20 Jul
Bad Parenting In Public

Dear TMH,

The other day I was in Target and witnessed a mother loudly yelling at her screaming child. What is the politically correct way to judge this and other acts of the same nature when you see it occurring?


Should I Mind My Own Business?


Dear Should I Mind My Own Business,

Bad parenting is everywhere. But luckily, there’s not just one correct way to judge these inept parents, so the next time you see a mother let her baby drink Dr Pepper out of his bottle, feel free to be as creative in your disgust as you want to be. I personally like to just roll my eyes as I pass by.

But how to handle someone screaming at their kid? Well, first of all, everybody has had their kid throw a tantrum in a store. Everybody. Most people handle this by just leaving the store right away. Then there are those who immediately start yelling at their kid like they’re from the road company of The Jerry Springer Show.

If the situation seems out of hand and the mother’s totally losing it, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to try to diffuse it with a friendly, “Hey, is everything okay?” This may get you a nasty punch in the face, but it may also cause the Screamer to just stop what she’s doing and hit her reset button. After all, nobody likes to be judged in the court of public opinion.

On a more serious note, before I became a parent, I was once in a crowded theme park and witnessed a young mother push her 5-year-old son to the ground and angrily start kicking him. It was a horrifying thing to see, but I’m even more horrified to admit that I did nothing about it. In fact, nobody did.

I think of this event often because I’m truly ashamed that I didn’t intervene. I like to believe that, were it to happen again, my motherly instincts would propel me to immediately go rescue that kid. But would I have made a difference? Would the kid have been “saved?” Would the mother be arrested? Would more people have done something if she’d been kicking a dog that day? I truly don’t know. However, I do know that physically hurting a child is always wrong and should never be ignored. Whether that means calling in the police or not depends on the situation and those involved.

There is a lot of debate among mothers as to what to do when you see Bad Parenting in Action, but I really liked what this   New York Times Motherlode article had to say.

Thanks so much for the question; it’s a difficult one to answer, but one that definitely needs to be addressed.


Wendi, TMH


Congratulations to Ali, winner of the Promom Couture Grateful Mom t-shirt! And our big thanks to everyone for leaving a comment last week.

22 Responses to “Bad Parenting In Public”


Comment by suburbancorrespondent.

I would try to intervene in a friendly, non-judgmental manner in the case of a mom screaming at her child. Just talking to her about how hard little kids can be to take to a store diverts her attention from the child and gives her a chance to cool down.

And let’s face it – we’re all in glass houses. I’ve yelled at my children – but not in public. Is it less wrong because other people can’t hear you? It may be that this mom isn’t that bad, she just looks bad at the time. Anyway, compassion can go a long way in these situations.

The mom hitting her child? Well, that’s physical abuse, pure and simple (unless, of course, you are mistaking a swat on the bottom for a punch). I would have stepped between.


Comment by LISA5OF5.

You never know what is going on with someone. Could be that the screaming mom’s just had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and her kid is the unfortunate target for her frustration. Or maybe she’s just one of those people who don’t really think of their children as real people and treat them like property.

Point is, you’ve got to cut people some slack. Approach the mom (and yes, I would approach her) with as much care and concern as you would the child: “You seem really upset. Can I help?” At the very least she’ll shift her aim to you. Maybe it won’t change anything, but the kid will see that you care enough to speak up, and that’s important. Plus you’ll know you did a good thing.


Comment by Amber in Albuquerque.

I’ll toss in a resounding ditto to both points…there’s a big difference between yelling and hitting. Hitting needs to be stopped. Yelling…not so much. If you feel compelled to stop it I like the ‘offer of help/show of concern technique’.

Some families are ‘yellers’, some aren’t and what’s considered ‘yelling’ by one mom may be considered ‘regular volume’ in a noisier household. Personally, I’m a yeller. I come from a whole family of loud-ass people and we’re just freakin’ loud. Get over it.

Oh. And get over your freakin’ need to ‘mommy’ other mommies unless there’s physical abuse or Alec-Baldwin-level mental abuse going on. Seriously…when did it become OK for people to correct other people’s bad behavior publicly with other than an eyeroll or a quick scamper to the other end of the store/parking lot. Butt the f*** out already.


Comment by The Laughing Idiot.

God, I hope this person wasn’t talking about me!

Sometimes you’ve just had a really bad day, you need milk, Target is close, and you had no babysitter.

I don’t think I’ve ever really lost it in a store, but I’ve definitely carried a crying child directly out.

For the first time ever, I carried a crying child into a store this weekend. I had something I needed at Hobby Lobby & my three-year-old begged to go with me. Once we got there, she started screaming that she wanted to go home by Daddy. I was on a mission & she was going along. “That’s Enough!” was uttered sharply and quite often inside, and I’m sure people thought I was nuts.


