When to Meddle

Today at Costco I parked the cart, with Caitlyn strapped in, by the bananas and I took Mackenzie into the “cold section” to score some berries. I came back triumphant a few minutes later with strawberries, stashed them in the cart and headed back for spinach.

Caitlyn was sitting in the cart, perfectly content, about 15 yards away from me and in my line of sight. Though admittedly, my attention was absorbed for a few minutes inspecting sell by dates and eyeballing the quality of the leafies.

I turned around to see a middle-aged woman wheel my cart, baby and all, right up next to me.

“Hi, MOM, ” She addressed me, “Look, I’m sure you didn’t want your baby in here because it’s cold and all, but I don’t know if you noticed but she’s causing quite a stir out there. Everyone is asking ‘Who leaves a baby alone like this?!’ Bottom line, you need to keep your child with YOU.” She punctuates this last sentence with a small shove on the cart to put it right under my nose.

I was so surprised that I just said, “Thanks” and grabbed Mackenzie’s hand and headed for the frozen foods.

I did notice as I left, a distinct absence of concerned hordes of people milling about the bananas.


I’ll admit, this bothered me all the way home. So much so that I called my mom when I was unloading groceries, to ask her if I was crazy or the lady at Costco was crazy. It seemed clear that at least one of us was out of line.

She assured me I was perfectly sane, but of course, she is my mother.


As I thought about this, I realized that a similar thing had happened at Costco twice before. Why Costco? Who knows! I blame the free samples. A steady stream of bagel bites and frozen tortellini might just break down some of those social barriers present at more stingy grocery stores.

Prior incident #1: I leave 2 month old Caitlyn who is strapped into her car seat, and snapped into the cart, at the end of an aisle and go grab a bag of nuts. On my way back, a lady heads me off and says, “Is that your baby down there? There are a lot of people walking by who keep getting in her face.” She gesticulates here to illustrate her point. I’m baffled by her concern, but not offended at all, and I thank her for letting me know.

Prior incident #2: Caitlyn is in the front of the cart, and I had put a bag of bananas next to her. A man catches my attention as I inspect a melon and says, “Uhhh… your KID is eating plastic,” in a tone of voice that clearly indicates that he thinks I’m crazy for having a kid in the first place, and completely clueless to boot. Well, he couldn’t have been more impolite, but he had a valid point. So I thanked him, relocated the bananas, and we went on our way.


Personally, I don’t consider myself a meddler.

But then again just last week at the farmer’s market, Scott and I both saw something that made us have a brief powwow about whether we should meddle or keep walking.

A new (2 month old?) baby was in a front wrap in a really awkward position. He was spread eagle and his head flopped forward at such an ominous angle that I did a double-take and instinctively looked to see if he was still breathing. His dad was wearing him and seemed oblivious, and was in fact jiggling and dancing back and forth a bit as he stood in line, presumably to help the baby stay asleep.

Should we have said something? We ultimately decided on “no” since he was standing in a group of three women who could clearly see the baby and appeared unconcerned. But I’ll admit to feeling uneasy as we walked by.


So here are my questions:

When is it ok meddle? Have YOU ever meddled?

Have you had strangers comment on your parenting? Intercede to “rescue” your children right in front of you?

For sure there are some awful parents out there, but I don’t consider myself one of them! I recognize my own fallibility though, and I’m grateful for people who speak up when they think my child’s safety is at risk… except (apparently) when I don’t think my child’s safety is at risk. Then I’m bothered.


About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to three beautiful girls and one boy.
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20 Responses to When to Meddle

  1. Jeannette says:

    I was harassed by a Salvation Army bell-ringer one day at Kroger because she felt like I hadn’t dressed my kids warm enough. She had the nerve to grab one of the “slow” baggers and make him come with her to chase me down. She threatened to call the police and I told her to go ahead! I could see the headline “Relief Society President arrested for not dressing her children warm enough!” People are crazy! You are just fine Anne! Keep up the great parenting!


  2. Maya says:

    IMO the woman was totally out of line. She could clearly tell the baby was yours and you were w/in sight, so no issue. Some people like to feel important by telling others how to parent, I guess.

    I think if I were to meddle I’d need to be sure the child was in danger, or else the child was hurting someone else. I haven’t said anything to another parent before, though I did tell off a boy who looked to be 7 or 8 who smacked Miles upside the head and pushed him out of the water fountain at a park. If his parents had been around I would have said something to them I think.

    Although not quite the same, I hate it when people intercede when a kid is having a tantrum. That is one time people seem to feel like they should “help” me with my parenting and it drives me nuts.


