From pregnancy shaming to gender reveal fails: The 12 most controversial parenting stories of 2022

It isn't easy being a parent — especially when everybody's watching and weighing in with soooo many opinions.

From the family who honored their late father with a snarky headstone to the mom who was shamed for the size of her pregnant belly, these are the parenting stories that caught our attention this year.

1. A dad leashed his 5-year-old quintuplets and people had feelings

Kentucky father Jordan Driskell was shamed on the internet for leashing his 5-year-old quintuplets.

In July, Jordan posted an Instagram video of a typical family outing which he captioned, "Come walk a mile in my shoes" in response to those who judged him for harnessing his children  Zoey, Asher, Dakota, Gavin and Holly.

"Kids are so curious — they want to run off and explore,” Jordan told TODAY.com in August. "For our own peace of mind and sanity, we use a leash. It also allows us to leave the house and do fun stuff as a family without being stressed."

Kentucky dad Jordan Driskell leashes his quintuplets for family outings. (Jordan Driskell)
Kentucky dad Jordan Driskell leashes his quintuplets for family outings. (Jordan Driskell)

In a follow-up interview months after his viral moment, Jordan tells TODAY.com that despite a misconception that he and his wife Briana Driskell treat their children like "dogs," most people support their family.

"I think the video aggravated those (who) wanted to argue online," he says. "I firmly believe that if those people who had an issue had been out in public with us, they would feel the need to do the same. ...

"People who have never had multiples won’t understand our thoughts on child leashes. Our kids deserve to be able to go to public places and we want to be able to enjoy it with them. This makes everything less stressful and more enjoyable. If one of our kids ran in front of a vehicle or was kidnapped, people would have wondered why we didn’t use them."

2. A mom enraged the internet by waxing her 3-year-old daughter's unibrow

Leah Garcia waxed her young daughter's unibrow in an October TikTok video and was called a bad mom.

Garcia said she was bullied in school for her own unibrow and wanted to spare daughters Bliss, 3, and Behautti, 11, emotional pain.

"As a child, I had very thick and dark eyebrows and I’d shave behind my parents’ back because my father didn’t believe children should worry about things like that,” Garcia told TODAY.com in October. “I remember a boy saying to me in kindergarten, 'Why are your eyebrows so big?'"

Texas mom Leah Garcia waxed the space between her 3-year-old daughter's eyebrows on TikTok — and the internet went wild.  (Courtesy Leah Garcia)
Texas mom Leah Garcia waxed the space between her 3-year-old daughter's eyebrows on TikTok — and the internet went wild. (Courtesy Leah Garcia)

Garcia said she waxes her daughters’ unibrows with their consent.

Some on TikTok believed Garcia was teaching a toxic message; the rest said she took a proactive position against bullying.

Today, Garcia's video has more than 40 million views and 4.6 million likes — and is still controversial.

"The attention dies down for a few days and then resurfaces," she tells TODAY.com, adding that Bliss gets recognized in the mall and the grocery store in their hometown.

Garcia continues to wax both her daughters' unibrows.

"I feel that I'm doing the right thing," she says. "I have no regrets."

3. A pregnant woman was ticketed for driving in the carpool lane — twice — claiming her unborn child was a passenger

When pregnant Brandy Bottone was ticketed for driving in the carpool lane in June, she told a police officer that her unborn child was actually a second passenger, according to local news station NBC DFW in Texas.

Texas penal code defines an “individual” as a "human being who is alive, including an unborn child at every stage of gestation from fertilization until birth."

In June, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that constitutionalized abortion. Texas was just one state that enacted "trigger laws" to immediately restrict abortion.

Texas mom Brandy Bottone was ticketed twice for driving in the carpool lane. Her defense: Her unborn baby counted as a passenger.  (KXAS)
Texas mom Brandy Bottone was ticketed twice for driving in the carpool lane. Her defense: Her unborn baby counted as a passenger. (KXAS)

That same month, a police officer disagreed with Bottone, issuing her a $275 ticket, which she later told TODAY.com was dismissed.

Bottone used the carpool lane again in August— and was stopped by the same officer, who was "super friendly" even though he ticketed her again.

The mom tells TODAY.com that support for her story has been "humbling."

"People letting me know that they believe in what I was standing up for put the pregnancy and postpartum hormone-induced feelings in hyperdrive," she says, noting that she doesn't believe she did anything wrong.

"I had two lives in the car that day," she says, adding that she hopes people learn "to let your voice be heard but in a constructive and non-threatening way."

4. A parenting columnist claimed that kids who high-five adults are disrespectful

Should parents high-five their children?

Never, wrote psychologist John Rosemond in an October opinion piece published in the Omaha World-Herald, explaining, “Children should know their place.”

"I will not slap the upraised palm of a person who is not my peer, and a peer is someone over age 21, emancipated, employed and paying their own way,” he wrote. “The high-five is NOT appropriate between doctor and patient, judge and defendant, POTUS and a person not old enough to vote (POTUS and anyone, for that matter), employer and employee, parent and child, grandparent and grandchild.”

