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Knee jerk or just jerk? 

A friend of mine was at swimming lessons with her family. This visit to the pool was nothing out of the ordinary. They swam. She nursed her toddler. They got ready to leave and headed out to the parking lot. As they were putting their children into the car, another family tossed their young child into the backseat of their car, didn't put her in a car seat or buckle her up with a seat belt, and started driving away. My friend banged on their car and told them their child had to be properly secured. That it is the law. The mother turned to my friend and said "stop breastfeeding your daughter" and drove off with the child still unbuckled.


Parents, and mothers in particular, seem very apt to react emotionally to any criticism of their parenting, whether warranted (as it was in this case) or not (as it is so frequently). It even goes as far as people reacting emotionally to anyone else supporting a parenting choice that is different from their own. These emotional reactions do nothing but fuel the mommy wars. I think if we all took a moment to think and reflect in the face of any direct or indirect criticism, rather than responding in anger, we'd all be a lot happier and like each other a lot more.

Knee-jerk reactions make you sound like a jerk. Period.  If someone does criticize your parenting, whether warranted or not, stop and think before you respond. Use rational arguments rather than shouting irrelevant or unrelated insults or criticisms in return. It will make other people like you a lot more, but more importantly, I think it will make you like yourself a lot more too.
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Reader Comments (111)

Unfortunately, when the parenting tactic being criticized is as ridiculous as not putting your toddler in a car seat, it's gonna be difficult to respond with any sort of a calm or rational argument... =(

But, you do make an excellent point of not automatically getting defensive or spouting off insults when someone questions your parenting choices.

One question this post brings up for me... if you see someone do something that is that dangerous/irresponsible, but also clearly that much of a definite choice made by the parents (they didn't just forget to buckle the kid up, it looks like that was a deliberate decision to let her sit in the back seat without a restraint) is it even wise to try to point it out? My guess is in most of those instances you'll experience the type of reaction your friend did. It may sound callous of me to say so, but I wonder if in those cases it's best to just leave well enough alone...?

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy


There is always the option of calling the police, which is what my friend did after they drove off. Unfortunately, despite the fact that our local police is supposedly doing a crackdown right now on car seat usage, I know people who have called the police before to report habitual non-use of child restraints and the police don't bother to look into it.

In terms of approaching someone, I think positioning it as offering help instead of just criticizing can help. In this case, for example, I might try to phrase it in such a way as to make it sound like I am sure they just forgot to buckle their child in (rather than that they purposely didn't do so). Similarly, if someone is screaming at or hitting a child in public, you could ask if they need a hand. Certainly, that isn't guaranteed to solicit a positive response, but maybe it would be more likely to get a positive response than just telling someone what they are doing wrong. Not sure.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

O...M...G. I just, I don't even know how I'd respond. I'm definitely one of those people who would have said something to the family not buckling their kid, too. And then, especially after a response/reaction like that, I would have been on the phone with the police spouting out their license plate number. Holy cow. My blood is boiling just thinking about that whole situation.

April 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJill @BabyRabies

I am the type of parent who researches everything obsessively, to ensure that I am making informed decisions. I am also the type of parent who will do whatever it takes to pay for my decisions. So, yeah - research has clearly indicated that car seats are the safest place for young children, and the law requires the use of a car seat (with age/weight/height guidelines). We have a top-of-the-line car seat, still rear-facing (DS is 13 months, 22 lbs). But that is me/us.

I can also recognize that much of the way I view the world comes from a place of privilege - education, race, socioeconomic, etc. Not everyone has access to the things I take for granted, not everyone understands all the options available to them.

I actually got into a heated argument with someone about this one time ... because I feel there is no excuse *not* to use a car seat - you can get one for free through many organizations. My opponent disagreed with me vehemently - pointing out what she believed to be a naive - if not racist and elitist - point of view. People with less money have less access - to everything. Sure, I know about places to get free car seats - but the people who really need this service may not have the information. Further, it is common (at least where I live) to see several children sitting in one another's laps in the backseat of a small car, none have seat belts on - the family does not have the money to buy a larger vehicle ... and a car seat would take up a large amount of space ... and only 2 will fit in small cars. How do you transport your entire family if you can't affort a larger vehicle? I have even seen young children holding newborn babies while riding in the back seat of a car! While it is heartbreaking to think of the dangers ... this is the financial reality for many. It is also part of a culture - in many other countries, it is common to see whole families of 3, 4 and more piled onto a moped - with groceries! I am not defending putting children in danger or breaking the law ... just pointing out another side of the story.