Comment by Rosemusic.

I have to comment on your statement that “physically hurting a child is always wrong”. That is simply untrue. The Bible clearly states that we should punish our children by spanking them. If more parents felt free to spank their kids in public, they wouldn’t be screaming at their kids instead.

Now, I know there is a line between the right way to punish and simply hitting in anger. (The Bible also teaches us to not respond in anger, by the way.)

I had a situation once where my 6-year-old was throwing a royal tantrum because I told her to sit in my lap while waiting for the car to be serviced. (there were not enough seats for her.) I took her to the restroom and spanked her for the fit, but she kept it up. I felt uncomfortable attempting another spanking because other customers could hear it. So, she threw a screaming fit for 40 minutes that other customers had to endure because of the stigma against spanking in our culture.


Comment by Pop and Ice.

I intervened once when a woman slammed her young child to the floor, in a store, and proceeded to kick her. I did not smile or say “Gee you’ve got a lot to deal with!”. I’m sorry, but she had crossed the line way back. Everyone else watched as I asked her if she thought her behavior was appropriate and if this was how she acted in public, I shuddered to think of her actions in private. AND I told her to get a babysitter instead of dragging the kid mall shopping which clearly bores and tires most children.

She threatened to follow me and kick my ass in the parking lot. And more. Security had to escort me to my car. But it didn’t deter me. If I think a smile or small comment will diffuse the situation, I do it. But I draw the line at physical abuse – jerking, dragging, hitting and kicking. You will then get the full force of my thoughts including reporting you to Social Services.


Comment by Akilah Sakai.

The hell? I have never seen a person throw a kid to the ground and/or kick them. Good Lord!!

A parent yelling? Loudly? I wouldn’t assume they are the Anti-Christ for yelling, but body slamming a kid is horrific.

We’ve all been there and I’d rather snap and yell than kick my kid’s ass. I will admit that I yell all the damn time and give them stern looks and it works for the most part and I RARELY have to pop them one. If I’ve ever popped my kid, it’s been on their hand, no belts or pro-football tackles in the store or at the fair.

I’ll admit that I’d mind my business if I saw a mom yelling. We’ve all yelled! If I saw body slamming – which is the total opposite of a little swat on the tush – I don’t know what I’d do!


Comment by melissa.

when my son was in 3rd grade, we moved schools. he was having a hard time. and constantly throwing tantrums. that was his way of acting out.
on the first day of sunday school, my son took off through the halls of our synagogue. i had to literally jump on him and drag him by his shirt to his classroom, and i was also yelling at him. i was pissed. and embarrassed. AND worried about him and his reactions to things.
someone didn’t like the way i handled him. even though i did NOTHING wrong. i didn’t even spank him.
and they called social services. who showed up at my kids school a couple of days later and questioned all my kids individually. AND THEN…came to my house.
the file was thrown out.
so, when i don’t approve of the way someone is handling their child in public…i’ll snort or give them a disgusted look. but unless the kid is being beaten…
that’s all i do.
because i know what happens when someone is sticking their nose in other peoples business and making the wrong ASSumptions!


Comment by Vicki.

Hey Rosemusic,

Maybe your child was crying because you didn’t beat her correctly according to the Bible? Are you reading the same Bible I am? Because the Bible also states that you should punish your child with a rod. http://bit.ly/EFmeS . I hope next time you want to beat your child again after you’ve already beaten her in a public place, you won’t be caught up in such an embarrassing liturgical interpretation error and the spankings will commence at a smoother pace.

vodka tonic Reply:



Comment by bex.

this is a hot topic! there are some great comments by everyone.

i would definitely mind my own business bc i’ve been there. we all have bad days. and when our bad days and our kids bad days cross paths sometimes we do or say things we’re not proud of. that’s not excusing abuse but yelling isn’t abuse, in my opinion.

sometimes when i see (young) kids having a tantrum in stores, i’ll try to make them giggle. they are easily distracted. and i’ve been there too, when i counted on the kindness of a stranger.


Comment by Liz.

Rosemusic –

I have found that the more you hit and spank your child, the quieter they will be. I find it strange that your daughter didn’t stop crying and carrying on after you spanked her. Perhaps you weren’t hitting her hard enough.


Comment by Coco.

Physical punishment is not the answer. I admit I have lowered myself to that. In retrospect it was more about my inability to deal with it than theirs.

