Unclutter your emotions and time by giving others the benefit of the doubt

A couple months ago, I was at the pharmacy picking up a medication for my son because he had a truly disgusting sinus infection. I had him in a stroller because I didn’t trust him to keep his bug-ridden hands to himself and because a 22-month old loose in a pharmacy is rarely a good idea (especially one who enjoys impersonating a tornado).

While we were waiting on the prescription to be filled, a woman came up to me and told me that my son was “too big to be in a stroller” and if “I knew how to properly control him” I wouldn’t need to use it. I didn’t know this woman, I hadn’t even made eye contact with her, and I certainly wasn’t wearing a t-shirt that said, “Please critique my parenting choices.” Irrespective of this, she still felt the need to reprimand me for using a stroller.

I thought about lying and saying that my son had polio or a congenital spinal deformity in an attempt to make her feel guilty for being rude to me, but I didn’t. Instead, I simply offered up my son’s snotty hand and said she was welcome to walk around with him while we waited.

She declined.

This is by no means the first time I have been chastised by total strangers for raising my child differently than how they think I should. And, I’m doubting it will be the last.

It has been a wonderful reminder to me, however, to not clutter up my time worrying about what other people are doing as long as they’re not actually injuring themselves or others, putting another person or themselves in harm’s way, or violating another person’s rights.

As annoyed as I might be by a person driving a few miles below the speed limit, I just assume there is a reason and give the person the benefit of the doubt. As irksome as it is when someone’s cell phone rings in a movie theater, I just assume it must be an emergency and go back to enjoying the film. If I see a tall child in a stroller, I know the kid is safe and don’t let it bother me. Not letting these minor frustrations get to me frees up my emotions and time to focus on things I enjoy and want to do.

There are only 24 hours in a day, and I have decided not to fill that time being frustrated by other people and negative situations that are out of my control (again, assuming nothing really bad is occurring). I barely have the energy to do all of the things I want to do, and giving people the benefit of the doubt helps me to stay in control of my emotions and time.

In light of practicing what I preach, from this point forward I’m just going to assume that the woman who criticized me about having my son in a stroller was having a bad day. She likely felt the need to yell at me because someone had probably screamed at her. I ended up getting a good reminder out of the situation (give people the benefit of the doubt) and an introduction for a post (this one), so at least a couple good things came from the tongue lashing.

83 Comments for “Unclutter your emotions and time by giving others the benefit of the doubt”

  1. posted by Amanda on

    Ugh, how rude! What business of hers is it what you’re doing with your own child? You’re not abusing him by having him in a stroller. Gah. Besides, he was sick. When I’m sick and need to go to the pharmacy, I would love it if someone wheeled me around!!

    Good for you for moving past it and not letting it bother you!

  2. posted by infmom on

    My son put on a growth spurt at age 3 months and never stopped till he topped out at 6’7″ at about age 16. As a result, he was always bigger than kids his age, and busybodies were always assuming he was the age of his size and being “helpful” accordingly.

    Thus I got tut-tutted at when my apparenlty 5-year-old child was still in diapers (he was two). He was a bit late learning to talk (although it was clear from the get-go that he understood us perfectly) so here were people thinking he was developmentally delayed because he looked like he was six and was only using a few mangled words (he was three).

    If I was in a good mood I’d explain that he was very big for his age. If I wasn’t, I’d look them in the eye and say “You raise your child, I’ll raise mine. Back off” in a tone that brooked no argument.

  3. posted by Jen on

    I agree with Amanda, if the worst thing people did to their kids was putting them in a stroller when they are a bit too old for it (which is subjective anyway), the world would be a much better place. When my son was a baby I used to get comments from people who thought I really should put socks on him, when I specifically didn’t because it was summertime and he is kind of hot-blooded – I worried more about him overheating in the car seat than getting too cold. I learned quickly not to get too worked up about that, otherwise as you mention, your mind will get cluttered with unnecessary stress. Same goes for slow drivers or people cutting me off in traffic. Just take a deep breath and move on! I like to stop and think, in 15 minutes, will this matter to me at all? What about in a day or two? If the answer is no, then I definitely should not waste energy getting upset about it.

  4. posted by Roberta on

    Excellent post. People who find themselves fixated on the behaviors of others are avoiding issues that require attention in their own lives. I snap myself out of judgmental moments by remembering all of the tasks in my office and home that need to be completed.

  5. posted by Irulan on

    You handled that with remarkable grace and humor. I doubt that I’d be nearly as patient. Your point about disabilities is apt as well; I imagine that this kind of situation must be exponentially worse for the parent of a disabled child simply for the frequency of inappropriate commentary.

  6. posted by Ursula on

    Fantastic post. Thanks for sharing.

  7. posted by Julie on

    I know it’s not your point, but that lady was also just plain wrong – that’s not too old for a stroller, gah.

  8. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jen — I love this:

    “I like to stop and think, in 15 minutes, will this matter to me at all? What about in a day or two? If the answer is no, then I definitely should not waste energy getting upset about it.”

    A great rule of thumb!

  9. posted by Laundry Lady on

    You should see the dirty looks I get for using my daughter’s monkey backpack/child harness. Mostly I don’t care what people think, but it’s scary how easy it is to get child protective services involved (as if they don’t have enough legitimate cases to handle already without their time being wasted by busy bodies).