In the case described above, it sounds like the problem was just blatant disregard for the safety of the child as well as for the law. But we don't know the whole story ... I would have called the police and let it go. I wouldn't feel safe in this world yelling at/pounding on someone's car, especially with my own child in tow - you never how people are going to react to such an "attack" - whether what they are doing is indeed unsafe and illegal or not.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteracbphoto

I gotta say, I don't really think it was your friend's place to 'tell' them to use a child seat or seat belt. I know it's illegal but telling people how to parent never gets a good response. If she was concerned for the child's safety she probably should've skipped the confrontation and just called the police. Are the parents extremely stupid for driving around without a restraint? Absolutely. But we don't know the situation or the people so unless the child's life is in immediate danger I'm not sure it's always the best idea to intervene.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNoble Savage

You did not mention how your friend reacted to the "unwarranted" remark about breastfeeding. Sounds like it was said in anger with the unspoken "mind your own business" behind it.

It seems to me that being critical of someone's parenting style - whether openly, or silently - has become a part of our collective personality. Let us face it, even our own parents are critical of how we raise our kids. How do we react to their criticism? How do we react to any criticism?

Giving feedback is an art, just the same way receiving feedback is an art. If you give feedback (or criticize) with a "I know it better than you" attitude, it is not going to go well. It is not just the words you use, but also how you say it and what you don't say. When feedback is given in a defensive way, it is also received in a defensive way. From that point of view, the feedback giver owns a higher level of responsibility for the resulting response.

I think your friend showed the right sense of urgency because the situation involved a child's safety. There is no perfect way to handle a situation like this. Your suggestion about offering help rather than just being critical is a good one. The only thing I will add is that do it in a way that shows you are genuinely offering help. That will improve the likelihood that your approach will be received favorably by the other person.

Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTwinToddlersDad

Bit of a tangent here, but how do you know the police haven't looked into the reports? Did they inform the people who made the reports that they were not going to look into it or have those people just not seen results? Is it possible that the police just haven't gotten to it yet, as they may be dealing with calls/issues that may be a higher priority? Sorry - I tend to get a bit defensive when people are critical of police. I used to be somewhat critical too, until my husband became a cop - his experiences have given me new insight into the challenges and pressures they face. Given limited resources (in our city, police are very short staffed though to the outside observer it may not appear that way) the police are often limited to addressing emergency calls and aren't able to get to other non-emergency calls related to community safety. They recognize that issues like the car-seat use are important, but they just might not be able to address it right away.

Another option for addressing issues of child safety, like not using car-seats which is, in my mind, child endangerment, is to call Children's Aid - you might need more than a licence plate though to make a report; they may require a name and/or address, though one would hope that Children's Aid would be able to get an address from a licence plate by contacting police. Maybe police should just pass on reports re: lack of child seat use to Children's Aid, though I'm not sure they have enough time or resources to address reports, either.

Re: criticizing - I often find myself biting my tongue re: parenting practices I feel really strongly about. I'm getting better at not criticizing, though I do "offer information" and refer people to websites and blogs (often this one) that eloquently express the things I'd like them to hear/learn. But not judging is quite a bit harder, especially when it comes to things like cry it out, and ideas/beliefs that are not evidence based.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Personally I think the person lashed out because they knew damn well they were wrong. You don't endanger a child like that period. I tend to stay out of people's business unless I think that a child is being hurt. At that point any adult that witnesses it has a duty to speak up and who cares about the parents feelings. Children are vulnerable and cannot protect themselves and it is up to all adults ton make sure they are not harmed.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRenee


The people I know who have called the police multiple times are reporting a dad who picks up his children from school every day and puts them into the car unrestrained and drives off. They have reported him multiple times, giving a licence plate and the location of the school where they could come and watch him do it any day of the week. But yet it continues...

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

But isn't the child's life in immediate danger if they get hit by another car pulling out of the parking lot and the child goes flying through the window?

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

"But isn’t the child’s life in immediate danger if they get hit by another car pulling out of the parking lot and the child goes flying through the window?"

