Stranger Expectations

What is wrong with him

These are just a few of the comments I hear when in public with my kids as babies/toddlers. When my daughter was a baby/toddler, people said these things and now I hear them again with my son. I used to get angry hearing these accusing questions yet felt the need to explain myself and my kids to these strangers. In those early years of being a mother and wanting to do everything perfectly and have the perfect kid, I took offense to these questions yet still tried to please the stranger with explanations. I no longer do this and just smile and shrug off the “what’s wrong with him?” if he isn’t participating perfectly in a group activity or smiling constantly and say, “he’s two.” But even that is not true. What I want to say is “Nothing is wrong with him. What is wrong with you?”

There is a ridiculous expectation put on children to fit a certain mold; one to fit either a child throwing a tantrum or one who is perpetually happy, giggly and friendly. My kids both are cautious, thankfully, and were more so as babies and toddlers. They furrow their brow in public sitting in the grocery cart and observe their surroundings with intense focus. Just passing by a stranger in a store, the stranger will give me comment #52 in the list I’ve heard, “ooo, someone must need a nap” when in fact he or she had just woken up.  Do I need to explain this to the stranger? Would you ever consider telling someone who looked tired and ragged in a store such a thing? Never. And I guarantee if you did, you’d get a whole lot more than a grumpy look.

I teach my kids to beware of strangers, not to speak to them unless I am there and say it is okay. Yet, strangers act offended when my child doesn’t say hello back and they look at me like I am raising a rude little punk. I have told these same people that I am teaching my children “stranger danger” and not to be offended but then again, feel frustrated that I have to explain myself or my kids to random people. I am working hard to raise cautious but loving and friendly children; teaching them to be self-sufficient and compassionate but not people-pleasing, to be accepting and loving without judgment yet they are confronted with the exact opposite and figuring out the best way to model these teachings can be a challenge.

There are loads of articles, books, quotes and mantras teaching us to “let go” or “just be” and I am one to write about these things too but we don’t always teach our kids the same lesson. I try to allow my children to be who they are while still guiding them and teaching them acceptable behaviors. But when people who do not know my children and how happy, silly, giggly, smart, witty and loving they are question why they look a certain way or are not meeting some arbitrary expectation, I begin to wonder what is wrong with the person who questions. Does my child in some way make them feel inadequate if he doesn’t run up and hug you without knowing you? Do they feel they have failed if my son doesn’t want to follow every single structured activity at what he calls “the jumpy place”? I do teach him to follow direction and cooperate, but at two, we go to the “jumpy place” to have fun, not to do rigid gymnastics routines.

For almost five years, I have been listening to these seeming innocent questions and statements. I have spoken to friends who also have cautious, quiet or shy children and deal with the same line of commenting. While it frustrates me that people are looking at my children and expecting them to fit a mold, it also reminds me to allow myself and my children to be; to let them look however they are; to encourage them not to speak or smile at strangers because their safety far outweighs any lessons on friendliness. It reminds me that while I have made personal strides in confidence thereby downplaying my need to please, that I need to model that confidence by not explaining my child’s behavior. I don’t ever want them to think that the way they are is not good enough or feel the need to explain themselves to the millions of critics in the world. As long as my kids are growing into functional people in society and are happy, then I have done my job. Maybe next time instead of an aggressive comeback turning the tables of accusation, I will instead reply to any questions or comments about the look on my child’s face with “he/she is just being him/herself and that is fine with me!”

How do you handle strangers making annoying comments about your kids?

More diatribes on stranger comments to come, i.e. the incessant, “Oh, she is so pretty! (stranger looking at me) Do you know how pretty you are?(stranger looking at my daughter)” 

38 thoughts on “Stranger Expectations

    • It is, its instinctual to want to protect your kids even from seeming benign situations. But, I’m really over it and will no longer apologize or explain for them. I always like to turn the tables and imagine if adults acted like kids or if an adult would ever talk to another adult the way we do kids sometimes. Gives me a good laugh but also puts it in perspective when you imagine another adult saying any of the above comments to another adult. It would be ridiculous!

  1. Oh my goodness, my words exactly. Early on I figured those people who ask so many questions aren’t around children much. They see even the most well behaved child as bad. Good blog post. You say what so many of us have experienced.

  2. I struggle with this too! My son’s an introvert and it takes him a while to warm up to new situations. Most of the time I just shrug and don’t say anything. But it kind of depends on my mood for that day.

    • My son is too. He takes a good 30 min in any new situation to warm up and that’s just the way it is…it is no use trying to force him to warm up quicker…I was the same way as a kid. My reaction often depends on my mood too but I’ve been trying to come up with a “one-liner” still.