  10. posted by Emily WK on

    “As annoyed as I might be by a person driving a few miles below the speed limit, I just assume there is a reason and give the person the benefit of the doubt.”

    Sorry to be a stickler here, but I’m sure you don’t mean that you would be annoyed by someone who is driving under the maximum posted speed limit, right? I understand that most everyone speeds at one point or another, but those ARE upper limits and that is the law.

  11. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Emily WK — Driving under the speed limit is actually just as dangerous as driving over it. In every U.S. state you can be fined for driving too slowly if road conditions permit posted speeds. If other drivers expect to be going close to the posted speed, and they suddenly come upon a car going 10 miles slower, there can be very nasty results. Simple physics prove that the difference in speed between cars is what causes such horrible accidents. So, yes, I do get bothered by people driving under the speed limit because I know it is as unsafe as driving over it.

  12. posted by Emily WK on

    “A few miles” under is considered unsafe? I guess I take issue to the idea that we should consider the speed limit to be the standard rate of speed and that anyone going under it is doing something wrong. I’m a cyclist, and the “you can’t go the speed limit” is sometimes used as reason why we don’t belong in the road.

    Also, sorry for the curtness of my comment. I gasped out loud when you wrote what that woman said to you – I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people think it’s their business what other people do.

  13. posted by Sherry Banarsi on

    Instead, I simply offered up my son’s snotty hand and said she was welcome to walk around with him while we waited.

    Ingenious response, Erin! It is so true that those who are unwilling to do themselves, teach others. This is why I just ignore people who dispense with unwanted advice. And who doesn’t these days? As Mark Twain quipped: “Nobody’s habits need as much reforming as those of others.”

  14. posted by henave on

    Many, many years ago as a new teenage driver I was stopped for going too slowly b/c they assumed I was a drunk driver. One look at me cleared things up!

    Also many, many years ago I had lots of trouble at times taking my very young kids out in public. Later in life I learned they both-yes both- have types of autism. In that case, even I didn’t know why I was having so much trouble!

  15. posted by Geke on

    My challenge: stop being so annoyed by people picking their nose in the train,in full sight. Or talking really loud, or putting their shoes on the seats.. All of this takes energy from me, not worth it.

  16. posted by Ana on

    @Jen, agree, that is a wonderful way to think about it. I used to spend a lot of time being indignant about others’ rudeness. I realized recently that it was only hurting myself and growing the negativity; plus, I just don’t want to teach this way of reacting to my children. If its something really dangerous or hurtful to others, I should speak up or take action. Otherwise, forget about it.

  17. posted by mollysusie on

    I took a lesson from my friend and whenever a stranger says something rude or gives me unwated advice, I look them straight in the eye and say “Thank you, have a nice day.” Some people are so startled they just shut up, some continue on how they don’t appreciate my tone. To which I say, “Thank you, have a nice day.”

  18. posted by Kate on

    Good timing as I was humiliated JUST this morning by some man, a COMPLETE stranger with whom I had also not had any eye contract with, bellowing loudly from the other escalator: “You should do something about your hair!” Loudly enough that others turned around and looked at me.

    Sad part is, for me, it is kind of a good hair day!

    I was able to laugh this one off (sorta) because the neighborhood where I work is full of unfortunates of various stripes and I just assumed he was one of them.

    Still: ouch.

  19. posted by Ingrid on

    Thank you Erin. I think I might just print this up and carry it around in my wallet. Also, this is useful advice for handling meddling relatives, too… they could feel obligated to say yes, however – which should teach them to stop offering unsolicited advice. 🙂

  20. posted by Karen (Scotland) on

    This is such a positive post and I can definitely relate to it. I SO relate as a mother…
    Breast-feeding- “Oh, are you STILL breast feeding?!”
    Cloth nappies- “I read a report that those are worse for the environment than disposables!”
    Baby in a sling- “Are you not afraid you’ll fall and crush your baby?!”

    But I also share the sentiment that it’s not worth cluttering up my emotions by getting riled by rude/ignorant/uneducated individuals. Just look them in the eye, give a calm answer, take a deep breathe and leave them behind…
    Karen (Scotland)

    Oh, and, btw, I believe in strapping kids into the pushchairs for as long as possible. When I see a two year old running riot in a shop (as they are wired to do), I just think “Yeesh, woman, give yourself a break – this is the only time we get to legitimately tie them up – use the buggy!”

  21. posted by lucy1965 on

    When DS was very tiny and I was an exhausted new mom, several of us went to the movies. (I know, I know. I was 22.) Five minutes in, he woke up and began wailing; I carried him out and spent the next two hours in the bathroom trying to soothe him, to no avail.

    A complete stranger proceeded to tell me what an awful job I was doing; in one of the few aggressive moments of my life, I said “Oh, wonderful, an expert! Want a turn?” and held him out.

    She blinked, took him, and started cooing. DS lifted his head from her shoulder, looked her right in the eye and threw up all over her, then started howling even louder.

    (It was colic. I didn’t sleep for two years.)

