Some of the best insight comes from asking for input from people in our lives who have been there, done that. Looking to seasoned moms for help can be a real asset to first-time moms.
But what happens when the advice is offered by a total stranger?
What happens if we set out to complete a simple task, and instead we find ourselves sparring with a self-appointed parental coach on the proper way to discipline our children? Is this really helpful?
Regardless of the motive behind it, unsolicited parental advice from total strangers is met more with defense than gratitude. The messenger will often find, whether they had good intentions or not, that this is rarely a welcomed or appreciated gesture in the parenting world.
The first task I set out to complete on this particular day was simple: Take my kindergartener’s broken glasses to the repair shop. Again. It was the second pair of glasses he’d broken in a few months.
Allow me to first place a disclaimer here on his behalf. He is a well-meaning, well-behaved kid with a huge heart, and he always aims to please. However, with that being said, he’s 6. He’s 6 and he’s rambunctious and he’s energetic and he lives for the moment. Like many spontaneous 6-year-old boys, when he sees something shiny in the distance, he abandons all rational thinking and takes the path of least resistance to obtain it. The day he broke his glasses, the shiny thing happened to be a trampoline with a waterpark apparatus attached. On this day, his glasses fell victim to his immediate urge to toss all things aside and get there at all costs. Speaking of costs, it was indeed a small fortune to incur for some spur-of-the-moment fun, but it was an accident. He felt terrible, and I knew that was punishment enough for him.
Fast-forward back to the eyeglasses repair store. The end of school is near, and I am rushing around with a “to do” list that rivals a CVS receipt in length. I walk in to drop his glasses off and this is where I feel it:
That familiar sting of unwelcome mothering advice from a stranger, just when I need it the least.
“Good morning!” A lady greets me as I walk through the door, broken glasses in hand. “How can I help you?”
“My son broke his glasses. I came to see if we can get them repaired.”
She stares at me, then her eyes travel sadly down to the mangled glasses, as I open my hand allowing her to study them. I continue on, but this is where I blame myself. I talk too much. (Truthfully, I didn’t need to volunteer anything else to get to the end goal, which was simply getting the glasses fixed.)
“This is actually the 2nd pair that’s broken this year. He puts them down and forgets, and then they get stepped on.”
I can see her face change to disapproval from behind her mask, and I prepare for what’s to come next. I’ve done this before, so I mentally smack myself in the head for letting my guard down and providing the segue into her next comment… a comment that makes all parents who are doing their very best bristle.
“Sounds like Mom needs to give that boy a spanking.”
A little taken back, I compose myself, reassured that this must just be how she jokes. I force out a laugh and retort, hoping to shut this dialogue down and move forward with the reason I came: Fixing the glasses.
“Oh no. He’s really a good kid. He didn’t mean it. He felt bad after it happened.”
But here’s where it went even further. “Mom, if this is the second time it happened, he meant it.”
Did she really just say that? Now, she’s thrown me off. I’m surprised and I’m annoyed. I’m also angry at myself for allowing her snarky comment to get to me.
I feel my smile fade behind my mask as I take a deep breath, and I decide to give this one last shot. I’m not one to back down, particularly when it involves my babies.
“You don’t know my son.”
I hear myself say. At this point, she laughs, backpedals, and makes the wise decision not to press on with yet another inappropriate comment.
She doesn’t know my son…
I sank into a cushioned chair and waited, while she rummaged through frames in stock to see if she had any matches. She doesn’t know… Thoughts that raced into my head as I sat there with my blood boiling had a direct impact on the tears I felt forming in my tear ducts. I took another deep breath and sucked them back. I was determined to not allow this lady to affect me. But, still, I sat there for what felt like the longest time lost in thought.
She doesn’t know my son.
What if my son was having issues? What if he was battling a mental disorder, or any diagnosis for that matter, that presented obstacles a typical child doesn’t encounter, and this lady was suggesting that I need to spank him as a remedy for his behavior? How would I feel about her comment then? Her comment could have very well been all it would have taken to break me. Or, what if I was a mom struggling on one hour of sleep at the end of my rope, and she had just suggested to me the “correct” way to handle my child? All the “what ifs” invaded my thoughts. My heart ached for this mom with the difficult child, who was dealt this comment on the day she really didn’t need it. My heart ached for the exhausted mom, who was desperate for that one encouraging nudge to keep her going, but instead was given this. I know this mom. I am friends with this mom. I am related to this mom. I am this mom. This mom does not need advice. This mom does not need judgment.
What this mom needs is compassion. What she needs is empathy. What she needs is to be seen.
She must’ve read my change in demeanor at some point because upon me handing over my credit card, she suddenly felt the need to apologize. I thanked her for her apology and suggested that perhaps next time she refrain from offering unsolicited parental advice to strangers.
I walked away from there with the Bible verse,
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”
on my heart. I decided to forgive that lady and move on because to be honest, I don’t think she meant any harm in it at all. I don’t think she knew the potential weight of her words when they casually left her lips. I like to think that day she learned. I like to think that we are both better people from that encounter.
I’ve moved on from that day, but I still felt the need to tell this story. I feel that if it makes even one person retract the next time they think to offer parental advice to a complete stranger, then my work here is done.