Mother Criticized by Stranger

A mother starts to doubt her parenting skills after a stranger berates her in public.
I am the mother of a very strong-willed, sometimes blatantly defiant, four-year-old girl. I think she is beautiful, bright, and probably fairly typical of other four-year-olds who are labeled "strong-willed." Recently, while scolding her in a YMCA dressing room because she was swinging on a shower curtain, I was very strongly criticized by another woman in the dressing room. I used no foul language, did not harm her body in any way, and was using careful tones to convey that her behavior was unacceptable. The woman, who was very impassioned, said (to the best of my memory): "She's just a little girl. She should be taken away from you and given to another mom who has more patience. You should shut your mouth, because she's only a little girl."

I was stunned, and have since been extremely disturbed. I have gone to my church and several friends seeking feedback. I never want to harm my daughter, but I also don't feel I was inappropriate with her that day. She cried every night for two weeks after that, thinking someone would "take her away from me" and "give her to another mom." I've tried to move on and not let this incident destroy all my self-confidence, but it has really hurt and I'm having a hard time feeling secure about how I handle my daughter.

I will be joining a mom's support group as one way of educating and supporting myself, but also need to know if I should seek professional guidance. I am a stay-home mom for now, and am committed to giving her the best possible home life I can. My husband does back me up 100 percent in my efforts to "self-improve," and we both realize that as parents, we are never perfect. However, the one and only thing I do perfectly in this life is love my girl with all my heart and soul.

I did not respond to this woman's criticism of me in any way -- I just looked at her as she spoke. My husband says I should have told her to "butt out," but I knew that would only make things worse. Where do I go from here? How can I get my confidence back, and find good, trustworthy feedback on my parenting style/skills?

The woman who criticized you and frightened your daughter acted in a most unkind and inappropriate manner. She caused your daughter to fear being taken away from you and she caused you to doubt your parenting abilities. I must admit, however, that I find it puzzling that this woman's insensitive criticism caused you to seriously question your parenting skills and to become depressed. You seem to have surrendered your self-confidence about parenting your daughter because of a stranger's insulting, critical comments about your "scolding" your daughter.

Think about why her comments have had such a devastating effect on your self-worth. Her criticism could not have affected you this much unless you have some underlying doubts about your abilities to parent your daughter. If you felt secure in your parenting role, you would be able to dismiss this woman's words as an inappropriate, hurtful tirade.

Joining a mom's support group is a good idea. Taking parenting classes, perhaps with your husband, is another way to improve your parenting abilities. These efforts demonstrate that you and your husband are parents who want to become better, more knowledgeable parents. Because of your dramatic, disturbed response to this incident, I would recommend that you consider talking to a counselor. It would help you to receive some professional, objective, supportive observations and insight as to why your confidence as a mother has been so damaged by this woman's angry criticism, especially since you maintain that your "scolding" was appropriate.

I am sure that no one will question your love of your daughter. You clearly want to give her the best parenting possible and are devoted to her. Given that you have described your daughter as a "very strong-willed, sometimes blatantly defiant four year-old," you can only benefit from seeking guidance and counsel on how to best parent your first child.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.