    • beanland says:

      One of our mutual friends had a lady offer candy to her so she could give it to her kids who were throwing tantrums at target.

      Her reply? “Um, no. I don’t reward them for this type of behavior.”


      • Maya says:

        People have given Miles stickers on several occasions. Those happen to be a huge reinforcer for him. I need to find a polite way to decline because like our mutual friend pointed out, kids shouldn’t be rewarded for that behavior.


  3. Meg Larsen says:

    I’ve been on both sides of this too…I think because I’m not a helicopter mom, I feel that it’s important for my kids to recognize that they don’t have to be touching me every second of the day. Sometimes when I stop into Goodwill to browse for fabric I let Scotty (who is almost 4) play in the toy section while I look. He knows where I am, I can see him as I walk between aisles, and we are always within voice contact as well. 25% of the time I get looks from people who are SHOCKED that I would let my child stand more than 5 feet away from me in a public place. I often hear people ask him “do you know where your mom is? what’s your name? can I help you find your mom?” and he just looks up and points at me, saying “she’s right there, I’m ok to play with toys by myself.”

    I also get bizarre comments when I carry my 10 month old in a sling. People are always concerned about her being “so smushed in there” when she is happily waving and giggling at passersby. Really, people, you think my obviously happy child is uncomfortable? If she didn’t like it, she would be crying, believe me. Besides, she is used to being all smashed up and next to me, and much prefers that position to the stroller or (heaven forbid) the grocery cart. When I grocery shop I get all sorts of stares because she screams 90% of the time no matter what I do. Sorry, fellow shoppers, I do need to buy food even if my child doesn’t like it.

    On the other hand, I’ve been at a park one too many times where I search in vain for the parent of the child who is standing on top of the monkey bars, or throwing sand, or stealing toys from the babies, etc. I’d rather not discipline a child I have never seen before, but I will intervene if that kid is putting my kids at risk, or is doing something obviously dangerous. I consider that public safety, not meddling.


  4. Nancy says:

    The times a stranger has meddled in my affairs, i’ve been grateful. On one of my first shopping trips to the store after having Perry, I carried him in the Bjorn on my front and pushed kaden in the cart. It was snowing out and i had my big jacket on over both Perry & I. A woman, who didn’t even speak english, gently touched my arm and pointed to Perry and said,”Uh, bebe, eye”. I looked and saw Perry looking very uncomfortable with the jacket zipper rubbing in his eye. Of course you always feel a little silly that you hadn’t noticed yourself, but I was grateful she spoke up.

    Because my boys are busy and because i don’t trust strangers, i made a rule for myself that i never be further than arms reach from my cart. If i can’t have my hand on the cart, i keep my foot on the bottom (i do it also to be able to move the cart out of arms reach of stuff they can grab). My 2 main fears are that a lonely nuts-o will walk off with my kids (someone tried that with me when i was little), or that they’ll try to climb out and get hurt. I guess in your case, i’d do it for fear of meddling patrons. ha ha


    • beanland says:

      It’s interesting that I have pretty strict rules for my 3 year old and she never leaves my sight in a store, and always holds my hand or the cart when it’s busy or she has wanderlust… but I don’t give a thought to a happy baby buckled into the cart. Maybe I’m too trusting of strangers? You’ve definitely given me food for thought.


  5. Camille Craw says:

    Safety issues are a good time to intervene. People are pretty funny! I get the question often if “all of these kids are mine” usually I politely respond yes and that the other 4 are at home! It draws some great looks! I did have someone intervene once which I was very grateful for. Rachel had gone to the wrong side of the van trying to get in and was mostly in the street when I was trying to strap Benjamin in. Someone passing by yelled out the window-mam your baby is in the street (she was 3 but I guess it is still a baby by some measurements). I wasn’t aware and was grateful.


  6. cwcohio says:

    my view and not just specifically to you but to anyone….you should not leave you child in a cart and walk away to get something. this isn’t an issue about your kid isn’t dressed properly and will get cold, or some other kid pushing at the park. it is a safety issue. It only takes a second for a child to be abducted and you may think you are watching them, but then Mackenzie drops somethng or her finger gets pinched etc and now your attention is on that (maybe for only 20 sec) and your back is turned…how easy is it for someone to just push your cart away w/o you noticing?

    Would you leave $100,000 sitting in plain site in your grocery cart and walk away?

    I am not always on top it it, I lose my kids all the time at places and am always counting them and making sure they are near. I make sure to buckle them in the car and lock the doors before returning my cart at the grocery store and getting the locks changed on my house so the kids cannot simply flip the deadbolt open (our locks require a key to turn the deadbolt). There are too many creeps that bother kids to leave my kids as an easy target for them. I know it wasn’t intentional and the lady could have been more nice about it.

