so committed to zero population growth that they opted for sterilization when they turned 21.

We have all known people -- they may be our friends, our relatives, or strangers that we observe in the act -- whose experience as parents seems to have taught them nothing about being parents, at least in our opinion. We say nothing, but we silently evaluate and criticize -- or exchange knowing looks with other members of the judging panel.

So are we really to believe that the simple exercise of one's reproductive capability makes you a better parent? I'm not arguing about the feelings -- assuming you are not a sociopath -- then yes, having a child changes you forever. Your baby's cries pull at your heart more than those of another person's. Many people would run into a burning house to grab their own child, while making a far cooler calculation if it was a neighbor's family in jeopardy.

But do those instinctive emotions deepen our understanding of what it means, in an uncertain world, to help our children become healthy, strong and confident adults? Haven't we seen these natural feelings of protectiveness sometimes coagulate into a stifling blanket that smothers the very things it should nurture? Isn't it better to stop and think about the long-term consequences of the examples we set and the ethical implications of the lessons we teach?

Take any topic under the sun -- at any given instant, millions of people are exchanging vigorous opinions about politics, sports and entertainment, completely unconcerned that they lack even a shred of direct knowledge about those things. What is true for those subjects is no less true for parenting -- anyone can be wrong, and anyone can be right, regardless of who they are or what they've done. When we raise a child, we are preparing that young person to live in this world. Everyone around us has also lived in that world, and they may have something to offer. You can at least listen to what they have to say, and judge it on its own merits. Don't tell them they don't understand -- because maybe, just maybe, they actually do.

-- Guest editor Bob Greiner

By Bob Greiner |  August 28, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  The Debate
Previous: It's Off to School We Go | Next: A Brave New World?

Comments


Bob, I agree with you that non-parents may have something to add about parenting, and I certainly agree with you that teaching children to be rude to and fear people is a bad call. However, I also think that non-parents can't understand something elemental about being a parent. That something that makes us run, without thinking, into a burning building. What it feels like to be awake hour after hour, walking a feverish and crying baby. What it is like to have judgmental people staring at your screaming toddler in the parking lot.

So I do get frustrated at non-parents who judge me in my parenting, who proclaim loudly the way they would do it, if they had my child. But again, this goes back to being rude to others. Perhaps if their parents had taught them to be polite to strangers, they wouldn't stare and share their obnoxiously unhelpful opinions.

Posted by: KR | August 28, 2007 7:33 AM | Report abuse

I dont think I would reward my kids if they screamed "Get away from me!" to an elderly person... but if you have bought in to the 24hr news stream static that suggests the world is a far more dangerous place, where grannies are sexual predators I guess one could try to justify that kind of defensive knee jerk isolationism.

If you are worried that granny is going to kidnap your toddler at a the mall, I'd stick with mail order.

Posted by: Fo3 | August 28, 2007 7:52 AM | Report abuse

I don't think you have to be a parent to criticize parenting skills (or lack thereof), but I do think you have to be a parent to really, truly get what it's like to have a child of your own. I never knew or imagined (and let me tell you, I have an extremely wild imagination) what it was really like to have a child until my first was born. It's not something you can understand from reading a book, as someone once suggested they had done by reading Cormac McCarthy's "The Road". (Laughable.) To paraphrase Helen Keller, some of the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart. You can't put yourself truly in a parent's shoes until you've been a parent.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 28, 2007 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Good lord, that poor child probably grew up with no friends, afraid of the entire world.

Posted by: Me | August 28, 2007 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Just because someone gave birth or fathered a child doesn't mean they suddenly magically know everything about raising a child. It takes experience and even a little trial and error.

I've never given birth, but I was a nanny for several years. I've had tons of experience with kids. I don't go around giving unsolicited advice, but I'd like to think I've learned a few things about children.

Posted by: ex-nanny | August 28, 2007 8:39 AM | Report abuse

I LOVE this blog when there are guest writers. Stacie doesn't usually inspire me.

First, what a freak mom. Shouldn't you teach your child she's safe when she's with you? Poor scared little girl.

Second, it's true, like it or not, that you can't understand parenthood until you have a child. The depth of love and protectiveness is unfathomable until you've been given the resposibility of raising another human being. On the other hand, I'm raising my baby just as I thought I would before I had her. Being childless doesn't make you an idiot.

Posted by: atb2 | August 28, 2007 8:42 AM | Report abuse

I'd been a nanny, an ed assistant, and run a daycamp before I had a child, so I thought I knew a lot about it.

Ha, ha, ha, is all I can say. I am glad for all the experience I had but I kind of laugh now at the judgments I made about other people's parenting. Fortunately I was not rude enough to get into it with them.

There are things I believed then that I continue to believe and practice in my parenting. I agree that having an ethical approach is something people can have whether they are parents or not. And in the example given, not only do I think that was a bit ridiculous, I think it is an approach that would prevent a child from getting help in a truly difficult situation (the book "Protecting the Gift" is great about this.)

But the reality of every day, on the ground parenting really is different from sitting around at the mall pointing fingers. A small example: I used to think parents who took their small kids grocery shopping at the end of the day were insane and vowed that I would never subject my son to that. Two weeks into full time work I had no milk in my fridge and no ingredients for a surprise (to me) bake sale, so found myself with a very worn out toddler in line at the grocery store at 5:30. Welcome to real life. :)

Posted by: Shandra | August 28, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

The world of social science (child/developmental psychology and pedagogy) is definately caught up in this particular aspect of parenting. There are two primary archetypes that come to mind:

-There is the parent who disregards some aspect of social science for the same reasons mentioned. The perception is that the scientist does not feel for the child as the parent does, or does not understand parenting as a parent does. This can apply to medicine as well, such as the debate about the link between mercury as a preservative in vaccines and autism. I would call it the gut instinct versus science issue.

-Then there is the parent (and non parent!) who construes the science to be something it is not. This is particularly true with social science because so much of it is done using statistics. They mistake correllations for connections, or things that occur in uncontrolled environments for controlled environments. The media has not done much to help this as stories about science too often lead with headlines and introductions that are misleading.

In my oppinion one should attempt to follow the research, but to read it critically.

Posted by: David S | August 28, 2007 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Two thoughts --First, in general, people remark on stuff that they know nothing about. If you want to hear judgmental, denigrating comments about your abilities, teach for a couple of weeks. You'll quickly find out fast what a useless, ignorant human being you are -- and not necessarily from the kids! The ability to tolerate insults and contempt from colleagues, parents and total strangers at social events is a necessary part of teaching in America.

Second, I disagree a little with this assertion: "However, I also think that non-parents can't understand something elemental about being a parent. That something that makes us run, without thinking, into a burning building." I think in extreme circumstances, species preservation takes over. There are plenty of stories in which children are rescued by passersby, simply because the biological instinct to save a child is so strong.

I would suggest that what non-parents may struggle with is the ability to tolerate the quotidian stuff -- the kid who never eats what you make for dinner or who kicks the back of the seat from Boston to Denver. Love is easy to grasp; tolerance for children being children is more difficult, I suspect.

Posted by: onceateacher | August 28, 2007 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Even better - the parents who think they know better than other parents. My husband had our 5 month old out for a walk the other day. They were out too long and she got cranky. A strange woman stopped my husband and scolded him that she was cold, and he should cover the baby up. When he responded nicely that it was just naptime, she told him that she had 9 kids and she knew when a baby was cold. All very patronizing... like a man couldn't possibly know what he was doing what an infant.

Posted by: KLTA | August 28, 2007 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Non-parents do not, and cannot fully understand what it's like to be a parent. Like any other life-changing event, it really has to be experienced to be appreciated.

Which is precisely why it is important for parents to listen to folks without kids. Parenting can be so engrossing, so consuming, that one can lose balance and perspective. Parents need to hear an outside voice every now and then, and remember that we are all in this together.

I think the illustration offered is perfect example. Irrational fear has driven the mother in the mall to raise her child to be non-functional in a public setting. That mom needed a non-parent reality check.

Posted by: Robert in Austin | August 28, 2007 9:03 AM | Report abuse

"You can at least listen to what they have to say, and judge it on its own merits."

