How Not To Act On Public Transportation With Your Child


Is there anyone out there who likes taking public transportation? I am not talking about hopping on the bus once in a while for a quick jaunt downtown, or taking the subway for a special event. I mean the everyday, rain or shine, squeezed in between the guy with the briefcase jamming into your back and the guy whose iPhone you are trying hard – but maybe not too hard – not to read. When you have toddlers to corral — the fun never stops.

I feel for people who regularly have to take their young ones on crowded public transportation, I really do. I have been there and done that. You just know someone is judging the size of your stroller, the way you dress your child, the way you talk to your child and on, and on. Then, if your little one starts crying inconsolably — probably because you’re holding them in a vice-grip as you will them to please, please stay calm — you feel like the whole crowd is going to turn Survivor on you, and cast you out at the very next stop. Like I said, I’ve been there.

It is probably not surprising then that I have no issue with kids and public transportation. No, the problem I have is with parents and public transportation. After all, we parents are supposed to be the brains of the operation, at least for the first couple of years. So if we accept that premise as generally true (and believe me, there have been days when I have been cunningly outsmarted by my two-year old), how can parents expect kids to behave on public transportation if no one tells them how? Kids are not born knowing how to do much more than eat, sleep, and dirty their diapers — at least in my experience. As for the rest? Well, that’s where parents come in.

We have all seen the parents who beg, plead and appease. Well, I am not going to judge you. You may think my parenting style is similarly ineffectual, so we’ll just agree to disagree. The same goes for those parents who grump, snarl, and threaten. So long as those threats are not the physical kind, and are more the “someone is not getting any ice cream!” kind, I am going to keep on minding my business as best I can. As long as you are trying to do something, no matter if it is actually working at that particular moment or not, to you I say endure with strength. Nobody’s children will behave all the time (and if yours does then you are either lying or you need to email me your secret right now), but at least you are giving it a go.

But what really gets me going are the serial-ignorers. Yes, we all need time to zone out for a few minutes here and there, and what better time than when you are on public transportation trying to avoid all eye-contact anyway? Still, when zoning out turns into obliviousness – like that mom who, for 10 full minutes, ignored the fact that her three year old daughter was teaching her baby brother how to spit at people – I cannot help but get a little cranky.

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  • SunnyD847

    Ha ha. When you said the kid started playing with the only “toy” available to him, I was expecting something VERY different than his voice :)

    • wispy


    • ChillMama

      Hey now, he was only a year old! :)

    • Katherine Handcock

      That has nothing to do with it, boy or girl. Not that I’m speaking from personal parenting experience or anything. ;-)

    • KarenMS

      Haha nope. I work in a pediatric facility with severely delayed children and even they discover their “toys” right away!

  • Véronique the Attachment Shark

    The other day my boyfriend and I decided to go eat at a restaurant (A very low-key mexican joint). Our daughter is turning two very soon, which means that some days are hit or miss when it comes to restaurant etiquette. It’s a learning process for her, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always avoid restaurants because she needs to learn how to act at a table.

    That day, when we walked in, she got upset (we figure because she wanted to sit down but the waitress was still cleaning the table, which she didn’t understand). My boyfriend got upset because he used to be a waiter and doesn’t want to inconvenience people. I told him that people will respect us as long as they see that we’re trying to get her through the tantrum. We sat down, she stopped. We were really happy that it was the only tantrum she had that night and praised her for her super good behaviour when we left.

    Across from us however, another family walked in and started seating themselves at the table. They had a girl who must have been about 5, and another one who was between 1 and a half and 2. For god knows what reason, they sat the eldest down, but left the youngest in her stroller, not even facing the table. It was a small stroller, where she couldn’t even see what was going on above, and she was left staring at the sidewalk (we were sitting on the terrasse). Poor girl started tantruming and would only be scolded by her mom. All I could think of was WTF?? No wonder she’s upset. Not only is she not eating, she has no toys to entertain herself with, and isn’t even looking at anything interesting.

    There are cases, like you said, where you totally don’t judge because kids will be kids. But this lady, ugh. Totally judging.