    There is a reason for so called “helicopter moms”, just watch the news. I am not comfortable with my kids playing outside unless it’s in a fenced backyard….it makes me nervous for them to walk home from the bus stop and there is NO WAY they will ever ride their bikes alone around any neighborhood we live in. I would have a break down if something ever happened to them and I couldn’t protect them. Think of how terrifying it would be for a child.

    I have had people help me out when 1 of mine has gotten away and I didn’t know. I don’t often intercede cause I think most peolpe would tell you off…..but, actually once when I was out running in UA I about called the police as a 3 yr old was wandering around Redding (pretty busy street). When I found the parent they had send the 3 and 6 yr old out to play and the 6 yr old was babysitting…..and when I tried to open the doors on the apt the kids said they lived in they were both locked…the backdoor was even chained shut….I WAS FURIOUS!

    Anyway, since you asked, those are my thoughts. So you are probably fine and I’m sure Caitlyn was fine, but maybe it is just a good reminder to be more careful and mindful of your surroundings and your kids.

    I had a scary experience when we first moved to Columbus and filed a police report and I can tell you, there are very evil people around.


  7. cwcohio says:

    I must be logged into something else….that was me…lisa h.


    • beanland says:


      Thanks for weighing in. It’s good to hear from you! I don’t watch the news actually, specifically because while I know there are evil people around, I hate hearing the sordid details of their crimes. I definitely don’t want my conscious naivety endangering my children in any way, though, so I appreciate the discussion.


  8. limi07 says:

    I like Costco for their two-seater carts, but otherwise I think it is not that kid-friendly, and in general, in my locale, the staff and patrons are just plain not friendly.

    I’ve left my kids at one end of the isle while I rush back to the other end to grab something quick, turning my back on them and having that feeling like the tie between me and my kids is stretching too far. No one has ever said anything to me. I usually take them both seated in the cart into the produce cooler.

    Here’s the thing I guess that stuck with me about your story, Anne. The woman may have felt like she was helping you out bringing Caitlyn to you, but her manner was not helpful. Her appeal to “everyone” else’s discomfort with where your child was at that moment was irrelevant. It was more of a bolster for her own action, for her own comfort.

    I’ve never said anything to anybody about their parenting, however, I have seen quite a few young 3-4 year-olds running around our neighborhood apparently unattended. At the park, I’ve had a 4-year old girl approach me to talk (drawn by the sight of Olivia in the stroller). She openly offered that she was there with an older sister who “always leaves [her]” and had left her. She said upon my asking that her parents were at home and that she lived close to the park. She was still much too young to be there alone, and approaching strangers. That interaction had me puzzled about the parents and unsure of whether I should ask her if I might walk her home. A little later I saw her running around with a friend (or maybe her sister returned), and I left feeling better but still unsettled.

    If I saw a child unattended by the bananas at Costco, I think I would assume the parent was somewhere near (probably in the cooler). I would probably stick around to notice this was the case, and I might even stick around until the parent and child were obviously reunited. But I certainly would not take the child into an area the parent obviously didn’t want to take the child. Being a parent to young kids means you’ve got to make those little decisions every day.

    I just figure that parents do what they feel is best, and unless the child is in any certain danger, the rest of us can try to support them. We do not need tear them down or make them feel insecure about their choices, dumping on some peer pressure, like that woman did to you. It would have been better for her to stick by Caitlyn until you returned–she could have felt good about that without meddling. Could she be certain you were the mom anyway? That would have been more of a defensive option, and some people would rather be on the offensive side of things, rather than defend their position.

    Which brings me back to my first comment that, in my experience, people at Costco run around the store like it’s a sport, but leave their sportsmanship at the door.


  9. sheaf says:

    You should ask your mother about the time she left her 9 year old son alone for 3+ hours at an apartment complex on the wrong side of town. She forgot me.


  10. Lauren says:

    That lady is crazy. I think you’re totally right about the meddling thing. Only if you really feel a child is in serious danger or the parent might be unaware of something going on. I mean, if she really felt concerned she could have just waited near the cart until you returned.

    You’re great Anne! Thanks for the story…I always wonder if people like this have ever have kids or if they were the most neurotic parents on the planet.


  11. manwaringfam says:

    To Meg…. I let me child stand on the monkey bars. 😦

    Great comments on this post! Sorry to hear about your arm! Hang in there!

    My comment on this post is….nothing!!! I’m not a meddler. But my big fault as a human being is to nag about it to someone else….. “I saw such and such, doing such and such!” I need to work on that.


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