Sure, you can listen, but not all opinions have merit and the particular life experience of the person who delivers that opinion should always inform how much credibility to give the person commenting. I don't give a childless person's comments about parenting much weight. Neither do I give my chiropractor's opinion on cancer treatments much weight. What has brought us to this PC place where we are too intimidated to challenge the validity of an opinion because the speaker brings less personal expertise to the subject than others in the debate?

Posted by: gcoward | August 28, 2007 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Since I'm not a parent, I'm willing to admit I probably don't "really" understand what it's like. On the other hand, that doesn't mean I can't recognize rude children and ridiculous parents who encourage them to be (like the example). It doesn't mean I can't recognize bad parenting for what it is...I don't share those opinions, both because it would be rude and because I'm sure I'd be told "You just don't understand what it's like to have kids"...it's really the ultimate argument.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, but having a child does not confer some magic innate knowledge. There are wise parents and foolish parents, just as there are wise and foolish non-parents

Posted by: mom of 2 intelligent outgoing kids | August 28, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Sure, being a parent changes you, and non-parents have valid opinions on plenty of things. This woman sounds more than a bit paranoid.

I'd like to publicly thank all the police officers who take the time to be polite and nice to my children when I introduce them. I want my children to understand that police officers aren't scary and and I try to reinforce that you go to a police officer when something bad happens or you can't find mommy or daddy. So, we say hello to most officers we encounter. And most of them are very nice and understand what I'm trying to do.

Posted by: inBoston | August 28, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

"What has brought us to this PC place where we are too intimidated to challenge the validity of an opinion because the speaker brings less personal expertise to the subject than others in the debate?"

Humans societies have short memories.

Older childless (usually female) relatives used to be prized as people who could give good advice on issues like childrearing, because they had the benefit of life experience without having the burdens/distractions of childrearing themselves.

It's not that we're in a "PC place", as the precious commenter claimed, unless the PC place we happen to be in is one where a certain *type* of experience has turned into a trump card over other types of experience.

And that's what we're talking about here, isn't it? Not whether experience is necessary, but what *sorts* of experience are privileged.

(And, FWIW, I'm a stay-at-home dad, so I figure I ought to mention that there are probably differences in how people view men and women in this, too--would people have been as horrified if the grandmother type in the story was a 50-something guy?)

Posted by: David | August 28, 2007 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Understanding parenthood and knowing good and bad ways of parenting are two completely different things. While being a good parent may mean that you know all sorts of little tricks, the big picture is something you can know whether you have kids or not. For example, whether you have kids or not, you can still know whether what the little girl did in the story was right or wrong and whether the parent was doing a good job raising her.

I'm always astonished that people think that having kids means they have a monopoly on the right way to parent. Clearly, they don't or we'd have a country of uniformly good kids!

Anyway, while it may be easier to sympathize with parents when you have had your own kids, it doesn't mean those without kids are completely clueless about the basics of right and wrong and good manners and how to be kind to strangers. That knowledge is not limited to parents.

Posted by: Ryan | August 28, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Being able to produce children does not magically make you capable of raising a healty, well-adjusted kid. I agree with the nanny and other teacher posting before me. Just look at the dysfunctional, dependent, neurotic kids being raised by the 'expert' parents. Take a look at the kids being mentioned in this blog and the other similar themed blog (why do they have two on nearly the same subject? hmmmmmmm). Problems mentioned include attention deficit, masturbating, thumb-sucking, nose-picking, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol problems in the teen years, bi-sexual and/or gay kids, alienated adolescents, suicide attempts, runaways, and on and on and on. Not to mention that horribly rude brat who screamed at the old lady. These kids are being raised by you 'expert' parents. Get a grip.

Your kid is a direct reflection on your skills, or lack thereof, as a parent. Maybe you should take a little advice from a disinterested by-stander, and you should hear what teachers say about your kid in the teachers' lounge.

Posted by: Another non-parent | August 28, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

This is something I do not understand so maybe someone can explain. Why do people(various ages) feel it is okay to try have a conversation with a child under the age of six who they do not know? I have seen adults bypass the nanny,parent,grandparent to talk to the child. They never acknowledge the guardian to get approval speak to the child, then when the guardian comes over to intervene they take offense. If the child does not speak to the stranger the child is considered rude, but is seems to me that the stranger is rude.

I'm a new parent of a four month old and see this type of behavior many times.

Posted by: Brooklyn | August 28, 2007 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: Another non-parent | August 28, 2007 09:53 AM

You know, kids have free will, too. They aren't completely controllable. I'm guessing that when a kid is having a melt-down in the grocery store you get super pissy and blame the parent. Believe me, the parent is not in love with their kid at that moment. Even the most wonderful toddler can be a nightmare, even you. I bet your parents are very proud that THEY RAISED such an impatient, judegemental, er, bystander.

Posted by: atb | August 28, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

You got it wrong, unless you have a kid, have had a kid, don't EVEN come to me with your self assured parenting tips. Until you have earned your stripes being thrown up on, sat with a sick kid, figured out how to pay for the kid,worried about the kid etc-take a leap!Good for the girl and her parents, strangers should not just walk up and start talking to unknown children. I don't and I know that parents think it's creepy. I do.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

ATB, I will hold ANOTHER NON PARENT down and you give him/her some well placed kicks. OK?

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Another non-parent says "Your kid is a direct reflection on your skills, or lack thereof, as a parent. Maybe you should take a little advice from a disinterested by-stander, and you should hear what teachers say about your kid in the teachers' lounge."

Please explain to me how we could arrange such a thing. Should we bug the teacher's lounge?

I also disagree with you. There are some incredibly poorly behaved adults whose children are wonderful human beings. And there are children who have problems/disabilities -- autism, ADD, learning issues -- who present unique challenges to even the most even keeled parent. You are like many non parents who assume there is an element of control when you parent. It is all an illusion.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 28, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

So the childless should refrain from criticizing Britney Spears' decision to drive with her baby on her lap, or Michael Jackson's decision to dangle his son over a balcony?

Or think of it this way: Suppose the woman in the anecdote hadn't said "good girl" but instead had smacked the child across the mouth and said "Don't be rude!" Is that parenting choice similarly off limits to the childless?

Posted by: Tom T. | August 28, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

I've wondered what parents think, sometimes.

Admittedly, I don't have kids yet....but I remember vividly an eye-opening experience in college (~10 years ago). I was in Target, walking by a child in the main part of the shopping cart (not the child seat....). The child started to fall, headfirst, out of the cart. Babysitter instinct kicked in, and I caught the child and put him back in the cart. The mother *yelled* at me for touching her child.

I would hope that if it was a choice between my child falling on his head and a stranger catching him, that the stranger would catch him and save him from injury?

But the whole thing was very eye-opening, as well as kinda disappointing.

Posted by: Annapolis | August 28, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Maybe we can all agree that some things are so out of bounds (Britney's idea of a car seat) that it doesn't take the wisdom gleaned from parenting to judge. And that parents, along with some of those who have spent gobs of time caring for kids, have a perspective on kids that the childless can't appreciate. For me, I appreciate that the mother was trying to teach her child to be wary of strangers, but that maybe the way the kid responded wasn't ideal. But as the Mom there, do you err on the side of scolding the child for a behavior in the general right direction, or confuse the child by forcing them to understanding subtleties about HOW they should be wary of strangers that might prevent the wariness the Mom was really trying to acheive? For all I know, there had been an incident or two with strangers and this family recently, and the Mom had good reason to go overboard. While my own daughter is too young for this lesson, I can definitly imagine a situation in which I'd rather she be rude than in danger. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: Middle ground? | August 28, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

There was a book for kids published years ago titled "Never Talk to Strangers." It repeated that theme as it presented various situations. It also offered exceptions. Police officers, when your father or mother introduced the person, etc. It had the same guidelines probably most parents teach.

The mall event described seems to fall in a slightly murkier area. Children need not be be chatty with strangers who approach, but if mom is there, they shouldn't shout. What if it had been one of mom's friends the kid just didn't recognize?

The response should also reflect the manner of the approach. Did the woman march purposefully across the food court, or did she just offer a brief acknowledgment to a seemingly bored child as she and mom browsed at the same clothes rack?