I understand that sometimes you can’t help a child throwing a fit in public. My suggestion would be that unless it is absolutely necessary you be where you are when it occurs then remove your child and take them home for time out or something. I hate nothing more than to have my shopping experience totally ruined by a child screaming their lungs out. It doesn’t matter the reason. If they are sick they should be at home. If they are being a brat they should be at home.

Shopping is a HUGE bore for children. I always found a sitter to do my shopping. It was better for them and a whole lot better for me.

Still I can’t imagine screaming at a child or anyone else for that matter in public. The only time I did was when leaving a mall my youngest kept walking and was about to go into the traffic lane. My arms were full and I couldn’t grab her so I screamed for her to stop. It took a couple of times for it to sink in and get her to stop.

Unfortunately any asshole can be a parent. Children should come with mandatory parenting classes on how to handle stress and other issues with children.


Comment by Jennilea6.

I don’t say anything but I frequently want to. It’s not even the volume that bothers me so much as it is WHAT I hear some moms saying to very little kids.

“I said to shut up!” “Shut the (blankity) up, NOW before …” and then just hitting the kid with a loud, audible smack. A spanking to the bottom is one thing. Hitting anyone upside the head or just slapping them is demeaning and not necessary.

It’s 11:30 at night on a Tuesday. He must be, what? All of 2 or 3? He looks tired to me. Have a little patience/grace or come to the store at a decent hour with your little one.

I don’t confront. Because I can’t make a difference. But I *have* called the local non-emergency number to the sheriff’s office a number of times to report violence. I am afraid I would lose my mind if ever I saw someone kick or push their child.


Comment by Aludra.

Being a non-parent, I actually appreciate when parents respond to their children in the stores/reteraunts. I have never witnessed abuse (verbal or physical) but I much prefer the parent saying “Enough” and dragging the kid faster through the store, or out of the store. It’s more polite to the people around them than the parents who pretend that nothing is happening. How are the kids going to learn not to throw tantrums if they aren’t taught that it’s a bad thing?

But worse than the shopping thing, why would any parent take their four year old to some of the movies I’ve seen kids in? I’m not talking like Mall Cop. There was a 4 year old girl in the Jackass movie of all places! THAT is poor parenting. It’s stuck with me all these years. I closed my eyes through most of that horrible movie, and that kids mom didn’t even cover her eyes with her hand or anything!


Comment by Andrea's Sweet Life.

My first child has always been perfect in public. No kidding.

My second is WILD as soon as we hit a public place, so we had to change our limits of what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Yes, I have occasionally had to carry my flailing child through the grocery store as I shop. I don’t have to yell – she’s safe, I’m getting shit done, and people are staring but I just give them a smile and a wink. Maybe some people have the time to leave the store every time their kid throws a tantrum, but I don’t.

And guess what? She’s never thrown a fit for longer than a couple of aisles, and then she apoligizes. And sits quietly in the cart and reads a book or has a snack or whatever I brought to distract her. No hitting/shouting/body slamming necessary.


Comment by tammigirl.

I think this is a perfectly acceptable reason to pull out your flip video camera and start recording her. I think saying something like “Pardon me, if you give me your email address I can send this video to you tonight after I get it on YouTube” is what Emily Post would want you to say.


Comment by Swistle.

I think that spankings given for biblical reasons should be done WITH a Bible, preferably open to the page where it clearly states that followers should spank their children, so that the child will understand that this is God’s way. Oh, but it clearly states to use a “rod.” Perhaps attach the Bible to the end of the rod? We may need to go back to the original Hebrew to see what device we’re actually supposed to us.


Comment by aussiechic.

You know I saw a guy push his little girl to the floor in a Target not long ago – she must have only been 4 – and he saw me watch him do it – and he was yelling at her as well – and I gave him my meanest nastiest “don’t lay another hand on her buddy or I will call the cops” looks….It must have worked because he picked her up, apologized to her and gave her a cuddle…..JERK.


Comment by amy.

Wow… I am sickened.. I have never spanked or beaten my children. Got far too much of that as a child.

Have never spanked nor beat any of my three children because I have never felt the need to. They are great kids and always have been I like to think because they have been raised and praised as being good and wonderful from day 1.

My kids have been raised with praise as all kids should be. And disciplined with appropriate consequences of course. Just found that was a rare event.

Very different to how I was raised for sure. I was a hellion past the age of 12 till I was 16 or so and grew up if you will..

I remember seeing a father KICK his 2 or so year old son into a concrete wall at Ikea, waiting to get into the kid play area. I could not help myself and commented “Well THAT was great parenting..” I curse myself to this day some 9 years later for not calling the police to report this child abuser. If he was doing this abusive behavior in public what the hell was he doing at home??