    The point of this story is that ever since, I have found it simple to smile, say “Your concern is noted”, and walk away without getting upset — the memory of the stranger’s face as she handed DS back is easily recalled.

  22. posted by Emily WK on

    mollysusie, that’s wonderful. I may try to use that.

    I also like, “I’m fine, thanks!”

  23. posted by Miss Brooklyn on

    In my observation, people who have a lot of opinions about what other people should be doing differently with their lives would often benefit from turning their attention towards their own matters.

    I still remember that time Ms. Doland was chastised by commenters here for feeding formuala to her ADOPTED child. Some people need to get a life and stop worrying about everybody else’s.

  24. posted by Scott K. on

    I have to say, you handled that beautifully! It never ceases to amaze how people look at young children as ‘community property’ and feel entitled to give their opinions on what you’re doing.

    The other thing that goes with giving people the benefit of the doubt is one of my favorite expressions: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

  25. posted by luxcat on

    Great post!

    I am a partially disabled person who sometimes struggles to complete simple daily tasks when I have a flare-up of my illness, but I look perfectly healthy on the outside. People often assume that I am being somehow stupid, lazy, or slow when really I’m just trying to do simple things like shop for groceries or carry something a short distance.

    Experiencing this really has taught me to be aware and try my best not to judge, although it’s really hard.

    Sidenote… I’ve also realizes that things that really annoy me (the neighbor playing pounding music, the child crying on the plane) usually go away in a much shorter period of time than anticipated. “Let’s give it ten minutes” has saved me a lot of stress!

  26. posted by Mletta on

    Love your story! I know I shouldn’t take pleasure from what happened, but honestly when people set a mom up like that…

    Unless someone is perceived by another to be in imminent danger of some sort of catastrophe (as in: did you see that your stroller is caught in the escalator steps? That the strap from your diaper bag is caught in the door of a closing train/subway/elevator, etc.), why is it OK to voice one’s personal opinions to another?

    Yes, people can and do think all sorts of things about us and make judgements, etc. But keep it to yourself. (Unless, of course, someone else is stepping on your right to enjoy something that normally requires good behavior from ANYONE in attendance.)

    I’m amazed when people speak up so rudely as Erin’s story illustrates. I appreciate Erin’s determination to take the high road and not give those people more energy/attention beyond the moment. Not always easy to do, because many times, alas, those people making the comments can be friends (!) and family members, who you can’t ignore or make disappear!

    As for someone being in a bad mood, maybe yes, maybe not. Some people just think it is their right, and sometimes their obligation, to speak up, however inappropriately.

    You see this a lot with mothers and kids. As I’ve heard from my friends with young children, some of the biggest critics are OTHER mothers!

    Sometimes the reason folks can’t shake off something is because there is a seed of accuracy or “truth” in what someone has said or observed or commented on, even if the person speaking out does it in an impolite way (“even the clock that is broken is right twice a day” kinda thing).

    Nobody likes to be called out in public or publicly humiliated.

    Some stuff (the guy shouting about someone fixing their hair) are obviously easier to ignore than others.

    Sometimes, I’m able to give someone the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, not so much. I think some people need to be called on their behavior, because maybe it would get them to think twice about their own choice to speak out. Ignoring these people, alas, does not stop them.

    As always, a thoughtful and relevant post, Erin. Thanks.

  27. posted by Sue on

    She would have equally rude had you let him imitate a Tazmania Devil and run amok in the aisles. Her choice. Good on you for not rising to the bait.

    Raising a child with autism also seems to draw “helpful critiques” from onlookers. I can’t tell you how many people I mentally smacked for their useless, ill-mannered, ignorant comments.

  28. posted by Jenni on

    I, too, have quit worrying about what other people are doing (for the most part). When I am with other people and they get worked up about something I say something like, “Is it really worth getting all worked up about when [that person] does [that thing]?” The response I usually receive is stunned silence. I am not sure if they are stunned that I am not going to get worked up with them or if it has really made them stop and think. Probably a little bit of both.

  29. posted by Jen on

    @Mletta – I think the reason a lot of the biggest criticizers of moms and their parenting skills are OTHER moms is that parenting is a big source of insecurity. Kids don’t come with a manual, and we’re all worried that everything we do is going to screw up our kids for life, or that the little sniffle they have is really a life-threatening infection of some kind but we don’t have the experience or medical training to know better. So we all have a lot invested in the fact (hope) that OUR way is right. And that sometimes overrides our rational sense that even if our way is right for us, it’s not right for everyone – and that we all make mistakes with our own kids. Of course this doesn’t excuse someone completely putting their nose where it doesn’t belong (because we all feel this way but we don’t all go around telling moms to put a hat on that baby!), just a reminder of where the psychology of it comes from. Maybe just remembering (assuming) that the mom who is criticizing us is really just feeling insecure will help us be able to smile, nod, and walk away.

  30. posted by [email protected] on

    Sometimes we don’t even know what our next best choice will be!

    I was all ready to declutter our last stroller (DD is well over 3 and walks happily). Then she stopped going down for daily naps and consistently fell asleep when going to get DS from school.

    Suddenly, the stroller was vital, but anyone might look at little princess in there and judge me, not realising she’d just had to wake up and her legs aren’t up to the hill yet!

