Backseat parenting: why it has to end

I think I heard a mom say it on Oprah, how parents tend to be hypercritical of other parents. At that time, Kaya was quite small, so I hadn’t seen the full extent to which she meant.

Now, several times a week, I get an unasked for assessment of what I am doing wrong.

A few minutes ago, our neighbor’s friend ( who I have never seen before) started staring at my daughter. She then remarked at how Kaya should be wearing shoes, as the ground was too hot. I took my shoes off, touched it, and exhibited that it was in fact quite cool; the sky was obviously cloudy, the sun was hiding. She had not said hi to me, introduced herself, or anything, she just made a negative comment. A few days before this, we took an impromptu tour of a nearby yoga study. My husband went into one room with Kaya, where a baby was playing with a nanny or someone who had volunteered to look after him while his mom was in class. She snapped at my husband ‘she needs to be changed’. She had just started going to the bathroom, and we are not accustomed to stopping her in the middle of her bowl movement to change her. We wait until she is finished.
Again, this was a complete stranger, who did not know us, nor had any right to point out the obvious, as she is not the parent. This example may sound trivial, but how many times have you had someone tell you what you should be doing with your kids, or what you are doing wrong? Now compare that to when strangers point out how good you are as a parent. I had one friend call these people ‘concerned trolls’, and I call it ‘backseat parenting’. It is not helpful, often irritating or insulting, and is a form of ego gratification to the person who is ‘ just trying to help’.
No, they aren’t.
I have had this happen to me no matter where I have lived, and the way in which the ‘advice’ is delivered from the people is always negative and sometimes flat out mean. Unless your kid is in danger or hurt and you are unaware of it, these comments are beyond unnecessary. One family member told me her daughter was approached when she was in a supermarket and told her that the child needed a kleanex. I mean, seriously? A stranger feels superior and aware enough to approach someone they don’t know and instruct them on that? Not cool. And way , WAY too frequent.
Now, this even goes further, to criticism about one’s parenting style. But if you are alternative or attachment parenting, or doing something more mainstream, your still a target for ‘you-should-be-doing-this’. The latter may receive more, and those ( like me) who let their kid walk around naked or in a diaper are like a free for all for those who need to exert their superiority in parenting.
Why does this happen? Because the ego loves to defend and enhance itself, especially in the parenting arena. And we need to become aware of it, and stop doing it, as well as to vocalize to the person doing it that it is not needed. I am not saying you should bitch slap them. I am saying you can let them know that you are OK and don’t need any help or advice. I know personally if I need advice or assistance, I turn towards the parenting community that I personally value the opinions of, and who are respectful or my feelings and ways of doing things. I think most of us avoid asking people who are arrogant or don’t understand our parenting style.
Parenting is a hard game, and each family is totally different. One is not better then the other. None of us need to have more criticism then we already give ourselves. If anything, we need praise, not to enhance our egos but to let us feel comfortable being ourselves.


About Elizabeth Kelsey Bradley

Writer, Blog Coach, and Digital Strategist based in Thailand. Wellness fan. Gamer.
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8 Responses to Backseat parenting: why it has to end

  1. lisa says:

    I went through so much criticism for years from family members, since I was the first of a large family to have kids. (Including breastfeeding two of my kids until they were 4, and having a family bed) Now, 3 of my kids are over 18 and doing fine, and most of my family has little kids – I know it sounds bad, but I have secret moments of glee when they have problems with their kids behaviour. Not that I want them to suffer, but karma’s a bitch.

    • LOL!!! I feel you!! I have 7 half sisters and brothers, and I am the youngest; only one doesn’t have kids. BSparenting pisses me off so much, and is SO RAMPANT!! I mean, with family and strangers. It’s a constant judgement festival!! I am cosleeping too, and we don’t vaccinate, so I’m sure some of my sibs would love to lecture me on that, just like strangers do LOL!!

  2. Kelly says:

    You are completely right about this, and you bring up examples I hadn’t thought about. For instance, a kid with a runny nose, dirty face, or dirty hands. One knows better than to talk to a grownup stranger about any of these things – or if one chooses to address it for some reason (I can’t imagine why this would happen) most people would bring this up in only the kindest way. But you’re right, people absolutely think they can tell children (and more pointedly, the parent/carer with the child, who is usually mom), that the child is dirty/ill-behaved/needs to stand up straight/etc. etc.

    Unless the child/parent pair is receptive and one can do this with grace, public decorum and manners have no place when it comes to strangers (or neighbors or friends) managing children. First as you say, not everyone has the same standards or priorities. And second: children are children, not adults. I am constantly surprised grownups still believe they should be seen (and seemly) but not heard.

    Thank you. This post is brilliant.

    • Thank you Kelly. Exactly, no one would approach a parent and say the evaluations they give kids. It seems they feel they can get away with it with kids, and thus do it. Power trip maybe? Maybe their parents were super strict? Not sure. I know that with me personally, I try to respect the parenting of anyone, even if I vehemently disagree with it. I had a friend crack open a mountain dew, add it to a bottle, add some water and give it to her baby. I never said a word ( but believe me, I could have). I knew I had no right to. Unless she asked me for my opinion ( and then I would tread incredibly cautiously) I wouldn’t give it.
      You are right about that whole seen but not heard thing; I think they are treated like second class citizens, in some countries. It really disturbs me . 😦

  3. Hsofia says:

    I’ve been really fortunate, I guess, as I can’t think of any unsolicited comments from strangers about my caregiving or my child. My mom, grandmother, and in-laws have said things or asked questions but they are family and are involved in my child’s life, so I’d expect that. They are not critical.

    I try not to say anything to other people’s kids unless they are interacting with me or my child. If I see a young child about to leave a space or get into something they shouldn’t, I usually say something before I can stop myself. Every time I’ve done so, though, I wonder if I’m going to get a dirty look from the parent.

    • You bring up a perfect example of when it helps the parent to mention something the child is doing, and I am going to assume that you won’t ever get any bad looks for doing that 🙂 I had a friend once ( a librarian) who would see parents go off and the kids would be unattended, and playing with light sockets. WTF? She would as politely as possible, bring it to the attention of the parent. Any time it really truly helps and doesn’t hurt or offend, that’s when it is called for. I am glad you haven’t experienced the rude, curt comments.
      To give some more example of the curt kind, we were at a hotel the other week ( doing a visa run) and one staff member told my kid she should be in bed, at 9:30. Bless anyone who gets their little ones to bed at that time, but we had just gotten off of a boat and my daughter was excited, plus she goes to bed with us normally. How this woman said it speaks louder then her evaluation; she was incredibly unfriendly.
      I have seen some parents let their kids go and brake things, at restaurants, and I think this is not cool. Then arrises the question of how to alert the parent of the issues ( always tricky). It’s a tough call in these situations. One time though, I was kicked out of my husband’s restaurant because a patron yelled at me, due to her laughing!!! No one ever wanted to serve him again, and another patron actually got up, went over to him, and told him he should be ashamed of himself!!! I felt good about that one lol!!

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