I was recently reminded of a pretty negative babywearing experience. I was at a soft play centre with my three young children and needed to get them quickly back to the car park, which was up a steep flight of steps. All three of them were tired and cranky, and I decided to tandem-carry my twins so that I’d have my hands free to help my preschooler. I popped my daughter on my front in a buckled carrier, and wrapped my son, badly but safely, on my back while my eldest shouted at me and pulled on the tails.
While I was wrapping, an older lady behind me started talking to me, so I turned around to better hear her. She was worried about my son’s safety; she was convinced that what I was doing was unsafe, and was very worried that he was going to fall off. She wanted to help me – she could obviously see I was having a hard time. I appreciated that and told her so, but assured her that he was fine.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t reassured and she kept talking, increasing in volume and urgency, saying that he was going to fall off. This did not help my already stressed-out mood, but I did my best to ignore her while I secured the carry. We made it out to the car safely and with no one falling out of their carriers. On the way home, I rang my husband and cried as I told him how I had felt humiliated and eventually snapped at the lady that I did this for a job, thank you very much, and I knew what I was doing.
I was absolutely convinced that I was in the right – how dare some stranger make me feel like I was putting my child at risk? What did she know? Hadn’t she ever seen someone putting their baby in a carrier?
But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that maybe it was me who had it wrong. The woman probably hadn’t seen anyone using a woven wrap before, especially with a wriggling, screeching toddler. It probably didn’t look very safe to her, especially as my attention was split between my three children. She spoke from a place of concern, and she didn’t know my background or that I have been back-wrapping for four years and have never dropped a child.
This isn’t the first time a stranger has been concerned about my children’s safety while I carry them. More than one random person has tried to ‘help’ by grabbing parts of my sling, or worse – my child, while I am quite competently adjusting it. Slingy Facebook groups are full of stories like mine – usually, the responses to these threads are along the lines of ‘tell them to jog on!’ ‘what do they know?’ ‘how rude!’, but I think we should consider that what we know to be completely safe can look completely unsafe to the uninformed observer. Often in these situations, our children are crying (because, Sod’s Law) and we are feeling worked up. Maybe we aren’t tightening buckles or wrapping as precisely as we usually do, and it looks like we’re yanking our kids around. Maybe your little snowflake is throwing himself around and trying to escape – maybe it looks like he will fall out, even if you know he can’t.
Soft-play-lady shouldn’t have ended up raising her voice to me, that’s for sure. That behaviour towards a stranger just isn’t appropriate, no matter what your concerns. There are more gentle ways she could have approached the situation, and to be honest a helping hand with my screaming preschooler would have been much appreciated! But maybe I shouldn’t have snapped at her, either – it was an opportunity to demonstrate how great using a sling is, and I definitely didn’t do that. I hope that next time this happens (and I have no doubt that it will), I will remember that what we do might look a little scary from the outside, and seek to reassure the well-meaning stranger that all is good.