This was published in the paper this weekend, although it was an edited version! I’ve added in all the quotes I received from other parents. Feel free to tell me your own stories in the comments below!!
When people tell me that my children have great manners, I’’ll admit to a little warm glow inside – I feel like I am doing my job well! I’m not alone, either – when I talked to other parents about the kindest words people had said about their parenting, it was all about compliments on well behaved and courteous children.
However based on some hideous encounters with strangers, friends and family, it seems that we are raising polite children in a society that seems to have forgotten their own manners. People can be ignorant and offensive, but above all, many are just thoughtless and plain nosy. Know that behind every family is a situation you know nothing about, so restrain from judgment and criticism, and instead offer a warm smile or offer to help.
Before one might have even thought about pregnancy multivitamins, nosy parkers have started with the, ‘isn’t it time you had a baby?’ line. Annoying for some, this is actually very distressing for couples who have been trying to have a baby, but instead have been suffering with infertility, miscarriage or other issues.
“I had 12 years of being questioned when are you going to have kids. Not understanding the pain of trying, only to get no results. Finally blessed but over the lack of support.”
“Being single, in my late 20s with no partner and children is socially strange. There is an expectation in society for everything to fit into place, it pretty much consumed me and failing in that expectation lead to emotional distress. My thoughts were this is my fault, why me, did I do anything wrong etc. Being a true individual and ignoring the pressures of society is a better way to live.”
“People asking me if I have children and when I say no ask why not. I try to make them feel horrible for asking. Makes me feel better! Last time this happened am sure the woman wished the ground had swallowed her up.”
On that same note, thoughtless teasing about ‘time to give your child a sibling, are you having another baby?’ can hurt a couple hit with secondary infertility, where a woman has trouble conceiving after already having a child. Again, a couple suffering miscarriage or other issues may desperately be trying for a subsequent child – your comment is another frustrating reminder.
Once there is a blossoming bump though, all etiquette seems to go out the window. It is highly unlikely you’d randomly rub another person’s stomach without asking, unless you’d triumphed in Aladdin’s cave. So it is not ok to touch the belly of a pregnant lady either. “I was shopping one day and a woman started following me through the racks of clothing. As soon as I turned, she rubbed my stomach and then proceeded to tell me her horror birth stories. Not what I wanted from a stranger.”
Likewise, asking a woman when she is due or if she knows what she is having is also bad manners, unless she looks to be beyond 8 months pregnant or is currently laboring. Otherwise, play it safe and keep quiet. “The worst was a rude man asking me when my next baby is due, pointing to my tummy, as I held my 3 week old newborn!” Most women don’t find it particularly confidence-boosting to be asked when they are due when they aren’t even pregnant.
I’ve been on the receiving end of criticism in public by complete strangers , including an older man rudely questioning why my baby was sucking a dummy and then telling me how awful it was, and a ranting woman telling me to put more clothes on my baby (on a wet but warm day).
If you dare go over the 3.2 babies that society likes to think is ‘normal’, you become a target for all the comments on family size.. Yes, we have figured out what ‘causes’ babies. Yes, we do own a TV. Yes, we are busy, and while our hands look full, our hearts are full also. Let me say it here: your comments are not funny. They are rude. And as to, ‘are we having any more?’ well… how is your own love life?
“People want to know why I have a big family…..am I catholic, do I own a TV? Will I have any more? Am I pregnant, etc? yada yada yada. When people ask my husband if we are going to have any more he responds – ‘how’s your sex life?’ Get’s them every time. Their expressions are priceless! Some are gob-smacked. Some look like they’ve been slapped….which serves them right! I don’t ask some one with two children – why only two? (!)”
Parents with children with extra needs or disabilities often suffer scathing looks and comments. “When my boy was 3 we were at the park and my boy (in silence, being non-verbal) stood back watching/learning by watching this other boy. His mother then came up to me, asked how old my son was, then looks at me and says “3? Well he’s a bit slow don’t you think? ” I wanted to slap her in the face with an autism information pamphlet.”
“The one thing that has had me most annoyed as a parent so far, is my daughters major reconstruction operation, and often when I discussed this with most people, they have an auto pilot response, she will be fine, it’s not as bad as you think it will be. Total ignorance is all i can say, but it also equated to feeling totally unsupported.”
“Im sick of people telling me that my child’s learning and behavioral difficulties are in my head and he is fine. You don’t see what I see; I know my child.”
“I get sick an tired of people telling me my boy is fat and tired of people asking me what is wrong with my middle child”
And why do people think it’s ok to comment on appearances of others, the gender and sex of children, their behavior, ones parenting style, what they are wearing?
“I always had people commenting on how beautiful my daughter was. Given, she WAS gorgeous. But one strange lady in town stopped me, looked in the buggy and said “oh shes beautiful! Looks nothing like her brother”. And my 5 year old son is holding on to the side of the buggy. I wanted to swallow him up with love.”
“My son is a bit full on and have been asked a few times if there was something wrong with him!”
“After having my second son. ..several people said. “Oh well perhaps your next one will be a girl”…. excuse me but what about this beautiful child in my arms. … And that I actually wanted two boys.”
“When I text out the news of the birth of my child, I recieved back a text, “oh no, not another boy!.” Wow. I was gutted.”
“how many people after i had him by c section said ‘how sad maybe you can do it naturally next time’! even worse the moment when after 4 weeks of trying everything to make more breast milk walking into the neonatal intensive care will my little container only a 1/4 full and the special care nurse telling me that if i couldnt feed my prem baby he could die, Even worse i actually felt guilty. Thank God for family and friends who didnt judge me. The guilt never went away”
“I get sick of people asking me when I am going to wean my child. Umm, he’s not quite a year old!!! Ironic that mums get crap when they dont breastfeed a newborn and then crap when they are still breastfeeding beyond a year.”
Parents are doing their best to raise their children, often struggling with little sleep, and juggling many balls: work matters, studying, housework, bills and finances, medical appointments, school issues.
Being criticized and judged is rude enough, but when a parent is feeling both vulnerable and protective of their child, it can hurt deeper than you imagined your words to go.
Be kind and keep your judgments to yourself, and know their family life is none of your business. Quite simple: if you don’t have anything nice to say…. Don’t say anything at all!