As with everything else, not everyone will agree with you when it comes to parenting. And it seems like more so than in any other occupation, family and strangers alike feel the need to voice their opinions about the job you’re doing. It’s possible there’s nothing else we do in public that’s as judgment-inducing as how we deal with our children. When you have a newborn and you’re already nervous about being out, inevitably some little old lady will tell you that your baby – who is in a fleece sleeper and covered in blankets – is cold. When Eliza was four-weeks-old and I was dealing with feeding issues, my mother-in-law came to visit. I had just fed Eliza and she was crying. My MIL said, “Do you think she’s hungry? Why don’t you just give her some formula?”
I wish I could say that these unsolicited remarks end at some point, but they do not. It happened to me Wednesday while traveling alone with the kids, and I know it will happen hundreds more times. After spending 1 1/2 hours driving to the airport, and the next 1 1/2 hours going through security and traipsing the kids across the terminal for 3 gate changes, I was already spent. Honestly I was just thankful I hadn’t lost my kids in an elevator or bathroom. But the wait wasn’t over. There were storms that were keeping our plane circling above, and in the end, our flight was delayed an hour-and-a-half. When your kids are at the past-exhausted, giggly, we’re going to hit each other because it’s funny mode, you can only do so much. I decided that getting them some exercise on the moving walkways was a good way to expend energy and pass the time.
Once there, I felt a little like perhaps this wasn’t the best decision. I didn’t want to be in the way of people hurrying to make their connections. I did a decent job keeping the kids to the right so people could pass on the left. Regardless, there was one older couple traveling with a single female companion, and they all huffed and puffed as they walked around us and threw me disapproving glances. Then the single companion said to my kids after passing them, “Children, hold on to the railing!”
In some ways, it’s entirely annoying that others – especially strangers – do this. I am not perfect and I might not always make the best decisions, but I would appreciate it if people assumed I have thought through what I’m doing. Were my children in danger of falling? I don’t think so. Were they in the way of others? Perhaps a little. Did their presence on the moving walkway hinder anyone? Maybe by a few seconds. But honestly, if you’re a stranger and you want to help a parent, sending dirty looks at her is not helpful. If this woman had looked at me and said, “Do you need some help? Would you like me to hold their hands and help you get through the walkway?”, I would have known she was concerned for their well-being, not trying to chastise me for what she thought was carelessness. There’s a part of me that wishes I would have reacted how Greg would have reacted, which would have been by saying, “Yes, and kids, remember not to speak unless spoken to.”
I really hope that regardless what stage I’m in with my kids, I give others the benefit of the doubt, and if I really want to be helpful, that I’ll offer actual help, not judgment. When I see a woman holding her baby in one arm and feeding her toddler some candy with her other while loading groceries into her car, I’m going to offer to strap her baby into his car seat or load her groceries, not shake my head at her for giving a toddler candy. Because I’ve been there, and I don’t want to forget what it’s like to live that tough moment.
This parenting journey is hard, with lots of twists and turns. Sometimes what we need least are these opinionated naysayers. But if we can laugh it off, and perhaps take any bit of truth from these incidents for the next test, it’s all part of the experience – the wonderful, challenging, beautiful experience.
9 thoughts on “Parenting lesson #3: You are embarking on a new phase in life that many see as an invitation for unsolicited advice and judgment.”
So true! As for actual helpfulness I’d LOVE it if someone offered to hold my kid for two seconds so I could wash my hands after I’ve changed them in the bathroom. I just think about that a lot these days 🙂
Uh, I TOTALLY agree, Dana! Eliza can reach most sinks now, but not necessarily the faucets, and often not the soap. I can’t remember a time anyone offered to help. The bathroom experience in and of itself with two small children is difficult. Particularly when someone goes into the handicap stall in front of you, despite it being obvious you have a stroller with you. I wonder how many times one of the three of us has peed in a public bathroom with the door open …
Great post! I think way too many parents (and it seems to especially be women) forget what it was like to be a parent and be in the trenches. I sincerely hope I will always remember how hard things can be sometimes and be that person that offers the help. And bravo to you for traveling solo with two kids-and without wine!
Oh Kathy, how I wanted to order a glass of wine on the flight! But I knew I would want to fall asleep, and I obviously could not do that. It was a long, loooooong day. But we made it through! Thanks so much for coming back and reading again. 😉
Was that your way of being nice to the haters?
No, no it wasn’t. If you can come up with a better way to say it, let me know and I’ll edit it. I’ve tried and I just can’t quite figure out a better term. Helpful ignorant busybodies? =)
The evil side of me always comes up with a satisfyingly snide response to obnoxious comments about five minutes too late. Evil me would have pointedly looked the lady in the eye and said “no kids, don’t touch the handrail, it’s covered with germs and we don’t want to get sick.”
As always, good for you for finding a positive takeaway from the frustrating side of life and figuring out how to apply it to future experiences. J and I were recently stuck in TSA because i was wearing a bra with a thick underwire (thank you nursing) and set off the alarm so they had to send for a female supervisor to feel me up. It was the kind jokes and offers to hold J so I could get my stuff back together that helped me stay sane. I hope I can remember to offer help without judgement (or even the appearance of it) to other moms in need.
Okay Nate, I took out the “helpful idiots” reference altogether. It now says, “opinionated naysayers.” Better?
You didn’t have to change it for me. This is the internet. You can say whatever you want.