Posted by: Watership Sideways | August 28, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

And a few more things, Another non-parent,

"attention deficit": Ooooh, I hadn't realized this was because of how they were RAISED, says the woman married to an adult man with ADD whose mother also has ADD

"masturbating": This is a PROBLEM?

"thumb-sucking, nose-picking": Completely normal child behavior

"suicide attempts, drug and alcohol problems in the teen years, runaways": Often due to mental illness, but can be because of parenting

"bi-sexual and/or gay kids": Oh, brother. Thanks, Sen. Santorum

"alienated adolescents": Um, you mean me and all the other smart, interesting kids who didn't peak in high school?

Posted by: atb | August 28, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I agree that being a parent does not automatically make one an expert on child-rearing. When DD was born and I was looking for child care, many of the home day-care settings I visited were run by moms who needed an income but wanted to stay at home - and some of those were pretty scary.

Also - I know some very nice people with truly obnoxious children (no medically diagnosed conditions) and the other way around. The bottom line is there are no guarantees in life, especially when it comes to kids.

Posted by: Loren | August 28, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

The girl and the mom were completely out of line. There is a lesson to be taught that strangers are not to be trusted, but that's not the same lesson that strangers are to be feared. The kid's going to have deal with meeting people she doesn't know at some point and needs to know that not all strangers are creepy. And there's a whole lesson about be respectful to people (not just elders) that's missing.

Of course, this is my opinion, and completely valid, whether or not I have kids. I wouldn't have confronted the mother about it - because that would have been rude - but I probably would have shared some raise eyebrows with the older woman who politely asked the child a question.

I don't have to be a parent to be spit-up on and worried about someone else's kid, either. I could also be an older sibling and cousin in a large extended family. I don't have any kids of my own (yet), but I have had the opportunity to observe several different parenting styles combined with several different personality types (both kids and parents). I know the difficulties of parenting through my super-secret-special skills of observation. I don't know every detail, but I know enough to understand some of the challenges and hold a conversation with a parent. Who knows, maybe my perspective as one recently parented can help my aunt understand the inner-workings of her daughter as my cousin enters those oh-so-wonderful teen years.

Posted by: MNgirl | August 28, 2007 10:36 AM | Report abuse

So, mostly what that means is that parenting is alot about understanding and dealing with human nature in general and personalities specifically. And parents don't have a monopoly on understanding either; they're just the ones who have to deal with a specific personality on a day to day basis. So, they get to be the expert on their kids, but not kids in general.

Posted by: MNgirl | August 28, 2007 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Safety first, feelings second. I would rather apologize to a few people than have a kid who goes with the man who needs help finding a puppy, or show my daughter a kitten etc. Note to strangers, do NOT come up and speak to my kids, speak to me. I will than judge whether we are interested in talking to you, I am the parent.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

MNgirl, you sound very young. Of course you have a right to your opinion, but you need to realize that for people who are parents, the opinions of non-parents may not count as much.

I would love to hear from a parent who does feel that you can understand what's it really and truly like to be a parent without having children of your own. Any takers?

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 28, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I have 4 kids and a total of 43 years of rearing them. As far as developing parenting skills, I'll admit it, I'm making it up as I go along. I like to think of it as a learning process, like trial & error, then learn from my mistakes.

The big question I ask myself is how can I raise these kids as to maximize the enjoyment and minimize the suffering?

So I use the "We are family, we are friends" approach. Works for me!

Posted by: Lil_Husky | August 28, 2007 10:44 AM | Report abuse

OK- but what is it that makes total strangers think it is appropriate to judge your parenting and make snide remarks in front of your kid? In my experience, these remarks have been usually made by people with no or little exposure to kids.

I mean, do I tell people I don't know on the street that smoking will kill them, or to go on a diet or to get some fashion help? Of course not.

Example, when my daughter went through a two week period of throwing full-tilt tantrums, more than one stranger felt comfortable calling her ill-behaved, etc.
One childless neighbor joked that we were "raising a monster" and suggested that we try spanking. Instead, my husband and I determined that our daughter was probably throwing the fits for attention. So we acted accordingly, gave her as little attention as possible during the tantrums, and the fits stopped. But no thanks to peanut gallery.

Posted by: Rock Creek | August 28, 2007 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Actually, I don't think that even people who ARE parents should be giving parenting advice to others.

I had the 'baby from hell' who spent most of the first three or four years of his life screaming -- from a variety of sensory issues. He was set off by bright lights, loud voices, multiple sensory inputs -- in short, grocery stores, shopping malls, zoos, amusement parks, birthday parties, events at school. We stayed home alot -- but I just dreaded having to take him somewhere and having him melt down and having the organic mommies tell me it was because of his diet and the lactation mommies tell me it was because I didn't breastfeed him and the education mommies tell me he needed more workbooks, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes I feel like motherhood is a cult . .

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Rock Creek, that stinks. I've never been on the receiving end of such comments from strangers, but the blistering tirade they'd hear from me would be one they'd not soon forget. The most I've ever noticed is looks of understanding and pity from other parents with young children. That's also how I respond when I see someone dealing with misbehaving children.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 28, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

"I would love to hear from a parent who does feel that you can understand what's it really and truly like to be a parent without having children of your own. Any takers?"

Um, how about Bob Greiner? You know, in the blog post? That you're replying to?

Posted by: k | August 28, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

How we respond to the advice we receive often depends greatly on the manner in which it is offered, and our relationship to the giver.

Arrogant know-it-alls are not welcome regardless of the perceived expertise. How many parents will not accept the implication that they're incompetent from a non-parent, but will gladly accept the same implication from someone with ten kids? Is someone with four kids twice as expert as a parent with two kids? Is a mother with a 3-year-old 300 percent smarter than the mother of a 1-year-old? Parents, what level of expertise must someone have before you gratefully accept unsolicited advice offered rudely by strangers?

Opinions on parenting aren't exactly like an unathletic fan giving hitting tips to a big leaguer. Not everyone has been a parent, but everyone has been a child and had parents. Non-parents aren't categorically and totally clueless.

Speaking to someone you don't know about their kids seems like speaking to them about their table manners in a restaurant. The behavior must be not just bad, but unignorably dreadful before you comment.

Posted by: Po slamdunk | August 28, 2007 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I must have touched a nerve. So, you are the experts raising the smarmy little pervs. If those listed characteristics are 'normal' no wonder the world is going into the sewer.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Obviously, k, I'm asking other people posting to the blog.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 28, 2007 11:04 AM | Report abuse

I agree that parenting changes you in certain ways, BUT - the "you don't understand, you don't have kids" is out of line in a conversation IMO. I have thought it, oh yes. But I have never said it. I think it is an extremely snotty and rude thing to say, a conversation ender.

And - while I did not want my kids to go off with strangers and kind of got annoyed at people who talked to them in public - more because a lot of adults seem to have no idea how to talk to kids than concern about their safety (I think it is stupid how people ask children obvious and embarrassing kinds of questions that basically put them on the spot, and relatives are as bad about this as strangers, maybe worse!) I would never have wanted my kids to be so rude to a stranger like that either. There is a balance to be taught - both, respect people and don't go with strangers. I don't think that is so hard to manage really. Plus, it is not good to make your kids so afraid of the world. I now have two wonderful young adult children who are confident and caring, and I hope my teachings had something to do with that.

Also I have another thing that makes me sad about this - my very elderly and early Alzeimers father is very fond of babies and many times when I am in public with him he will go up too close and smile and even try to pat their head or something... I try to head it off and drag him back but not always with complete success. I would hope that people can be compassionate toward the elderly and infirm as well and not so quick to yell at old people like this.

Posted by: catherine | August 28, 2007 11:05 AM | Report abuse

"I would love to hear from a parent who does feel that you can understand what's it really and truly like to be a parent without having children of your own. Any takers?"


I don't think anyone is arguing that non parents "understand whats it is really and truly like to be a parent". Only parents can comprehend the unbelievable bond you feel with your child. But that is NOT the same thing as understanding good and bad forms of parenting - I firmly beleive that non parents are as able to understand (or not understand) this as parents are.

The women in the story, and the posters who support what she did are not doing their children any favors by raising them to fear all stranges. It is very sad.

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Well, there's my pat on the head. I guess I can go out and play now and not worry about parenting until I DO have kids.

