Five Ways to Deal With a Judgy Stranger

Nutella, Sea Salt, Herend, Rothschild Bird, Linen

Have you even been judged by a judgy stranger? Judgy strangers are anyone with an opinion on your parenting, and let me tell you: they are everywhere. They lurk in grocery store aisles and restaurants, thinking they know better than you do what your baby or child needs, and they’re primed at a moment’s notice to tell you about it.

It might be the woman in Target who asks why your baby isn’t wearing socks, when you know it’s because she pulls them off and it’s summer anyway, and she can’t even walk, so what’s the point? It might be the man who comments on your son’s iPhone use in a restaurant, when you know he was FaceTiming his cousin to say “happy birthday.” She gives you the side-eye as you carry your toddler kicking and screaming out of the craft store, when you know it was because you said no to her request for you to buy her a Beanie Boo that she saw near the cash register. Judgy strangers are everywhere, inserting themselves into situations that they know nothing about, thinking they know better than you.

I was the victim of a judgy stranger’s judgment yesterday, just before I dropped by daughter off for sleepaway camp. We were at breakfast before finishing the last, shortest leg of our seven-hour trip. My eldest daughter was eating toast with Nutella and sea salt. I walked by the woman once and she was complaining about all the carbs at the restaurant, and I thought what a downer it must be to have breakfast with her. My daughter said that she made a comment on the sugar content in Nutella when they were standing next to each other near the waffle station, and when I walked by the woman again, she distinctly said, for my benefit, “Everything here is completely loaded with sugar. I wonder if people know that. I wonder if they know how much sugar is in everything here.”

And yes, I actually did know that toast and Nutella is not the most nutritional breakfast. Here’s what else that I knew, that the judgy stranger had no way of knowing: I knew that Nutella is a special treat for my daughter, and not something she eats for breakfast regularly, or ever. I knew that in about an hour I was going to drop off my baby for a month away, and this was our last meal together for a long time. I knew that inside I was feeling sad, but I was trying to keep the atmosphere at our table fun and light, for the benefit of the family. I knew that my daughter might be feeling a little anxious about reconnecting with camp friends from last year, and for leaving home for so long for the first time ever. I knew that I wanted our family to have fun together, and not waste our time quibbling over the toast and Nutella at this particular moment.

But judgy strangers don’t have access to all the information. They see a situation and they make an assessment from the outside, from their limited perspectives.

Here are five ways to deal with a judgy strangers:

1). First, trust yourself.

Trusting myself was the most important lesson I learned as a new mom, and even though I have eleven and a half years of parenting experience under my belt, I still have to relearn it from time to time.

A judgy stranger doesn’t know you, and she doesn’t have the whole story. Her judgment comes from seeing you as someone who can’t be trusted to make decisions for your child. She thinks she knows better than you. She doesn’t.

2). Respond with kindness.

It is not always an easy undertaking, but I never regret it when I start from a place of kindness. Sometimes a smile can disarm a tough situation. Sometimes being judgy is just a judgy stranger’s misguided way of trying to help a mom. That doesn’t make it right, but it won’t hurt anything if you start with a kind word for her.

If you begin from a place of kindness, y’all might actually make friends and bond over mom experiences in the grocery store aisle. You can still disregard her advice as soon as the conversation is over. The difference is you’ll be walking away happy instead of angry.

If that doesn’t work, you can always always…

3). Move on to an impertinent retort.

When a judgy stranger can’t be disarmed with a smile or a kind word, it’s time to forget everything you learned at cotillion about respecting your elders. If she doesn’t smile back or have anything nice to say after you’ve tried kindness, I say you’re well within your rights to talk back, with sass. She’s the one who’s out of line, and she’s the one who started it.

4). Ignore her.

Some people choose to skip the kindness, or the impertinence, or both and go straight to the ignoring. This was my tactic yesterday, because the woman didn’t directly engage me. She just judged passive-aggressively and loudly, without addressing me personally. This is usually my style; I make it a rule not to engage unpleasantly with people I don’t know (or people I do know). The risk with this one comes after the fact, if you find that you regret not speaking up.

5). When the tables are turned, mind your own business.

That’s right—judgy strangers can serve as cautionary tales about how not to act. Learn from the errors of their ways, learn how to deal with them, and most of all, learn not to become them. Because nobody likes to see a judgy stranger coming, and you don’t want to be that person.

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