10 Things Parents Don’t Love to Hear from Strangers

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Ottawa, April 2014

Ottawa, April 2014

“Stranger danger!”: this pretty much sums up my interactions with people these days.

Canadians are nice people and they generally mean well. Yet, as a (still relatively new) parent, there are a few seemingly innocuous comments you’d rather not hear all the time.

“Enjoy them while they are small!”

Look, it’s a kid. Not a bonsai. He will grow up and that’s fine. Between us, some days, I can’t wait for him to be old enough to bring me breakfast in bed. I understand that some people love the baby stage because babies are cute, but it doesn’t last forever. Toddlers are fun too, you know.

“He certainly doesn’t look like he is starving!” or “You’re so small, your mommy needs to feed you more!”

I heard both versions with Mark. As a newborn, people guilt tripped me about how small he was (well, he was just out of my uterus, you know). A few months later came the countless comments about his “baby fat” or how “huge” (said very dramatically) he was. People who comment on a child’s size make the parents feel bad (and the kid too, if he is old enough to understand).

“To breastfeed, you can just go over there.”

Please, stop assuming every mother is breastfeeding. Some can’t, some don’t want to for many reasons and it’s just fine because there is a wonderful thing called formula that babies can drink. And I know that some mothers breastfeed toddlers—their choice, I’m neutral… whatever works for them!—but most stop after 6 months to a year. I always find it strange when people ask me if I’m breastfeeding Mark—we are talking about a one-and-a-half-year-old toddler who eats his own slice of cake at Starbucks!

“Can he… (insert whatever skill here)?”

Yes, he can walk. I know, right now he is sitting but trust me, he can walk. He just, you know, wants to sit for now. Yes, he talks a bit. No, he won’t speak on command. Yes, he knows what a dog is. But since there are no dogs around, he has no idea what you are talking about. It was nice quizzing… I mean, chatting with you.

“Daycare is so hard on kids!”

Some women work outside the home, some don’t—this is irrelevant anyway because everyone needs a break. Taking care of a child is a full-time job. At one point or another, sooner or later, someone else—the father, a relative, a babysitter, a teacher, a daycare worker—will step into the picture. And this is probably for the best. Kids need their mother but they also need to interact with other people. Not every family has relatives around, not every family can live on one salary. Most parents feel a pang of guilt when they “leave” their kid for the first time. No need to guilt trip them on top of that.

“So, he is going to have a little brother or a little sister soon?”

Four words (and maybe the four-letter word too): mind your own business. Some family are happy with one child. Some families do want another one but sometime it’s not that simple, biologically or financially speaking—I know enough parents who want another child more than anything but it hasn’t happened yet. And if you are asking this question to the sleep-deprived mother of a newborn, you are going to hell. Seriously.

“It gets better when they are (insert age here)”

I know people who say that mean well. After Mark was born, I was told that “it gets better once they turn six months old”. Two thoughts crossed my mind: “How am I going to last six months?” and “Can we, like, fast forward the process?” Beside, all kids are different. A very easy baby can turn into a rambunctious toddler or vice-versa.

“He looks just like his daddy/his great-great-uncle/the postman!”

Most mother like to think their child look a bit like them. Come on. We went through fucking pregnancy and labour!

“Is he your only one?”

This is usually said by this annoying mother of four kids who are playing quietly while you are chasing your own little snowflake around the playground. Yes, thank you for reminding me I can’t seem to be able to deal with my one and only kid. No pressure, of course.

“You only have one?”

And this variant usually comes after people ask how long you’ve been married for. Yes, Feng and I have been married for nine years. Yes, we only have Mark. What did we do before? Uh, I don’t know… use contraception? I mean, completing university degrees, working, settling somewhere… you know, life. It happens. Some people don’t start a family as soon as they find the one.

Anyone got on your nerve lately with their comments?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

22 Comments

  1. “Tak­ing care of a child is a full-time job. At one point or another, sooner or later, some­one else—the father, a rel­a­tive, a babysit­ter, a teacher, a day­care worker—will step into the pic­ture.”

    I’m a bit surprised at this sentence. Of course, each family works differently but, don’t parents (when they live together) share 50/50 of the time/work around their kid? I have the feeling that the work of raising a kid is pretty well shared and father are willing to do more than just relieving their wife from the kid for a few hours every so often.

    What do you think?

    • In theory, I agree with you. I’m a feminist, Goddammit! And Feng is a “modern” father, he has always been there to feed, change, help out, play, etc.

      But there is theory and practice and frankly, from what I have seen around me, in most cases, the mother does most of the work. Most women get mat leave and the father is working, so they are home for a few months, childcare is their job during the day. I have yet to see a perfect 50/50 among my friends who have kids and from what I hear at the playground. I can’t explain it. It’s just the way it is :-/

      • Yes, I agree with Zhu and this is one of the reasons why I don’t want a child. Many men, my husband included, are queasy at the sight of blood, which would basically leave me alone to go through childbirth. Then it’s me that would have to breastfeed the baby and it’s me who would have to get up during the night (either because I’m breastfeeding or because my husband is a heavy sleeper – isn’t it funny that men sleep heavier than women?) and then it would be me who would stay home with the baby because paternity is all of unheard of here in France. And it would be me who would have to put with with enless baby talk from the other mothers while the men get to talk about “normal stuff”. Yes, I can definitely see how it would be one-sided.