Posted by: MNgirl | August 28, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I've never been sure I completely understood the arguments I've heard concerning parenting. It seems as though many would discount the experiences and perspectives of another person simply because they do not have children of their own. There are many perspectives that someone can have, even if one isn't a parent. Take the life experiences that others may have had- being the primary caregiver for a family member, teaching, being a mentor, being an aunt/uncle... and think for a minute, that maybe someone with a different perspective might not be as unqualified to comment on certain things as you might think.

I do understand that the advice or comments from someone who isn't a parent might not count as much as another parent's. That's natural, since people generally take advice more seriously from someone who's in the same situation as they themselves are. Sometimes the different perspectives and expriences that other people have had are helpful though, no matter what thier status is as a parent.

When it comes to other people's children, I don't offer advice or comments unless someone asks. The only time I'll intervene is if the child is putting him/herself in danger, and I have yet to have a parent yell at me for getting involved in that case. I don't have to be a parent to want to protect a child. That's a human instinct, I think.

It's another story, naturally, if the advice is unsolicited or rude. No matter what the situation is, that sort of advice is never welcome.

Posted by: Sitka | August 28, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

You have my sympathy.

Part of what makes getting parenting advice so much more potentially offensive than other kinds of advice is how much of the receiver's identity is wrapped up in the problem.

You can't get your printer to work, well, that's a technical problem with a technical solution. No one rolls their eyes thinks of you as that woman with the malfunctioning printer.

But rightly or wrongly, many people detect a whiff of moral failure on the part of parent whose child has a problem.

Since offers of "help" aren't likely to stop, moms and dads may find their lives less stressful if they count to ten, say "Thanks, I'll try that," then ignore the person. After all, armchair experts are everywhere. George Burns used to say it was a shame all the people who knew how to run the country were too busy cutting hair and driving cabs.

Posted by: To 10:54 | August 28, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I guess what gets me about some non parents is they watch a few episodes of OPRAH and all of a sudden they have it all figured out. And guess what? They want to share it with you!

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Oh, please! You must be the most repressed human being on the planet! It wasn't a list of "normal," it was Another non-parent's list of things that were supposedly the results of bad parenting. If you find kids sucking their thumbs or picking their noses perverted, you are going to spend much of your life disgusted. Did you know you actually have to wipe poop off of babies' butts? I know, that's, like, totally perverted and gross.

------------------------------------------
I must have touched a nerve. So, you are the experts raising the smarmy little pervs. If those listed characteristics are 'normal' no wonder the world is going into the sewer.

Posted by: | August 28, 2007 11:01 AM

Posted by: atb | August 28, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

No one has to agree with another's positions, but why the abrupt cutoff?

Why not get a T-shirt that says "It's a parent thing, you wouldn't understand"?

Is it a good idea to listen only to those whose views and experiences we already know closely mirror our own? Seems like a formula for a world full of dittohead cliques.

Some of the objection to non-parents putting their two cents in seems based on the idea that personal experience, even in something as intensely idiosyncratic as parenting, is the only way one could possibly obtain knowledge about it.

Posted by: Dokey Okla | August 28, 2007 11:41 AM | Report abuse

pATRICK, can I assume that your problems with your father are what's making you sound so surly and mean today?

You sound terribly rude and hateful, and I sure hope you aren't raising your children to be like that.

Posted by: mccxxiii | August 28, 2007 11:51 AM | Report abuse

One thing that I think many non-parents don't understand is that sometimes, parents have to do things that look strange to outsiders in order to deal with their children (even things that look strange to other parents, since all children are different.)

For example, I'd be reluctant to judge the mom in the example because I don't know the story behind her or her child's behavior. Perhaps the little girl has wandered off with friendly strangers before, and the mom was trying to teach her not to (and hadn't gotten to the part about politely brushing off attention.) Or maybe it was the opposite situation- the little girl would scream and cry when a stranger approached (autism, sensory issues, severe anxiety, whatever), and the fact that she just screamed "go away" this time represented progress.

Long story short- next time you see a mom or dad who is not doing what you think they should be doing with their kid- give them the benefit of the doubt. (excepting actual child abuse of course!)

Posted by: randommom | August 28, 2007 11:53 AM | Report abuse

pATRICK, can I assume that your problems with your father are what's making you sound so surly and mean today?

You sound terribly rude and hateful, and I sure hope you aren't raising your children to be like that.

Posted by: mccxxiii | August 28, 2007 11:51 AM
I don't think any of these posts are hateful. Do you consider someone disagreeing with you hateful? If so, this is no place for such a tender soul. There is nothing worse than enduring a non parent expert.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 11:57 AM | Report abuse

"For example, I'd be reluctant to judge the mom in the example because I don't know the story behind her or her child's behavior."

Then the mom should have politely appologized to the poor shocked old woman before or immediately after dealing with her child's response.

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Children do not need to talk to every stranger that approaches them. My DD
is scared of some people that I like and some people she likes I do not have a clue why.

Please let children find their own way. Mine has warmed up to several of my neighbors in our condo in her own way and her own time. Most of neighbors said I did not force her they know her friendship is genuine.

Posted by: shdd | August 28, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I've been a nanny (briefly) for a toddler, so I know just enough to know that I don't know much. But on the other hand, while I don't have kids, I have had parents--and good ones. They taught us to be safe around strangers without being rude. Why are so many things "all or nothing" in this society? There's usually a perfectly workable middle ground.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I completely agree Kate - here is our middle ground:

I have two young children, one boy one girl. They know that in my presence they are safe and can converse with anyone. They know that most people, but not all people, are good and nice. I have taught them that adults are to be respected, that they must answer when someone speaks to them, that not to do so is rude. I do not allow them to be rude.

If I, or another trusted adult, am not there, they know to excuse themselves and say that they are not allowed to talk to strangers unless a parent is with them. They know that good/nice people (the majority of people) will respect this and will not talk to them further. They know that if someone continues to talk to them after that then that person is NOT to be trusted and we have talked about what to do under those circumstances.

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I think it's clear, once you become a parent you have certain entitlements that those who don't have children relinquish. Come on let's face it, those of us who whelped are doing the world a service. We are entitled and so are our children. The world is dangerous and the fact there are more people in the world means parents have to do everything possible to ensure my child retains their rightful place on earth. When natural resources become scarce I want to make sure my daughters have what they need. Same thing with education, money, and material processions. Not to take this too far but, at some point people who have chosen not to have children should be made to sign organ donor cards for children. I am not saying if my daughter was sick and needed a kidney I could just go harvest one, but my daughter gets top of the list over childless people and children with lower SAT scores. My wife and I consider rasing daughters a competitive sport and we are going to win. Well, they are going to win.

Posted by: NYC | August 28, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

pATRICK,

I agree with you. When I see a cute baby, I say to the parent, your baby is so cute and smile as I walk away. I come from a family of very friendly talkative people, but you have to understand that engaging someone's child is different from talking to the guy on the subway. While I think that the little girl may have overreacted to the old women, we don't know what has happened to that little girl or that family in the past.

One other thing, how do we know the old lady was nice? What, just because she is old and a lady. My daughter regularly points out that people in stores are strangers and "normal" people don't get offended. In fact, on more than one occasion, people have said yes I am a stranger.

I'm sorry but it skeeves me out when people talk directly to my three year old child and don't even acknowledge me. On the topic of not knowing what it's like to be a parent, let me tell you there are varying degrees of not knowing. I helped raise my nephews and nieces; I love them and would die before I ever let anyone hurt them. However, that does not give me the right to say anything to parents in a store when their kids are having a temper tantrum, etc. (abuse of a child is a different story)

Posted by: Irishgirl | August 28, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Today's subject is something that hits home for me, because my own mother has made it a habit of hers to "crack down" on anyone who doesn't have kids but dares to suggest when a parent may be wrong.

For my mom this is more habit than a crusade, but its produced some heated debates between us when I (a married 20-something with no kids) see bad parenting and comment on it.

Of course, I'm observing closely and am biased because I don't have kids (but the reason I'm watching closely is because we plan on having one in the next year or two!).

