Saturday, September 19, 2009

Some more none-of-your-business

When Erinne was still pregnant, we saw a woman on the train hit her toddler. It was about 11pm, the woman was on the phone with an ex-boyfriend trying to get back together with him, and her child was in a stroller crying for attention, so she smacked her for being annoying.

Why didn't we say anything? Why didn't we do anything? First, It was not on obvious enough case of abuse to call the police. More importantly, if a mother is in the habit of hitting her child, then she's not going to stop just because some stranger on the train suggested it to her. Furthermore, anything we say to her is more likely to cause more harm to the child. I'd bet (and give you 2-to-1 odds) that if we had said something, she would have only become more angry at the child and been even harsher to her when they got home.

Which brings me to my story from today...

We went to the farmer's market. Erinne fed Ada at home before we left, and then again at the market before we left for home. On the streetcar, Ada got a little fussy. We interacted and played with her to keep her in a good mood. Apparently she just needed a change of scenery, because once we got off the streetcar she stopped crying.

However, while we were on the streetcar, a woman with a very concerned look on her face asked us if our child was hungry. I told her that we just fed her. She then said that our baby is cute, but by that time I had turned away and stopped responding to her.

Then, another woman made faces with Ada, and I turned Ada to her and let them interact. Then, she slipped in "Oh, do you want mommy to feed you, huh?".

I've already explained in a previous post that comments like this are inappropriate. But they are also pointless! If we were indeed neglecting the needs of our child, a comment from a stranger isn't going to correct our behavior. It is analogous to the woman who hit her child.

So, here's the conclusion that I am getting at. It does not matter if the parent is in fact doing something wrong (assuming it is even possible to make that claim objectively), because their behavior cannot be fixed with advice from a stranger on the train. Best case scenario is that you have no effect. Worst case is you piss off the parent and they take it out on their child.


  1. Worse still: you flip out and stab everyone in the train car to death with some sort of baby equipment.

    It seems to me that we can generalize your recent observations motivating the rule "don't give advice about child-rearing" to instead motivate the rule "don't give advice to strangers during random encounters". Do you agree?

  2. Yes, somewhat.

    The "don't give advice about child-rearing" is two-fold. First, there's strangers during random encounters. Then, there's the case where friends and family forget that you are a rational being making an informed decision, and try to give you advice that is either blatantly obvious or contradicts (knowingly) your beliefs.

  3. This reminds me of religious proselytizers who will approach people they don't know from Adam and start lecturing them. I think a good rule is that advice should only be offered in the context of an ongoing relationship with the person. This is what Mennonite missionaries do, which is to build a relationship with the people rather than preaching to them.