  3. Kerry, that is brutal!
    I can honestly say I don’t remember getting those remarks with my kids. Not because my kids were perfect, rather, I’m sure it’s because my Bitchy Resting Face warded off those oh-so-helpful strangers. Sometimes it pays to look bitchy. 🙂

    • A knowing smile or a kind comment are always welcome. Anything other than those usually are not. I try to encourage and smile when I can too. All parents need that reassurance!

  4. Ha! I do this to my sister! Her latest is so very serious… she’s like 6 months maybe, but since she was born she has been so serious, always frowning in consternation! At first Amy was upset, but then she actually looked at her kid, and sure enough, she can tell now that Bella is just going to be more serious than any of her others! But, that’s a sisterly thing! Okay, I totally say inappropriate things to all of my friends and their kids, but who says stuff like that to strangers kids? I just give the perfunctory smile and “oh how cute/sweet/insert random nice word here” and move on. I don’t care about strangers kids, I’m just glad they aren’t mine! Thank goodness I’m not in a position where I’d have to deal with that, cause, when T was little, I was the mom that shrugged, gave a smirk and moved on. Seriously, it’s a kid, anything under the age of like 7, is pretty much exempt form rules and norms in my opinion.

    • totally different when it comes from a friend or family member! It’s the random stranger who takes the time to stop me and say something.
      I agree about little ones being exempt. My daughter is coming into an age where she has to conform a bit more which is why I’m about to create a “consequences jar”…time to up the discipline to be age appropriate because the old tactics aren’t working anymore

      • Oh yes, I remember the days when all of the sudden it was like “dang it, time to change up the consequence! the old one isn’t working”. LOL, oh how I hated that! It’s hard!! but, so worth it, right vs wrong and every action has a reaction are the best lessons that we can teach. Good Luck!

  5. Kerry, so glad you brought this up. When I lived in Idaho I was
    In the grocery store and Kaden was crying( he wanted me to carry him) and I saw this older gentlemen looking at me NOT nicely I might add. Anyways, I thought should I ask if there is a problem or should I let it go, well I asked. This man said, “For the sake of myself and everyone else in here could you shut your child up”. Well, I didn’t skip a beat and returned with you are a heartless man and how dare you as I proceeded to slump over my shopping cart and sob uncontrollably. Now when I have Anna out with me, Anna is little miss independent and wants to carry things etc… Well, people take notice and like to mention to me how redheads are stubborn and strong willed and then they end with “well, you should know you’re a redhead”.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Mairi! That man who said that to you is awful!!! I’ve gotten looks that basically said those words even when my kids were being good. It was a day when I was feeling laid back and let both kids walk down the aisles with me and they were wandering around a bit rather than staying in the right lane 🙂 And I hate the redhead stereotypes, so irritating!

      • Kerry, I also find the redhead stereotypes irritating, however, I have to agree with some, I do have a bit of a temper, lol!! I enjoy reading your blog, keep up the good work!

      • Me too… but it’s one thing for us to admit them, it’s entirely another for someone to point them out. Haha! Kinda like a guy saying “oh you must be on your period”….even if we are and it is the reason for our moodiness 😉

  6. I feel like I have the opposite problem! The stranger comments I barely notice and if I do I come back with the “yeah he’s 2 comment” as you said. It’s comments from my mum that can really rub me up the wrong way. Like “Oh that is a terrible cough, Rachael” like I haven’t noticed it already and done something about it. And then we discuss it and get the lowdown and she comments on it again. “You know that really is terrible”. Drives me freaking batty. I’m just more sensitive to the opinions of those I care about I think!!

    • I usually take any comments from family or close friends pretty well because they know my kids. However, my MIL has said a few things to my husband about how I do things and I let it get under my skin too.

  7. Not sure I have any advice because I completely empathize with you – I keep receiving comments about my tots usually ‘wow they are a handful, wow they are hyperactive blablabla’. The fact that the older are twins is not helping and P who is sporting a pixie hairstyle is always told: what a cute boy. I never know what to say because mainly I am dumbfounded by the whole situation but my kids very early on (from age 2) took matters in their own hands. When she does like what strangers tell her, P tends to correct them or roll her eyes while G being less verbal, shows his ‘claws’ and his teeth and say ‘grrrr’ People are scared shitless and I am both utterly embarrassed and so proud I could die 🙂

  8. I wish I had some practical advice for you :(. I am pretty opposite of you when out and about with my kids. I actively encourage Crazy Pants to say hello and good bye to people he meets and to say Thank You when people compliment him on things. I didn’t decide to do that by some conscious effort, rather, that is just how I am. I talk to EVERYONE. If I don’t talk to them, I at least give a friendly smile. I’ll get to the “stranger danger” thing eventually. That probably sounds frightening to some, but I don’t remember my parents harping on it too much and I still learned how to seek out safe adults.