The example given of the incident in the mall is an excellent example of how good parenting/bad parenting is obvious to even us poor childless miscreants. (Really it's a wonder we even have a reason to get out of bed in the morning!- I'm kidding. Sorta)

Posted by: Seattle | August 28, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Assuming that being a parent automatically confers good parenting skills and gives one the unqualified right to squash the opinions of those who don't have children is anywhere from short-sighted to moronic.

Consider the teacher who's been teaching teenagers for 20 years. I'm sure s/he has seen plenty of teen stuff--more so than the parent who is navigating those years with their first or only child.

What about politics and governance? I'm not a lawyer or a politician, but that doesn't preclude me from being informed or having a voice (voting). Vin Scully never played professional baseball--you going to tell him he doesn't have an informed, valuable opinion on many aspects of the game? Experience matters at times to varying degrees, but it doesn't grant exclusivity.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

NYC, I hope that was tongue-in-cheek and that I didn't get a chuckle out of something you meant seriously.

Irishgirl- Sometimes it's too easy to start talking to a baby, especially when they smile at you. I try to always remember to talk to the parents first. You're right, that's the polite thing to do, and I don't want to worry anyone.

Posted by: Sitka | August 28, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

If I want to learn how to read, will I ask (and accept the advice of) the illiterate?

If I am interested in learning about a vegetarian diet, would I ask someone who eats on the Atkins plan?

If I want to know more about Organic vegetables, should I visit a conventional factory farm?

If I want to learn about whales, should I ask an astronaut or a marine biologist?

There is a difference between having an opinion about something you've got little or no experience with, and actually knowing the subject. That's all I'm saying.

I nannied for a bit, taught for a bit, and nothing prepares you for the experience of being a parent except for being a parent. Nothing.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 28, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why anyone, parent or not, thinks they have the right to offer me advice about my parenting when they don't know me. Unless you live in my house with me and my children, you have no idea how things go. Once in the grocery store, my 4 year old son was picking on his 2 year old sister. I kneeled down to him to talk to him about it and some lady came up behind me and started talking TO MY SON about what he was doing. I looked at her in disbelief and she said "I have 3 children". I said "So do I" and walked away. I still cannot grasp why this woman would think that she should handle the situation over me.

Posted by: momof3 | August 28, 2007 12:19 PM | Report abuse

"There is a difference between having an opinion about something you've got little or no experience with, and actually knowing the subject. That's all I'm saying."

But the "subject" here is condoning, even encouraging, rude behavior. You don't need to be a parent to recognize inappropriate behavior. You only need to be a person - non parents qualify.

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Mother of two, I was commenting not so much on whether non-parents (hate that term, but oh well) can recognize rudeness, but more as to whether they should be as high up on the parenting advice food chain as people who are, in fact, parents.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 28, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Also, I should add, that for me its not about criticizing a parent for what they do or don't do. I completely bow down to the parent's judgement on their own kids, heck even kids in general.

But, other posts have pointed out that non-parents do bring perspective to a situation that I think is sorely lacking at times when parents get all caught up in a world that is entirely based on child-rearing. My bad experience when it comes to this is listening to stay-at-home moms, it might be added.

Posted by: Seattle | August 28, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I am just wondering if the people who are so quick to give adivce to bad parenting or to say something to children also point out bad behavior in the adults they encounter on a daily basis?

Posted by: Irishgirl | August 28, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

NYC - If you were being serious, I'm glad I'm on the opposite coast from you and your daughters.

Posted by: Seattle | August 28, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I would far rather listen to the opinions of a thoughtful reasonable non parent who may have insights from non parental interactions with children, or just valuable life experience, than listen to many parents I know (and some who have posted here) whose own childrearing ideas worry or sadden me. Why should the thoughts and insights of the thoughtful non parent carry less weight?

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Why don't you look at the end product before asking for parenting advice. If the parent(s) in question has raised a dysfunctional, anti-social specimen I'd suggest you look elsewhere for advice. My brother worked in Corrections for 25 years and is now a court commissioner. He'd tell us of squirrelly, nutso kids being put in the slammer and when the parents came to bail them out -- BINGO! -- they were squirrelly, nutso parents. Would you ask a parent whose kid is having a tantrum, what you oh so savvy people like to call a 'melt-down,' how to raise an obedient kid? No -- look around you and ask somebody who has done a successful job.

I once babysat for a couple who would go out every single Friday night and come home staggering drunk at 2:00 am. Would you ask those parents how to raise a kid? They had two daughters who were well on their way to becoming wards of social services. Some parents, huh?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Irish Girl - There's a good way and a wrong way of offering advice.

While I would never ever ever go up to a stranger and offer advice on what they should do, I wouldn't blink at commenting to a friend if I saw something that was as severe as the example used in the post.

Posted by: Seattle | August 28, 2007 12:39 PM | Report abuse

People who don't have kids don't have a clue! They should just smile and make nice to parents. After all, we're doing the Lord's work.

People who choose not to reproduce are sinners and have no right to tell the righteous how to act.

Posted by: mikey | August 28, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Are you serious, Mikey? Just wondering....

Posted by: Seattle | August 28, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

"I am just wondering if the people who are so quick to give adivce to bad parenting or to say something to children also point out bad behavior in the adults they encounter on a daily basis?"

Irishgirl, I can't speak for everyone, but generally yes. I also don't go around offering unsolicited advice to every parent I see, and I don't talk to unknown children (even to say hello) without having the same interaction with their parents/person providing supervision.

In general, though, I don't directly correct a child's behavior or comment to the parent unless the behavior is dangerous, harmful, or directly affecting me. So I wouldn't say anything to a parent whose child is pitching a fit in a store (kids do that, and the parent isn't enjoying it either), but I will if--real life examples--the child is throwing things at a glass door or window, or splashing me in a hot spring when there is plenty of room for them to safely splash a few feet away. And if someone drops a newspaper into the gutter when they get off the bus, I will ask them not to in the future, regardless of whether they're a child or an adult.

I also think it's important for kids to learn that they share the world with other people. It's not an easy lesson to teach, because kids (like the rest of us) are focused on themselves and their needs and wants. It's also hard because so many adults don't seem aware of this concept.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"But the "subject" here is condoning, even encouraging, rude behavior"

As I said before, safety first. We will apologize and you will get over my child's rudeness , I will not get over someone snatching him due to the fact that he was being polite and was taught not to offend.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"As I said before, safety first. We will apologize and you will get over my child's rudeness , I will not get over someone snatching him due to the fact that he was being polite and was taught not to offend."

You can't teach him to be safe without being rude? Really?

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse


"You can't teach him to be safe without being rude? Really?"

Kate, I think it's possible, but not all parents have the ability. They have to understand politeness themselves before passing it on to their children.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Seeing the trend of a portion of this discussion, I think it might be worth clarifying that my post relates a conversation *about* the incident at the mall. No one in the story confronted the woman whose daughter yelled at the other customer. The "you don't understand" comment came from someone who was defending the mother's conduct, not the mother herself.

Posted by: Bob Greiner | August 28, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

pATRICK I know where you are comming from in a visceral sense, and that scenario is of course too awful to contemplate. But its also vanishingly rare. How sad to teach our kids to fear and distrust normal everday people as a means of shielding them from a scenario they will probably never encounter. And besides, you can teach them to be polite and friendly AND to be safe, then they lose nothing and they and society gain so much.

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 12:58 PM | Report abuse

"The "you don't understand" comment came from someone who was defending the mother's conduct, not the mother herself."

That suggests, though, that the person making the comment would have supported the same behavior from his or her own child. Maybe not--maybe that person is just trying to put him- or herself in the mother's shoes--but it makes me wonder.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Seattle remember the words of Joe Louis "You can run but you cannot hide" Have kidney? Will travel!

Posted by: NYC | August 28, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

You can't teach him to be safe without being rude? Really?

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 12:52 PM

You miss the point. Too many people, especially women view politeness as the holy grail of life. I will deal with an occasional misunderstanding over a child who is torn between being taught not to be rude and obey adults vs one who is not afraid they will get in trouble if an adults actions make them feel unsafe. If a stranger who should not have been talking to my kid in the first place gets their feelings hurt, so be it.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

But why should someone talking to your child make them feel unsafe? Its terrible that we are damaging todays children by making them think this way. I want my kids to interact with their world - including the people in it. I don't mind at all when people talk to my kids in stores etc. I think it is good and healthy for my kids to interact with a broad range of people.

