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When breastfeeding turns rude & other tales of bad parenting

My main pet peeve as a parent is rudeness. Rude children, yes. But mostly other parents. (I blame the tree, not the apple until they are old enough to know better.) I think it has something to do with raising the next generation, the rise of incivility in our society, and the attitude so many people have (and are passing on) that the entire world revolves around them and their sense of entitlement. I'm not even asking for "please" and "thank you" to make a roaring return. I just wish more people kept in mind that other people exist.

I won't even begin to address here the child-free. Yes, they have rights, too, Scott...but where they begin and end is for another time.

Let it be said, however, that in my family we make every effort to not bother others. Because one of the prime examples of the "bad parenting" attitude is the idea that you can carry on with life exactly as you did before children. You see this on 16 And Pregnant all the time. You see it when kids get dragged places children have no business being. When you chose to have a child, you made a decision to focus your life on that child. It's not about going out all the time, keeping up with your fine dining, your concert-going. Yes, parents need to get out of the house. Yes, we need to have other things in our life besides our children. But priority is the key. Nobody wants to tolerate your screaming child in a restaurant. We largely stay home and keep to family-friendly activities.

I'm careful where I park my stroller on the train. I'm careful where I choose to change a diaper. I try not to let my child run around bumping into others. I don't pull out snacks everywhere or anywhere. Especially not messy ones and I try to confine them to places like, oh say, the snack spot at the museum.

Then there the militant breastfeeders. The punk rock, hardore, "I can feed my baby anywhere, anytime" set who have little regard for others or what is appropriate. And I heard from all of them the other day on Twitter. Another dad and myself had a small back-and-forth about public breastfeeding and you would think I'd suggested breastfeeding be illegal or was trying to setup a police task force. Heaven forbid we have a rational discussion about social manners and consideration for those around you. Just as I was complaining that, yes, some moms are rude about breastfeeding...I got the predictably rude responses from the offended parties.

And before you think I'm attacking poor, defenseless moms here...firstly, most moms already take steps to find a quiet place to nurse. It's best for baby to be away from crowds, noise, and most moms are privacy-focused enough that they have a cover or would rather not be walked in on. So we're talking about a small, vocal group here who thinks any analysis of appropriate places/times to feed your children is trying to chip away at the rights of breastfeeding moms to feed their babies. It's not. In fact, I argue it's not really about breastfeeding at all. It's no different than not taking stinky McDonalds on an airplane or talking loudly on your cellphone in a movie theater.

For us, we try very hard to have a bottle ready should one of the kids need to eat while we're out. Ok, what if you're dead set against a bottle ever touching your child's lips? You're in the minority. But sure. Plan ahead. Know the location you're going and the time of day versus your baby's schedule. Not to mention that the "lactivist" attitude does little to encourage women to breastfeed longer.

According to the CDC, the number of infants who are breastfed is increasing...good news, right? It's up to around 70-80% for the first few weeks of life. By 6 months, that number drops to under 50% as women return to work. By 12 months that number is under 25%. For a variety of reasons. It's already difficult, uncomfortable, time-consuming, etc. for moms. And many feel guilty about dropping milk for formula. But our society isn't gearing towards moms toting around nursing children. Employers who do have rooms set aside for nursing moms require scheduling, picking up keys, or uncomfortable discussions with coworkers and supervisors about where you'll be several times a day. If you're stuck in an office without a lock on the door, it could lead to some embarrassing pumping situations. In short, the solution here isn't just more moms exposing the public at large. Women need support and encouragement and, frankly, well-behaved examples of how getting babies mom's milk get be discreetly integrated into the culture. Sorry, punk rock mamas.

Then there are the "ignorers." At the playground. At the children's museum yesterday. The parents who let their kids run off without supervising. They assume that being in a family-friendly place means they can go have a coffee break and tune out. Which leaves the hands-on parent in the awkward place of having to say things to your kids. Other people's children...who quite frankly I shouldn't have to deal with. Even some of the responsible ones who watch their children carefully seem to not grasp when to step in and when to let the kids play. Learning to share is a part of growing up so there's going to be a little toy stealing or a few turns taken out of order. But I draw the line at pushing, hitting. And again, sorry, but letting your kid hit someone else is A) asking for your kid to get belted back B) being a bad parent.

