On giving (other) parents the stinkeye

So, lots of parents like to tell other people how to parent. Including me. But I’d like to remind myself and others that perhaps one should judge not, whether or not ye get judged. The whole story is not apparent.

Many people find it objectionable to cart older kids around in strollers. They find this so objectionable that there are tumblrs and articles about it, ridiculing the parents who commit such a travesty. See here and here and here.

My middle kid, the developmenally disabled one, is quite tall for his age. If his syndrome were as widely known as Down syndrome, he would be clearly identifiable as having it. But it isn’t, so he isn’t. A doctor would definitely be able to peg him as having a genetic disorder, but usually not people who are not in the medical field. Many people used to think (getting less true now) that he was typical. Friends expressed surprise when they met him that he looked, to them, normal – just kind of funny-looking (I think he’s gorgeous, btw). Strangers would say, “Oh he must be a little sleepy,” or “Ooo, he’s a little out of it, isn’t he?” Um, yeah.

And his motor skills were harder hit than his cognitive skills. He can’t walk, or sit independently for more than a few minutes. So we kept him in the stroller when we took him out, including at restaurants and religious services and on walks at the park. I can’t tell you how many dirty looks we got for that, and even a few overheard comments. Also got some glares for letting him chew on a cloth or baby toy. One of the reasons I got a wheelchair when I did instead of waiting for a few more months while we could still use a stroller was to cut out those nasty looks.

Anyhow. Any parenting situation might be more complicated than it looks.

Rose Woodhouse

Elizabeth Picciuto was born and reared on Long Island, and, as was the custom for the time and place, got a PhD in philosophy. She freelances, mainly about disability, but once in a while about yeti. Mother to three children, one of whom is disabled, two of whom have brown eyes, three of whom are reasonable cute, you do not want to get her started talking about gardening.


  1. I’m not a parent. I think many parents keep kids in strollers far too long. But it never occurred to me to look askance at them.

    • Same here (about not being a parent), except I’ve never really noticed the stroller thing one way or the other to have an opinion on it.

      • I never had either. Then I noticed we were getting all these weird looks. At first I thought they were “ewwwwwww, a disabled person” looks, but they were different from the ones we got when he was out of his stroller, when his disability became much more obvious (we actually get very few of those looks). Then a friend told me about the tumblr. And then I overheard people commenting. So it’s kind of a thing, I guess. A symbol of overindulgent parenting resulting in obese lazy kids.

        I’d like to be above caring, but it does kind of suck to know people are thinking you’re a bad mom.

        Well, we have a wheelchair now.

        • There is one small tricky tweek to this. I won’t judge anyone else’s parenting, directly.

          But when my 4 year old sees someone’s 4 year old do X, and X is something we don’t feel is appropriate for a 4 year old, and have told our son that, it creates… hm… drama. Drama I don’t care for.

          Sometimes we can get away with saying “She still has a Paci because her has a loose tooth that hurts” or something like that. Sometimes though we just have to hope that our 4 year old accepts “Well they’re a different family” and moves on. I know we can’t ~blame~ them for being different, but it does create situations in which I am not comfortable, ya know?

          • I totally get this. I’m very strict with my toddlers diet. This causes issues when he sees other kids his age eating cookies or something. I’ve gotten some funny looks in the grocery store when my son reaches for candy and I explain to him that candy is for grown ups.

          • Mary, that’s funny!

            And, Teacher, a similar thing just happened to me yesterday. Took my 4 year old son to a playground and told him (as I’ve done before) that he can’t go head first down the slide. Another 4 year old then went down head first and his mother didn’t say anything. Awkward moments ensued.

          • I deal with this as a teacher. I simply tell the children that there are different rules with different adults in different places. It is their job to listen to and follow the rules (though I do work with them on proper and appropriate ways to challenge authority (“But mommy lets me!” doesn’t fly. “We think more people can work safely in the block area,” opens the door for conversation)). Kids are capable of code-switching.

            As to the stroller thing, I’ve seen 7-year-olds in those things. Some parents genuinely do keep their kids in strollers entirely too long. But to each their own.

  2. the only people i really judge are the creepy old ladies who cart elderly, messed-up dogs around in those extended wheelchair/shopping cart basket things. i know people get attached to animals and all that but holy hell you’re basically torturing them for no good reason other than your own fear of loneliness.

    and people who go to the park with their kids but play on their phones the whole time, so i end up with a gang of toddlers following me because i’m fun as hell. don’t give me a nasty look because you’re boring and suck, lady/bro. me and the lord of the flies brigade are gonna go hunt some pigeons.