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Part 2- We teach our children to be polite. We don't teach them to be polite to strangers who walk up, ignore us and speak to our child unbidden. If that is your definition of rudeness, then guilty as charged.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 1:27 PM | Report abuse

If I am at a store buying something and the clerk says hi big guy how are you? Our children politely answer back. Big difference from a stranger walking up unannounced and speaking to my child.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I think perhaps you need to ask your parents if you ever had a melt-down as a child. You seems to think you're well-behaved. If, as I suspect they will, your parents confirm that you did, in fact, have tantrums as a toddler, I assume you will bow to your own logic and admit to being a rude adult. You're really only proving that, in fact, you have absolutely no idea what it's like to raise a child. If you have kids, boy are you in for a surprise!

Posted by: | August 28, 2007 12:35 PM

Would you ask a parent whose kid is having a tantrum, what you oh so savvy people like to call a 'melt-down,' how to raise an obedient kid? No -- look around you and ask somebody who has done a successful job.

Posted by: atb | August 28, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

"If I am at a store buying something and the clerk says hi big guy how are you? Our children politely answer back. Big difference from a stranger walking up unannounced and speaking to my child."

Even from an old woman saying "Are you having a good shopping trip sweetie"?

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

"You miss the point. Too many people, especially women view politeness as the holy grail of life. I will deal with an occasional misunderstanding over a child who is torn between being taught not to be rude and obey adults vs one who is not afraid they will get in trouble if an adults actions make them feel unsafe. If a stranger who should not have been talking to my kid in the first place gets their feelings hurt, so be it."

You're misinterpreting what I've posted. Here's an example. My parents taught me not to accept rides from strangers, or even people we knew only slightly. They told me to say, "No, thank you," and walk away. If the person persisted, thereby demonstrating that they might be a threat, we were to run and yell, so that we would be more likely to get away, and someone else might notice what was happening. This in no way compromised our safety, but it wasn't rude. After all, the vast majority of people were trying to be helpful, not harmful.

Another example: someone tried to drag a child into a car through the window, on the pretense of asking directions. My parents said, "You can give people directions. Just stay more than arms' length way from the car."

Again, middle ground.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Another example: someone tried to drag a child into a car through the window, on the pretense of asking directions. My parents said, "You can give people directions. Just stay more than arms' length way from the car."

Maybe that is middle ground to you but not me. We teach our kids that adults don't need directions or help from kids. That arm's length business is scary, do you know how fast someone determined could get them?. Sorry, putting politeness over safety for strangers will never fly.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

There's an easy solution here. Non-parents are perfectly capable of recognizing way-off-the-reservation conduct by parents and children, like violence, wildly age inappropriate behavior, and things of that nature. However, they are generally clueless about the fine points of technique that seem to be unique to each child. If a non-parent (or a parent, for that matter) thinks they can lecture you on how to get your one year old to stop crying . . . they're an idiot. By the same token, you don't have to be a parent to know that a six-year-old shouldn't be running around a restaurant screaming, brandishing a fork, and crawling under other people's tables (true story).

Finally, just because non-parents are basically clueless about the fine points DOES NOT MEAN that all parents are automatically qualified as experts. Lots of them suck.

(And, yes, there are always exceptions for mental illness or whatever. But that's not the point.)

Posted by: new dad | August 28, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Anonymous posted: Look around you and ask somebody who has done a successful job (of parenting).

Please define "successful job". I am completely serious. Raising a happy kid? A wealthy kid? A kid not on drugs? A kid who doesn't get arrested? A kid who makes it to 21 without being shot at or killed?

Success means different things to different people.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 28, 2007 1:43 PM | Report abuse

If I am at a store buying something and the clerk says hi big guy how are you? Our children politely answer back. Big difference from a stranger walking up unannounced and speaking to my child.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 01:32 PM

Glad to hear it pATRICK--but then how do your children know that the clerk isn't a predatory freak? It seems you don't always encourage them to scream at people--so what is your criteria exactly? I think there is more common ground here than not if you could make that statement.

And for the record, I've raised (am raising) 2 children, but came up with most of my child rearing concepts long before my first was a twinkle.

Posted by: flean | August 28, 2007 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Glad to hear it pATRICK--but then how do your children know that the clerk isn't a predatory freak? It seems you don't always encourage them to scream at people--so what is your criteria exactly? I think there is more common ground here than not if you could make that statement.


This is easy. A clerk in a transaction, with a parent standing there has a reason to speak to me or my child. They are not walking up unannounced, unknown, unbidden speaking to my child. Mom or dad is there doing business with that person, now that person is talking to the kid.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 1:51 PM | Report abuse

I disagree. I was able to point, say, "You want to go that way and turn right," and walk away. My parents taught me to develop and trust my instincts, not run away screaming from every other human. Being afraid of everything doesn't help kids when they are kids, and it doesn't prepare them to become adults either. They have to learn how to read people's words, tone, and body language, and evaluate whether or not the person is more likely to pose a threat or be innocuous. And the vast majority of times, it's the latter. But how will they be able to analyze and protect themselves from genuine threats if they treat everything and everyone as hazardous?

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

pATRICK said "Until you have earned your stripes being thrown up on, sat with a sick kid, figured out how to pay for the kid,worried about the kid etc"

Jeez, it sounds like you should have thought about all that BEFORE you had kids. In fact, from what I've seen of various children's and parent's behavior, a lot of parents should have thought much more seriously about having kids beforehand.

Posted by: Alexandria | August 28, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 01:57 PM

You want to give the benefit of the doubt to strangers, I don't. That means we don't let our kids give directions to strangers, go with them to find that puppy,etc. That does not mean in appropriate situations that they do not talk to people for the first time. It means that ninnies who don't have the sense to talk to me first don't get to speak to my young children first.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Nope pATRICK, I'd have to disagree. How do you know? Maybe they're not friendly at all, really. Perhaps they're just trying to ingratiate themselves with your child so that when they see your child later they won't be "strangers" anymore and can spirit them away just that much easier. Doesn't seem likely does it? And even if that were true, can you plan for EVERYTHING that might go wrong or possibly happen to your kids? This is a mighty big world.

So I imagine even your paranoia has limits--that's all I'm saying. And by the way, are you so sure that human beings don't need to talk to each other pleasantly even if they don't know each other at all? Since I was a kid I've had conversations with strangers that make me smile a little for the rest of the day. Should I forbid my 6 year old to talk to a stranger at all--or worse yet scream at them--when more specific cautioning (not going anywhere with a stranger, etc.) is sufficient?

It seems to me that the safety of your kids is not your primary concern--rather your worry for them is what you are trying to keep at bay by any means necessary. I understand that worry, but I wouldn't be doing any favors to my kids if I passed that along in a way that taints their entire view of human interaction.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Yes, because a clerk with whom I just spoke with is so much more threatening than a complee stranger speaking to my kids unannounced and unbidden. Sure....

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I agree with you that a kid going with someone to find a puppy is a bad is unwise. What about this one?

About a year ago, I was on the sidewalk on my street. A kid--maybe 8--on a bike fell in the driveway across the street and lay there for a moment, tangled up in the bike. I took about two steps and said, "Are you okay?" He looked at me with an expression of terror and yelled, "I'm not allowed to talk to strangers." At that point, I took a step back, and said, "Okay." He again yelled, "I'm not allowed to talk to strangers!" and then, wincing, pedaled away while still looking at me in terror. Next time, should I just shrug and ignore a child in that situation?

How about this one? I was driving home and saw a little girl (she looked 4, but it turned out she was 6) walking up and down the street. She was crying, and I asked her (from a distance) if she was okay. She said that her parents had gone out and she didn't know where they were. She and I waited on our front lawn while my husband called the police.

So if I shouldn't be interacting with other people's children, how should I have handled these situations?

Most people are not a threat, and do not want to harm children. My guess is that the first child had been told that he should yell and flee at the first exchange--but there is absolutely no reason why he couldn't have been taught that in some situations, it's fine to say, "I'm okay," and then pedal off.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Good topic today - or topics, I guess.