'If' is the key word here. A possibility is not an immediate danger. A child running out in front of a speeding car is an immediate danger. A child getting into a car unrestrained is not an immediate danger because, although it has the potential to be very dangerous indeed, it is not a certainty or even a strong possibility that the car in which he or she is riding will be in an accident, let alone one that will send him or her 'flying through the window'. In that regard, putting a child in a car without a child seat is indeed a gamble (one that not many parents are willing to take but, again, we don't know the situation or why the family might not have or be using a seat) but not necessarily an immediate danger.

I look at it in the same way I would a family riding bikes in traffic without helmets on. It's not a good idea, certainly, and has the *potential* to be very dangerous but ultimately it is their decision to take those risks. We might not like it, we might they're insane to take those risks, but I don't think it's really our place to 'inform' them of why their decision is a bad one. Engaging in dialogue is one thing but banging on someone's car and shouting at them isn't really 'dialogue' and so I'm not surprised at all that your friend's response was met with reciprocal judgment and unkindness. Assuming that someone who makes a different choice is simply 'uninformed' can come across as elitism masked as concern, even if that was not the intent. This applies to other areas of parenting in which we hold strong convictions of what is 'right' and that anyone not making a similar choice either doesn't know that what they're doing is 'wrong' or doesn't care. It's dangerous ground to tread.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNoble Savage

It's so sad when someone responds out of defense that is only meant to be hurtful, and not civil or open minded. I don't want to be that type of person.


Tough call. I think if I was in that situation I'd probably say something in the heat of the moment too. But as one of your commenters pointed out, we really don't know the whole story, do we? And it's hard to pass judgement without knowing both sides. (Haven't we all been in situations where we look like "bad" parents out in public?) Maybe the family can't afford a car seat? Maybe they actually have one but the dog barfed all over it before their left for swim lessons? Maybe it wasn't their car and they were mortified to be travelling without a car seat ... you know what I mean?

Their pointed and rude remark about the breast feeding was uncalled for, but I also think, said out of guilt. They knew they were in the wrong.

I tend to think that if you can afford to pay for swimming lessons, then you can afford to pay for a car seat. Priorities are important. But perhaps that is an elitist point of view. Certainly there could have been reasons other than money (as andrea from the fishbowl mentioned), but personally (a) even with those reasons it isn't a risk I would take and (b) if I felt I was justified in doing so, I would explain my reasons rather than just lashing out at the person.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I have been in the situation of seeing a child, unrestrained, head poking out of the sunroof of a car. A family a few blocks down from me does this routinely, the child's head pops up as soon as they turn off of the highway, still 2 miles from their home. I started calling the police, but I never approached the parents. They aren't going to listen to me but maybe they will listen to a police officer. I can only hope.

I have to agree with some of the previous comments, the person lashed out because they knew they were wrong, became defensive and tried to "hurt back." That in no way justifies or excuses them, but it perhaps puts their statements in context. It's sad when a knee-jerk reaction is to BE a jerk. I try very hard not to be that kind of person.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

Fantastic article, Annie, and very thought-provoking. A couple of months ago a friend of mine asked on her facebook for experiences where one has confronted another person in public, and got some interesting stories. I think, if it was me and I had had time to think through my reaction (which it sounds like your friend did not), I would likely have said, "Oops, looks like you forgot to buckle in the little one!" If the reaction had been hostile (as it was), I would have called the police right away (and they would in turn contact Child Services). I would have tried not to make a confrontation about it. But in the circumstances, with the family about to drive off, I think your friend did the best she could.

I disagree strongly with those who say it was not your friend's place to say anything. Of course it's our place, as members of a community, to look out for all our children.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternatalieushka

I am going to be devil's advocate for a second and ask if people speak out if they see adults and/or children jaywalking, not wearing a bike helmet, eating hotdogs (choking hazard!) or walking their dogs off their leashes. Those situations are also potentially life-threatening, aren't they?

I'm really torn here. Do we, as parents, speak out? Or keep our advice to ourselves?

I meant to write: "if they SEE adults and/or children" ... Sorry!

If I see a child riding bikes with a parent and the child is not wearing a helmet, and I can say something, then yes, I do. Usually I'm driving past them in my car. I have been known to yell at pedestrians when they are jaywalking, especially with children.

