I have never received as much unsolicited advice as I did when I was in public with my baby. The helpful tips delivered with a warm smile were tolerable (shout-out to the lady who chased me half a block to return my child’s dropped shoe). However, I could do without the judgmental commentary, which usually came from people who claimed to be parents themselves, once upon a time. (They must have forgotten what it was like to have little kids.) It made me defensive, because my kid was not in danger. At all. So, since my kid wasn't in danger I as left wondering if said person had some control issues. I mean, that's the only other option, right? So check yourself before remarking on my child’s open coat, dear stranger. Do you really think I’m not aware of the consequences of frostbite, or that it’s at least 15 degrees above freezing?
My confidence as a mom was never particularly high, but having people get in my business when I was truly being an attentive parent really knocked my self-esteem down a few pegs. Forget being able to push this child into the world, and lovingly care for her, while also trying to stay a functioning member of society. I don’t need props for doing my job as a mom, but I especially don’t need criticism from anyone who thinks they could be raising my kid better than I can.
The number one priority as a caregiver is to keep the child safe. I have held that above all other aspects of my children’s lives. However, “safe” is not a foolproof state. Kids trip and slides get wet and a piece of toast goes down the wrong pipe or maybe you feed your child a food you don’t know they are deathly allergic to. We can’t have control over everything. Still, there are plenty of strangers out there who’d make me think otherwise when they’d comment on my child’s unwavering determination to nail cartwheels, even though she crash lands every single time.
Here are some other signs my kid’s not in danger, but you may have control issues (well, not you, dear reader, but those who feel the need to impart wisdom to parents whose offspring don’t strictly adhere to some Victorian code of decorum):
They Are Determined To Reach The Top Of Tall Things
What’s the point of climbing without getting to the top? For kids like mine (who are not afraid of heights) it’s about the destination, not the journey. Feel free to freak out if they start scaling a bookcase, but check your judgment when my 3-year-old makes it her business to get to the top of the playground apparatus, since that’s where all the cool kids (and by "cool" kids I mean the older kids) are.
They Beg To Be Pushed Higher
As an adult, swinging makes me nauseous and I can’t handle the momentum. Little kids, however, love the back-and-forth motion; it’s like riding a souped up rocking chair. Think I’m pushing my preschooler too high? I don’t. Her squeals of delight clearly tell me otherwise and I’m not hurting her. In fact, I’m probably stimulating her vestibular system. That’s a good thing for kids.
They’re Racing Along On Their Scooter
You have every right to toss shade at me if my kid barrels into you when he’s navigating the narrow sidewalks of our neighborhood. That is totally not cool of him.
However, if he’s keeping to his side of the pavement and halting when I call out to him, then you really need to lay off the dirty looks. You’re not a target to him; you’re an obstacle.
They’re Foraging For Snacks Under A Park Bench
No, I don’t want my kid eating stuff they find on the ground (especially outside my home, where we embrace the five second perhaps ten second rule). However, these kids are lightning quick when it comes to putting garbage into their mouths. Most of the time I’m able to snatch it away before they gum it, but not always. Dirt happens. Let’s give your horrified reaction a positive spin and chalk these incidents up to building their immunity.
They’re Using A Knife
If my 4-year-old never practices with silverware, how can I expect him to improve his table manners? And yes, that is a serrated edge knife we gave him. We are watching him closely and encouraging him to use it the right way. Most importantly, we are getting five minutes to actually eat, instead of letting our meal get cold while we cut his up.
My Fourth Grader Is Crossing The Street With No Parent In Sight
She’s eight. She’s got this. We spent the whole summer practicing this important life skill, with me trailing further and further behind her until she had mastered the technique. I’m not ready for her to make her way across six lanes of traffic any time soon, but she is probably better at looking both ways and not crossing against the light than the adults I know.
They’re Jumping Off The High Dive
As a former lifeguard, I was always diligently watching the really little kids who’d toss their bodies off the diving boards, barely making a splash because they were so small. Once they hit the water, I kept my gaze trained on them to make sure they made it to the ladder. If they were struggling, I would not let them go off the board again. If they doggie paddled their way over without incident, I wasn’t as worried about them continuing to jump (though I was no less watchful).
So I took real offense this summer when a guard kept telling me to watch my 6-year-old son as he threw his tiny self off the high dive and paddled over to the side, excited to go again. Not only was I watching my kid (though my children are good swimmers, I still supervise them in the deep end), but I was fully aware of his abilities in the water. Maybe that particular guard had too many instances where parents let their children pull daredevil tricks beyond their abilities, but please trust me, standing one foot from the pool’s edge with my eyes never leaving my airborne son, that I wouldn’t let my kid in a pool 12 feet deep if he couldn’t swim.
They’re Sopping Wet From Playing In The Rain
Sure they’re soaked and freezing, but they were having fun. Being cold and wet is uncomfortable, but kids can’t catch a cold from the rain. Really. Stop calling out the fact that my kids are a mess as a parenting fault; it’s just water and dirt. Everything is washable, including my kid.
My Toddler Isn't Strapped Into His Stroller
By the time my kids turned three, they were more than capable of getting themselves in and out of their strollers and buckling themselves in. Or not. If we weren’t traveling more than a block or so, sometimes I’d forego the straps. But if my child was cranky and restless, I always buckled them in. I knew my kid, and I knew when it was more beneficial to give him a small taste of freedom by foregoing the stroller strap if he’d only be in there for a few minutes. I had them strapped in if we were crossing streets, though. That was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.
He’s Getting Too Much Screen Time
Everyone’s got an opinion on how much screen time kids should have. We just do what’s best for our children and our family. That means no screen time on school nights, but lots of it on weekend mornings. I’m sure this will evolve as they get older and need to use computers for school work, and want to FaceTime with their friends. For now, however, our family’s screen time prescription is not up for discussion and I certainly won’t be judging anyone else’s TV-watching practices.
They’re Not Wearing Hats
You know when I finally started listening to my mother about wearing hats? This year. I try, really I do. From the time of their birth, I’ve been attempting to keep hats on my kids’ heads. Newborn skull caps. Sun hats. Rain caps. It’s all useless. I considered it a victory if my toddler kept a hat on for the length of time it took us to get out of the building from our sixth floor apartment.
Now, at ages six and eight, hats are more than an annoyance — they’re a fashion faux pas. My daughter won’t get caught dead with anything covering her carefully coiffed hair and my son needs his hair to be “free,” he tells me. I give up. As long as they are wearing their helmets when riding their bikes and scooters, I’m doing a good job. They’re always slathered in sunblock. I put the canopies of their strollers up when they were babies. Anyone who wants to criticize parenting skills that occasionally allow for the harmful rays of the sun to hit tender heads can take a hike with their own hats.