First, when older son was a baby, SIL whose only child is two years older, gave DH and me this wonderful bit of advise:
"Everyone, including total strangers, is going to give you advise about your kid. There's nothing you can do to stop them, and some of the advise is going to be really stupid. Whenever it happens, smile and say thanks. If you want to, you can think about their advise, and if it makes sense to you, you can try it. If it works with your kid that's great. If it doesn't work, you don't have to do it again. If the advise doesn't make any sense, just ignore it."

It works for us. The most ridiculous advise situation happened about five years later when younger son was a baby. Older son, now 5, was walking with me pushing younger son in the stroller. We started across a busy intersection. Younger son dropped his carton of milk about halfway across. Nice young woman (apparently childless) crossing at the same time, picked up the milk carton and tried to return it to us, while lecturing me on caring for the earth, not littering the streets, etc...

I had my hands full, and my baby didn't need to drink from a straw that had been on the ground, so I gestured towards a nearby trashcan, and the "nice young woman" threw away our trash. For which I thanked her (I hope, anyway).

I was so startled by the lecture (we're Pagans, "dirt-loving nature worshippers"), that I didn't think to explain that we pick up after ourselves all the time, except in busy crosswalks with the light about to change where bending down below the hoods of SUVs means the driver can't see us and we could be run over and killed.

Yeah, the "nice young woman" with the take-care-of-the-earth lecture had a good point. But I think my safe-street-crossing was the higher priority.

Posted by: Sue | August 28, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

"Yeah, the "nice young woman" with the take-care-of-the-earth lecture had a good point. But I think my safe-street-crossing was the higher priority."

I think the context is really important, and that's going to vary from one situation to the next. That can be one of the things kids learn from their parents as well.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

"She and I waited on our front lawn while my husband called the police."

Kate,

I think you did a good thing here, it's great that you found the child and not someone else. Here is what I have done and will do with a lost child. I stay where the child is found, I tell another person to go get the store manager, a cop, a secruity gaurd, etc. I let the child know that they should not go with strangers and that I will wait with them where they are until a person of authority comes to help us.


Posted by: Irishgirl | August 28, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Well, All Time *itch: My mother would have beaten the living crap out of us if we did have a tantrum. We were taught how to behave in public and how to speak to adults. I was far more afraid of my mother than I was of strangers. Furthermore, there is a lot more perversion going on inside your own homes with weird relatives. What about school teachers, Boy Scout leaders, Catholic priests, camp counselors. These 'friendly' people are far more capable of endangering your kids than you'd ever know, and there are more family/custody kidnappings than stranger kidnappings.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Re: The incident & talking to strangers- once again let's try and realize that we're raising people to become good judgers of the world. This requires that we do not treat all situations in exactly the same way and that we teach the young people to do the same. All or nothing approaches might feel easier and simpler- but they just make it harder down the road

Re: Parenting. Well I appreciate the shout out to us non-parents, but as you can see just from the responses here, it isn't much of a help. I liked the story the one woman shared about understanding taking a small kid to the grocery store after having one. To me that just sounds like you changed your standards and allowed it to become acceptable to do that- this doesn't mean the act itself is any more appropriate. Personally I'm ok with anyone of any age being in any place as long as they don't interfere with others in any unpleasant way.

Posted by: Liz D | August 28, 2007 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Slight twist to the topic: I really, really feel sorry for men when it comes to dealing with children not their own. My husband has commented on the fact that a woman could see a crying child in the mall, put her arm around the child and ask what's going on and no one would bat an eye. If a man did that, he'd likely face arrest. No kidding.

How do the men on this blog deal with such prejudice? Does it curtail your actions in any way?

Posted by: WorkingMomX | August 28, 2007 2:56 PM | Report abuse

"These 'friendly' people are far more capable of endangering your kids than you'd ever know, and there are more family/custody kidnappings than stranger kidnappings."

And that's exactly why kids (and adults) need to pay attention to the whole person and how they are behaving, not just run around scared of everyone. Real dangers are worth fearing. But it's important to know what those real dangers actually are, and how to identify them.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 2:56 PM | Report abuse

It's really very simple. Teach your children that it's OK to talk to people they don't know when you're there, and that it's not when you're not. A 2 or 3 year old can understand this; a 5 or 6 year old most definitely can.

There's never an excuse for a child who is accompanied by a parent to yell in the face of a person making friendly conversation. I don't care if you have 47 children or no children, it's RUDE.

Posted by: oldmom | August 28, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I think you did a good thing here, it's great that you found the child and not someone else. Here is what I have done and will do with a lost child. I stay where the child is found, I tell another person to go get the store manager, a cop, a secruity gaurd, etc. I let the child know that they should not go with strangers and that I will wait with them where they are until a person of authority comes to help us.


Posted by: Irishgirl | August 28, 2007 02:48 PM

Good advice as always. peopel like Kate see no middle ground. Either the child screams and runs away or should be best buddy's with strangers. Situations are different. The little boy did the right thing, but kate wanted him to be polite and say I'm okay, which is kind of silly. The boy did the right thing,Ain her second example she did the right thing. Now if she wanted to put the kid in her car and try to find the parents-bad, bad thing. See the difference?

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Patrick, I think you don't see the difference. And I see that you're now trumpeting "middle ground" for your stance, while continuing to advocate for a universal method of communication regardless of circumstance. That's okay, though, because it makes your intransigent position really clear.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

To WorkingMomX 2:56. "Prejudice" may be a bit of a loaded term, for all the reasons discussed here today, but certainly that attitude influences my behavior. I will not get close to unattended children (outside of my own family, of course). If I'm shopping in a store or browsing in the library, and a kid walks up to the same display rack, I'll generally move on. If I'm standing in line behind an unattended child at a video store or fast-food counter, I'll typically turn to the side so that I'm not looking at him/her.

If I see a crying child in a mall food court, for all I know the parents are ten feet away, so I'm not about to approach or speak to the child. I'd watch him/her carefully and, if no parent showed up, I'd try to catch security's eye. Failing that, I'd try to involve some other bystanders, preferably female, so that I'm not trying to address the situation by myself.

Posted by: Tom T. | August 28, 2007 3:21 PM | Report abuse

"Here is what I have done and will do with a lost child. I stay where the child is found, I tell another person to go get the store manager, a cop, a secruity gaurd, etc. I let the child know that they should not go with strangers and that I will wait with them where they are until a person of authority comes to help us."

I agree--and that works really well in a store or other area with people. There wasn't anyone else on the street, though, so we went about 30 feet away to a place that was public and where I could get access to a phone.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

No KATE, i am advocating the same as before. I have said from post one there are appropriate times to talk to kids and inappropriate times. What I find strange is how easliy you take offense. The boy, scared and hurt and approached by a stranger did what his mom told him to do and you get your feelings hurt because he didn't just say I'm Okay. .

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 3:29 PM | Report abuse

and for both stories - when you are a kid it is scary enough having an accident or not being able to find your parents. How much worse to add in the terror that comes with having been taught to fear the people who are trying to help you.

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Ha Ha! It's you again. So, you're telling me you have recollections of pre-2yo beatings? And this is the good parenting that has created the beautiful person that is you? You're a DIRECT REFLECTION of how your mom raised you!

Posted by: atb | August 28, 2007 3:31 PM | Report abuse

"The boy, scared and hurt and approached by a stranger did what his mom told him to do and you get your feelings hurt because he didn't just say I'm Okay."

No, Patrick, I didn't have my feelings hurt. I do think it's sad that his parents instilled such fear in him that he couldn't answer a question about his immediate condition after an accident, when the person asking was at least 20-30 feet away.

But you didn't answer my original question about this incident, which was about the best way for an adult to interact with a child in this situation.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 3:32 PM | Report abuse

But you didn't answer my original question about this incident, which was about the best way for an adult to interact with a child in this situation.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 03:32 PM

In this situation, you did what you could. You inquired and the boy was ok. The mom did her part, he declined your help and went HOME.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

"In this situation, you did what you could. You inquired and the boy was ok. The mom did her part, he declined your help and went HOME."

Yes, but I don't want to scare kids, particularly when they've just been frightened by something else. And you should have seen his face. This kid was TERRIFIED of strangers. Why should he have to go through that when he doesn't have to?

