Praising a stranger for looking after their child isn't kind — it's the parenting equivalent of cat-calling

Be still my heart of stone, but the note-plus-fiver combination isn’t working for me

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The Independent Online

Sorry, caregivers: time spent commuting is no longer time away from unsolicited parenting advice. As if the barrage of pamphlets and manuals designed with you in mind were not enough, it seems you can now count on your fellow travellers to comment on your child rearing skills. But it’s not all bad, if you impress you may be lucky enough to receive a fiver for your efforts, should Ken Saunders have anything to do with it.

Last week Saunders, 50, watched 23-year-old Samantha Welch – a woman who happened to be sat in the same train carriage – as she tended to her 3-year-old son. He was so blown away by her parenting prowess, he handed her a note describing her as a “credit to her generation”, and some money, which she has since put into a savings bond for the child. Wanting to remain anonymous, he signed off as “The man on the train at table with glasses and hat”. She, rather than seeing this as an unwelcome intrusion into her privacy, launched a social media campaign to track him down and thank him. The story went viral, and lo-and-behold, the pair have now been reunited on TV, to the collective coos of the nation.

Well, be still my heart of stone, but the note-plus-fiver combination isn’t working for me. This is not a random act of kindness. It is not kind to judge the way in which somebody parents their child in a public space. And I get it, the long train journey with screaming children is not my favourite, either. But to identify a snapshot of behaviour as indicative of good or bad parenting is an insult to parents everywhere. “We will judge you”, it says, “at every possible opportunity”.

 

 

 

Not just “we will judge you”, in fact, but “we will judge you and then tell you about it, even when you haven’t asked for our opinion.” Leaving aside the small number of cases in which such commentary may be justified (if we are seriously concerned about a child’s welfare, for example), and the fact that Welch herself was pleased to receive the praise, this sort of behaviour is what is generally known as being a busy-body. And generally, nobody likes a busy-body.

Of course, Saunders’ busy-bodying was not random. His act of kindness was the parenting equivalent of cat-calling, which, unsurprisingly, fell upon a 23-year-old woman. But for some strange reason, this comment on parenting has not been met with the same critical eye that views compliments about appearance – so frequently given to women – as insensitive, inappropriate, and altogether unnecessary.

Given that Saunders described Welch as a “credit to her generation” – and a “great role model” – it seems fair to suggest that his praise was underpinned by some fairly shocking, not to mention incredibly patronising, stereotypes of young motherhood. Would he have found it equally appropriate to slip a fiver to a middle-aged mother in praise of her parenting? Or a father, perhaps? My guess would be no.

Let’s be absolutely clear. Good parenting can come in all shapes and sizes. So should anybody feel equally compelled to compliment a stranger who stifles their stereotype of good parenthood, my advice would be don’t. Mind your own business.

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