I was helping my 4-year-old wash her hands in the bathroom at an airport when I was taken aback by possibly the rudest question a stranger has ever asked me:
“Number two?,” said a voice with a casualness that left me a bit speechless. It was just a Number one, but WHY did anyone want to know that?
I had been a mother for four years and I was used to strangers asking rude questions, giving all sorts of unsolicited advice, and pushing their opinions onto me but this… well, this was a new kind of overstepping. I was stunned. I mean, what do you say to a stranger who is that interested in what kind of business just took place in a bathroom stall!? Do you answer honestly? Make a joke?
I looked down at my daughter. It was probably the first time in her young life that I’d ever hoped she’d say something–anything!–to break the silence.
That’s when I saw it. My stomach was protruding like a beach ball under my blouse. I remembered I was noticeably pregnant and suddenly things make sense.
The woman wasn’t asking whether our trip to the bathroom had resulted in a Number one or Number two after all. She was asking if I was pregnant with BABY Number two.
The very fact that my mind went where it did in that moment is evidence of two things. First of all, parenting has made me a little bit crazy and a lot forgetful–I was so beyond exhausted in that moment that I had completely forgotten that I was even pregnant. Second, after just a few years of being a mom, I’d become so accustomed to people overstepping my boundaries and making rude remarks to me that I’ve come to expect it.
As if parenting isn’t hard enough, there are people lurking around every corner ready to give “helpful” suggestions like “shopping with two kids might be easier if you’d put your toddler into the cart.” (Oh!? This toddler who was screaming “Noooo, I WALK” at the top of her lungs five minutes ago? The one who screeches like a banshee, bangs her head into the cart, and sometimes holds her breath until she passes out? Thanks, oh wise, parenting expert).
Why do people think it’s OK to do this to mothers every time we step out into public? WHY!??
What if I came to your office, uninvited, and stood behind you while you worked. Not only would it be uncomfortable to have an audience, but I’d likely know NOTHING about the nuances of your job and I’d critique what you’re doing anyway. “Are you SURE you want to do it that way? Back when I had a job that was nothing like yours except I also sat at a desk, I did things another way…”
In my years as a mom, though, I’ve learned that being angry and annoyed really doesn’t do anything but ruin MY day. Ya’ll.. I have too much to do to let some stranger with loose lips ruin my day. Here are a few small things I do to shift MY mindset to make sure that doesn’t happen.
(Yes, MORE advice! The irony is not lost on me. At least in this situation you don’t have to feel rude about simply turning away and going on with your business if you’re not interested. You know I totally get it!)
Find the humor.
I know it can be SO hard to see the humor, especially when you’re sleep deprived and already frustrated with the annoyance that come with being in public with little ones. So, think of it this way: We live in a country where some people don’t show up at the polls to vote on important issues that will impact their day-to-days in major ways. But they have no reservations about coming up to a mom with a toddler at Bi-Lo and telling her that she shouldn’t let her baby hold a bag of frozen peas. THIS is what people concern themselves with!? Come on… that’s kind of funny!
Have compassion (or at least pity) for the person with no boundaries.
Almost no one comes up to a mama at Target thinking, “I’m going to make her question every decision she’s made today!” No, poor Grandma probably really does just want to share a helpful tip, dote on your darling, or reminisce about the times she remembers being in your shoes.
Know that those words have nothing to do with you–and everything to do with their own issues, memories, etc. When that doesn’t work for me, I think a sarcastic “Bless her heart! She has NO idea what it’s like to have small children.”
Give no explanations.
I’m always tempted to explain myself to these passers-by who ask questions, give advice, etc. I want to say, “Well, I WOULD feed her something other than macaroni and cheese, but you know.. She hates vegetables, and I don’t have the energy to fight about it because I was up every two hours with this newborn and….” No. I try to never waste my energy explaining my parenting decisions to someone who knows nothing about me, my family, or my life situation. It is NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS.
Smile. Nod. Be reasonably polite. Move on.
No matter what anyone else says, know YOU with all your talents, skills, and flaws are exactly the mom that your individual child needs. You’re doing a great job. Carry on.