        • You put it bluntly but yeah, this is often the way it goes. Feng is a great father, he really is. But I still end up doing most of the work, either because I find it hard to let it go (and I feel I’m doing a better job because I am used to it) or because, well, someone has to do it, right?

          • Sorry to have been so blunt, Zhu. It’s just that whenever I start to think about how women get the short end of the deal when it comes to child rearing, I get so mad. It’s more that I think about how women have a hard time finding jobs at a certain age because companies are afraid that if they hire a woman she will go off on maternity leave. The root of this problem is that, like I said, women bear the brunt of caring for a child. I know that realistically it has to be like this (since men can’t breastfeed) and I realise that companies are trying to protect themselves during hard times (really, who am I to talk, if I was them I would probably try to save money too), but it just makes me mad that things just have to be this way.

          • You have every right to be blunt! This is something I discovered with Mark. Feng and I have always split the chores, he does the dishes (never my dad doing them!), clean, does laundry, etc. This is normal to me. But Mark somehow forced us to redefine everything. Suddenly, we were not equal, i.e. two responsible adults with jobs. One of us had to do extra chores and while he is a very good father and did his share from day 1, I found myself having to make choices constantly because of course there are only 24 hours in a day and Mark was taking most of my time.

            I think part of it is the pressure that child rearing is a mother’s job, especially when they are young I can see now Feng is much more comfortable with Mark since he is a little boy… when he was a baby, he wouldn’t have spent 20 hours a day with him in the sling, like I did. It’s not even the breastfeeding, I only breastfed for about two months. It’s just… there is the expectation that a mother will do most of the job.

  2. How about “You’re the mother, you know best. If there’s anything you need help with, let me know”? I find it much easier to let people decide what they want to talk about or what they need rather than narrowing the conversation to a single (and probably pointless) topic.

  3. Ah, the nerves, people, the NERVES !!! Lately I get often asked if they are triplets, but I seems I have passed the stage of being upset with it… I also get asked if I am going to “try for a girl now”. No kidding. Am I supposed to keep having kids until I have a girl ? What’s up with that ? But mostly people here are surprised that they are “all mine” because middle-class families do not usually have more that 2 kids (and often far apart in age).
    D and I were married 7 years before having kids too, but then it was bang-bang-bang ! LOL 😀

  4. Jesus! Do the people of Ottawa no filter?!?

    The way things are going, adoption may be the only way we’ll have kids, but since we’re in Portugal and not Toronto, I won’t get asked if I’m the nanny! (There is no nanny culture here, THANKFULLY. Don’t ask me how many times people assumed I was a nanny in my Toronto neighbourhood of nannies who look like me.)

    I’m also thankful, from what I’ve been able to suss out in 7 months, that the Portuguese are a bit on the shy side and aren’t forward with these personal questions. They’re friendly, but they also know how to mind their own business!

    • I don’t know if it’s a Canadian thing since I haven’t spent much time in France with Mark. I did feel French were less judgmental when I was pregnant (or whatever they were thinking, they weren’t sharing it, which is all I ask!)

  5. Martin Penwald on

    Hi.
    First time I comment on your blog, coming from Alice´s one.

    I´ve always had trouble with the facts that people seems to find a look-alike between a young child and a grown-up. I am unable to find this kind of similarities.
    However, I´ve seen pictures of my grand-mother at 10, and the daughter of my cousin at the same age looks the same.

    And for the fatness, I remember one of my brother has always looked round when he was young, even if he ate the same thing than us, and as a grow-up, he doesn´t turn obese. It´s really stupid to assume he eats too much, especially at less than 2 year-old.

    • Hi and welcome!

      Like you, I suck at the “wow, he totally has his mother’s eye, his dad’s nose, etc.” I just don’t see it. Weird. It’s easier when you look at pictures sometime because it captures an expression that may be familiar.

  6. It feels good to read this ! I thaught only african people were mean and jalous and suspicious and “it’s not on your business” kind….. aparently not ! 3 months : “it’s time to make him a little sister/brother !!!!” 6 months : “what ? He is not walking yet” ???!!! 8 months : “why doesn’t he speak ??!!??” 6 months in france : “what you are still breastfeeding him, stop right now !” 10 months in senegal : “what you stopped breastfeeding him ??” Anytime : “he is is to small/too big/too … / not enough…” STOP !!! we are just fine my son and I. You need a proof : we don’t care about anyone else’s business !!

    • It’s funny, eh: when you have a kid, somehow,your life and your decisions are everybody’s business. I know it takes a village and all… but sheesh, people!

  7. Gosh i get the breastfeeding comment most times and my answer is “just look at my boobs !!” Lol ! I feel like somebody should invent notecards for those specific questions so you can just give them out and just walk away without saying a word ! I know it sounds cruel but seems necessary.

    • People at the Baby Show asked me if I was breastfeeding Mark… who was happily eating a peanut butter sandwich. I have no issue with women breastfeeding toddlers, whatever works for them, but I think it’s safe to assume most toddlers eat something else too!

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