I agree that there must be a line somewhere. I'm not sure where it is. But not putting your child in a car seat when motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for children is definitely on this side of the line.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternatalieushka

I agree with everything Noble Savage says above ... and would like to add: Nothing good is likely to come of approaching someone about a parenting choice in the heat of the moment. The car seat-less parents in this example would most likely not have stopped the car to listen to your friends "reasonable explanation." And the fact that this is a decision *you* would not make is exactly the point, in my opinion. Frankly, I am not even sure it should be a law - and think it is likely a law because of all the money it makes for car seat manufacturers. There are many, many "choices" parents make on behalf of their children that are far more likely to cause bodily harm than a car accident, yet there are no laws dictating those things. Should we just keep making laws and remove free choice? Where would it end? Think of times when you have had calm conversations with *friends* about differing choices in parenting - even that can be quite difficult and charged with emotion. So of course confronting a stranger - by yelling or banging on a car - is not going to be taken well. How would your friend have reacted had that parent walked over to her at the pool and yelled, "No one wants to see that - put your breast away!" Granted, a car seat is a safety as well as legal issue ... but still, unsolicited "advice" has the same negative and emotional result either way.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteracbphoto


I'm not sure if your "reasonable explanation" comment was in reply to my comment above where I said "(b) if I felt I was justified in doing so, I would explain my reasons rather than just lashing out at the person." If it was, I think you misunderstood. I was talking about how *I* would react if I got caught/called out for not having my kids buckled in. If there was a reason for it, I would tell the person what that reason was, rather than just yelling an insult back at them. Me explaining my reasons for not having the kids buckled in is the "reasonable explanation" I was referring to.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I might say something like "I had a green light - you're very lucky I didn't hit your family - please be careful" if people are crossing the street when they don't have the right of way. With regards to bike helmets, I haven't criticized individuals in public, but I did http://www.phdinparenting.com/2009/12/05/monkey-see-monkey-do-images-media-and-public-health/" rel="nofollow">write a post about it. Both my husband and I have told off our neighbour several times in the past week for allowing his dog to come, off-leash, to either do his business on our property or bother our kids while we are at the public "no dogs allowed" beach. I guess I tend to be non-confrontational about these things unless I am directly impacted (i.e. almost got hurt by or hurt someone who was being unsafe).

Personally, if I did forget the safety rules (I have started pulling out of a parking spot before realizing that my child wasn't buckled in), I would rather have someone say something to me than call the police on me. I'd probably be embarrassed and I might be angry, but that would still be a lot better than having the cops pull me over or show up at my house. Less penalty and less humiliation. Plus I can immediately address the issue (i.e. stop and do up the seatbelt).

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

When I started reading your post, I thought you were going to talk about how your friend had a knee-jerk reaction. I wasn't at all surprised she got the reaction she did, and I definitely wouldn't take it personally. Both sides seemed poorly thought out-like you seemed to say in one of your comment responses? It also makes me wonder if your friend either already has something against this person and it was just *one more thing* or alternatively, she was friendly with them and was surprised into action by the situation.

Maybe, like another couple of commenters, I'm from a different part of the country so it's extra surprising to me. I would have done something like point to the back and make a hand motion or maybe say-hey, did you want some help buckling him/her in? Also, if I go to the pool all the time, I might make a point of introducing myself the next time I see them or try to catch them and give a calm word/offer a hand before they get to the car.
Seriously-banging on the car? That's not helpful, and I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable doing that. If it was directed at me for whatever reason, I would feel *very* threatened. Scared even. It's just going to piss the parent off or scare them and make them more likely to drive badly. Not helpful. Like I said, though-we don't even honk where I'm from or very very rarely (like the law says you should), and it's a large (top 5) city. Really, where I live now, people honk, and I always tense up when I hear it because I'm not used to it at all.

I also wouldn't just call the cops. I have nothing against cops, but, again, being where I'm from, you never know how that will affect the person or the family unless you really know their situation. I've worked in therapy situations often enough to know too that seat belts are not usually the biggest issue for many families (or for the police!) It's all perspective. Depending on what home-life is like, seat belts may be the very last thing on their minds.

Oh, and saying 'it is the law' to someone versus 'it's dangerous-accidents can happen so easily' or something is also sort of incomprehensible to me. Different world views I guess.

Sorry for the rambling nature of the above-the whole encounter rubbed me the wrong way, I guess. Thanks for the provoking post!

I just wanted to add a 'wear your helmets, please' to this post. :) Someone mentioned them above. I study brain injury, and helmets work. Seatbelts work too. Confrontation, not so much. Ok, that's all!