  31. posted by klutzgrrl on

    @ Jen, well said. Parenting is so darn tough and you are always second-guessing yourself.

    I think most people’s comments are well intentioned – we all want to stop people from making the same stupid mistakes we did. But for some reason every man and his dog has an opinion on parenting and feels they have the right to air it. This conversation was recently held very publicly in Autralian media when a celeb was photographed crossing the street while bottle-feeding a baby.

    Our society has forgotten that it takes a village to raise a child. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the toys in waiting rooms were clean and actually worked, and no supermarket checkouts had candy, and the seats in shopping carts were actually comfortable for toddlers, and the carpark spaces were wide enough to fully open the car door without screaming WATCH OUT!…. and… and…

  32. posted by priest's wife on

    I linked this to my facebook….very good reminder!

  33. posted by Calico ginger on

    I knew all about raising kids too, until I actually had some…

  34. posted by Nicole on

    I appreciate all the stories from moms! I don’t have kids yet, but I learned very young about people’s unwanted opinions/perceptions. I will never forget the woman in the grocery store who smiled at my baby brother and my mother while saying, “Your grandson is adorable!” then turned and scowled at me, the 11-year-old! Yikes! Looking back, the woman really just made herself look ridiculous by not minding her own business.

    I give huge props to all moms out there and all they handle!

  35. posted by momofthree on

    I never really cared too much when people critiqued how I was handling my kids…

    None of their danged business anyway. I knew what I was doing, how I was doing it, and it made the best sense when I was out and about with all three….one potty trained, one in the process and one in diapers.

    in the long run….will it really matter to your son that he was in the stroller for the time it took to get his meds? YOU did what worked best for you in the situation,,,
    enuf said!!!

  36. posted by Rebecca R. on

    I used to work in social work, and I had a client who actually printed up business cards explaining that her child was autistic, what that was, and why he behaved the way he did, b/c she would get so many people who would say things to her. I thought she was pretty ingenious for doing this, even though it was really sad that she had so many occasions to hand them out. Rudeness of others has always amazed me.

  37. posted by Elizabeth M Gatti on

    My sister taught me a good lesson about driving under the speed limit.
    She says that “Someday we will be elderly and if lucky enough to still be driving we may be the slow pokes on the road and we should treat them the way we would like to be treated”.

    I try to remember this and try not to judge others.
    Great posts!!!

  38. posted by Colleen on

    Here is my favorite unsolicited and unwelcome comment from a random stranger:

    When I was 7 months pregnant, I was walking through my workplace when another employee (whose name I didn’t know) called out from a distance, “Colleen, WHEN are you due?”. I responded, January (about 2 months away). Her response: “JANUARY???? My daughter’s due in January and you are WAAAAY bigger than she is!”.

    At this point I stopped walking, turned around and said, “You know, MOST women wouldn’t really enjoy being told they are WAAAAAY bigger than someone else. MOST women would rather hear something like, don’t you look great.” and then I kept walking as she verbally backpedaled in front of her coworkers.

    ….so the parenting critiques actually start in the prenatal phase around here…

  39. posted by shona~LALA dex press on

    At my job I am privy to the most personal parts of a person’s life and I have learned not to be too quick to reach a conclusion about people. Like your examples about driving or the cell phone, you really never know a person’s situation so don’t be so quick to judge. It’s just wasted energy anyway.

  40. posted by claire on

    I was terribly sleep-deprived during my son’s first 2.5 years, due to noisy neighbours as much as his teeth, and I used to be very upset by those toxic comments from outsiders. I kept reminding myself of something a coworker said while I was pregnant – essentially that we are all individuals with our own temperaments, and that no single piece of advice is going to work for everybody. I was also aware that those people would be in our lives for perhaps a minute, while I can expect that my son and I will be together for approximately 20 years, that my relationship with him matters so much more.

    And as for stroller age limits. Ha! My brother was pushed to school in a pram until he was 7 years old. My mother didn’t drive, and she could see no other way of getting a very resistant child there.

  41. posted by Radiomomrhetoric on

    I always think to myself that I learn something from everyone I meet. Sometimes the things I learn are things like:

    ~How not to EXPECT people to be kind, rather be suprised when they are
    ~How I should never treat anyone in the same manner in which I have just been treatede
    ~and how I should practice patience with their stupidity. LOL


  42. posted by [email protected] on

    This post reminds me of an incident three years ago. I was waiting in line at a supermarket checkout miles away in thought. I hadn’t put the divider behind my shopping on the conveyor belt so the next person could put their groceries on. I heard a large tut, the woman pushed me out of the way and grabbed the divider saying ‘next customer’ and loudly banged it down on the belt. I waited very patiently until my shopping was bagged up and then calmly went to her and quietly told her that sometimes people have a ‘bad day’ and their thoughts are elsewhere. Mine where with my Brother in law who had a matter of weeks to live from an agressive brain tumour. I hope that the impatient shopper remembers our quiet and hopefully humbling interaction next time she gets a bout of the ‘Tuts’.

  43. posted by kate on

    awesome post. simply awesome. Not only do we have the power to keep from ruining our own day by quickly over-reacting, but we also have the power to keep from passing on bad energy. When someone is rude to me, I often go out of my way to try to charm them and make them smile….and it is so utterly satisfying when I succeed. Thanks for reminding us about the power of positivity – and of empathy!

