Rigorous evaluation of early childhood interventions requires accurate and efficient measurement. Researchers commonly use parent-reported surveys or direct observations; both of which have inherent strengths and limitations. Existing attempts to understand the correspondence between these methods have been primarily quantitative in design. Little is known about parents’ unique, subjective experiences of parent-reported surveys and direct parent-child observations. In this paper, we describe the experiences of ten mothers of children aged 24 months, recruited from a randomised controlled trial of a nurse home visiting program for mothers at risk of experiencing social adversity. After completing both a survey and video-recorded parent-child observation, mothers participated in in-depth semi-structured interviews which were analysed thematically. Mothers voiced concerns about how researchers may view their parenting skills, and their child’s behaviour and development. Contrary to previous quantitative evidence, mothers reported parent and child behavioural change, which they attributed to the researcher’s presence. Mothers described how the structured requirements of the observation contributed to forced and unnatural interactions. The survey was viewed as a welcome opportunity to reflect on parenting skills, the parent-child relationship and the child’s development. Mothers identified practical strategies for minimising parent-child discomfort during video-recorded observations, such as the researcher averting their gaze or stepping out of the room. We highlight opportunities for enhanced data validity in research and clinical settings, strengthened participant engagement, and minimisation of participant discomfort. Given the exploratory nature of this study, we do not claim that results are necessarily generalisable to other parent or general populations. Further research is warranted to build the evidence regarding parent participation in early childhood research.