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Oh, and another thought-I don't know what your friend thinks about Attachment Parenting, but I know you're an advocate. It just got me to thinking. Why is it that many of the AP ideas are assumed to only apply to children? At what point to draw the line? It's not just 'take responsibility for your actions' as an adult-you hopefully want to guide your children to be responsible too. Why not expand the idea of AP to include gentle living and gentle communicating to everyone? Or am I way off? Thinking "out loud" here :)

Again, thanks for the post!

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

I just can't get that emotional about the carseat thing. (it seems to be largely a middle-class white woman obsession, the car seat thing. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that, of course.)

My kids are all in car seats, and, in general, I'm pretty nitpicky about it myself... but you're talking to a woman who distinctly remembers LAYING DOWN in the floorboard of the family van. There's no way I'd bang on somone's window to harass them about a practice that my own beloved mother didn't bother with half the time.

And why would you even attempt a "reasonable" discussion with an adult unhinged enough to bang on your vehicle, I ask? I would not. I don't owe every wealthy woman with an opinion a lengthy explanation about how I raise my children.

Pick your battles, and mind your own business. That's what that mom was telling your friend.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBoozehound

You really YELL at people from your moving vehicle for 'jaywalking' or for not wearing helmets? I think that's just ridiculous. It is not your job to make sure everyone else is conforming to your safety standards. Would you tell a parent with their severely overweight child in McDonald's that they're endangering their child's health by letting him eat that Happy Meal? Would you stop a parent who was smoking while pushing a stroller and tell them to put it out because if offends your idea of what is 'right' and 'safe'?

I agree with Boozehound -- there does seem to be a certain breed of middle class parent concerned with everyone's 'safety' to the nth degree and who aren't afraid to 'educate' you on the 9,000 ways everyone else and their child might die if they don't adhere. Where does it end? Why can't people who are concerned about safety just do what they feel is best for their family and keep their opinions about others' practices to themselves? Unless it is endangering your *own* family, I really don't see how it's your business. I use car seats and I would hate to see a child travelling in a car without one but I wouldn't yell at people who have made a different choice (for whatever reason, which I would have no way of knowing) and tell them how wrong they are. If you need to do that to allay your conscience then knock yourself out but be prepared for the nasty comments and brushoffs, I say.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNoble Savage

Knee-jerk, or jerk? Both. I am not surprised the person reacted as she did, she was on the defensive and would be well-aware she was in the wrong, and felt attacked. Her comment shows her ignorance further. As to your friend, I don't think banging on the car was the right way to go about it, but at the same time, had she been more gentle as some have suggested or said "oops, looks like you forgot to buckle up your child" -- most likely she'd have gotten the same response. Because it wouldn't change the fact the other woman was "caught" doing something she has to already know is stupid, she'd have gone on the defensive anyway! Few people like being told they are wrong, especially not people who think they are above the law and so secure in their rightness they endanger their kids.

Some have suggested your friend shouldn't have said anything because she is not aware of the reasons behind why the other parent didn't have a carseat. Um, are there any good reasons? Really? Someone might think they have a "good reason" for running a red, doesn't make it any safer or more legal! Carseat cover wet? Guess that means skipping swimming! Or putting the kid in a damp seat. Can't afford a seat? There are some very affordable seats, if you can afford to drive a car, you can afford a seat. If not, the savings from taking the bus or walking for a while would go a long way towards saving for one. Still can't afford one? Then I guess the kids can't go in the car! Seriously. Because last I checked, it really was the law.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

and as for bike helmets, do you know how awesome it would be to even see a family out biking together?

If you make getting regular physical activity into a freakin logistical nightmare in the name of safety, it is not going to be a surprise that lot of tired people opt to let the kids play XBox all day long. Shrug.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBoozehound

That is terrible - on the part of the parent and the police. Perhaps a call to CAS next... or to a police supervisor?

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Noble Savage:

I guess I think there is a difference between "my safety standards" (or anyone else's) and something that is both dangerous and against the law. Taking your severely overweight child to McDonald's is not a great idea IMO, but if it is a special treat for a child who has otherwise been adhering to a strict diet and working really hard at losing weight, then it certainly isn't my place to jump in and tell that person what to do. Someone smoking while pushing a stroller? Better than smoking while driving the car with all of the windows closed (which is against the law here, just like not using a child seat or allowing your child to cycle without a helmet).

