A Well-Intentioned Intrusion

I was recently walking on the Mahana Ridge Trail, a beautiful windy path in Northwest Maui. About a quarter-mile down the trail I saw a family with a young child who was being carried backpack style by the mom. As I’m interested in how people carry their children, I looked a little closer and noticed that the child’s legs were splayed in an extreme external rotation, and the backpack pushed his legs against his mom’s back so that they were immobilized. He looked like a flattened frog. It was clear to me that this was not a good position for a child—or anyone—to be in for anything other than a very short period of time.

I don’t want to write much right now about the biomechanics of the child’s position. For now, I’ll say that it’s not good for a child to be stuck in an extreme and rigid position. Instead, I would like to share with you more about my reaction. I didn’t want to be an intrusive stranger and tell this young family what to do. At the same time, I had been thinking a lot about hip health as I was hiking with my friend who’s mom had just broken her hip two days earlier when she tripped over an electrical cord.

It’s not uncommon for me to see people with habits of movement that I think don’t serve them well. Usually I say nothing. Once in a while I offer a suggestion but this is usually in an environment where I can be certain that the person would appreciate my help.

In this situation, I was less sure. Parents often receive unsolicited advice from others about the best way to take care of their children and I did not want to be intrusive. However, as I continued walking I could not get the image of the young boys smushed legs and immobilized pelvis out of my mind.

We were hiking much faster than they were and quickly lost sight of them. But as I charged up the trail, my head was full of bouncing thoughts. Would it be helpful to tell them something? Would they find me obnoxious and get angry? Would saying something make a difference in this child’s life? How many other people are using what they think are good tools — myself included — without knowing that they are actually causing harm? Was I just afraid of angering or annoying someone? How much is it my responsibility to offer advice?

With my head still full of these ruminations, it was time to turn back. A few minutes later the family came back into our line of vision and I decided to say something.

I received a mixed response. The parents thanked me for my concern but then became defensive. They wanted to be seen as good parents and began to tell me how they have a much better backpack at home that they didn’t bring with them to Hawaii. I quickly realized that they probably did not want to hear my opinion that even high-quality sturdy backpacks designed for kids limit their movement and just because something is advertised as having great ergonomics, doesn’t mean it’s great for a sustained period of time.

I walked away at first feeling a bit of shame. I had intruded on their beautiful hike. However, if I had not said anything I would have felt regret.

I experience shame as a devastating visceral feeling in the moment when it happens. Fortunately, that intensity passes. Regret, however, tends to linger on in my mind, sometimes for years. I’m glad I decided to take the risk and share my thoughts. I have no regrets and the shame has passed. In the past year, I have known many people who have had hip replacement surgery and I also know many people who have broken their hips. I guess this is my way of trying to “fix” something that I really have no control over.

I’ll never know the outcome of this particular situation. At worst the parents were temporarily annoyed, but perhaps I planted a seed. I do know that I will continue to encounter situations like this. My guess is that I will deal with each situation differently but eventually, just like I see patterns in movement, I’ll be able to see patterns in my approach as well as in people’s response to my well-intentioned intrusions.

3 thoughts on “A Well-Intentioned Intrusion”

  1. I think they will research the question you raised in their minds on the internet and come to similar conclusions, and be thankful you raised the question. It is a shame that people, especially around parenting, take a well-intended suggestion as a kind of public humiliation (if only a slight one in this case). It is simply one person looking out for another person, the exact opposite. Why not simply say, “I didn’t think of that,” or “good point, we’ll look into it.” A lesson for all of us that learning about well-being is more important than image of excellence.

  2. Hi Sandra – I loved this piece – and I believe you did the ‘right’ thing by approaching this family – you are very gentle, kind, and hopefully in retrospect they will remember you as such and that you planted a seed for them to be aware of what is best in this regard for their child. And I really related to the ‘regret versus shame’ part of your piece. Several years ago I had a regret versus shame incident at Stinson Beach that had to do with an old dog on the beach. It is still painful to think about and I will never forget it as I let potential shame get the best of me and now I live with the regret forever.
    I love your newsletter – thanks for staying in touch with all who care about you all over the world!! Kathryn

    1. Thank you Kathryn! It makes me so happy to know that you were touched by my piece and that we are connected over the waves. It’s taken me a while to have the courage to be willing to feel the shame but now that I do, it feels quite freeing. For me, it’s one of the joys of being a wee bit older now.

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