I’m tired of hearing these parenting “tips” from strangers on the street

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I live in a major city and walk/use public transportation daily to get my young kids around. So frequently people stop me to tell me how to parent.

They’ll say that the baby needs more layers in the winter, that my daughter kneeling on the bus seat isn’t safe, that my son needs more attention from me, etc. I do not want to get into an altercation and I want to model behavior that is in line with my values of how you talk to people. And yet, I’m often caught off guard with how to respond. Often it’s a smile, a nod, a “Thank you” even though it’s never helpful feedback and it’s always invasive. What are some of the ways to approach this sort of thing?

—No, Thank You

Dear No, Thank You,

Yikes. I wish strangers would get that parents are already just barely holding it together, and don’t need their unsolicited advice. I think your default approach of handling it with grace with a smile and a nod is a good one. I don’t know that you need to handle it any differently. It’s not confrontational, which is the exact strategy you need if you just want them to stop and walk away. A simple and neutral, “Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind,” can suffice. You can also try “I appreciate your concern,” or “It’s something we’re working on.” If someone is particularly persistent or invasive, it’s OK to show a tiny bit of teeth. Politely but firmly say, “I appreciate your input, but we’re OK,” or “Thank you, but I’m busy.”

In some cases, however, you really shouldn’t be polite. I live in a city too, so I’m very familiar with the unsolicited feedback from strangers. Recently, my kids (3 and 1.5 years old) were in a public patio space. The older one was using chalk to draw on the concrete walkway. Two people approached him and loudly announced, “Whose kid is this? He is doing damage!” I had an eye on him and was worried by the commotion, so I came over right away to investigate. I thought maybe he was tearing out plants or something destructive, but nope he was just using chalk. My son looked extremely distraught, so remaining calm, I put myself between them and my son. I talked them down by telling them, “It’s just chalk,” and, “It’ll wash out in the rain.” Then I focused on making sure my kid felt safe, by reassuring him that he was being a good boy and that the strangers were behaving badly and needed time away from us. I took him over to another area where he continued playing with the chalk, and by the time we went home, I’m sure he had already forgotten about it. I say this to note that if you notice your kids are scared or uncomfortable around some of these strangers, you should feel emboldened to step up and make sure your kid feels safe.

Ultimately, the most important thing you can do is remain confident. You know your kids better than anyone else. Remembering that will help you brush off unhelpful comments. Remind yourself that strangers often think that they’re just trying to help, even if it’s not helpful. But the quicker you get everyone to move on, the better.

—Aymann

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