    • jendra_berri

      Yeah, sometimes kids throw fits for mysterious reasons, and sometimes it’s not a mystery but it’s happening and it can’t be helped (Because they have to leave the park, give a toy back, go to the doctor, spit out the gum they found on the sidewalk, so their resistance is an obstacle towards the inevitable). You just get on with it and you deserve the patience and good will of those around you while you try to handle your business.
      When it’s incredibly obvious as to why the kid is losing it and, frankly, you totally see the kid’s point, you can’t help but get annoyed at the parents. A toddler being excluded from the family meal and given nothing else to do? Uh… yeah. Any sentient being would complain about that.

    • Jayamama

      See, that bothers me more than the whole “oblivious parents annoyed at toddler for being a toddler.” It seem symptomatic of a deeper issue. If you can’t consider your child’s feelings and ignore her pleas to be included because you don’t understand that a toddler might actually want some interaction and to stretch her legs, what else are you missing out on? My girls are 2 1/2 yrs and 9 mos, and I do my best to include them on things like they’re people, which they are. Sure, you have to dumb it down a bit, but it’s worth it. That’s just so sad.

  • chill

    Yes, yes, and yes. I have regularly traveled with my kids (usually without other adult help), and as with most things when they are young, there is a lot of monitoring and intervention and work. But the payoff is that later you have a child that you can trust will make good decision and be respectful. Make the effort, it’s worth it!

  • allisonjayne

    So I take public transit every day, and I actually do like it. I mean, I don’t love every trip, but I prefer public transit to driving. Especially with my kid. We don’t have a car, so driving to daycare isn’t an option, but I have done it with rental cars a couple of times, and I’m not a fan.

    On the streetcar, we can sit together and talk about our days, we read a book together, we play eye-spy (though, I have to say, my kid isn’t that great at it yet. “I spy with my little eye a bicycle that is blue!” “Hmm. That blue bicycle over there?” “YAY you got it mama!”. Sometimes we run into friends or people we know. Sometimes we even make new friends.

    My thing with ensuring my kid is behaving is that if she doesn’t sit properly/stop yelling, we have to get off the streetcar and walk. 99% of the time, that works. And when it doesn’t? We get off and we walk. It’s one of those “oh crap you’re gonna make me follow through on this damn consequence” moments, but oh well. Small price to pay for the fact that she is almost always pretty awesome on public transit.

    • Grr! Arrgh!

      We take mass transit with the little one a lot too (she rides a little less these days because we do have a car, and the nanny-share family we work with moved a 10 min walk from the bus line). I totally agree with you, for all it’s aggravations the train or the bus is >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> than driving in this city.

      Right now, she’s under a year, and content to ride in the ergo while playing with a toy or my necklace, so she’s easy to take around but I know as soon as she starts walking, it’s probably going to get more challenging and she’ll need to start learning how to behave well on the train on her own. So I’m stealing the “behave or we walk,” for my raising a decent human being toolkit. Hope you don’t mind!

    • allisonjayne

      Please do. Decent human beings are in everyone’s best interest. The only hard part about it is that you probably have to follow through with it at least once (hopefully just once)!

      I am definitely looking forward to next year, when she’ll be at school and within walking distance, but I actually enjoy our streetcar times together and will probably miss it a little bit too. As a result, she’s become a total streetcar/public transit fan – we just got new streetcars here and my kid is just beyond excited to get to ride on one.

    • Jayamama

      Kudos to you for actually following through, though! I hate it when parents give empty threats and kids ignore them because they’re smart enough to know when Mom’s not serious. I’ve had a few “crud, now I actually have to do it” consequence moments, but I feel like they’re so important! I just view them as punishing myself for giving her a possible consequence that I didn’t want to carry out.

      I don’t ride public transportation because I live in a town of about 15,000, but I think the reason my two-year-old is pretty well-behaved in restaurants and other places is because I make sure she is engaged and entertained. She has a backpack with a few books, toys, a coloring book and crayons, and a change of clothes that we take everywhere. I include her in my conversation, and I make sure the rules are clear and enforced. Maybe I got an easy kid, but I’d like to think that a lot of it is due to my efforts.