  44. posted by Jed on

    Salon had a piece on this cultural phenomenon a few weeks ago…and came down on the other side of big kids in strollers. Apparently there’s a whole movement!


    If you don’t know the situation (and you don’t!) there’s no reason to stick your nose in. I had a similar incident where a retired kindergarten teacher came and chastised me in the grocery store for not talking enough to my 10-month-old. Based on, what, 30 seconds of observation? Thanks for reminding me that those interactions are A) not worth my mental energy and B) probably not even about me.

  45. posted by Liz on

    God bless you! Thank-you for being awesome. I tell my husband this (and myself, from time to time)all the time when he gets frustrated with other drivers in traffic.

    Let it go.

  46. posted by LisaP on

    Great post and a great lesson to share! I have twins and for some reason that means that strangers are allowed to comment on everything from my fertility, to breast feeding, to how I delivered. My husband’s jaw dropped at the first inappropriate comment. Now we go with the “no eye contact” rule but it sounds like (in your case) that sometimes doesn’t even help!

  47. posted by Gina Keesling on

    Great post! Our company http://www.hoofprints.com/ sells a book/DVD called The Horse Boy. It’s about an autistic boy and his parents efforts to help him. One of the things I found interesting (and heartbreaking at the same time) was the parents account of how total strangers were constantly scolding them for allowing their son to “misbehave” in public. When they traveled to Mongolia, they were surprised at the contrast – those people did NOT criticize them. Quite a contrast, I thought – and maybe a lesson to be learned. They did note that culture seemed a lot happier overall, even though they did not have the luxuries that most of us enjoy.

  48. posted by kath on

    I’m just astonished that someone would think that a 22 month old is too big for a stroller!
    You showed great restraint and compassion!

  49. posted by Kay on

    Excellent post, Erin. Thank you.

    When I spot myself in judgement, I try to stick to “just worry about yourself” unless I see someone in physical danger, then I will intervene. It has saved me a lot of angst over the years.

    I also try to remember that we are only seeing a snapshot of that person’s life. The self-appointed child advocate who reprimands you for using a stroller at what she perceives as an advanced age, may also be the one who watches and notices and calls the authorities when someone tries to snatch your child.

    There is an odd fellow on my parents’ street. His busy-body ways annoyed people for a long time. Good thing no one was too harsh with him. The street was ageing around the time he moved in. By now more than half the neighbourhood is retired and flies south for at least part of the winter. He became the guy who shovels everyone’s driveway, and does even odder things. He will drive his car up and down everyone’s driveway after a snowfall to leave tracks so that an outsider will not think people are away. He will re-distribute the garbage bags up and down the street on garbage day so that it appears as though every household is active, and other odd and unrequested tasks. Guess what? No crime in a half-empty fairly affluent neighbourhood, where there should be tons of break-ins. Who knew the nosy guy could be so handy?

    We never know; this is the thing. It is easy to be kind when someone else is kind to us. It is a true test of our own kindness to be kind when someone appears to be unkind to us.

  50. posted by JustGail on

    Lucy1965 – thanks for the much-needed giggle this morning!

    As for strollers – I’m all for them, as long as they are not also used as a battering ram. I also think those child harnesses are a greatly under-used item. Yes, I used a harness until my son learned that if he behaved himself (no running around/hiding/picking up and poking or throwing things in the stores) he wouldn’t have to wear it.

    There are many great variations on the “you can only control your own reaction to a situation” theme today!

  51. posted by Anna on

    I love your approach and try to practice it myself – I am getting better as time goes on but still struggle with it at times. Having a 22 month old daughter has provided me with many an opportunity to practice!

    I am recovering from a badly broken right elbow at the moment. I am quite shocked at how impatient people are with my slightly slower movements. The cast has only been off a week and I have very limited movement in my arm (getting physio to regain it but been warned it will be 3-6 mths). People sigh and tut as I struggle to unzip my handbag, to sign my signature, to carry my bags or receive my change (I am unable to face my palm upwards).

    When getting an xray on my jaw the other day the radiologist tutted and pulled my arm upwards towards the handles when I wasn’t moving fast enough into position for her liking. This was about 2 minutes after I had just told her I had recently broken my arm.

    When my toddler is screaming at me to pick her up I have heard people criticising me for not doing it, what they don’t realise is that I can’t pick her up. I would love to pick her up and stop the whining but with only one good arm I am pretty limited if I happen to be carrying a couple of bags already. When pushing her in the stroller I struggle a bit to steer properly around people so am slow which seems to frustrate people to no end. A few seconds seems to really matter to a lot of people.

    I like to think these small experiences will help me be more sympathetic next time I see someone doing something slower (or not at all) than I would expect of them.

  52. posted by Cathie on

    JustGail-I am 100% on board with the harness. When my now-grown son was 2 or 3, he briefly wandered away from me in a very busy mall. I must have aged 20 years in the 3 minutes it took to locate him. From then on, it was harness-time if we went out of the house. I just smiled when strangers would make comments about putting a child on a leash.
    This post has generated some very thoughtful, and very excellent comments!

