She gave him a chocolate biscuit, said, “I’m going to get some food,” and walked away.
I looked over at the boy. He appeared to be about three, at most. He was okay for the first few minutes, then started to make whimpering noises. I tried to make conversation to cheer him up.
“Don’t worry, your mum will be back any minute. Hey, chocolate biscuit! Yum!”
I couldn’t see the mum anywhere. I felt unsettled, because I don’t generally leave my kids on their own in public places. I worry they’ll bolt without warning. Still, this boy wasn’t moving from his seat.
Eventually the woman came back, holding a glass of wine. I relaxed. Everything was fine.
A few minutes later, the woman disappeared for a second time. I kept an eye on the little boy, again feeling unsettled. He didn’t look happy. Suddenly he jumped up from his seat and ran off. I ran after him.
He didn’t go far. I found him lying on the ground, crying. People were hurrying past around him.
“Hey, I think you should go back and wait for your mum,” I told him. “She’ll be there soon.”
The little boy stood up and I herded him in the direction of the seats. His mum had returned. She saw him and started walking towards us.
I must have been staring at her, because she looked at me, and said, “What?”
“He ran off,” I told her. “I was just telling him to go back.”
“Oh, okay,” she said. “Thanks.”
They walked off.
Look, I get it. Being at the airport on your own with a kid is hard. You’ve got luggage to drag around everywhere. You have to cover long distances. You can end up hanging around for ages if your flight is delayed. But it’s not okay to leave your kid alone, out of your sight... Is it?
Should I have had a few words to this woman, so that she would think twice before doing it again?
I never want to be the Judgey Stranger. I don’t want to be the person another mum talks about: “You won’t believe what this woman came up to me and said. How dare she try to tell me how to look after my own child!”
I know I’m an overcautious parent. I’m always imagining the worst thing that could happen. I worry about other people’s kids, as well as my own, but I try not to say anything, because I know it’s probably just me and my slightly irrational fears. I see tiny children racing along the footpath of a busy road on their own, their parents far behind them, and I worry. I see a toddler barefoot on an escalator, and I worry. But generally, I don’t say anything, because I don’t want to be the Judgey Stranger.
Some people are quite happy to be the Judgey Stranger. I was at my son’s sports training recently when another mum pointed to a toddler and said to me, “Look at that little girl over there, wandering around with a lollipop in her mouth. If she falls over, the stick could perforate her throat.” She marched up to the toddler’s dad and told him. Clearly it was something she’d done plenty of times before.
I think we need Judgey Strangers. I think we need people who are prepared to speak up if they think other parents aren’t aware of dangers to their child. I think we need to remember if other people say something, it usually comes from a place of concern, and isn’t meant to be a personal attack on our parenting.
Would you say something if you saw a parent leave a young child on their own?