There are so many ways to be a parent, and so many parenting decisions truly are a matter of style and practicality. For most parenting stuff, I am solidly and unapologetically on "Team You Do You." I'm also not here for parent shaming, which I fortunately don't see much of in real life but is, unfortunately, very common on social media. All that said, I do believe there are some times when it's appropriate to question another parent’s parenting, or even to say something if my child or another child is at risk. None of us are perfect and, sometimes, we need the other members of our village to step up and help us when a mistake we’re making could put our kids, or someone else, in harm’s way.
I want to be clear, though, that “question” does not mean “shame.” Seeing someone making a mistake isn't an automatic license to be a jerk, and being “brutally honest” really shouldn't be a thing. Honesty does not require brutality, and for those who think it does, I really hope they'll examine their intentions and question the reasons why they think honesty should be cruel. I question whether the "brutally honest" crowd is truly trying to help other people make positive changes, or if they're just seizing on folks' lapses in judgment as an opportunity to blow off steam. Simultaneously and arguably more importantly, while I think there are moments when it's OK to question another parent, it's also important to question ourselves. Venting our own frustrations is not the goal here. Making and keeping the world safe for our kids, and ourselves and others, is.
It’s entirely possible to question someone’s choices or raise an issue with them without going out of our way to be rude to or condemn. That doesn’t mean that it will always be comfortable to say something to a friend, relative, or acquaintance we see doing something harmful, or that it won’t still be uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of a question about something we’re doing wrong. However, it’s easier to accept and act on people’s questions or advice if we can see that the other person is acting in good faith to help keep children safe, versus judging us, trying to humiliate us, or trying to make themselves feel better about something in their own life. In situations like the following, it is appropriate to question another parent, and possibly even to think about compassionate ways to intervene if it’s safe for us to do so.
When Their Kid Is Acting Up In Your Home
It’s not our place to make other people follow our own parenting philosophies in their own homes. There are merits to lots of different parenting philosophies, and many things we can learn from parents who are different from us. But if their child is causing problems in your home, it’s OK to let their parents know that what they’re doing isn’t OK with you, and that they need to address the situation if they want to remain welcome.
When Their Kid Is Hurting Your Kid
Kids are still learning how the world works and how they affect other people. That means they’ll be careless sometimes, or deal with conflicts in emotionally or physically hurtful ways. As parents, we have to step in and teach them to pay attention to themselves, their surroundings, and other people around them, and teach them how to resolve conflicts without harming other people.
However, if another parent sees their kid hurting or bullying yours and doesn’t do anything about it, it’s OK to say something. When their child’s behavior becomes your child’s problem, you have to say something to protect your child’s well-being and let the other child know their behavior isn't acceptable.
When They’re Having Car Seat Trouble
Car seats are crucial, but they can be so, so tricky. Safe Kids Worldwide says as many as 73% of car seats are installed or used improperly. If we see a child in a car seat with a giant puffy coat, with their chest clips too low, or straps that are twisted and loose, that child is not well protected in the event of a crash.
This isn’t about “questioning their parent's parenting” per se, versus finding a gentle way to help them fix the situation. An acquaintance of mine, who’s a total car seat geek, is great at traversing these sometimes difficult waters. She’s super friendly, and will say something like, “Oh, I have this same seat for my little one! It’s really tough to use sometimes. Can I show you a trick to get the straps right? Someone else taught it to me and it really helps.”
When They Bring Their Contagious Child Around Vulnerable Kids
Sometimes, parents are put in the awful position of having to bring sick kids into childcare or other public places because they can’t afford to take time off. That’s terrible on their employer’s part, which is why paid sick days for all employees needs to be the law, like, yesterday.
However, when parents are just bringing their sick kids to totally optional things, it’s really not OK. The first time my son ever got sick was at a library playgroup, because someone didn’t think twice about dragging a child with a fever, a horribly runny nose, and a wicked rash to an event where babies and toddlers share books, toys, and all but lick each other on the face. It was really inconvenient and miserable for us, for a few days, but at least my child was hearty and healthy. There are lots of brand new babies, or children with compromised immune systems, who deserve to get to go out in public without worrying about needlessly catching something that could kill them.
If They Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids
Sorry, but this needs to be said because there are still people who lump vaccination in with other run-of-the-mill parenting choices. Vaccination is not just a personal choice, it's a decision that affects everyone else in a shared and diverse community. There are certain medically fragile people who cannot receive vaccines. It's for their benefit, as well as brand new babies and anyone else with compromised immunity and other health concerns, that the rest of us need to be vaccinated. If a parent is putting their kids and the community at risk by not vaccinating children who are healthy enough to be vaccinated, we need to question that decision.
If They Encourage Violence
Back when I taught fourth grade, I once had a pair of girls (best friends) come to me in tears during recess. When I asked them what was wrong, they explained that they had been having a conflict, but that they’d resolved it. Still, one of the girl’s mothers told her that she needed to fight her friend at recess. Both girls had no desire to fight, understanding that it was wrong, unnecessary, and against school rules, but they were terrified of what her mother would do if they didn’t, so they came to me asking for advice.
I was floored, though slightly less so after a colleague’s revelation that this same parent had challenged another parent to a fist-fight on school grounds the year before I’d joined the staff. In situations like this, where a parent is encouraging violence between kids, someone has to say something. I told the girls they were right to not fight each other and ask a trusted adult for help. After school, I and two other staff members (cause you have to have back-up in these situations) approached the mother during pick-up and reminded her about what is and isn't acceptable at school.
If They're Being Reckless With Food Allergies Or Medication
If a child has severe allergies or needs medication to manage their health conditions, it’s important that all the adults responsible for them know about it so they can accommodate them. Unfortunately, some parents don’t always make good choices around their own children’s conditions, or they don’t respect when other parents make reasonable requests to protect their children. When that happens, it’s important to speak up if possible, or cause other people (like their doctor or appropriate authorities) to intervene. This isn’t a matter of style or philosophy. It’s a matter of life and death.
If They're Irresponsible With Weapons
Some folks need weapons for their work. Others just enjoy collecting them or going shooting recreationally, or displaying swords with cultural significance and so forth. It is possible to do many of these things responsibly. However, when a parent keeps firearms or other weapons unlocked and accessible to children, they are putting themselves, their own kids and everyone else around them at needless risk of tragedy. Don't let your kids spend time with people who do this, and say something if it's safe to do so.
If They Hurt Their Kids In Front Of You Or Your Child
There are plenty of things parents do in their own homes that many of us may not agree with even if they aren’t yet illegal, like using corporal punishment and shaming as discipline. For the time being, this is still a matter of choice within their homes, but that doesn’t make it OK in public. If you’re raising your child to solve problems without physical or emotional violence, and prefer not to witness it as well, it’s OK to at least voice to your child that what you’re all seeing isn’t OK with you, or to say something to the parent (or the appropriate authorities) if you’re concerned for their child’s welfare.