    • allisonjayne

      I think I have an easy kid too, although I probably should take some credit for it sometimes.

      I was watching Golden Girls this morning and Dorothy said something that rung true to me (as she so often does): “This is about what’s best for [kid], not what’s easier for you!”.

      I have to keep chanting that in my head sometimes (“This is about raising a person, not just trying to get through the day”).

    • Jayamama

      Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s not about just trying to make sure they’re clean, dressed, and fed. It’s not so hard to keep a little person alive (though they seem to have their suicidal moments sometimes). I remind myself often that I’m not raising children. I’m raising competent, compassionate, successful, happy adults. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the midst of everyday trials, but it helps to keep some perspective. Someday, they’re going to be on their own out there, and I’d like to think that they won’t be total jerks.

    • Simone

      Wow. Well yes, that is what it’s about. I tend to forget that sometimes – that it’s actually about producing functional adults, rather than raising kids.

  • allisonjayne

    Oh, before I launched into that novel down there, I meant to mention – what irks me is on the occasions when my kid isn’t sitting properly or is being a jerk in some way, and I’m trying to discipline her, random people will try to give her a cookie. It has happened a bunch of times. She starts crying about something and I do the whole, “you are being too loud and bothering other people. if you dont’ stop, we’ll have to get off and walk home” and someone nearby will be all, “aw here princess, have a cookie!” and I’m like, WHAT THE FUCK DUDE.

    But I digress.

    • Alicia

      It’s like when I tell my kids or our puppy not to do something, and someone butts in and says, oh no, it’s okay. No, it’s not okay. Let ME be the one in charge here.

      I am the random stranger who tries to distract kids in grumpy moods by making silly faces. It doesn’t work all the time, but usually the parents or caregivers appreciate it. The only time I offer food to other kids (through their parents) is if my kids are having a snack. I almost always have enough to share.

    • allisonjayne

      I enjoy the silly faces! They often help.

      I feel bad (sort of) for the cookie-offering people, because I know they really just trying to be nice, and I am usually at best “polite yet terse” with them, because I’m usually already up to my tits in frustration at that point and all I can manage is a “no thank you” with a forced smile.


    • noodlestein’s danger tits

      VODKA COOKIE. Add it to the list of Mommyish million dollar ideas!

    • SunnyD847

      That drives me NUTS! Especially when people say it’s ok after you’ve already corrected the behavior. Why are you contradicting me??

    • Rowan

      I am also the silly-faces lady. If my son is with me, I let him handle it because I swear he has some magic baby-whispering talent.

    • SunnyD847

      Why would anyone offer food to a strange child these days? With all the allergic and intolerant and organic-only and no-sugar-allowed kids it’s just asking for trouble. Keep your food to yourselves, people!

    • allisonjayne

      Yeah, it surprises me a bit too. Plus, it always seems to be some nasty cookie or hard candy they’ve pulled out from the bottom of their bag or purse.

      Maybe next time I should just take it for her. “Here kid, your punishment is eating this lint-covered piece of candy that stinks like Chanel No 5 and cigarettes!”.

  • Grr! Arrgh!

    A few years ago, I saw a kid using the support polls on the L like a freaking jungle gym (climbing, swinging, putting his feet all over the seats, yelling) during morning rush while his male-caregiver (I assume dad) stared unblinkingly at his iPhone for 15 mins. It was simultaneously so disruptive and annoying (I don’t want to listen to that from my own child on a crowed train at 7:45 am) and terrifying. I was just waiting for the train to make a sudden stop while he was hanging from the poll and send him flying.

    But as irritating as the kid was, the dude sitting next to him not doing a thing as this child stomped on every last caffeine-starved nerve of a train-full of commuters and imperiled himself and others was FAR more infuriating. Kids are dumb because they’re kids – the adults in their lives, however, are supposed to know better.

  • AP

    I once saw a mom prop her 18 month old up on the seatbacks of a Green Line train in Boston (the ones where the seats face each other), so the kid was sitting on the back of the seat and leaning on the window for support. The train lurched (as Green Line trains are wont to do) and the kid fell off and klonked her head (as anyone with half a brain could have expected.)