  53. posted by Ruth on

    As a foster parent and parent of an adopted child with many special needs that are not physically apparent (or even commonly known)… I get some comments and looks. I try to ignore them, but educate gently when possible (without giving personal info and not in front of the kids). When it’s too much, I thank my friends for listening to me vent.

  54. posted by Rachel on

    I had a similar epiphany on the subway one morning. I was on the way to work, minding my own business, when a woman got on and said “get out of my way” as she unnecessarily barged past me and several other surprised subway riders.

    Although the New York subway is a crowded place, there is a pretty universal unspoken code that people will step out of the way to let people in and out and the people trying to get in and out will do so politely and say “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” if they bump into someone else.

    Anyway, ten minutes later I realized I was still seething about the incident, and I was suddenly aware that I had allowed this one woman to completely change the way I was feeling. Before it happened, I was contently daydreaming and feeling good about the day. Afterward, I was angry and my blood pressure had risen at least a few points. By holding onto it, the only person effected was myself.

    Now, even if I think someone else’s actions are egregiously improper, as long as no one is actually being hurt, I consciously let it roll off my back. That woman on the subway was probably having a bad morning.

  55. posted by Beach Mama on

    Great post.

    I try to shift my perspective when people approach me with a less than pleasant manner. However, I will NOT tolerate abuse.

    You state; “She likely felt the need to yell at me because someone had probably screamed at her.”

    There is NO EXCUSE for ABUSE! If we think that people are justified in abusing others because they were abused we are in big trouble.

    Abusers count on their victims taking a passive role or try to get you to react and then they back down making you look like the out-of-control idiot.

    You handled the situation well. You were calm, in control, and did not ‘buy into’ her anger. But please, let’s not ever justify abusive, manipulative behavior. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR ABUSE.

  56. posted by Renee on

    Thanks so much for this post. Yes, we all need to cut each other some slack. I remember going to the grocery store shortly after a miscarriage. No one seeing me so unhappy would know what I’d just been through. They would just assume I was a gloomy person. I try to remember that now when I think, “Why can’t they at least PRETEND to be happy and nice?”

    If you really want to attract unwanted parenting “help” just put a pacifier in your baby’s mouth!! 🙂

  57. posted by Karen G on

    You are brave. Anyone who would make remarks is not mentally well. Keep quiet and stay clear!

  58. posted by Pitt on

    I needed this post– and many of the comments as well–as this has really been an issue for me lately. Thank you.

  59. posted by Lou on

    For a couple of years, when i was spiritually strong and physically well, I made a practice of saying a short prayer for anyone who: cut me off in traffic; made a rude comment; moved slowly in the xpress lane when i was in a hurry; didn’t make the light when there was plenty of time; criticized my child or my husband; etc, etc…

    I prayed a lot those years. This post encourages me to re-instate the practice.

  60. posted by DeAnna on

    Your son needs that shirt that’s making its way around Pinterest (“My mom doesn’t want your advice”)!

  61. posted by Mel on

    You know, it’s that whole ‘it takes a village thing’ (at least to me). I tell myself that it’s actually kind of sweet that this person is looking out for the well being of my kid. Because everyone out there will have an opinion on how you’re raising your kid, and some are ‘kind’ enough to share their opinions, I try to remind myself they mean well. Even though deep down I want to tell them to drop it, it’s my damn kid.

  62. posted by Heidi Poe on

    I used to worry about what other people around me were doing way too much – especially my noisy neighbors because they drove me crazy. Then my boyfriend bought me an incredible book called “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. Helped me out SO MUCH. I think it would help a lot of the commenters here too if any of you are having trouble uncluttering your thoughts.

  63. posted by Chaotic on

    Great post Erin. I agree with you on most points, but not about ringing cellphones in cinemas.

    There is simply no excuse for it. The cellphone should be off – not on silent – but off altogether. 99.9% of cellphone calls are not emergencies.

    It is simply rude and affects everyone else in the cinema. If you can’t watch a film without your cellphone then stay home and rent a movie.

  64. posted by Natalie in West Oz on

    @Sue re the Autistic child – I have one with ADHD and I hear you completely. I even had an ex policeman watching my son at swimming lessons (he wasnt coming back when called) who said to me “If you dont learn to control him now, he will be in jail by his teens”. I dont even bother answering such people, mostly because there’s no point because they dont want to hear your side of the story. My son is actually a lovely boy who knows right from wrong but doesnt hear you unless he’s looking at you.

    I brush most things off easily enough but then I cop criticism for being… wait for it… too happy!!!!!! When I eventually succumbed to a bout of depression 5 years ago after an intensely traumatic event that turned my life upside down, instead of sympathy someone said “well, they always do say fat happy people arent really happy underneath”!!

    You seriously seriously cannot win but I have learned the hard way that what people criticise says more about them than it does about you.

