When you are in a public or semi-public space with your child/ren, people are going to talk to you about those children. And when strangers talk to you in public, they have a tendency to say some really stupid things. Try to remember that 99.99999% of the time they are just talking to you because you are there and their mouths are capable of forming words. I am an expert at having people talk to me because I haven’t yet learned the art of making absolutely no eye contact. Also, my children like strangers (I’m pretty sure they were switched at birth. All of them. Individually.) So when Grandma Grabbyhands starts petting Caroline’s hair, instead of screaming “STOP TOUCHING ME STRANGE LADY”, Caroline insists on chatting about how she’s four and a half and loves horses and goes to school and one time on the bus her friend Michael threw up right on the floor.
Here is a brief list of things strangers might say to you in public that make you do the slow double blink. Remember, none of these things are personal. They would probably say them to a brick wall if the wall appeared to be listening:
- Calling your boy a girl or your girl a boy. Your beautiful little girl could be wearing a pink, sparkled, ruffled gown with high heels and full make-up, her long curly hair braided and tied in bows and holding a giant flashing sign that says “I AM A GIRL”…and some lady at the grocery store is still going to say “He’s so sweet, what’s his name?” I promise this is not what is going to send your kids to therapy, so just smile a nod and say “Matilda Jane”. Then you can laugh and point as she struggles to comprehend why you would name your son Matilda. Or maybe don’t laugh and point, just stick with the smiling and nodding.
- Saying “Wow, you sure have your hands full!” You probably, literally, do not. Most parents I know cannot parent without at least one free hand so we have found a whole list of ways to keep them available: babywearing, carts, strollers, leashes, whatever. This is just stranger-talk for “I see you have some small children in your vicinity”. Non-responses to this comment include: “Yep, children are a blessing”, “I sure do!”, “Really, it’s not so bad” or the perennial favorite: JAZZ HANDS while you nod and smile.
- Making completely arbitrary comments over your child’s physical attributes that are probably wrong. Someone looks at your child who is in the 3rd percentile for height and says “She’s so tall!” Or they see your 99th percentile in the grocery store and say “What a little peanut!”. These are just words people are saying because they want to make a comment. They might as well say “She is wearing blue!” or “Your baby has feet!” Unless you are at a medical doctor during a medical doctor appointment and it’s the medical doctor who looks at your very small child and says “What a chub!”, do not react. Nod and smile.
- Asking you if the baby is sleeping through the night. THIS IS A TRICK QUESTION. They do not care if your baby is sleeping through the night. What they want to do is tell you about their baby or their cousin’s baby or their hairdresser’s nephew’s mailman’s baby who either a) started sleeping through the night at 4 days old, b) still doesn’t sleep through the night at 10 years old, or c) refused to take this stranger’s advice and now their baby is broken. Do not waste your time forming a truthful and accurate answer. They are not listening. Just said “Mostly!” and then nod and smile during what is sure to be a fascinating story.
- Giving you ridiculous or outdated advice. Again, unless it’s your pediatrician telling you a little Jack Daniels is the perfect cure for teething pain, nod and then smile and then nod some more to disguise the fact that your eyeballs just rolled out of your head. (If it is your pediatrician, may I gently suggest you look for a new one?) These people will insist that they raised children who have survived to adulthood, which means you should do everything they did or your children will diiiiiiiie.
I know it can be really really hard to simply nod and smile all the time. When the people doing these things are inescapable – because you are trapped next to them on a bus or because you live with them – it is incredibly frustrating. But I promise you, 90% of the time they are not being malicious, they are just talking because at some point human beings evolved the ability to speak and they are afraid if they don’t use that ability as much as possible they will lose it.
Nod and smile. Nod and smile.