Kids who high-five adults are disrespectful, Rosemond said.

"The child who is allowed to high-five an adult has tacit permission to talk to said adult as if they are peers,” he continued. “Do not wonder why, if you high-five your child, he often talks to you as if you are his equal."

Some said Rosemond's commentary was "weird" and snobby.

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At the time, Rosemond told TODAY.com in an email, "The majority of respondents failed miserably at countering my opinion with intelligent opinion of their own; rather, they engaged in ad hominem, which is the refuge of the inarticulate. I’m perfectly willing to engage in intelligent discourse on the subject. Unfortunately, I have yet to find any."

When recently asked to comment, Rosemond tells TODAY.com, "Friends and family thought the whole brouhaha was funny, absurd, stupid (and/or) ignorant. ... Some may not have agreed with me (because they high-five their kids), but they thought my detractors, for the most part, need therapy."

Rosemond didn't mind the commotion, saying, "I’m no newcomer to controversy."

5. A family faced backlash for their father's NSFW headstone

When Steve Owens died in September 2021, his family engraved his headstone with his favorite phrase: “F--- off."

"It was a term of endearment — because if he didn’t like you, he wouldn’t talk to you at all," Steve’s son Zach Owens told TODAY.com in June. "His friends always tried to make him say it by pushing his buttons. He was easily riled up."

Steve's family didn't want to offend their Iowa community, so they chose a dedication that, when read vertically, spelled out the words.

“Forever in our hearts

Until we meet again

Cherished memories

Known as

Our brother,

Father, papa, uncle,

Friend, & cousin.”

The family assumed that visitors of Warren-Powers Cemetery in Camp Township wouldn't notice.

However, locals complained to county officials.

The family of Iowa dad Steve Owens engraved his headstone with his favorite phrase. Not everyone laughed.  (Courtesy Lindsay Owens)
The family of Iowa dad Steve Owens engraved his headstone with his favorite phrase. Not everyone laughed. (Courtesy Lindsay Owens)

A spokesperson for the Camp Township Board of Trustees told TODAY.com there are no restrictions on headstone inscriptions but officials would re-evaluate the process for memorial markers.

As of December, says Steve’s daughter Lindsay, her family has not heard an update from the Board of Trustees.

"His stone still remains, minus a single shot of Fireball we keep placing on it for him, because someone keeps taking it off," she says.

“People from all over the country messaged us with support and kind words,” Lindsay tells TODAY.com. “There were obviously some that didn’t appreciate his stone, but those comments were truly few and far between.”

6. A congressional candidate gave birth in a viral campaign ad

In October, Louisiana congressional candidate Katie Darling released a campaign ad containing footage from the birth of her second child.

The ad was a statement about the overturning of Roe v. Wade and Louisiana's strict abortion laws.

"We should be putting pregnant women at ease, not putting their lives at risk,” Darling said in the ad before showing scenes from her labor.

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"I am grateful for my medical care but I’ve heard countless stories from people with pregnancy complications who would have died without care that is now banned,” Darling previously told TODAY.com.

While Darling didn't win, she remains proud of her campaign.

"I am certain my video energized voters to stand up and speak up about the importance of pro-choice legislation," Darling tells TODAY.com in a follow-up interview. "The goal was always to ensure we could create legislation on a federal level to protect the right to bodily autonomy and privacy for all Americans."

7. A mother was shamed for the size of her pregnant belly

While pregnant with her second child this summer, Eliana Rodriguez's large baby bump drew stares.

Bigger bumps can communicate health problems, but not in Rodriguez's case. "My doctors said it was normal because I am only 4’11 and have a shorter torso," Rodriguez told TODAY.com in July, adding that she carried a lot of amniotic fluid in pregnancy.

People on the internet and in public told Rodriguez, “You are huge" and “You look like you’re having twins."

Eliana Rodriguez said people gawked at her pregnant stomach for its larger size. (Courtesy Eliana Rodriguez)
Eliana Rodriguez said people gawked at her pregnant stomach for its larger size. (Courtesy Eliana Rodriguez)

“I’m aware that some people lack compassion for others,” she said. “I am a woman of faith and ... I feel so bad for people saying hateful comments.”

8. A SeaWorld mime called out a dad for not helping his wife

Nick and Michelle Tzenevrakis took their toddler daughter to SeaWorld in Orlando, where the dad was recorded in a not-so-flattering moment.

In a TikTok video shot by a SeaWorld guest, Michelle carries their daughter and a large backpack, when a mime taps her on the shoulder, removes the bag and hands it to her empty-handed husband as people applaud.

"That mime totally caught me off guard,” Nick told TODAY.com in May. “At that moment, I was in a total daze. I was really hungry, and my feet were hurting me.”

He added, "I thought it was pretty funny."

 A SeaWorld mime called out Illinois dad Nick Tzenevrakis for not helping his wife, Michelle.    (Courtesy Ernest Palomo)
A SeaWorld mime called out Illinois dad Nick Tzenevrakis for not helping his wife, Michelle. (Courtesy Ernest Palomo)

Michelle told TODAY.com that she had given Nick a break from pushing the stroller, which they weren't allowed to bring into the area where the clip was recorded.