    Mom says, “Oh no, did the train hurt your head?”

    No, your stupid mother hurt your head.

    • Jayamama

      Hopefully she was just trying to save face to the other passengers once she realized it was her mistake, not that she actually thought it wasn’t her fault. If it was the latter, then perhaps should took a few too many similar tumbles herself.

  • K2

    I get really judgemental with ignoring parents. I shouldn’t, but I do. Of course they stop ignoring after half an hour of the kid’s screams, but only to be really aggressive to the kid. I hate that attitude so much.

    One of the worst parents I had to deal with was a very young mum with a tiny baby in a huge stroller, who refused to move out of the wheelchair space for my grandma. The bus driver did nothing. Keep in mind the wheelchair has priority no matter what. This selfish girl could only repeat ‘I paid my ticket, whine whine whine’, even though I was trying to tell her there WAS space for wheelchair and stroller if she just let us place the wheelchair first. She wouldn’t consider anything, and oooooh, the looks she gave when the driver asked her to fold the stroller… Which is what they are meant to do!! We were really pissed off at her, but mostly the dumb driver who did not do his job and left us on the kerb.

    Parents: sorry if you think your child is special, but the wheelchair ALWAYS has priority in the WHEELCHAIR AREA.

    • JJ

      Oh I hear you. I haven’t been personally on public transit with someone in a wheelchair but I have many times seen people get on the bus with giant ass strollers meant to fit two babies or more (and there’s only one in it) plop down in the first seat when you get on then stick the stroller out in the middle of the aisle so no one else can fit by. Not even an inch of space. If god forbid you bump mommy’s stroller trying to squeeze by they give you the death glare. I am open to all those who ride transit including parents but could people not get smaller strollers or try to pull the stroller a little closer to their body so others can at least walk by to get on the bus. You can’t hog the whole aisle room by the doorway if you don’t want your precious stroller to get jostled.

      Like I said I have no issue with parents and strollers riding transit politely but if someone in a wheelchair needs to get on you move down a seat or two so they can tie the wheelchair in with the straps. And you don’t leave the stroller as a safety hazard in the middle of the way. God forbid there be an emergency and people might have to flee fast off the bus or train with your huge suv stroller in the way. I think it was really shitty of that driver to not say anything to the lady taking the wheelchair spot. I see a lot of drivers around here who won’t say anything to people who are clearly being rude and refusing to make room for others when there is room available.

  • leahdawn

    Furthermore and also! Is it necessary to bring your Humvee-sized stroller on the bus? (or anywhere, for that matter, but that one is just my personal preference. Long live the umbrella stroller.)

    • ChillMama

      In my opinion it totally depends. If it is snowy outside and the sidewalks are packed, the umbrella stroller just doesn’t cut it (in my city at least). Also, if you need to load up on groceries and take public transport after, your options seems pretty limted, no?

    • K2

      Yeah, but you know in many cases these aren’t a problem, and the stroller is often huge with no actual ‘storage’ part. Just these massive wheels.

    • ChillMama

      Meh. Massive wheels are also good for snow. I get it, I do. Big strollers can be so annoying. However, there are plenty of good reasons people may have them/need them, so I just don’t judge.

    • Liberty

      When people bring huge strollers loaded down with things to events and block sidewalks, block streets, run into people, cause traffic jams on sidewalks, and think they have the right to use those strollers anywhere and everywhere I’m going to judge. Use them all you want when you won’t impact other people or take up too much space. Otherwise just stop.

    • NYCNanny

      And what would you suggest we do?? Yes, someone stroller are annoying. They’re also ridiculously useful to…hmmm…people with f’ing kids.
      Be nicer.

    • NYCNanny

      You know what’s worse than a big stroller? Young toddlers and kids who walk SO slowly and get run over by people. That’s so annoying. Stroller actually prevent that. Chill.

  • whiteroses

    I may have told this story before, but what the hell.