You asked "why can't people who are concerned about safety just do what they feel is best for their family and keep their opinions about others' practices to themselves?". I guess because I couldn't live with myself if knowingly didn't say something in a dangerous situation and then something happened. In fact, I think it is pretty disgusting how often people turn a blind eye and let people drive drunk, abuse their spouse or child, etc. Is there never a situation where you would intervene if it didn't affect your own family's safety? I can accept that maybe your line, my friend's line, my line, Natalie's line may all be in different places, but surely there is a line? Is there not?

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

The banging on the car, was intended to get their attention. It wasn't a violent type of knocking, just a "hey, I'm here, I would like to tell you something" kind of knocking. Saying "excuse me, your child isn't buckled in" as someone drives off with all of their windows up, isn't going to accomplish anything at all. She needed to do something to let them know that she wanted to tell them something. Honestly, it is the same technique I would use if I wanted to tell them that they had left something on the roof of their car, had left a bag sitting in the parking lot, etc.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Well said, Annie! I was trying to come up with a response, but couldn't find the right words!

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I have never NOT buckled in my child. But there is something inherently obnoxious about another parent banging on your car door and telling you what to do. Sorry. And did they really "toss" their toddler in the backseat?

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarinka

I'm sorry...it's the law not a kneejerk reaction. Can you imagine the guilt you would feel if you were in an accident with them and something happened to that unsecured child?! It causes me mental anguish anytime I see a child unsecured in a vehicle. In our neighborhood it seems ok if you're going to or from the bus with your older kids...and don't get me started on the number of parents not using a booster seat as required/recommended!


April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHchybinski

Marinka: Apparently they had been arguing with the child. The child wanted chocolate. The parents said no. The child was tantruming. They tossed her in and took off. I've been there, but I don't think it gives me an excuse to ignore safety.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Hchybinski: The knee-jerk reaction I was referring to was the mom yelling out "stop breastfeeding your daughter".

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I agree with many of the other posters in that I think your friend probably didn't handle the situation in the best way - however, I likely would have responded similarly - though generally non-confrontational, when I see something I perceive as dangerous, I tend to act quickly and my response isn't always as calm or as constructive as I'd like it to be. Chances are, if a car is driving away, the driver isn't likely to stop for some constructive feedback, anyway, so an easy way to bring attention to the concern quickly may have been to bang on the car. Again, probably not the most helpful response as it is likely to provoke a defensive reaction (like it did in this case), but she made sure the other family were aware of the issue.

The fact that the other woman's defensive response was regarding breastfeeding kind of baffles me - obviously, the breastfeeding affected the woman strongly, but still kind of bizarre to me that someone would defend their risk taking behaviour with a criticism of something that is healthy and beneficial, though still controversial to some.

With regards to the various comments re: choices, and why care about other people taking risks - why not care? I care about people, period. I wouldn't want to see anyone get injured, especially a child, and I feel we all have a responsiblity to care for and protect each other. I also think that what happens to others can affect one's family and community and the greater society in so many different ways.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

In the US, carseat laws vary from state to state. In my state, some sort of seat or booster is required until age 8, but in a neighboring state, where a friend is from, seats are only required until age 6. So when my friend was driving through my state and stopped at a store, someone said something to her about her child not being in a seat. Her 7 year old is on the small side, but at home, not required to be in a seat or booster. The commenter assumed that 1--they were purposely breaking the law and 2--that her child was actually younger than she looks. SO yeah, even "knocking" on the car is IMO obnoxious. There are so many better ways she could have handled it. Who elected her carseat police?

I see kids unrestrained in cars all the time. But the police in my city have way too many murderers and drug dealers to deal with. I would never call the police over a carseat issue--I say a prayer instead that God keeps them safe.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I think we should be kind enough offer help those less privy to information than us, as well as those who clearly need protecting, like children. I assume that's how your friend approached the situation, and it would seem she was rudely rebuffed for a lack of information... It's easy to assume, then, that there's an educational or some other disadvantage at play. But it's all just assumptions, unfortunately. Assumptions are dangerous, too, but... The only certainty is that an unrestrained child is a risk, and it ought to be pointed out and reported where there are potentially resources to improve the situation (if it's necessary - for all we know, it may have been a one-off embarrassing mistake). Calling the cops is never my 1st choice (they aren't reliable/great in my area, and also have scarce resources when you are lucky to encounter one of the few who are), but in this case I'd make an exception... unless there was a better alternative organisation. There is no correct way to approach this situation, I think, besides just doing your best. Hard to think on your feet about all the implications sometimes.