Lastly, I would counter all this by saying you can go too far the other way. Parents can be too strict. Kids do need some freedom. Some of growing up needs to be running around like wild things. One dad yesterday in the boys bathroom at the museum was going absolutely ballistic on his son about sitting down on the toilet seat before the dad could wipe it off. Ok, fair lesson. But not the end of the world.

Moderation, common sense, and a happy medium can be hard to attain. There is no test to see who is ready for parenting.


  1. Wow, Kyle. I think I have violated everything you have said here.
    We have taken Evan to numerous restaurants, including a "family friendly" bar. It is so loud there that no one noticed if Evan would cry. I also breastfed at the table, without a cover.
    I have a free range kid who does often run around in stores, hotel lobbies, and doctor's offices. He has even developed a liking to touching strangers. I let my kid do all of this. (Working mom guilt)
    I don't tolerate hitting and biting and do follow him around when he is around other children because he is a hitter and biter. Despite my best efforts, Evan's behavior is unpredictable and uncontrolled.

  2. Well, a couple points though, Sam. We've taken our kids to restaurants, too. But we go early for fewer people to annoy and while we're there we make every effort to keep them entertained, quiet, happy, etc.. Kelly's got a firm rule about if they act up in the grocery store with tantrums, we leave the full shopping cart behind and exit. And nobody is perfect...has Cole bumped into strangers? Yes. I guess my point is that when we're out in public, we all have a sense of shared space that needs to be respected. I'm not saying we've got to come down hard on parents--we deserve a little bit of slack. It's more a wakeup call to parents who are often in their own bubble about how their actions impact others or may be perceived. Maybe we spend too much time at home (or are working!) and get a social awkwardness. Heck, I think I broke some guys guitar amp on the bus yesterday...but he was blocking the doorway. lol I think that's why I find it so difficult to take the kids out is being forced to constantly be on guard.

  3. Interestingly enough, at age 60 I perceive this to be an ongoing problem. Not the breastfeeding in particular, but the singular "I have rights" attitude. There has been too much pandering to individual rights and not enough pandering to the respect your fellow man (child, woman, senior, etc.) Someone once said : "your right to freedom of speech ends when your fist meets my nose". I will be happy to respect everyone's opinion (even about child rearing and feeding) when they respect my right to not participate in their I am happy you are breastfeeding, but I do not want to participate in it, so cover it up or go somewhere I don't have to watch! As for child control, I think kids all have their moments and that is acceptable. But as a parent and grandparent, I know when it is a moment and when it is a habit. And I do not approve of bad habits! Kyle, you are an encouragement to me that you, as a new young dad, even recognize these things and are likewise offended. There IS hope for the next generation! Thank you!

  4. I can't take that much credit, Cindy. lol It's easy to stand out when you're going against a strong tide. It's in our politics, online, tv. I'm trying to teach my kids that they should give other people respect and tolerance, but that's a two-way street. We deserve to get it in return.

  5. I agree with everything you say except the breastfeeding in public. (And I'm not one of the "militant" as you oh-so-politely put it - my 3mo occasionally has formula and has pumped milk in addition to nursing daily). Sometimes the pumped milk has run out. Or I didn't think I'd be out this long. Or I've already spent enough time and energy trying to hold my daughter off from a feeding that she's getting frantic.

    What's ruder, quietly latching her on and letting her eat, or making her wait and subjecting everyone within a mile to her screaming? Making an exit is not always an option, like on a plane or bus, or in a huge line for something that absolutely needs to be taken care of today?

    I'm not saying that I'm going to pull out the boob and leave it hanging for the world to see until I can get my baby positioned and latched because I'm trying to have consideration for others, BUT I recognize that it's my right to do that if I need to. Keeping modesty while holding onto a squirmy baby usually requires a third hand, or a carrier, or special shirt, or a combination of these things.

    In my case, I had to use a nipple shield for the first 11 weeks, which added to the complexity of the modesty-positioning-latching dance. This alone was enough to be reluctant to breastfeed, even at home. Having to try it on-the-go when the pumped milk and formula were gone made me cry.

    This difficulty about trying to be "discreet" or "modest" while trying to do the best I can for my baby is frustrating and discouraging, and THAT is why the "militant" moms are fighting for our right to breastfeed anytime, anywhere. Because without the might of that law behind me, I'd be resorting to formula a whole lot more often . . . which would deplete my milk supply, which would force me to wean earlier. (See where this is going?)

