What If We Did the Opposite? An Alternative to Publicly Shaming Parents

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Warning! Unattended child! Someone call the authorities!

I’ve had this post on the back burner for quite some time. It first came to me after reading this post from Lenore at Free Range Kids.  Take a few minutes and read a mom’s story about leaving her 3 year-old daughter unattended for a few moments in a restaurant while she helped her other child in the bathroom.

This is the kind of thing that both inspires me and terrifies me at the same time. On the one hand, I know that as more of us take those steps to show what common sense and parenting can look like together, more people will get comfortable with the idea that our children aren’t in danger every single second. When another parent sees me telling my son he can use the public restroom by himself, or sees my daughter biking to the pretzel shop with a friend, they can feel better about letting their own children spread their wings. The message is “This is normal behavior. I’m not a freak. We can look out for each other.”

On the other hand, I don’t want to be the parent subjected to that kind of public humiliation, especially in front of my kids. Or even worse, I don’t want to be the parent who has to hire a lawyer because some “well-meaning” yahoo called the police for leaving my 6-year-old in the car while I run in to pick up the pizza. And so I walk the fine line between trying to be an example for common sense, hysteria-free parenting and trying to stay under the radar so as to not draw undue attention to ourselves.

It was this line specifically in Lenore’s post that had me reconsidering what life for parents like myself could be like, if people would just stop and think for a moment:

“Why don’t onlookers realize that they are PART of the safety net that looks after our kids and not the shame brigade?”

What if we did the opposite? What if we took the energy it required for us to shame, condescend, judge, or complain and turned it into some positive action instead? So maybe that women at Taco Bell wouldn’t make the same choice. Maybe her gut, as a parent, tells her that she’d feel better taking both kids to the bathroom. That’s okay! I’m not going to rip you a new one because I think you’re making things unnecessarily hard on yourself. But when I think of the energy it took for her to shame another mother, I get angry. Why not use your energy to help?

Offer to keep an eye on a toddler so a mother can take an older child to the restroom. If you see unattended kids in a car near a place of business, hang out for a minute and asses the situation. If the parent comes back out in a few minutes and the kids are oblivious, smile and get on with your business. You feel better in that you’ve made sure no harm is coming towards the kids, the parent doesn’t get shamed for doing something our parents did day in and day out when we were kids. If you see kids playing outside without adult supervision, observe for a few minutes. Are they having fun? Playing appropriately? Good! You are an extra set of eyes looking out for the next generation, as other adults did for generations before this one.

Shaming wastes energy and helps no one. It wastes public resources when CPS is called to handle cases of no consequence while actual abuse is happening to children elsewhere. It pulls police officers away from real crimes. It turns good parents into fearful ones, who in turn pass the fear onto their children. Then, in a few years, these same “helpers” will bemoan the fact that we have raised a generation of kids who can’t function as responsible adults. They will blame technology, the government, the parents, the school system, but they will never think for one moment of the part their judgement played on how children are raised today.

Have you ever been shamed publicly like this mother? Or have you ever felt the need to call someone out on their parenting in public? How can we handle situations like these in the best interest of the kids involved?



  1. I think this is a really good post and makes perfect sense when you think about it logically. Unfortunately, not everyone is rational and worse, when you point out logical fallacies (like the mother from the linked post did to the woman), people tend to get defensive and things escalate. I suspect they’d also make the argument that you/her/parents are shifting their responsibilities to others (that may not want them) and are shirking their parental duties and I can understand that POV. But I’m of the opinion that most people are generally good and won’t complain too much (or are too polite to complain, at least). I suppose I’d just add that I’d put a bit more onus on the parent in some of these situations. In the Taco Bell story, there’s probably a big difference in how it plays out if the mom just says real quick that she has to check on her son and would they mind just keeping an eye on the girl. It actually could even be more passive than that if the mom says to the girl (but loud enough for those nearby to hear) that she’s going to check on her brother real quick and that she’ll be back in a minute.

    • I think you’re right. Just voicing aloud what you’re doing, even if it’s to no one in particular, lets it be known that you’re aware that it’s not an ideal situation and that you’re not just walking away from a child. It also gives the people around you a chance to step in and offer to help. Like you said, I believe most people are generally good and would offer to help or at least acknowledge the predicament you’re in instead of jumping all over you.