During a recent trip to the supermarket, my normally well-behaved son (or as well-behaved as a 2.5-year-old gets) started acting out while we were on the checkout line. I’ll admit it wasn’t pretty. As we waited for the woman in front of us to finish bagging and organizing her groceries, my son started grabbing candy bars off the nearby display (why do they have to put them so close to the checkout counters anyway?), yanking random items off the checkout counter, and throwing them back into our cart.
In his defense, he was overdue for both lunch and a nap, and also, he’s 2.5. At that age, you can’t always expect perfect behavior. Still, my son was certainly acting out in a public place, and so I did my best to appease him while we waited our turn. In this sort of situation, I suppose yelling or very firmly scolding is an option if you’re the parent. But instead, I tried soothing my son and calming him down, recognizing that his behavior was likely the result of being hungry and tired (not a great combination).
Not shockingly, my efforts failed, at which point the woman in front of us decided to jump in and do some scolding on my behalf. I don’t remember exactly what she said to my son, but it was something along the lines of: “You should stop doing that right now.” And while she didn’t yell at him, she used an unquestionably menacing tone.
My son’s reaction was priceless. He looked at her with a confused expression on his face, as if to say, “Who the heck are you?” And although I didn’t say anything, I silently echoed his sentiments while giving this woman an unsavory stare in lieu of a verbal response. (Honestly, I was a little afraid of what I might say and didn’t want to traumatize her child, who had conveniently been sitting in his own shopping cart acting angelically the entire time.)
I don’t know what the official etiquette is with regard to scolding another person’s child, but I had a problem with what this woman did on several levels.
First of all, if you have a problem with my son’s behavior and absolutely cannot manage to keep it to yourself, say something to me, not my kid. After all, he wasn’t actually touching any of her groceries or interfering with her directly. Yes, he was making noise, and making a scene, but the last time I checked, this sort of behavior, though fairly unpleasant, is also pretty normal at his age.
Second, you have every right to judge my parenting skills, but don’t do it out loud. By jumping in and lecturing my son on my behalf, you’re implying that I’m doing a poor job of disciplining my child while questioning my competence as a parent. I won’t lie and say that I’ve never witnessed another parent’s actions and thought, “What the heck is wrong with that person?” But thinking something and saying something are two different things.
Now I’m sure there are certain scenarios where scolding another person’s child is either necessary or justifiable. Had my son, for example, been yanking her groceries off the checkout counter while I stood there saying and doing nothing, I think she would’ve had every right to speak up. But even in that situation, I would’ve expected her to say something to me, the fellow adult—not to my child.
Am I wrong here? Seriously, I’m not just asking rhetorically. As a parent, it’s easy enough to get stuck inside your own head, and while I think scolding another person’s child (especially a stranger’s) is inappropriate more often than not, perhaps it’s just one of those things that some parents do.
Incidentally, the next time we went to the supermarket, my son was an absolute delight, so much so that the cashier took it upon herself to comment on his good behavior. Too bad the woman I’d encountered three days earlier hadn’t been there to see it.
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