We all hate when our parenting is called into question, either by a complete stranger or even a close family member. We all hate the judgmental, unsolicited advice. We all hate when other adults try to parent our kid, especially when it’s the opposite of how you want the situation handled. And as a (now) mother, I actually understand all of this. But before I was a mother? I was clueless. I was one of “those” people.
I had an experience that I’ll forever appreciate, an experience where I was the childless stranger thinking she knew everything. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong at the time of my insensitive infraction, but like they say, hindsight is 20/20. Luckily for me, the mother I overstepped wasn’t going to let me get away with it. She wasn’t going to passively ignore my frustrating actions and then complain in secret to her husband about what I did that day (like I probably would’ve done). She confronted me. And to that mother who put me in my place: thank you.
A summary of the incident: My husband and I had traveled to his parents’ for Christmas years ago. Not long after I officially met my siblings-in-law and their kids, teacher-me came out, without me even realizing it. I had been teaching 5th grade at the time, being told almost daily how great I was with all the students, especially in regards to my classroom management. I was fun, but strict with “my kids” and had earned their respect and obedience. Therefore, it was only logical that if I kept doing what I was doing in my classroom, towards ANY kid, then I should get equal respect and immediate applause…right?
This is the mind frame I was in when I tried to boss my nieces and nephews around and began constantly lecturing them. One particular time, I thought I was helping, telling them to listen to their mother. But I hadn’t realized the most important thing: I am not their mother. At the time, I wasn’t even a mother at all. I was a stranger to these kids, a stranger who thought she could tell them what to do and when to do it. But in this case, I shouldn’t have had any say in the matter of them “misbehaving,” especially when their mother was standing two feet from us and was dealing with the situation in her own way. So even though from my perspective, I was just trying to get the kids to obey their mother, from her perspective, I must have seemed like I was bossing her children around. The way I went about it, I was undermining her responsibility, cares, and directions.
My sweet sister-in-law didn’t let me get away with my rude behavior. Even though we were in front of extended family I had also just met, she called me out on it, and she was not happy. A little later on the drive home, I got the whole earful. At the time, I was incredibly embarrassed and defensive. No one likes to be called out, and no one likes to accept a hard lesson when they are letting pride get in the way. And that’s what I was doing.
But now, I have children of my own. Now, I recognize how it feels when someone tries to over parent my kids in front of me. Now, I can fully understand what my sister was trying to teach me that day. Now, I can honestly say how much I appreciate that she didn’t let this incident go but instead, chose to confront and teach me. She stood up for what she believed in with her parenting, because she knew it was all under control. She stood up for her kids and protected them like any mother bear should. And she taught me how to never undermine another parent. That’s a lesson that didn’t come naturally to me (I hadn’t realized I was overstepping) so I needed her to teach me.
I think this is an example we should all follow. When someone oversteps their authority towards our kids, when someone gives the judgmental and unsolicited parenting advice, let’s change our reactions. Don’t run to Facebook mommy groups to complain about what a person did to undercut your parental authority, and then get validation from strangers who don’t know the whole story. Instead, address the problem in the moment. Call your offender out and then teach them. Maybe they sincerely do not realize their overstepping and need to recognize it so they don’t repeat the bad advice, the miscommunication, or the offense in the future. Remind them of your authority over your own kids, and teach them how they can better communicate their opinions. I’ll always be grateful to my sister in law for showing me what a strong mother is capable of in this type of situation.
So while confrontation can be awkward, and while none of us like to admit we’ve overstepped our boundaries, learn from this mother who put me in my place. Put your kids first. Stand up for yourself, because you are a damn good parent and your kids will turn out just fine, despite what a stranger may inappropriately say. And if possible, remain calm, correcting your offender with a stern love, not a stern roar.