Dear Stranger On the Train Who Disciplined My Child,

Hi! We’ve never met before. I was on the 4 train on the way home from Manhattan with my two kids and their best friend. My kids and their friend Jonathan were fighting over the window seat. They all wanted to look out the window into the darkness. I know, it’s funny right? Why would you want to look out a dark window? But, you know, kids. They fight over things we don’t understand sometimes.

Anyhow, you took the time out of your train ride to say:
“Ari should give his sister a turn. Not Jonathan.”
And you didn’t say it once. You kept saying it over and over again while shaking your head.

I’m not sure why you’re telling me this. I’m not entirely sure why you feel it’s your responsibility or business to tell me this. I’m also (frankly) not entirely sure of your intention. I could speculate some potential things you may have been thinking:

  • You honestly thought you were helping me with parenting
  • You thought you knew better than I did 
  • You wanted to seem like an authoritative figure to your friend who was with you and to the entire train car
  • You were annoyed that my kids were being loud and wanted to comment on it
The truth is I have no idea why you were doing it, but I can tell you how it made me feel:
When you repeatedly told me that my kids should take turns and refused to stop, I felt frustrated. You see, I was already have a difficult time managing this problematic behavior. I was repeatedly telling my kids and their friend to take turns, and they were being resistant.
I felt like what I was doing wasn’t working. I felt badly about myself as a parent. I questioned my parenting skills, and your shouting at me made me feel worse. 
Unsolicited advice is tricky. Sometimes, we don’t know what to do as parents. There are times when I welcome feedback from other people who have done this before and might know better than I do. However, your manner of communicating the “advice” made me feel demeaned and incompetent, even though I’m not.
I said:
“Thank you for your advice, but these are my kids.” And with that, I wanted you to stop talking to me. 
It is my hope that if you choose to bestow your “words of wisdom” on another unsuspecting soul on the 4 train, that you will think about the way you’re communicating before you open your mouth. Think about the fact that the mother you’re criticizing is overwhelmed and probably feeling like somewhat of a failure. So your criticism (although maybe meant to be helpful) is coming across as judgmental.
I hope you get to your destination safely and don’t loose your Metrocard while judging someone.