  65. posted by Natalie in West Oz on

    Oh, and re the speed thing, here in Western Australia you can lose your licence for going 30 kms over the limit OR 30 kms under. Both are equally dangerous. I tend to sit one to two kms under the limit a) incase my speedo is out and theres a speed trap and b) becuase I broke my accelerator foot 2 years ago and I still have trouble maintaining an even speed at higher speeds hence I go up and down a little so sitting slightly under gives me the leeway to NOT be speeding if I do accidentally go up a little without realising, but one or two kms an hour is not an issue. Trust me, my husband more than makes up for my lowered speed and he does most of the driving anyway ; )

  66. posted by Rachel Tickner on

    Thanks for posting this idea! It’s good to be reminded that giving “offenders” the benefit of the doubt is also giving ourselves the gifts of staying calm and keeping our blood pressure at a healthy level.

    As someone who has either experienced or imagined the disapproval of onlookers while my then-much-younger child fell apart in public I’ve tried to turn around the potential negativity of this experience. If I see a parent and child having a hard time (child screaming, melting down, falling apart) I try to go over and say something supportive that validates both of their experiences without sounding judgemental, disapproving, or patronizing–especially if the child seems disregulated due to autism or sensory overload. My message is that I have had the same parenting experience, I’m not horrified by watching them, and I want to give them moral support. I don’t remember ever offending a parent with this; if I ever do cause offense, I will offer a sincere apology.

  67. posted by Queen Lucia on

    Great post! One of my rules is to take people at face value and not read too much into something they say. It’s incredibly helpful, especially in an office setting, but I have a co-worker who sees slights, insults and conspiracies everywhere. And surprise, surprise – she’s a really unhappy person. Whenever I start to indulge in judgmental bitchiness, I think of her and it’s a great deterrent.

  68. posted by Rondina on

    There is an old saying that boils down to, “Most people are trying to do the right thing most of the time.” In that lady’s world, she was — in her own dysfunctional way — trying to be helpful. We try to create peace around us as much as we can and it is hard not to get rattled when that peace is infiltrated by an abrupt negative interaction. I think because we are unprepared and caught off-guard. When I moved in to this home last year I had two neighbors warn me about the lady next door. When I see her, my guard goes up and I try to avoid interaction. Any slight would not have the same effect as the pharmacy interaction. The defenses go up so the effect is nullified if a slight occurs. (Which would in turn help me keep my cool and stay rational.) These rare occasions like the pharmacy episode have a big after effect. I believe it takes time to get past these. Reminding yourself that it is cluttering your mind when you revisit the memory is a good tool.

  69. posted by Katie on

    Thank you for the reminder, sometimes I forget how much energy I waste on useless anger at others. Your “answer” to the unhelpful advice was gentle and understandable. What’s that old saw about walking a mile in another person’s shoes?? 🙂

  70. posted by Angela Glaros on

    Letting go of emotional clutter–especially anger at the inappropriate behavior of others–has to be the hardest form of decluttering. I’ll take cleaning out all my closets at once over that!

    In my calmest moments, I have come to see that the people who most often open their mouths to critique my parenting choices are broken or wounded in some way. Either they are old and scared of being alone, or they are childless and bitter about it (rather than having been able to choose not to have children), or they raised children and are still bitter about it. Or they made a snap judgement about me based on my appearance that reflects their own prejudices. I also have a colleague who comments on others’ parenting choices because she has no boundaries, most likely because her own boundaries were violated through abuse she experienced as a child.

    In calm moments, I’m able to have compassion on folks like these. However, when you’re out in public doing errands with a child, are there ever really any calm moments? 🙂 That’s why I often do my errands when my son is in school!

  71. posted by J. on

    A few months ago I had occasion to be in the DMV with my older brother where we sat down in front of a mother and her daughter. It was the girl’s 16 birthday and she was there to write the big test. As chance had it, my brother (who is not 16) would be going to the dame window as the girl, our number would be coming up before hers.

    The mother immediately started hinting that my brother should give her daughter his number. To switch. He didn’t say anything, said have a nice day and walked away when it was his turn. She turned to me and said, “Well, he’s a real jerk.”

    I paused. I wasn’t supposed to be in the DMV that day but our father had suddenly died two days prior. My brother and I had to fly into our hometown (we both moved across/out of the country) to arrange the funeral. My brother took the opportunity to renew his license since he returns home only once a year.

    I calmly turned to her (shocked and appalled), and said “Our father just died. He is not a jerk, just in a bit of a horrid rush. He’s home for a matter of days. But bravo and good luck on your test.”

    I do call these people out. I tell them point blank that it is not appropriate and then I try to let it go. Dwelling on it just poisons my mood.

  72. posted by EngineerMom on

    My son was 10lb7oz at birth, and never slowed down! He just turned 3 and is 40″ tall and weighs 40lb. I’ve been asked if he’s going to start kindergarten next year. 🙂

    Shame on that lady for making so many assumptions she really made an a$$ out of herself! Whenever I see another parent with a kid in a stroller, I assume he/she has a good reason – maybe the kid is a runner, maybe this was the kid’s punishment for not behaving in another store, maybe the kid isn’t as old ash he/she looks, maybe the kid just doesn’t feel good and this was the path of least resistance for the parent to get the errand completed.

  73. posted by Viv on

    My gramma taught me the best response. Just look confused and smile and say, “I’m sorry. Do I know you?” It disarms even the rudest people.

    Re the phone in the movies. I used to go nuts over that one until one day I picked up my new phone, didn’t even know it was charged, and it rang in the movies. To make matters worse, I didn’t know how to turn it off.