    I was on the DC Metro after suffering a leg injury, and it was mid rush hour. There was a three year old boy right next to me and he kicked me right on my bruise. It hurt like a mofo. I cringed, and I swear to you that little bastard grinned and proceeded to keep kicking me. I told him repeatedly to quit, and he kept kicking me. I couldn’t move, because the DC Metro in rush hour is a lot like a clown car, but with less room.

    Finally, I reached down and grabbed his ankle. I would never ordinarily touch another persons kid, but I figure if they touch you, it’s open season. And his mother told me that Brayden was just “self actualizing”. I told her I could give two shits, if he kicked me again I’d spank him myself.

    Did I mention she was chuckling indulgently as he kicked me?

    • Emee

      Mommy is going to wonder why Brayden is still living with her at the age of 45, expecting her to do his laundry and yelling at her for cleaning his room at times that aren’t convenient for him.

    • whiteroses

      Yes. And I knew in that moment that if I ever had kids (this was pre child) that I would be damned if I ever allowed that on my watch.

  • Picklejar

    Ugh – I am currently in between a rock and a hard place with this. My 13 month old gets restless in her stroller, and her favorite form of entertainment is either the Baby Einstein Take Along Radio (which EVERY parent should have) which plays 4 or 5 classical tunes – or the more annoying Leap Frog Smart Phone (which teaches counting). Both fall into the dreaded NOISY TOY category. The volumes on these toys aren’t too bad – and they keep her volume off – but I know how super annoying they are to anyone who isn’t the parent of that child. (How many times have I glared lasers into the back of a 9 year old playing a repetitive video game on the bus – while the mom is just glad he’s not kicking his sister?) My rule is if we aren’t in the Cone of Silence, where no one else can hear us, or in a box store, where I can stroll into the next aisle if someone gets annoyed – these toys don’t come out. I have to rely on other entertainments.

  • thebadlydrawnfox

    The other week, while I was on the bus, the bud took a very sharp turn and this woman fell and landed on a stroller.

    The kid in the stroller slept through it, and the woman immediately apologised profusely, but the mother went crazy.

    She was shouting at the woman who fell, swearing at her. When the woman asked her to not swear the mother’s response was, “you obviously don’t have kids!”

    The bus driver pulled over and asked what was happening.

    The mother answered in the most hurt tone possible.

    The driver said that as the woman had already apologised what more did she want?

    The mother wanted the woman to get off and walk as penance.

    And the driver said that unless she stopped hurling abuse, the MOTHER would be the one walking. And she fell silent.

    Totally sympathise with how scary that must have been, but the overreaction…

  • NYCNanny

    Can we please talk about how awful people treat kids (and their guardians) on public transit…? (NYC subways, to be clear.)

    How nobody ever gives up their seat for exhausted, sweaty 4 year olds? Or how nobody ever helps the adults with the strollers? (I once had a 1 year old in a stroller, a sick 4 year old, a few bags of groceries, and a broken wrist w/cast, and nobody offered to hp me up the subway steps…? One guy actually asked me to “move faster.”). Or how so many dirty looks are thrown at us when the kids are anything less than silent…?
    I nanny for some really well behaved, adorable kids… I hate taking public transportation with them thanks to everyone else’s rudeness.

    • Liberty

      Are you serious? Children do not have a right to seats which are occupied by adults. If you want to use a big boat of a stroller then you better be able to deal with it. Why are you so entitled?

    • NYCNanny

      What a bitch!
      If you saw a young woman struggling with a stroller and kids, you wouldn’t offer to help her up the stairs? That’s sweet. I hate people like you.
      No, kids don’t have the “right” to seats. Id never ever ask someone to move, but there are PLENTY of times where adults are sprawled across multiple seats and don’t even offer to budge an inch so we can sit.
      Oh and that “boat of a stroller”, is an umbrella stroller…probably the smallest stroller you can buy.

  • notorious

    A year or so ago I was taking the bus with my daughter in the middle of winter. It was snowy and below zero outside. This mom gets on the bus with a baby who looked about six months old, and was wearing a shirt and no effing pants and no socks. Are you freaking kidding me? My daughter was too old to need a diaper bag, but I had a baby at home with his dad who I wished was with me so I could have shared a blanket or at least some socks with that poor kid. Insane.

  • Liberty