What I Do Now When Random People Approach Me with Parenting “Wisdom”

Recently, I was in the store with my 3-year-old daughter who was happily chatting away in the cart, when an older woman came up to us and exclaimed over my daughter’s apparent precociousness. I’m sure you know the drill, or something like it.

“She’s so chatty and bright, it must be because you’re not–” she cut herself off and mimicked texting in a judgy pantomime, as though she didn’t want to say her judgment outloud in case other moms would overhear and be shamed more loudly.

It was true, I wasn’t texting and ignoring my kid…at the moment.  But I’d been happily texting with my husband in the toothpaste aisle ten minutes prior.  Because this is how modern people live their lives.

“Oh no, I do that,” I replied.

Because here is the truth I have found in my life: when people try to compliment me by dragging what other moms do down, I do not stand for it.  I simply will not.  Because here’s the reality of the situation: when you see a small child acting a certain way, chances are that within a span of oh, say, ten minutes, their behavior will run a full gamut, from charming to downright feral.

A child who’s a darling in electronics might wail when it’s time to leave the candle aisle.

A kid who’s chatty one minute might be sullen the next, if they’re reminded of something upsetting.

A kid who appears bright will still make mistakes.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t bright.  Or that parenting has somehow gone awry.  It means they’re human: sometimes bright, sometimes learning.

I don’t think we can gather too much about a person’s parenting style and level of overall success from one snapshot in time. What we see out in public of people’s daily lives is such a small sliver of their full lived experience. When I was breastfeeding, so often I would get positive reinforcement that seemed to tear down the choices other women made in the process. Things like, “You’re doing the BEST thing for your baby, I wish more moms would do that!”

So when I hit a really difficult part of my breastfeeding journey and struggled gasping across the 6-month mark, I felt particularly defeated because even when I’d been “successful”, it was so, so hard, and even the praise that I received was often in the form of eyeballing women who weren’t breastfeeding. So when I became one of those women (when my body could not produce, when it became a matter of feeding my child to keep her alive, or not)…it hurt.  It hurt because even the best intentions were tied to tearing other decisions down. Tearing my fellow women down.

So now.

Now, when someone looks at my mothering choices (whether they make the right assessment or not) and offers up some “wisdom” I choose the path of not tearing down other women. Even if it means rebuking the praise.  Even if it means being a little, dare I say it, rude.  Because my experience that you’re seeing out in the world is such a tiny part of my life.  And the decisions I’m making are the best ones for my family.  And the fact that I do or don’t text around my kid either has a negative impact (if you saw my kid wailing in the towel aisle) or a positive one (if you saw her being chatty in the diaper aisle).

We live our lives, we make our choices.  Let’s not bring down other mamas in the process.

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