  3. I never gave it much thought, until about5 years ago (no children of my own at the time) when I watched a documentary about a very tall man. His mother reported getting dirty looks from people in public on this same issue when he was young. The problem was her son was of the appropriate age to be utilizing a stroller, he just looked significantly older due to his size. Seeing this made me promise myself not to judge. Although, sometimes I can’t help it. I never give the stroller thing a second thought though.

  4. One of the only things I hated about being a new, first time parent was dealing with Militant Parents Whose Kids Are A Year of Two Older Than Yours And Consequently Knew Everything. It was so exhausting. Every little decision we made had some group of concerned parents from Gymboree or the neighborhood moms group explaining to us why our decision to, say, use a motorized breast pump instead of a hand pump was going to lead to a cascading string of events that would lead to our son living off the streets, hooked on crack and selling his body in bus station rest rooms in order to buy food.

    The worst was when we realized our first born, who had colic in the way that Oprah has money, could not fall asleep on his back – which after a while of fruitless trying led us to throwing in the towel and letting him sleep in his stomach. I can’t tell you how many people would helpfully let us know he was going to die of SIDS every time we saw them.

    • I remember those people. One friend’s mom threw a fit because she didn’t think we were wrapping our daughter up enough when we took her outside on a cool day–apparently a jacket, hood, and baby blanket weren’t enough, so we were “given” (ok, had thrust upon us against our snarly objections) an expensive scarf to wrap around her.

      • I’ll see you and raise you one:

        Woman comes up to Mrs. Teacher as she’s mixing a bottle of formula while out at the mall. This random woman asks what she’s doing, and then informs her that if she (Mrs. Teacher) is just going to Poison her child with formula instead properly breast feeding him, then she (Mrs. Teacher) never should have had kids in the first place. This was of course wrapped around implications to other motives for having a child if she (Mrs. Teacher) wasn’t committed to doing the most basic of parenting things.

        • Reminds me of the La Leche League. At the birth of our second, I asked the nurses to please keep them away from us.

      • Oh no! Not only am I a formula feeder, we also live in a somewhat warmer climate than the one we grew up in and tend not to find it necessary to dress our kids as if they’re going on a Yukon expedition when it’s 45 degrees out. Maybe we get some looks, but nothing as bad as those!

    • I love these people.

      They’re so fun.

      “I see. Studies show what? That’s very interesting… hey, I have access to basically every journal that is published. Who wrote that study, I’d like to read it? You don’t know? Hm, do you know what journal the study was published in? You don’t know that either? Did you read about this in a magazine or a newspaper? Magazines have subpar science reporting but newspapers are worse… but maybe I can find the study if you… uh? Oh, you don’t remember where you read it? Oh… you *heard* it from someone? Ah. Well, get back to me when you know the source of the study, okay? I’m a little old to be playing ‘telephone’.”

      You would not believe how satisfying that last line is. I admit it, I’ve got a mean streak.

      • I was involved with a woman for about a year who though microwave ovens were the Tool of Satan, especially heating up baby formula. I patiently tried to explain the concept of energy, watts, dipolarity, entropy and such to her, which always seemed to lead to no good place. It was like showing a pig a wristwatch.

  5. Rose-

    I wanted to thank you for this post. Recently, walking through a parking lot, I saw a father lifting an older child out of the car. He was at least 10, maybe even 12. My very initial thought was, “Seriously? Let the damn kid get out himself.” Then I remembered this post. And caught myself. Not only from stinkeyeing. But actually pausing and attempting to more fairly understand the family’s situation. As we came around the car (they were parked next to us and we were returning to our spot), I noticed the boy was wearing a diaper and the father was lifting him out a specially modified carseat. Though I’m relatively confident that the family was too busy engaging in the task at hand to notice what some guy might have been thinking, I’m also sure I would have done them no favors to look upon them with disgust or derision. Likewise, they would not have wanted looks of pity. Instead, I saw them as no different than the other families… just trying to survive the road trip along I95 with a quick trip to the rest stop.

    Still gots a long way to go, but I thought of you and this post and hope it made at least a modicum of difference for this family. It certainly made a difference for me.

    • Aw Kazzy, this totally made my day! Thanks so much for letting me know!

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