If you see me on the street with my infant daughter and notice something horribly wrong, do me a favor and keep it to yourself. Chances are, I already know. And if I don’t, I’m pretty sure I won’t want to hear about it from you! There’s nothing that bugs me more than when people feel the need to offer “advice” to parents about their children, especially when it’s unsolicited. It seems to happen to me all the time. Random strangers have approached me to tell me that my daughter should be wearing shoes (even though her feet never touch the ground), that I was burping her too hard or that I wasn’t holding her properly, and frankly I’m sick of it.
I hit my boiling point last week during a trip to the grocery store. As most parents of small children know, every trip outside of the house is an adventure. You never know which of your child’s personalities will come along for the ride. So, I knew that I had approximately 30 minutes to complete my shopping before my sweet, innocent angel turned into a cranky monster frantically trying to escape from the shackles of her Baby Bjorn.
On this trip, I managed to get through my entire shopping list without incident. I beamed with pride as I approached the register, having successfully avoided an in-store tantrum. But my happy bubble burst when a voice from behind said with disgust, “You know she has her mouth on the shopping cart. It’s filthy!”
I whipped my head around to face the person who dared steal my moment of satisfaction. In that instant, I thought of a string of expletives I could use to rip into her, forcing her to leave the store in tears. But since that would have required way more energy than I could muster, I simply smirked and replied, “Thank you” through clenched teeth.
I’m not usually this angry. Under normal circumstances I would be delighted that someone thought enough to save my daughter from a germ-infested shopping cart, but on this day I just couldn’t manage to see things that way. This woman’s comment was a personal attack on my ability to parent. Of course I knew the shopping cart was filthy. I brought it in from outside for crying out loud. But cut me a little slack. I had kept a vigilant eye on my little girl the entire time we were in the store. I risked public humiliation to entertain her with a less-than-Tony-worthy performance of “My Favorite Things.” Now that we were in the checkout line, there was no way I could unload the shopping cart, search for my coupons, make sure the bagger didn’t load the carton of milk on top of my bagels (again!) and keep my daughter from licking the shopping cart at the same time. I mean what did she want from me? My teething daughter had been waking up at regular two-hour intervals since 2 a.m. and I was running on fumes. The fact that I knew that “La” was the note that followed “So” was a friggin’ miracle. And to be honest, I would much rather my daughter quietly ingest a little bacteria than scream her head off and attract the attention of everyone in the store. So thank you Monday morning quarterback mom, but I’ve got things under control here!
I only have nine months of parenting experience under my belt and I’m still adjusting to being responsible for another life. I’m already paranoid that I’m being scrutinized by her grandparents who are anxiously waiting for me to screw up so they can swoop in and revoke my parenting privileges, and now I have to worry about complete strangers on the street too?
While I’m sure this woman thought she was helping, her words just made me feel more insecure. I would rather someone tell me that my jeans make me look fat than tell me I’m doing something wrong with regards to my daughter. Where are people like her when I’m doing something right to shout words of encouragement like, “Carrying a 20-pound baby three blocks in the snow with laundry detergent and cat litter? Impressive!” Why don’t they express their disgust with things that really matter, like “Do diapers really cost that much?” I’m sure in time I’ll be able to take Grandma’s criticisms with a grain of salt, but I guarantee I’ll never want to hear the advice of the woman behind me in line at the grocery store.