Every day I'm grateful that my children are surrounded by so many loving and wonderful family members, friends, teachers, neighbors, and folks in the community. They are helping form my son and daughter into sweet, thoughtful people with strong values and a secure sense of identity. But even wonderful people are imperfect, and the creepy things people have said to my kids, literally right in front of me, have occasionally left me blinking in confusion or seething in quiet (or not quiet) rage.
Most of the creepy things on this list don't mean to be creepy. It's just that society in general is so tremendously awful sometimes that people don't necessarily notice when they're enforcing something unnecessary, damaging, and potentially problematic. The things we are invested in, even without realizing it, are creepy.
I also don't want to sit haughtily on an ornate throne of judgement looking down on people. I mean, OK, sometimes that's exactly what I want (I'm human, damn it!), but what I mean to say is that I don't exempt myself from ever having been creepy. I'm absolutely positive I've said things to people, including other people's kids, that have made someone think, "That was a little bit weird." We all do it. What is humanity if not a vast sea of different kinds of blundering awkwardness? With that in mind, here are some of the (generally unintentional) unsettling things people have said to my children:
"You Want To Come Live With Me, Don't You!"
Certainly I recognize that no one is serious when they say this, but, if you think about this from a small child's perspective, jokes like this are sort of lost on them, right? So as far as they're concerned, someone is literally asking them if they want to be removed from their home and parents to go live with someone that they don't know very well or don't see too often. Whenever someone suggested this when I was a kid (and people weirdly said this to me kind of a lot, so I guess I was just a fabulous kid) I would fly into an internal panic, but I was also a people pleaser and didn't want to be rude. So I would smile what I can only imagine was a painfully awkward grin and say, "No thank you. I want to stay with my mom."
My kids DGAF about pleasing anyone most of the time, and they tend to respond to this question by hiding behind me or ignoring the other person completely.
"You're Going To Be A Heartbreaker" And/Or "Daddy Better Watch Out"
I mean, you're basically making encouraging or discouraging comments about the child's presumed future sexuality. And I know that's not what you mean to do, but heteronormativity and gender normative behavior are so ingrained in our culture and our values that we'll make comments like this without thinking about what they actually mean.
And, frankly, it's creepy. I don't think the vast majority of people who say things like this are doing it in a mean-spirited way or in a way that's anything other than a simple, off-handed way of communicating, "What a beautiful child!" But you can just say that without bringing creepy concepts of virility and virtue into it.
"Are You My Boyfriend/Girlfriend?"
Dear God, I hope not. Because that would be a terrifically inappropriate and very illegal relationship. How about you just be friends?
"You Don't Want That One, It's For Boys/Girls"
There are rare instances where this might be true. If a child grabs for your alcoholic beverage, for example, then "you don't want that" is a reasonable and correct thing to say on every level. But when it comes to things like toys, movies, clothes, and activities, the kid is going to know way better than you what they want, and it's weird that you'd suggest otherwise.
When he was younger, my son was regularly told (by some family members, teachers, random people we'd encounter) that he surely didn't want the pink whatever-it-was-he-wanted. He wanted one in a "boy" color, even though his favorite color was pink. He didn't want to wear the Elsa dress, he wanted to dress up like a police officer. But he did want the pink sneakers and the Elsa dress. He doesn't nowadays, though. In fact, he's vehemently opposed to the color pink, and I can't help but think that it's because of messaging like this.
The Saga Of The Paci Fairy
OK. A beloved, well-meaning relative who shall remain nameless has ruined my damn life with this one.
My 3-year-old still uses a pacifier for naps and bedtime. Her father and I are none too concerned, especially since it appeared she was becoming less attached as time went on. This family member, however, apparently was concerned, and said to my daughter: "Doesn't the Paci Fairy sometimes come to take pacis and bring them to new babies?"
Now, the Paci Fairy is a fine idea to use to help a child give up their pacifier. I know a bunch of people it's worked for, but presentation is important (as is mentioning the fact that she brings gifts in exchange for pacifiers). Off-handedly describing the Paci Fairy as this mysterious figure who steals your precious pacifiers to give to another kid is a great way to make your child terrified that someone is lurking around the corner waiting to take her stuff.
And that's exactly what happened. The whole venture backfired spectacularly and the child is more attached to that thing than she's been in a while.
This happened several months ago. Nary a day has gone by that my daughter hasn't freaked out about the Paci Fairy. Now if anything is temporarily misplaced — a pacifier, a toy, a shoe — she cries "I think the fairy took it to give it to a new baby!"
"You're Slimming Down, But I Was Worried You Were Going To Stay Chubby"
You say this to a 3-year-old?! I was gobsmacked and enraged. "What?!" the person asked, feigning total ignorance. "It was a compliment!"
This is not the kind of compliment anyone needs, much less an impressionable child who should remain as carefree about body image and beauty standards for as long as humanly possible. This is creepy and gross, so just stop.
Out of respect for my son's privacy, I'll not comment upon which direction my partner and I went with this, but after he was born there were people with opinions. (Spoilers: no matter what you do, there will be opinions.)
In order to express those opinions, some of those people would talk to him about his own penis in a weird baby voice in order to indirectly communicate to me, but under the guise of "just making a joke." And I know this had zero impact on my son (who can't possibly remember from back then) but it's still really creepy to be so invested in another person's private parts that you just have to verbalize it.
"I'm So Fat & It's Terrible"
Please, please stop pushing your body issues on my kid. It's really inappropriate. Like, what is talking about this with a kid going to accomplish? Are you expecting them to say something to make you feel better about yourself? That's weird. The only think you're for sure going to do is teach them "fat is bad," which is bullsh*t.
"Never Cut Your Hair" Or "You Need A Haircut!"
Yes, my daughter's hair is long and lovely. Yes, my son's hair is long-ish and hipster-like. But please don't tell them what they should be doing with it, even if you mean it as a compliment. Their father and I have a strict "your body, your choice" policy on our kids' hair. Moreover, we really don't want them to think they have to have their hair a particular way in order to be beautiful, acceptable, or loved. Their hair is the way they want it and that's working out just fine, thank you very much. Please don't be creepy about this.
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