Having travelled in the developing world myself, and ridden helmet-less on a motorbike, and visited with families there... Just a few points: if they had better safety available, they'd use it. Family is very serious business when one has little else! And cheap motorbikes with bad brakes don't go very fast when laden with families of 5-6... Or 2 "larger" westerners. ;) The risk, comparative to our tops speeds in cars - and even pushbikes going downhill! - is comparatively minimal.

But, wow - anti-breastfeeding sentiment always astounds me. I've been lucky enough not to encounter it so far, even with a lack of being "discreet" and when I've explained full-term feeding/child-led weaning intentions to formula fans. The only time people seem to flinch is when co-sleeping or CIO is mentioned...

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRenée

I don't see how bike helmets make a family bike-ride into a logistical nightmare. They sell helmets everywhere they sell bikes, as well as in most department stores, so you wouldn't need to go out of your way to purchase one. And last I checked bike helmets were easier to put on than shoes are.

And, I actually saw several families out riding today. The trails in my city were packed with them today, along wtih people running and walking, too.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I do agree that some health and safety regulations go too far (can't keep track of all the recalls on infant and child products lately), and I certainly don't want to live in a nanny state, but car seats and bike helmets are pretty common sense to me.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I think it's worth pointing out that you should have your facts straight before you call another parent out. If your friend's case, the situation was pretty blatant (though I still would have kept my mouth shut, I think) but when my daughter was two weeks old, we had a similar experience. We don't have a car so just bought the cheapest car seat on the market, the convertible kind (which meets safety standards as all the others do). Of course, it's not the kind of seat most people are used to seeing newborns in. We had been at the breastfeeding clinic at the hospital and were getting into a cab to go home when some woman knocked on the window and told us we had the wrong kind of carseat, that our daughter was too small for it. I'm sure she was trying to be helpful but it wasn't helpful, and she was wrong, and it was really the last thing I needed at that moment.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKC

Partially her designation as a certified carseat technician "elects" her as the carseat police. I found out today there is at least an ethical, if not legal, obligation for someone with that designation to say/do something. Not sure of the details around it, but I don't think just ignoring it was an option for her.

Similarly, when I was training to be a lifeguard, one of our training sessions was on "lifeguards and the law" where I live. I learned that where I live, I have an obligation to intervene if people are acting dangerously around water and also that I have a legal obligation to try to save someone if something happens even when I am not on duty. That legal obligation resulted in me turning down an awful lot of "pool party" invitations as a teen/young adult because I knew that it was a lose-lose situation for me if people were drinking and swimming.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I am certain I would not have said anything, as I am the complete opposite of confrontational. But I commend your friend for reacting to the unsafe situation she saw. I think she could have said it a little differently, but I am sure she thinks that now after the situation, too.

Side note: As for car seat use being the law, there is a reason it is the law... and it has nothing to do with car seat manufacturers making money (as acbphoto mentioned). There is research that shows it is safer for children to ride in appropriate car seats. While it is sad that there even has to be a law so that parents will do what is safe, it is also lawmakers' duty to look out for the weakest members of society. Also, sadly, if it weren't a law and some parent decided to drive around with their child in the backseat when they got rear ended, guess who they would sue for any injury to their child? So, the law helps keep all of our car insurance premiums down and protects other drivers from feeling the guilt of causing injury to a child. O, and the "when I was little we didn't have car seats and I survived" doesn't do much for me. I mean, when my parents were little they had lead paint in their house and they survived... that doesn't mean I am going to paint my daughter's room with lead paint and hope she doesn't ingest it.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Maybe I'm reading your title wrong--it's been a long day and I'm wiped out. But it sounds like you're calling the parent a jerk because of her reaction to being confronted. And that seems harsh, especially since you weren't there. Few parents are at their best when their child is tantruming, or at the end of a day at the pool, which I always find exhausting. Did your friend REALLY think she'd get a positive response? Did she think they'd stop and say, "You know, you're absolutely right. Please educate me about the law and help me to find a carseat for my child." Her response might have been knee-jerk, but it's also normal. If someone is being confrontational and basically calling you a bad parent, who among us would NOT be defensive? The parents, for whatever reason, made a *terrible* choice. But that, in and of itself, does not make them jerks.

