Pretty much the minute you start showing a baby bump, strangers seem to think your body is their business. As irritating as it may be when people give unsolicited opinions on pregnancy or, horror of horrors, start trying to touch your belly, it’s a whole lot worse once you’ve popped out that baby. Suddenly every busybody thinks it’s perfectly OK—their duty, in fact—to offer maddening advice, criticize how you parent and sometimes be outright rude.
I have been in the parenting business for 10 years now and have three kids to show for it. That means I’ve experienced bucket loads of ignorance and stupidity from strangers. I’m not saying every comment is horrid—plenty are well meaning, and I’ve learned a lot from other moms over the years. But occasionally the barbs—disguised as well-intentioned advice—can really sting. Here are the top five most annoying things strangers have said to me.
1. “Your baby looks hungry. You should really think about supplementing.”
Whether you have a nursing cover or not, breastfeeding in public exposes you to all kinds of opinions and comments. You’ll encounter those who think feeding your baby is indecent and find all kinds of weird ways to say so, from suggesting you might be more comfortable somewhere more private, like a truck-stop bathroom, to telling you your baby would feel better smothered under a blanket. There’s the old biddy who will tell you that your baby is crying because obviously you aren’t producing good-enough milk or that you need to supplement with formula because they can “tell by his cry that he is still hungry.” Feed with formula? Prepare for idiots informing you that breast is best, without any idea or care as to why you choose to use formula. Know this: Whatever you do is never good enough.
2. “That child should be wearing a hat.”
It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of August or inside a stiflingly hot building, some people seem to think that any baby is in grave danger if she gets the slightest chill on her head. C’mon, don’t they know that in Finland parents leave their babies outside in strollers to nap? In the snow? (OK, they probably have hats on, but still.)
For some reason, people also feel the need to comment if your child is dressed too much like a boy, too much like a girl, too crazy or whatever else they deem inappropriate. You may hear silly comments like “Did Daddy dress you today?” They may address their incredulous question to your child, but really they’re taking a side-swipe at you. These comments can and should be nipped in the bud with a quick “I think my child is dressed exactly as she should be” and a winning smile.
3. “You might want to get that looked at; it could be a sign of autism.”
Unqualified medical opinions are the comments that cause the most stress. When a stranger informs you that your child appears to have a wonky eye or something wrong with her gait, you’re going to assume that he has some idea of what he’s talking about, but he probably doesn’t. Ask if he is a paediatrician, ophthalmologist, dermatologist, chiropodist or anything else that qualifies him to make such a statement and, if not, ignore the comment.
4. “Are you going to get her face fixed when she is older?”
If your child is different in any way, some people will feel the need to question or comment. I find this horribly rude. It’s none of their business whether your child will be able to have surgery to remove a birthmark on her face or to question why your child chooses to identify as a boy, a girl or non-binary. It’s especially rude when your child is old enough to hear and understand the comment, and I feel that it’s completely justified for a parent to tell the stranger this. But if you have the patience, you can view this as a teachable moment and explain to the stranger what it means to be non-binary—some people may have absolutely no clue what it means or that what they are saying is hurtful.
5. “Do you know your kid is lying on the floor, kicking and screaming, in the next aisle?”
When your kids freak out in public, it is mortifyingly embarrassing. The last thing you need is some judgy busybody making a comment about how you’re handling it all wrong (I’ve been told I should just “give him a little slap”) or tsk-tsking loudly while shooting daggers at you. The absolute worst response, though, is when a stranger offers my misbehaving kid a lollipop or other treat, rewarding his heinous behaviour. It makes me want to take said stranger out MMA-style.
You know what’s actually helpful? If they, too, ignore the tantrum (like I’m trying to) instead of giving my kid the attention he is craving. And a sympathetic look always means the world to me.
And the one thing that’s always welcome is “Can I help you with that?”
Unless you feel like a child is in danger, physically or psychologically, the only way I feel we should comment on other parents’ children—or their parenting—is with kindness. When I lost it on my four-year-old son recently for wetting his pants at the library, despite asking him 4,000 times if he needed to go to the washroom, I had two responses. One woman tried to minimize my feelings by announcing loudly “Oh, it’s all right, really.” I snapped back, “It is not all right! We have two hours until his sister finishes dance, we live 45 minutes away and I don’t have a change of clothes.” At that point, I was fighting back tears. Another woman responded with kindness: “Are you OK? Do you want me to run out and buy him a pair of pants?” Then I really started crying, grateful that she recognized my stress and genuinely wanted to help.
While I remember the hurtful and ignorant comments that strangers have made over the years (I’m still thinking up pithy comebacks), I also remember the moms who buoyed me with a simple “Been there” comment when my kids were having supermarket tantrums, or the strangers who helped put a coat on my toddler when I was struggling to get the baby’s snowsuit back on. Recognizing that parenting is stressful and hard and sharing that knowledge with parents is how we can help one another get through this. None of us is perfect, myself included, but we don’t need random people pointing it out to us just because we have kids attached to us.