I don't know about you, but since I became pregnant with my first daughter I have had other people pass comment on my mothering skills. Whether it was doing too much or too little exercise whilst pregnant, or how I manage my child's tantrums now she's here, everyone has an opinion.
Now, you're totally entitled to those opinions. I've certainly seen strangers and I know of friends who make parenting decisions I myself wouldn't make. I have also made choices myself that, even in the moment, I've regretted because it doesn't fit the "how to parent" voice in my head. Thinking things is fine. The question is, when do you comment?
Here's my handy guide of things to ask yourself before you say something to parent dealing with a child in a way you disagree with.
IS THIS MY CHILD?
HAS MY OPINION BEEN ASKED FOR?
IS THIS CHILD BEING DEALT WITH IN A CRIMINAL MANNER?
If the answer is no, then SHUT UP.
Obviously many people disagree with this, I know this to be true because many people choose to pass comment on my choices, and on the choices of others. So let me explain.
There are cases where children have conditions, mental or physical conditions that cause them to react to stimuli in a way different than you might be anticipating. Perhaps they're overwhelmed by crowds, perhaps they're in a lot of pain. There are cases where children are dealing with a huge trauma in their life, perhaps the loss of a parent or sibling, and just can't process it in a mature way and lash out because of the distress they don't understand.
But you know what? In probably most cases, it's simply a child being a child. Perhaps they're tired, or they're hungry, or they're just having a tantrum because that's what little kids do. Maybe the mum is handling it badly because she's tired, or hungry, or just needs to get home for a glass of wine and if giving in to the demand gets her there faster it'll save her the embarrassment of crying in the middle of the Tesco aisle.
Sometimes we make choices for reasons you don't have to understand and that's okay. I'll give you some examples.
When my daughter Rose was a baby I was pushing her pram and carrying her in my arms. Why? She had cried and wanted a cuddle, and I still had some place to be, so I picked her out and cuddled her as we walked.
"She's manipulating you, you're making a rod for your own back," a stranger told me.
Was it his baby? No. Did I ask? No. Was I abusing her? No.
What should he have done? SHUT UP.
Perhaps she was manipulating me, but if she was learning that her distress makes me want to soothe her, I'm okay with that because it's true. Perhaps I was making a "rod for my own back" but since it's my rod and my back, and therefore I'd be the one dealing with the consequences of it, why does it offend you so?
Another time Rose was having a full blown tantrum in ASDA. She was tired from swimming, she was hungry, and she just lost her mind. She was kicking and thrashing and screaming. Not because of any condition, not because of any trauma, just because she was two years old and not handling life in a mature way. Because she was two.
I sat down next to her in the shop and let her tantrum. My efforts to carry her outside resulted in both of us nearly getting hurt she was thrashing around so violently so I let her lie on the floor, moved her out of people's way when she got underfoot, and waited her out. I was tired, I was drained. I sat, kept her safe, and tried (and failed) not to cry.
"You should give her a good smack," someone commented under his breath as he walked past.
"I wouldn't be letting her get away with that," said some woman.
Their child? No. Did I ask? No. Was I abusing her. No.
Was I a tired, emotional mother, clearly dealing with a difficult, albeit totally normal problem? Yes. Could I probably have handled it better? Yes. Did I benefit from their input? No. Did Rose? No.
What should they have done? SHUT UP.
Children are exhausting and complicated and life throws situations into the air that we just have to deal with. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we are doing the best we can with a bad situation. All I know is that strangers passing judgment NEVER EVER HELPS.
Whether I'm breastfeeding or bottle feeding, baby wearing or buggy pushing, indulging a tantrum or being tough. It is absolutely none of your business. None.
So when is it okay to comment on other people's parenting?
Pretty much never. Just assume never. Just keep your mouth shut. Keep your glaring faces elsewhere. Think what you want but absolutely nobody will benefit from you verbalising your disapproval. If you're seeing us struggle with a tantrum you'll only make us feel worse. If we're happily dealing with a child in a way you don't approve of, you'll just piss us off.
Seriously, if you're a snarky comment passer, have you ever had a parent say "Hey, thanks! You're right! I've been parenting wrongly all this time, please sit down with me and teach me your wisdom?"
Then just SHUT UP.
You can check out all my contact info and links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I'm on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There's also www.sirenstories.co.uk where you'll find other work from Siren Stories and extra information. My first novel, Lilly Prospero And The Magic Rabbit, is out now and available on Amazon.