  74. posted by kevin on

    I’m a person who saves “helpful” advice for others unless there is a clear and present danger or it’s something someone really may not have noticed (flat tire on the passenger side of a car or open gas cap). I ALWAYS follow-up with actual help though.

    As an example, a young girl stopped me one time because she was having car troubles. It turned out to just be a dead battery. Rather than chastise her for letting it run down and asking a stranger for help (this is what I was told I should’ve done after telling someone else about it), I helped her out, showed her how to diagnose the problem and use jumper cables, then gave her an extra set of cables I happened to have on me. I did this on my way to one of my final exams and was consequently quite late. The professor was completely taken back by my “excuse” and late me sit for the exam anyway.

    I think too often people want to take the easy way out by giving advice, rather than actually helping someone else which might be a little inconvenient to them. I’ve learned to turn this back on people when they want to offer unsolicited comments, I ask for actions to back it up. The excuses I’ve hear after this are quite entertaining.

  75. posted by Mimi on

    LOL, lucy1965, wonderful story and i like the image of a smiling woman saying “your concern is noted”.

    it´s quite similar to what i do. especially because of the comments on my dog. i have a VERY large dog, a great dane, and everybody tells me: 1) it´s a pony -very funny, especially from the third pony-comment on my morning walk on 2) how much time i should spend to walk the dog because it needs to run so much. the dog is seven years old, it´s like 90 years in “human years”… yes, my grandma needs a marathon every day as well. sigh… i´ll spare you 3-1000.

    my strategy for this and other inappropriate comments on whatever is:

    smile and say, as friendly as possible, “thanks for your advice!”.

    and i try to focus on the fact that they want to give me an advice, that could be ment nice. but i finish the conversation on the comment with this statement, no discussion about the topic. i need energy for more important things in life.

  76. posted by Jessica on

    As several people have noted, having your own setbacks can make you a lot more sensitive to other people’s potentially hidden reasons for doing things.

    I used to get huffy when seemingly healthy people would get on the elevator and only go up or down one floor. Lazy, right? Then I came down with mono. Climbing the stairs to our apartment every evening (there’s no elevator) was an ordeal, and I always took the elevator at work. Now it upsets me when someone ELSE makes a comment about a person being lazy after they get off the elevator. Once or twice I have said, “Well, ever since I had mono I realized some people just can’t do stairs!” or something similar. But mostly I just sigh and remember that I once thought the same thing.

  77. posted by Georgia on

    This was helpful for me, given some recent feelings I’ve been struggling with lately. Re: a kid being too old to be in a stroller, I live in NYC, and have often thought it’s odd how many 5, 6, and 7-year-olds I see in strollers. But then when thinking about how much New Yorkers tend to walk in a given day, I realized strollers probably save kids and their parents a lot of hassle.

  78. posted by Matt R on

    Yes. I remember something with “always assume positive intentions” (unless there’s physical harm or potential for that.)

    People’s judgments = their world, their perspective.

    It’s your choice to get angry at it or doing the better thing: giving them the benefit of the doubt

  79. posted by Rick on

    One of my favorite quotes is, “Never attribute to malice that which can reasonably be explained by stupidity.” This mantra has gotten me through a number of situations.

  80. posted by Tanya on

    Extending grace to others can be very difficult, especially when they take it upon themselves to interact with us and critique us. But it’s so rewarding to be gracious – especially on days when you need somebody to give that grace to YOU. I’m always grateful to get a dose of grace when I’m having a “stupidity” moment. 🙂

  81. posted by Leonie on

    The comments on this post are wonderful. What a great community. I need to remember the advice here. Every now and then, someone will do something unwarranted or unsolicited that throws me off. And I’ve been in the position of making silent judgement of others. Thank you all for the timely reminders of grace under pressure.

  82. posted by Allison on

    This reminds me of one of my favorite teaching stories so common in far eastern Asia:

    “Two monks, going to a neighbouring monastery, walked side by side in silence. They arrived at a river they had to cross. That season, waters were higher than usual. On the bank, a young woman was hesitating and asked the younger of the two monks for help. He exclaimed, ‘Don’t you see that I am a monk, that I took a vow of chastity?’

    ‘I require nothing from you that could impede your vow, but simply to help me to cross the river,’ replied the young woman with a little smile.

    ‘I…not…I can…do nothing for you,’ said the embarrassed young monk.

    ‘It doesn’t matter,’ said the elderly monk. ‘Climb on my back and we will cross together.’

    Having reached the other bank, the old monk put down the young woman who, in return, thanked him with a broad smile. She left her side and both monks continued their route in silence. Close to the monastery, the young monk could not stand it anymore and said, ‘You shouldn’t have carried that person on your back. It’s against our rules.’

    ‘This young woman needed help and I put her down on the other bank. You didn’t carry her at all, but she is still on your back,’ replied the older monk.”

  83. posted by B-Philadelphia on

    I’ll never forget when I went to the neighborhood fish store and the woman at the counter greeted me with, “You’re a first time mom. Guess how I know?” and proceeded to list all the things wrong with wearing my son and what he was wearing. I was so flabbergasted I just placed my order and have never patronized them since.

    Cheers for your response to this unsolicited advice!

Comments are closed.