When Strangers 'Parent' Your Kids in Public: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

When do you step in to help another parent? The question can be tricky even when that parent is your best friend. But what if it's a perfect stranger? I'm faced with this question virtually every day as I navigate the streets of my Brooklyn neighborhood, which is packed to the rafters with children. I swear there are more children in my neighborhood than adults. Every single day I see hoards of children with their parents -- on their way to school, the subway, or one of the local playgrounds. That means I see a lot of different parenting dynamics. Yeah, I see parents yelling at their kids ... but this is Brooklyn. These kids are pretty coddled. The yelling is rare, and when it happens, it's deserved. Like the mom I just saw admonishing her kid who didn't look before he crossed the street on his bike. But then there are other times ... I wonder if I should step in. And help?


As a city person, I've helped loads of parents with their kids in the subway. I've held doors, offered my seat, and carried the backs of strollers up stairs. But there is something about offering your help in the middle of the street that strikes a different chord. Is it even wanted? Sometimes, it's necessary.

There was the time I saw a little kid, probably about 3, suddenly take off from what looked like his grandfather. The kid began hoofing it down the street like a monster was on his tail. The grandfather (or, this being Brooklyn, it could have been a very old father) tried to run after him, but his stamina sputtered out and he ground to a halt. He just stood there yelling for the kid, who kept running.

I saw that the kid, within a minute or so, was going to hit the end of the sidewalk. We are surrounded by very busy streets. He was in danger of being hit by a car.

So I took off. He had quite a headstart on me, but I took off like there was a jet propeller on my back. I finally caught up to him and blocked him with my body as he was about to dash across the street. But I also thought, "I'm confronting a strange child right now. Will the grandfather appreciate it? Will this be misinterpreted somehow?"

The grandfather caught up to us soon after and took the kid away. To be honest, I don't even remember a thank you.

Then there was the time I spotted a mom with two kids. One kid was about 5 years old, and there was a smaller child in a stroller. The older kid was having one hell of a meltdown. First, he screamed and kicked his mother, who remained admirably calm. Then he sat in the middle of the sidewalk.

And he refused ... to ... move.

Her threats did not work. Her cajoling did not work. He was too big and ornery to pick up, and besides that, she was also pushing a stroller.

She tried walking away, thinking that would scare him into coming after her. But it didn't.

I was walking by, but caught the entire scene, and kept thinking, "Do I offer to help?"

But what would I do exactly? Surely the kid wouldn't listen to me either. I thought maybe I could push the kid in the stroller while she wrangled the little demon.

Would she want a stranger pushing her stroller? (This is the city, remember, even if crime rates are at an all-time low.)

Would this be insinuating she couldn't handle her own children?

I finally went to the store and the whole time I thought, "If she is still there when I come back, I will offer to help."

But when I came out, she was gone. She'd obviously managed to get the kid to walk.

I still feel guilty I didn't help.

Frankly, I think we should all offer to help each other. We don't have to. But wouldn't it be nice?

Do you want strangers helping with your kids?

Image via MicahSittig/Flickr

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