After a long day of driving and visiting friends in another town, my little knackered family of three hit Asda to get the weekly shop over with. As my husband loaded bags into our trolley, I decided to wheel Mary in her buggy to the clothes sale rack for a quick gander. Having sung various Regina Spektor songs to my daughter, and chat-chat-chatted to her throughout our shop, as I always do, I stopped for approx. 10 seconds to check out a rather fetching blue jumper.
That’s when it happened.
An older man, perhaps in his late sixities, approached me.
“Talk to her!”, he declared loudly. “Describe the things around you! It’s how she’ll learn to speak!”
I was struck momentarily dumb. I simply did not know how to respond to this strange man.
“Oh hello,” he addressed Mary, “you look surprised that someone’s actually talking to you.”
Enter the red mist…
“I talk to my daughter all day,” I responded, adrenalin surging through me. “And you’re surrounded by people who love you and talk to you all day, aren’t you sweetheart?” I said to Mary. “That’s why you’re such a great little talker.”
Something made him backtrack. My tone. My language. The realisation that I was not to be patronised by this man, or any man. I got talking to him. I sensed loneliness beneath the condescension. His daughter was grown up. He’d only got to see her at weekends (which is sad, but it really is easier to be Daddy Fun Timez when you’ve only got 48 hours to fill).
Then he started talking in depth about how babies love beetles and it hit me that he might not be the full shilling. My anger left me. My husband caught up with us. We left the man on surprisingly good terms. As we walked away he called out: “Remember the beetles!”.
But it got me thinking about unsolicited advice and the tyranny of presumption. Even if I was genuinely not engaging with my baby, how would a stranger’s judgment help the situation? What if I was struggling with postnatal depression? Or recently bereaved? Or running on 2 hours sleep? The arrogance of anyone, no matter their parenting experience, approaching a stranger in this way has me lamenting the lack of basic kindness and empathy in some people’s hearts.
So, on to my top 5 unsolicited advice offenders:
OMG, thank you! All the months of mothering and classes and manuals and visits from health professionals and Googling and MumsNet chats and discussions with family and friends has left me with a gap in my knowledge that only a sanctimonious prick with a latte on the bus can fill! Thank you so much for your help!
- The Elderly
I’m not ageist, truly. The wisdom of old people gives me life, and when I was pregnant the most chivalrous and caring strangers were all past 70. But a tiny minority can be quite judgmental. If you raised your babies in the 1950s, is there any chance things might have changed just a teensy bit? And perhaps it’s now best not to, for example, give my baby Scotch to help with teething?
- Relatives Who Had Their Babies Decades Ago
I wouldn’t dream of suggesting I know best how to deal with a screaming two-week old, and I had one just 7 months ago! You have forgotten more than you realise. Have some humility.
- Expert Deniers
Those people who sneer at the advice of trained professionals such as doctors, midwives and health visitors, advocating a return to ‘common sense’, e.g. giving your 4 month old a chocolate digestive. Denial of expertise is what put Trump in the White House. No thank you.
- Comments Section Crusaders
Those knobs that lurk below. Those spreaders of bad juju. Find any article online about breastfeeding or co-sleeping or baby-led weaning and check out the unsolicited pearls from BrexitJohnny1066 who feels the world will benefit from knowing how disgusting he finds toddlers who make noise and how bad behaviour simply did not exist in his day and blah blah blah blah blah blah bleurrrrggghhhhh….
So here’s the one piece of unsolicited advice I’ll give: if a parent hasn’t asked for your opinion, don’t offer one. You know not what you do.