When Clueless People Attack!

A friend of mine recently told me about One of Those God Help Me I Just Went OFF on a Complete Stranger times. One of those times when a well-meaning but clueless Other Adult decides to have an issue with something about your child. In her case, it was a woman in a store getting up in her autistic child's face and indirectly berating her for confining the 5-year-old to a stroller.

You're too big to be in this stroller. Don't you want to walk? Tell your mommy that you want to walk!

And etc.

My friend, stuck in line while clutching a pile of lacy underthings, didn't really have an obvious escape route and tried to simply ignore the comments, but the woman kept at it. She remained silent long enough to pay for her purchase and started out, when the woman finally addressed her directly: Well. Aren't you going to let that child walk NOW?

"God help me, I just went OFF on a complete stranger," she admitted. And she did.

I've only had a couple experiences like that. My ears still burn when I remember one particularly snide, judging remark as I hustled my son out of a store mid-freak-out -- a remark that I allowed to go unacknowledged and unchallenged because I simply couldn't bear drawing any more attention to myself. I've since had SEVERAL imaginary conversations composing just what I wished I said to that jerk.

In fact, the only time that God Help Me, I Just Went OFF on a Complete Stranger also involved a stroller.

Noah was about 3 1/2 but was going through a rough stretch where he'd run away from us. All. The. Time. Honestly, it's something a lot of kids will do at that age. But Noah had absolutely no sense of danger. He also couldn't interpret tone and facial expressions, so he couldn't distinguish between a game of chase and our terrified, angry cries in a parking lot. Upping the ante was the fact that if he DID get seriously lost, he didn't have the verbal skills to answer basic questions about himself or us. I wrote his name and our phone numbers in all his clothes. I also kept his butt strapped safely into a stroller whenever possible.

We were running an errand at the mall and I had both of the boys seated in our double stroller. An older man stepped directly in front of it and told me Noah was far too old to be in a stroller. I mumbled something about Noah being big for his age before walking away, silently wondering why anybody gave a crap about proper stroller cut-off ages.

And then I realized the man was FOLLOWING US.

FOLLOWING. A solo mother and her two children. Following us while repeating his observation about how big Noah was and why in the world I kept him confined to a stroller like that, it was time for him to walk. I finally spun around and God Help Me, I Just Went OFF.

I told him he didn't know the first thing about my child, his age, or what he was physically capable of, that he had limitations that prevented me from keeping him safe in crowded public areas, especially crowded public areas where FREAKY CRAZY STRANGERS think it's perfectly okay to FOLLOW PEOPLE AROUND while challenging their parenting skills.

He looked at me and blinked a couple times before silently shuffling off. Looking for all the world like the harmless, lonely grandpa that he probably was. I shook for a good 20 minutes afterward, feeling alternate waves of rage and remorse.

These sorts of experiences have taught me Judge Not more than anything possibly could. I'd never, ever question someone's decision to put a 6-year-old in a stroller, because I DON'T KNOW THEM. I don't know if that 6-year-old is capable of walking independently -- the fact that mine can, or most do, has absolutely nothing to do with that particular child.

Sure, maybe those parents over there are too lazy to fight with their 4-year-old about his pacifier -- or maybe it's therapy for any number of oral-motor or feeding problems. Maybe that boy's weight is caused by medication or illness. Maybe that girl takes her shoes off in winter because of sensory issues and short of duct-taping her boots on, there's nothing her mother can do about it. Maybe that's why that other kid's boots have duct tape on them.

But honestly, even if I do secretly judge a little bit, I've DEFINITELY learned to keep my stupid mouth shut. Or God Help Me...

autism, confessions, development & growth, developmental delays, safety

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nonmember avatar jodifur

I was in a crowded quick casual restaurant recently and a clearly special needs child, not that it matters, had a temper tantrum.  He was yelling, on the floor, kicking and screaming.  An older woman sitting a few tables away, SHOOSHED THAT CHILD.  The mother looked mortified.  I almost said something to that woman.  After reading this column, I think I should have.  

nonmember avatar Hi, I'm Natalie

Good call.  I'm guilty of the stroller-judging, but you just gave me an excellent reminder that I don't know what I'm *thinking* about.  ('cause I certainly wouldn't voice anything like this...)

sheli... shelikespurple

I don't get why perfect strangers think they have the right to openly question one's parenting. I got a loooooot of stupid comments when I was pregnant. And I get a loooooooot of stupid comments about stupid things when it comes to my son. And most of the time I just suck it up and smile because clearly they're the idiots, not me (I mean, right?), but that doesn't stop me from occasionally losing it on someone or spending hours after a rude encounter wishing that person a very painful bout of hemorrhoids.