FWIW, I don't see her comment as anti-breastfeeding sentiment. Lots of people are uncomfortable with nursing toddlers in public. It would have been a bigger deal if she went to the pool management or approached your friend while she was nursing. The impression that I got was, "I don't agree with your choices, but I let you be. So do the same for me."

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I'm with you re: the "When I was little" arguments. Yes, we survived, but we were lucky. Lots of others didn't survive - that's why safety devices like car seats and helmets were created and came to be required by law.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca


No, I don't think you are reading it wrong. I do think the woman was being a jerk for reacting that way after being confronted. I think the fact that so many people react that way is the reason that there are so many "mommy wars". I think responding rationally or not responding at all is a better way to deal with those types of situations. It kind of reminded me of the old playground insult wars that were a round of, "oh yeah, well your mother...." with the accusation escalating each time. I agree that it is natural for most people to be defensive, but I think we would all be better off and get along a lot better if people didn't scream insults when they feel defensive. That was my point.

That is an interesting point you made about how the two comments were linked (i.e. the "I don't agree with your choices, but I let you be. So do the same for me."). I hadn't considered that. It does make a lot more sense from that perspective (I was really bewildered trying to find any connection between the two). Unfortunately, though the actions of one of them is against the law while the actions of the other is protected by law. So it is about more than just agreeing/disagreeing with someone else's choice (as it would be if this was an argument about two parenting practices that are both perhaps controversial but also both legal).

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Yup. I've put a tantruming child IN his seat. Or waited until he's calmed down because I simply can't get him in! Got lots of looks for just sitting there in my car, but oh well.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

The thing is, while I think being polite and rational is always better, I absolutely do not think we need to defend or explain our parenting choices to strangers. In fact, I think a parent who doesn't want to do that is more confident that a parent who feels required to do so.

For example...

Both my children are small compared to children their ages. Both were smaller than average at birth, both hovered around the 15th percentile on the charts and my daughter was a weenie 16 1/2 pound one year old, but both were, and are, very healthy. Strangers commented on it all the time. They asked if my doctor was ok with me breastfeeding. They said they would grow more if I fed them formula. They asked if they were premature or sickly, and one woman went as far as to say my son wouldn't be able to play sports (she should have seen him skiing last month). With the first kid, I felt obligated to explain that, yes he was small, but he was charting consistently, eating and growing well and our pediatrician was happy with his health.

By the time the second kid came along, I no longer felt like I had to justify myself to strangers. Why would I? I'm accountable to my family and my God, not some pushy woman I'll never see again. So I perfected my vacant smile and dismissive, "The pediatrician says she's healthy," and left it at that. EXCEPT for one day when I'd had a terrible day and the woman in question would NOT shut up and let me pay for my groceries in peace. So I finally said, "Yes, she is small. Both kids were small, but I'm glad since they came out my vagina." Rude? Perhaps. But she was overstepping her bounds "out of concern for my child" in something that was none of her business. And she turned bright red and changed lines and probably went home to tell her husband about that vulgar woman in the grocery store with the starving child.

My point is, we're ALL rude at some point. Maybe that woman's *response* was jerky. That doesn't automatically make HER a jerk, anymore than your friend a jerk for knocking on their car.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

The comment about breastfeeding would have rolled off my back, the parent who is driving around in the car with a child loose isn't someone I care what they think of me.

I can not turn a blind eye when there are safety issues. I would have called the cops if they drove off after I said something and not felt an ounce of guilt. I would have also confronted the parent the next week at swim lessons. Gently but ready with resources in case they needed it. As someone who has reported many things to CPS when I was a mandated reporter I know that many times that initial contact from police or social services can be vital for families. I am not suggesting that in this exact case CPS needed to be contacted, but never intervening because our view may be elitist is simply not taking the child's best interest to heart.

I agree that often times coming from a position of privilege and education we forget that when your home life isn't stable , you are focusing on survival not thriving things I may take for granted ( like the ability to research things like car seat safety) are simply not a reality in others lives. That is not an excuse for breaking the law after someone offers information/ resources about law and child safety. If you still choose not to listen no matter your situation you are willfully disregarding it and putting your child in danger, and you deserve the law to intervene.

April 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllie

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