    The rudeness thing goes two ways. I will do my part not to deliberately go out of my way to make others uncomfortable, but I'm not going to put one of those stupid-looking covers on, and I'm not going to sit in a quiet place for the duration of my nursing years and stop living life. If you can somehow figure out I'm breastfeeding under my shirt and carrier or over my tank top, and it makes you uncomfortable, just look away. There's no need to be rude about my breastfeeding to me, either.

    1. I agree with you! Newfangled Dad, sorry, you just don't get it. I've had people offer up the bathroom stall ("Hey, there's a bathroom over there..."). I don't know about you but I don't prepare my food where I do my dirty business. And I think that's what people who don't know anything about breastfeeding think - that nursing moms should be banned from life, sent to closets, bathrooms, anywhere where they are not "bothering or offending" anyone else. That selfish, entitled attitude you are talking about is at work here. I had it before I had my son. And then I realized, breastfeeding is not offensive. It's a natural response to a need of my baby, for whom I am charged to care.

      Less than two weeks after my son was born, I sat in the pediatrician's office while he wailed because he was hungry. I don't know if you would expect an apology from me in this situation but my nipples were cracked and bleeding and I was having a harde enough time nursing, let alone pump to make you and my fellow Americans more comfortable. So my baby cries as I'm trying to put on a "cover" and discreetly nurse. And my baby squirms because I don't try to hide him at home. I cried because I was worried about people like you being offended by my life's interruption of YOUR life. Nursing requires commitment and sacrifice that you would never understand. I hope somehow you can gain a more full understanding of what nursing mother's face. We aren't trying to make you uncomfortable. We don't need your guidelines, judgments or tips. We need your compassion.

    2. I think we all, as parents, have good and bad days. It's always a two-way street and so situational and cultural. At the ped's office is so much different than at the grocery or on the subway. Maybe Kelly and I are just overachieving Type A people, too...but we've gone so far out of our way to always make sure we have milk in bottles or now it's more like juice in sippies or crackers and we don't leave the house without pacifier and blanket and a toy. Basically doing everything we can to not be a burden on the public while our children are out in the world. But I feel less bad about a tantrum outside at the zoo than at the checkout line. Depends on how family friendly a place is. I think a lot of public reaction to parents tends to revolve around how "on top" of things we look. Maybe we get sympathy for a bad day...maybe we get judged as incompetent. I just try to always come at it as lighthearted to downplay any possible negativity and it usually goes well. It leads to more conversations than arguments about me being inconsiderate or inappropriate with my kids. And maybe it's too high a standard but I tend to judge other parents by how much they have thought ahead in that way.

  6. You make a couple excellent points that are right on, Subknit. But then again, you seem to have an understanding of the tightrope balance parents have to walk. My exact point is that there is a middle ground...which to clarify isn't where some moms are coming from. I think it is a fine line between: is the mom doing all she can versus can the public just live with it as much as reasonable. In the end, I think my result is if the mom did go to the effort to get a carrier or a shirt or seems genuinely apologetic on her face about the social faux pas there's not much more you can ask of her. It's entirely situational though. Mom at the grocery standing in line with a gallon of milk and some baby food is different than a mom standing in line with wine and brie. (I'm looking at my Kelly here. lol) I wish the legit discussion about breastfeeding etiquette just didn't always turn into "rights under assault." As I've stated before, I think a certain amount of "good parenting" is just being ready for whatever your kid throws at you. A parent with a cranky kid and a pacifier or toy at the ready is a lot different than the parent with the cranky kid who lets it just wail much to the chagrin of others.

  7. I have to admit, I was afraid you were going to judge my parenting today at the Boogers. Evan of course can't stay by mom when there are kids around and when there is room to run. I felt like a weirdo at first being the only mom chasing their toddler there. But I know my kid, and thankfully he did bite anyone or push anyone over. I think I was doing the right thing, attempting to corral Evan, but he likes to make a break for it.
    I saw many examples of the bad parenting there, like the kids climbing the choir area and the kids break dancing with little ones running around. Evan really wanted to join them, and luckily I was able to reel him in and settle him down after a fit. I am glad I was able to be the good parent.
    I was also half expecting Cole to sit quietly by you or hold your hand the whole time. I was delighted that he was running around, which it was the appropriate place to run, with a ever watchful dad keeping an eye out.

  8. Ha! And I think that's what I mean about it being situational though. I think everybody there had the understanding we were in an empty church for a preschool rock concert...there is a time and place for everything. Cole had a blast and we were glad you guys could come! If Cole had sat quietly by me I'd have been disappointed. He loves to dance and clap.


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