Peajewel Peajewel

My daughter is 3 and is kind of tall for her age.  A lot of times, people mistake her for being 5.  I have had people say rude things to me or just loudly in general when I am out with her and I hate it.  I normally don't say anything because I figure if they want to be rude and silly that is okay with me, but I will not sink to their level.  However, with that being said, there are days that I still spew back at them and then wished I had not later on.  I had one woman say that it is ridiculous that I would allow my 6 year old (yes she thought she was 6) to behave like that in the middle of the store.  I turned around to her and said, "how my daughter acts is my business, not yours and what makes you think you know her age? Just for the record and not that it matters, she is only 3!".  So, after that she went on and on about how a 3 year old should behave.  Does it not occur to these crazy people that you are already stressed because your child is not behaving how everyone thinks they should?  Does it not occur to them that they are only making matters worse?  YIKES!  Any way, so my comment did no good, it only seemed to give her more fuel in my case so I was still wishing I would have kept my mouth shut! 

nonmember avatar Mouse

I can't remember anybody being quite so obnoxious as anything mentioned here, but we do sometimes get odd looks when I reinterpret questions for our son (who has Asperger's with auditory processing issues and has a particularly difficult time understanding unexpected questions) or deal with him pre-meltdown (which may include waving off concerned people who want to rush in with lots of suggestions and comforting, since too much talking and being in his face pushes him over the edge).


We also used a stroller until after his 4th birthday for long walks.  My partner and I liked walking for miles at a time, and there was no way he had the strength or stamina for it.  Since the city we lived in then was so walkable, however, I think that this was more common than any other place I've lived.

ajc0623 ajc0623

My son is 17 1/2 months old and has a few developmental delays. He isn't walking yet so he's either in the stroller, shopping cart, or I'm holding him whenever we go somewhere because I'm not going to let him crawl around. I hate when someone comes up to me and asks why I don't let him walk around. I alwasy say "He's not walking yet" and most of the time they have the nerve to say "Because you probaly hold him too much."

nonmember avatar Lesley

My son wears a leg brace due to a stroke, and I have people ask "what happened to his leg?' ALL the time. We were at the zoo last summer, and because he can't walk great distances, he was in the stroller. A lady walked over to me, leaned down and told me that he was far too big to be in a stroller, that i needed to stop being a mean mommy and let him run and play. I swallowed, realized she probably meannt no harm, and calmly explained that, "no, he needs to be in a stroller because he had a stroke, which although he CAN walk, makes it very tiring for him after a while." I then politely smiled at her while she realizes she had just made a jackass out of herself. I think that taking the high road is more effective at making people realize that they should keep their "advice" to themselves. No, they don't know what's going on with someone else's kid. i always an more than willing to share info with strangers because I think awareness is huge, but a quick dose of "now don't you feel stupid" also goes a long way. P.S. Thank god for strollers!!!!!!

Owens... Owensmom07

After I had my son I decided I must have been a much better mother before I had him bc I no longer judge the way I used to.  I see that sometimes moms are just doing what it takes to survive in any one way - also my sister - I have told her many times when she has children she will regret saying and even thinking some of the things she says. 

Syko Syko

My younger daughter was born with her foot slightly twisted to the inside.  The doctors said that I should not put anything on her feet at all, not even booties, and when I would hold her, to massage and lightly bend the foot to the outside.  When she was old enough to walk, then she would be evaluated as to whether or not she needed a brace on her leg.  The massage and exercise did the trick, and she was running around the house at 10 months like nothing was ever wrong.  But you can imagine all the dirty looks and loud criticisms I got for not having anything on that child's feet in winter.  Not that the child was walking through the snow or anything, and I kept blankets around her feet and legs when we went out, but criticism is freely given even when not wanted.  Years later I walked around a beach festival with that same daughter, her first baby in a sling, and listened to all the suggestions that he was not comfortable, that it hurt his back to be supported semi-upright, and that she should take the poor thing home and let him sleep in his crib.  I try not to make suggestions at all.

momof... momoflilangel

My daughter is 3 and we were going to the flea market so I put her her child harness. (the one that looks like a doggie backpack and the tail is the part the parent holds) She doesn't like to hold my hand and likes to run off as well so the harness was the best option for us there. She actually likes to wear it too. Anyways, some old man stopped and told my daughter, "Tell your mommy that leashes are for dogs not kids." I said, "Kiera tell the man that you like to run off and get lost." I could have said a lot worse but I was trying to be nice. I'd rather use the harness then her get lost or stolen.

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