"Nick is the greatest father and I want to make sure that people know that," she said. "He does so much for us. He’s just awesome in every way."

9. A mom warned that 'Hocus Pocus 2' would 'unleash hell on your kids'

Not everyone looked forward to the release of “Hocus Pocus 2," the October 2022 remake of the 1993 film starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy and Bette Midler.

Texas mom Jamie Gooch warned parents in an interview with local news station KWTX that watching the film could, in a worst-case scenario, "unleash hell on your kids and in your home.”

"It grieves me, the thought of exposing our kids to darkness," she said, adding, "The whole movie is based on witches harvesting children for blood sacrifices.”

Sanderson sisters Hocus Pocus (Alamy Stock Photo)
Sanderson sisters Hocus Pocus (Alamy Stock Photo)

Jamie explained her concern in a September Facebook post screenshot by the local news station, asking, “What is actually happening when we watch these films? What are we subjecting (our) minds to? What are we welcoming into the homes of our families?”

"Everybody thinks it’s fake and innocent, but they could be casting any type of spell that they want to, anything could be coming through that TV screen into your home," she said.

In October, Jamie's husband Jeremy Gooch declined to speak to TODAY.com because the family was “dealing with threats.”

Given the success of "Hocus Pocus 2" (and no known reports of cursed homes), Jamie may have been overly cautious.

10. A dad came for online trolls who said his daughters looked 'provocative'

Matt Austin, a News 6 anchor in Orlando, confronted Facebook users who said his teen daughters' dresses were too sexy for their homecoming dance.

On Oct. 8, Austin shared a photo of his "beautiful" daughters, Addison and Olivia. When some said the teens were dressed “provocatively” and that Austin "ought to be ashamed" of himself, he gave his best TikTok answer.

"Let’s get something crystal clear now,” he said in the video. "It’s not my daughters’ job to make sure your son is focused in school. Also, not her job to dress hideous enough to where your son doesn’t assault her. It’s your job to not raise a pervert with no self-control."

My daughters look a little too good on homecoming night. Believe it or not, they’re even more beautiful on the inside.

Posted by Matt Austin on Saturday, October 8, 2022

While the dresses didn't get Austin's vote, "If I start dictating what my daughters wear, I’m going to teach them three things. They’ll start to hate me for arbitrary rules, they’ll start to lie to me or — maybe even worse — that it’s OK for a man to tell them what to wear because they look too good."

Austin concluded, "But you know what would really disappoint me?If my girls grew up to be the kind of adult who goes on social media and demeans a teen’s appearance on her father’s Facebook page. Now that’s what I call trashy."

At the time, Austin told TODAY.com, “We’ve heard this lie our entire lives. It’s the idea that women are assaulted for dressing a certain way or because they went jogging at night. Why don’t we put the onus on creeps? That doesn’t seem like a controversial stance.”

11. A mother's active shooter drill video for her kindergartner went viral

Before her son Weston started kindergarten in August, Oklahoma mom Cassie Walton prepared him for the possibility of a school shooting.

Walton recorded the exercise in a TikTok video in which Weston demonstrated how he would use his bulletproof backpack as a shield and stay "really quiet and still" in the classroom.

The mom asked her son what would happen if the police are outside the classroom door but the shooter is still present.

"I say, 'I’m here,'" he answered.

"Absolutely not, you don’t say a word," said Walton. "If the shooter is in there, you don’t say a word, you stay absolutely silent."

Weston also was taught that if he managed to leave school, he should run far away. "Mom will find you," said Walton.

In August, Walton told TODAY.com that she wanted to prepare her son following the May shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

"I didn’t expect it to get as much (attention) as it did,” she said. “I was just trying to show what we do at home and share a product that I recommended, and maybe inspire other parents to break the ice to have this important talk."

12. The internet booed a soon-to-be father's reaction to his gender reveal

Hannah Calverley and her baseball-loving partner Travis Gober posted a scene from their gender-reveal party on TikTok and it got a low score.

In the April video, Calverley pitches a baseball to Gober, who hits it, releasing a blue substance. As Calverley excitedly makes her way toward Gober, his teammates crowd the field, unintentionally creating a barrier in between the couple.

As reported by TODAY.com in April, followers wrote messages like, "Um, no what about the mother of the child" and, "Uh he completely dodged you."

Calverley, however, didn't take offense. "I didn’t think anything bad about it until I started reading the comments," she told TODAY.com. "What people didn’t see was how he came over and gave me a huge hug and a kiss right after. We were so overjoyed and excited."

She defended her beau in another TikTok video, flanked by a sheepish Gober.

"Thank you, guys, for defending me. I promise I'm not upset, I'm OK. I was literally laughing," Calverley said. "Yes, he should have run and hugged me — and he knows that — and he feels terrible. But it's not a red flag at all."

Gober added, "I love her."

According to Calverley's TikTok account, the couple are now proud parents.

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This article was originally published on TODAY.com