    As for people judging your kids behavior, “f**k ’em”. I wouldn’t offer any response, just move on. I honestly don’t think most people expect a response at all. It seems to me when people say anything like that, they are actually saying it to the child simply because they want to interact with a cute kid and its the first thing that pops into their mind. Some days, my grocery trips are super long because EVERY. SINGLE. elderly person needs to talk to Crazy Pants and ogle Teddy Bear. I’ve learned to enjoy it because I have met some really interesting people that way.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rude or unfriendly to people. In fact, I speak to lots of people out and about and if somebody comments on how cute or sweet my kid is, I will certainly say thank you or chat. Its the slightly rude or accusing comments that get really old. And like I said in the post, this is over 5 years of dealing with the “someone is grumpy” comments. Much of my reaction depends on my mood, sometimes he/she is grumpy and I just nod and smile. Other times, it just seems too judgmental, like they just mind their own business. Now, you’re right that we differ on the stranger thing. My daughter is almost too friendly and I’ve had to remind her on many occasions when at festivals, etc to not talk to strangers. If I don’t reinforce that lesson when I am with her, it terrifies me to imagine the possibilities when I am not with her. Since she started kindergarten and is out of my care for so many hours per day, this lesson is even more important. She is very trusting and while that is endearing, it is scary too.

      • No worries. I never thought you were being rude. I’m sure you are doing everything very well. I was, more or less, highlighting our difference in approach with the kids. My way about it could turn out to not be so great. My main point is to just let it roll off. It does get old, especially after so long a period, but those people aren’t worth your time and energy. Plus, it won’t be too long and you will have older children that no one will want to interact with. Haha.

        I have to work on letting things roll off A LOT because my MIL always has something to say and I really struggle not to explode over it. But, that’s the crux of it. It’s not important what others think, so long as you are raising happy, healthy, functioning people.

      • Oh, I didn’t think you did but just wanted to clarify so my post wasn’t misunderstood like I’m some weird, rude, paranoid mom 😉 Maybe sometimes I am but I don’t think it is noticeable on my face. ha! I am working, in general, on letting things go too. Its hard being a parent and we all want to do our best so deep down what others think matters in some ways because maybe they DO know something that I don’t. I actually take constructive criticism well if given in love. But, I agree, as long as they turn out somewhat normal and I keep them safe, then I’ve done pretty good. lol 😉

      • You are right about the phrase, “it doesn’t matter what others think.” I was going to say something about that, but then worried I was being too verbose. See, worried what you though 🙂

        Honestly, I’ve given up on normal. There’s no hope in this house. We just learn to look normal in public. Haha.

      • 🙂 very true. I’m okay with verbose by the way…today is a “snow day” in FL so we’re trapped in the house because its just cold and wet outside and my 6 yr old is fighting a cold. I could use some verbosity today!

      • Sorry to hear that! Not good times. We had a near meltdown because the rain finally showed up yesterday and put the kabosh on out of doors time.

        Verbosity…I like how that sounds and how it feels on my tongue. I am going to find ways to use that one.

  9. I’ve started responding to those questions just as bluntly as they’re asked.
    Random person: “She looks grumpy. ” Me: “Actually, she’s in a pretty good mood.” etc.
    I’m aware that may come off “unfriendly” and that’s not my intention; I’m truly just trying to be as straight forward in my response as they were in making an assumptive comment. I often keep talking or bring up something else because I do think that’s a lot of people’s way of starting a convo or breaking the ice, which is fine. The cliche, assumptive comments just get old fast. I prefer to open with a legitmate curiosity like, “How old?” or “I like [item], where’d you get it?”

    • Yes, I agree! Assumptions never do any good. I’ve said those blunt responses too because they’re true. Like when someone says, “oh, he looks tired, is it naptime?” I just say, “no,actually hes been awake from his nap for a while”…it kind of stumps them, and it should! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  10. Yes! I get so many weird comments from people, and I can’t even tell if the person is well-meaning, crazy, or just plain rude sometimes! I usually just do one of those “haha-” things where I pretend the person is clever, but I don’t think that’s the right way to go about it. Maybe it’s just the least confrontational!

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