BTW, I'm a big believer in letting kids decide how to interact with adults, even adults they know well. I always ask my friends' kids if I can hug them, and if they say no, I respect that. Kids ought to have control over how they interact with other people, but I believe very firmly that manners are not incompatible with self-determination. "No" is not inherently rude, but screaming at people almost always is.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 3:42 PM | Report abuse

"No" is not inherently rude, but screaming at people almost always is.

Posted by: Kate | August 28, 2007 03:42 PM Now that I can agree with.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 28, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

You all remember that unfortunate incident in Lousiana a few years ago where a young Japanese exchange student was shot on Holloween night. This young student had been invited to a party that evening but he made the fatal mistake of knocking on the wrong house. A woman who lived in that house, upon seeing a stranger in her front yard, yelled at her husband to shoot who she perceived as a threatening intruder. This quiet and shy kid died, leaving many to wonder why this woman would screech in horror triggering her husband to shoot without much thought. I can only guess that this couple was raised in such a way that somehow makes it impossible for them to distinguish between a rational and an irrational fear.

Posted by: ArtM | August 28, 2007 7:50 PM | Report abuse

COuldn't read it all, but...

I just had to submit. mom of two. It really pissed me off when I didn't have kids when people would say: oh, you just don't understand.

YES I DO understand, and I did - kids should NOT EVER be running around a restaurant yelling while mom and dad are having dinner. Kids should learn how to behave in public, and if parents don't know how to control them, they shouldn't take them out (i don't mean the grocery store, altho if your kid can't behave there, too, then teach them, or go without them).

Really, it always ticked me off - and really - plenty of people have plenty of good to say, and to dismiss it all out of hand is a little crazy.

ALSO - years ago, when families had more kids, kids were around everyone all the time so people were around kids all the time. Now this bizarro world we live in has us go years and years without dealing with little ones, so no wonder many have no experience when we are parents - rather than be around kids, we think we can read books and understand 'em. How weird is our society?

Another, semi related topic that I realized just today - there are SO MANY parents out there that think that THEY are the only ones who should be allowed to discipline their child (really, my au pair has an au pair friend who got in trouble when she tried to discipline one of the kids - how crazy is that??). Well, if you are the only one to discipline your child, aren't you teaching them that it is okay to make bad choices/do bad things, as long as your parents (or other authority figure) aren't around? I mean, I know of parents who are angry that a TEACHER disciplines their kids...crazy....

Posted by: atlmom | August 28, 2007 7:57 PM | Report abuse

"My husband has commented on the fact that a woman could see a crying child in the mall, put her arm around the child and ask what's going on and no one would bat an eye. If a man did that, he'd likely face arrest. No kidding. How do the men on this blog deal with such prejudice? Does it curtail your actions in any way?"

Yes. Very much.

When you repeatedly get pointed stares (and occasionally more than stares) when you walk into the little kids' section of the library to go and read with your *own* kid, yeah, it has kind of a dampening effect on wanting to do anything childcare-related in public.

It takes a good bit of conscious effort to overcome that.

Posted by: David | August 28, 2007 8:25 PM | Report abuse

that must be hard David

But its not really ok even if you are a woman these days. I have been reading to my daughte in both the library and a books store and have had another child come sit on my other knee to listen. Each time I have been told off by that other child's mom as if I had enticed the poor child to do so and had some bad intention. Both times the child has been told (not only in my hearing but in my daughters!) that I was a bad stanger that might hurt them and they should stay away from me. How sad what we are teaching our children and I fear what kind of mistrusting maladjusted adults they will become.

Posted by: mother of two | August 28, 2007 8:45 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: datindazt | August 28, 2007 9:57 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the comment(s)that stated that, while those of us who are not parents don't get all the intricacies of raising kids, we can recognize things that are grossly inappropriate. The time I witnessed two kids being beaten with a pocketbook on a trans-atlantic flight? That was wrong. And so is teaching your kid to shriek at friendly old ladies. When my brother was little (5 or so), he received a "Stranger Danger" coloring book that told him to scream "NO!" at any stranger who wanted to know his name. We, including the 5-year-old, were all amused by this over-the-top advice (I think the 5-year-old was also horrified that the coloring book writers didn't think he could appreciate the subtlety of situations).

Posted by: Simeon | August 28, 2007 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone remember reading about that boy who got lost in the woods and hid from the searchers because he was taught to avoid strangers?

Posted by: Waterstop | August 29, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

As rude as it is to share unsolicited opinions on other people's behavior, I feel that it is just as rude for parents to say to non-parents "you just don't understand, you don't have kids"

How do they know what your perspective is? You might be helping to raise nieces and nephews, or super involved in a child's life in another way. We might not know what is like to be a parent to YOUR child, but to label us all clueless is just plain rude. I think we all know what assuming makes us.....

Posted by: TC | August 29, 2007 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Here it is - June 2005, Brennan Hawkins, 11, lost for four days in Utah wilderness. He hid from his rescuers and was found when someone surprised him.

Father Toby Hawkins: "I think that what kind of drove him was his fear that someone was going to take him."

Parents said he was born premature and said he was immature and a little slow.

Posted by: Waterstop | August 29, 2007 10:31 AM | Report abuse

to pATRICK

AS a trained counselor, I am sensing an underlying fear in all of your posts. I do not know if you have had a personal experience with a child being taken, but it seems that the fear level you are carrying around with you is unhealthy. While the way you raise your children is your choice and your's alone, I have to wonder if you are unintentionally transferring your fear to your children at a higher level then you intend. I'm not sure if you would be comfortable speaking with a counselor about that, but perhaps a priest, pastor, etc (or similar figure if you practice a religion). I'm not trying to be patronizing, but having experienced near-paralyzing fear myself, it was amazing to me to discover after I received treatment how everyone around me, especially my family, had picked up and mimicked my fear.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2007 11:31 AM | Report abuse

This is for all the mothers that feel that non-mothers can't tell them anything about raising their kids. Would you let your kids' fathers do anything they want to the kids? After all, you don't know anything about being a father. Really, you should let any father of any kid do whatever fatherly thing he wants to you kid because obviously he knows more about it than you do.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2007 11:51 AM | Report abuse

11:31 -- pATRICK is nuts; just ignore him/her. Oooops, sorry, you're already figured that out.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 29, 2007 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Lord...You may not truly know what it is to be a parent till you've had a child. However, that doesn't mean you can't see glaring parenting errors. Teaching your kids to fear everyone and scream rudeness is a definite faux pas.
Granted, kids can misunderstand. I remember once as a kid being told to go to a certain friends house after school. When I got there, there were people inside I didn't recognize. So I ran off to another friends house...thinking I shouldn't stay with strangers. But rather than say "good girl", they just explained who the people were later. But then, I wasn't rude. Just surprised, confused, and 5.

Posted by: XanderMom | August 30, 2007 10:52 AM | Report abuse

What's the proper way to get a kid behind you to stop kicking your seat? In this case, I was at a soccer game, and the kid was about 8--old enough to be spoken to directly, I thought. It seemed rude to ask the parents to get their kid to stop kicking me, rather than directly asking the kid. But I'm not very good at talking to children, so I just tried to ignore it and watched the game with gritted teeth...

Posted by: question | August 30, 2007 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I'm a social sort of guy and sometimes greet children who are accompanied by their parents. I like kids and I like adults. I greet "strangers" (neighbors whom I have not yet met) on the street, too. As a parent of a toddler myself, I am always interested in meeting kids and parents. Often I find it is easiest to connect to adults through their children. Which is not to say that I don't like the kids too!

It is a natural thing for the adults in a community to take an interest in children. Children bind a community together. The experience of parenthood also connects adults to each other in an extraordinary way, if they are open to it. And the presence of children, who are so vulnerable, reminds adults to step out of their own concerns and look out for others.

In this age of suspicion, I feel confident and comforted that 99% of the adults my child encounters will be kindly and helpful if he needs it. I have fears for my child's safety, just as others do, and I take reasonable precautions. But I also have fears of my child growing up fearful. The ability to trust others is one of the foundations of good relationships and, hence, adult happiness. Naturally, this trust must be based on prudence and sound judgment. But a blanket rule of distrust is not sound judgment.

Posted by: Rob | August 30, 2007 8:26 PM | Report abuse

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