Butting In With Parenting Advice: Just Do It

If you take a look around some of the parenting sites on the interwebs, you see a lot of complaints about “free advice.”  It seems everyone and her great-aunt is ready to interject a “Isn’t your baby too warm?” or “His poor cold toes!” or “She’ll develop an overbite if you don’t take that pacifier away.”  And that doesn’t even begin to get into the hot button topics of breast/bottle, sleep training, organic/conventional, and cloth/disposable diapers.

Most times, it’s best to just smile and nod and move on.  Most times it’s also best to just keep your opinions to yourself – especially to strangers.  But sometimes, in cases more immediate than lost socks or a beloved pacifier, we have an obligation to both listen and speak up.

In the last year, I’ve become that annoying person who approaches you and butts in.  At least when it comes to one issue: Children in shopping carts.

When I see a squiggly toddler unbuckled or standing up in a shopping cart, I ask the adult to please buckle the child or put them in the seat. And sometimes I see a car seat balanced on top of the cart’s seat – please don’t!  My well-intentioned, but perhaps less-than-desired advice is not always received with great joy – but I don’t much care.  The seats themselves give us instructions of how to safely use the carts, and even then accidents can occur.  To me, it’s worth the cold glares and pursed lips because I don’t want to wonder “what if I had said something” after the fact.

Good friends of ours had a terrifying experience last year, and I’ll admit that it could have easily been my experience.  While grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, their shopping cart – with their 18 month old daughter in it – tipped over.  Thankfully, their daughter is now a chipper and typically precocious two-year-old.  However, that is only after being intubated and spending time in a medically-induced coma and undergoing more than one brain surgery.  I still remember the falling rock my stomach turned into when I got the phone call about the accident.  It’s not something I want to feel ever again.

Now, I’m not going to get into the details of how it happened because people are far too willing to offer advice (see above) and opinions and explanations.  The bottom line is, it happened. And it could have happened to anyone.  In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (PDF), about twenty thousand children under five are treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for injuries involving shopping carts every year.  Carts can tip over going over curbs, and the smaller carts popular at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s stores can even tip just going around a corner.

And a cart doesn’t even have to tip over to cause a tragedy.  I used to leave my toddler in the cart’s seat to grab green beans or a bag of apples across the aisle all the time. Maneuvering in a crowded grocery store or big box store is awkward and time-consuming, and I was just a few seconds away.  But in that time she could have stood up in her seat and fallen, or less tragically, her fingers could have been scrunched and twisted by a passing cart.  (That has happened to us before in Costco.)  So I tell people with unbuckled children or with children standing up in the basket of the cart to please be vigilant, but it’s not often that the person takes my advice.  Still, perhaps next time (when I’m not around) they’ll think twice and buckle the child or keep the child close-by.   And if that means a cranky child wearing the seatbelt or a shopping expedition taking an extra five minutes to get the green beans, then so be it.

(Photo: Kasia/Flickr)

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  1. That is a really horrible and scary story and it sounds like this is a cause you have become quite passionate about. It seems like a better route might be for you, and potentially your friend, to start an informational poster campaign that supermarkets adopt. You have to think about the end goal — to get people to change behavior — and the more effective way to do this is probably through providing information on the dangers and consequences of unbuckled or unattended children in shopping carts. As we all know, cornering a mom and offering unsolicited and out-of-context advice, is not often so well-received and therefore your important message will be lost.

  2. Thank- you for writing this Kristen. I also will ask strangers children to sit down in their cart. last year I was in Home Depot after 9 p.m. and it was empty, a couple was talking to a sales man and their toddler went running off and it was a good 3 minutes before the father went looking for him I had just turned into the aisle where the boy had gone. He was about 20 plus feet in the air after climbing an unattended set of stairs the employees use to stock shelves.

    I yelled at the parents. I’m not sure of what came out of my mouth but I was terrified.

    Two days later I spoke to a friend of mine who formally worked for Home Depot in corporate. She just said that if it ever got out to the public how many children have had serious injuries and died in Home Depot stores we would never shop there again.

  3. lcast: Absolutely, which is kind of why this Baristakids post came about. There are many more minor accidents that “could have been” much more serious. And while I do think that parents need to be vigilant, stores need to have sturdy carts and belts in good repair as well. This was more about the parents. Thanks for commenting!

    And Holly – Home Depot has those cool new carts with funky cars, hopefully that will encourage kids to stay where they are. Any store with stuff piled into the sky scares me, and I know some kids (like my daughter!) who would probably try to climb Mt. Paint Cans if I’d let her! Thanks for the support.

  4. Kristin, thank you for writing this. I am the mother of the little girl who suffered the shopping cart accident. It’s still too close for me to write about it, but I’ve considered it. I should point out that my daughter wasn’t unbuckled or unattended. The cart flipped onto its side — it was really a freak accident. It happened in a Trader Joe’s where the carts are especially small and ill-proportioned. So while I too get very upset when I see parents allowing their children to stand in carts or ride unbuckled, I am more concerned with finding a way to get stores (like Trader Joe’s) to change the types of carts they use. I don’t think a larger, sturdier cart would tip over with such ease. And as Kristin points out, stores need to make sure their carts are in good condition with working belts.

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