Beating and abusing children is just SO not acceptable. We have evolved as people to take the high road and parent with compassion and skills dammit..

Beating a child does nothing but make them feel worthless and unloved. Not great for the childs morale and future behavior.


Comment by amy.

Wow. I am sickened. After posting my 2 cents had a look at what others had to say.

Not a religious person but wow, now I know why. Beating a child is sanctioned by the bible? By God? And I am supposed to go worship this guy every Sunday morning and put $$ in his coffers?

I don’t THINK so..

If God is good and God is great why the hell is he sanctioning we beat our children?? Bewildering to me and the reason I Do NOT attend church.

My religion is far superior. Be good, be kind, love often and much. Be thankful and loving to those touch you.. Be the best person you can be and be proud..


Comment by amber folkman.

First off, I am sickened by all of the anti-Bible talk on here. I have read quite a few comments in response to Rose , mocking the Bible. We get it, you don’t believe in the Bible or it’s teachings. No need to try to mock it or her for her faith. Not the time to be trying to convert Christians, amy. Nice list of things in your superior religion, don’t forget ‘be the best person you can be and be proud.. mock other religions and beliefs.

Second, some of you are clueless. All of this strict anti-spanking talk is ridiculous.

Yes it is completely unacceptable to kick, bodyslam, or just start whipping on a kid for no reason or just because they are crying. There are other ways to handle it.

However, I pity those of you who have never spanked your child, regardless of what perfect little angels they are. Seems to me you take their life and safety for granted.

I can think of several situations where a spank on the hand would be necessary…

1.) Child is pulling safety protectors out of the wall outlet and about to electrocute himself–good time for a spank on the hand, with a firm NO, and then explain that it will hurt them and mommy will be sad.

Wasting your time on warnings and time-outs is just waiting for the big shock to happen.

What are you going to ask him not to do it? How many times will u do that before they comprehend that? Will it be before or after they’ve finally gotten shocked
and disfigured or killed?

2.) Child is physically beating up/biting somebody elses child in daycare/school/public? Let me guess just tell the child no, for the umpteenth time and meanwhile YOUR child is getting beat up by some body else’s child whos parent thinks that just saying ‘Bobby don’t misbehave’ is enough.

3.) Child keeps sneaking into the kitchen and trying to touch the hot oven because you’ve told him NOT to do it and kids like to do what you tell them not to.

You can either sit there and play dumb and wait until you’re distracted and rinsing the veggies and he burns his tiny little hand OR you can spank his tiny little hand and have him retreat to something else. All he will think is I better not touch that or I will feel
that spank on my hand again. He will not die from a spank on the hand. He will not be emotionally scarred because his hand got spanked. He will not forever fear ovens. He will not become a psycho killer because his hand was spanked.

He WILL put his life in risk if he plays with the oven. He WILL be emotionally scarred, and fear fire and hot things, if the burn leaves permanent disfigurement.

There are times when a spanking is OK. Don’t play dumb , words go in one ear and out of the other with kids.

It’s not until you take action that kids will respond. Usually action is time out or removing a privilege but at the age where they value stuff like that.

Just because someone spanks their child doesn’t mean they are bad parents, abusers, or need Social services.

How are you helping the child? Do you HONESTLY think the child will be better being bounced around from foster home to foster home being used for paychecks,
than they would be in a home where the parent spanks them for discipline? Unbelievable.

Save that stuff for the true abusers who are putting their kids lives in danger, beating until drawing blood/breaking bones, drugs around the kids, etc…), not because someone is spanking their child or yelling. MY GOODNESS.

Also loudly yelling is not a crime. It’s shows little class but it doesn’t mean she’s a bad mom. It may come across as crass but you don’t know what that mom is dealing with, you don’t know if this is the last option. How do you know she hasn’t been calm and collected the whole time and the kid wasn’t responding to that, so she decided to try something else. Maybe she adjusted her voice level several times and the level you witnessed was the one that worked.

If she didn’t say anything people would judge that she’s not parenting right, but if she does it her way, she’s still being judged. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I know people will argue that you just have to keep TELLING the child, instead of spanking the child. Well you are seriously tempting fate. What makes you think that your child will eventually get it without being HURT in the process. A firm spank usually gets the job done because they associate the sting of the spank with whatever negative behavior/harmful situation and try to avoid it. It’s not about BEATING and HURTING your kids, it’s about PROTECTING them by making sure that they understand their limits WHETHER YOU ARE
THERE OR NOT. I don’t know about you guys but I don’t want my child thinking it’s ok to play near the busy traffic, so I won’t take it lightly if he dances too close to the street. I want him to LIVE so I will spank him and tell him why it’s dangerous. Because I

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