I've never thought of myself as the outspoken mom. When it comes to just about everything, if someone says something I disagree with, I usually keep my opinion to myself. For the most part, I imagine myself to be this way in my parenting as well. But standing up for my child and the way I care for her has brought out a new side of me — one that now sees the value of my voice as a mother.
I'm not sure why people feel the need to tell you how to live your life. Especially when you have a baby, everyone — friends, family, even strangers — feel the need to tell you what's going on with you and your new baby like they know every intimate detail. I wonder how many times in my fresh motherhood I've wanted to shout, "Stop telling me what to do!" Parenting and motherhood are already flush with plenty of moments to make you feel like the worst mom on earth, and unsolicited advice and judgments about my parenting choices only feels like further shame. I often think that, even if they're trying to be nice or helpful, when people offer me unsolicited advice about my child and my choices, their comments showcase how much they doubt me as a mom. And because I usually don't speak up, that doubt manifests to guilt, so I decided to flip the script, so to speak.
I wanted to challenge myself to not be the quiet, passive mom who nods when someone says something that actually burns me up inside. I gave myself one month, because I knew it would take some time for me to get used to the idea of confronting people. Plus, I wasn't sure how many times I'd actually be presented with an opportunity in only one or two weeks as a work-from-home mom to respond to judgmental comments. One month gave me plenty to work with.
I was hesitant going into my first few days with this experiment in the back of my mind, but we planned to have dinner out with our close friends one evening, so I was keen to see what might happen. In the restaurant, we were seated next to an elderly couple, and another few families trickled in. There were some older babies around, but after a little while, mine was the only one crying. It was as if we were back in that 1- or 2-month-old stage when I was still paranoid that my daughter's cries would bother people. I've gotten over that feeling, but keeping my experiment in mind, I was constantly wondering if someone was going to comment on my calming methods or be annoyed that their meal had been disrupted by a disgruntled baby. Despite feeling like some of the other moms were glancing my way far too many times, no one said anything. It was actually one of our friends who did something that bothered me.
She was helping, I reminded myself, but her tone was far too patronizing for me. I could feel a sense of offense rising up. A few minutes later, the same woman approached a father wearing his toddler son in a carrier on his back. The boy had fallen asleep with his head tilted back, and the woman took it upon herself to inform him. She was giving a helpful tip, but I really just wanted to ask her who appointed her the baby supervisor for the day.
We were out with close family friends, a couple and their two kids. The dad came over to greet our daughter, as he hadn't been able to really say hello to her yet. She was sitting in the high chair and he suggested putting it closer to the table so she wouldn’t bang her chin against it, but I already had her where I thought she would be OK. He actually went ahead and pushed her chair forward, but before I could say anything, she ironically hit her chin. We joked that he was a "bad uncle," and even though I knew he meant to prevent that very thing from happening, I politely told him I'd already placed her so she couldn't try to teethe on the table. Thankfully, his willingness to accept his blunder from the moment it happened eased the situation much nicer than if he hadn't, and I came away from the experience feeling like friends would be easier to deal with than strangers.
By this point, I was able to go about my schedule without feeling a dread on my shoulders over what might happen and what I'd say to people. I'd decided to let things happen naturally instead of looking out for any moment someone might give me some unsolicited advice, and sure enough, it happened. I had my daughter with me at the grocery store doing my weekly shop and on my way back out to my car, I noticed a woman and baby sitting in the car presumably waiting on someone inside. The baby was crying loudly, and as I imagined the woman to be the mother, I walked by with solidarity in my heart toward her. (I know quite well the feeling of trying to calm a fussy-for-whatever-reason child to no avail.) Just as I approached my car, an older woman who was also walking to her car stopped me. She saw my daughter, smiled, and said, "Oh, she's just a darling, isn't she? That wasn't her making all that noise, was it?" Thinking she meant the baby crying in the car near us, I said, "No, I believe that was coming from another car." "Of course it's that baby in the car," the lady said, "She," speaking of my daughter, "is just too cute to make all that fuss."
During our stay together, there were a couple of other little things that made me feel like my friend was telling me how things should be done. I found out that, in the middle of night, my friend checked on our daughter without telling us whenever she heard her. Though some women may feel comforted by that, I felt my friend's concern was over the top.
I don't know why, and forgive me if I'm wrong, but there was something about the way this woman said "that baby" that totally broke my heart. She was judging a stranger's baby without knowing them, and it made my stomach turn. I took the opportunity to fearlessly correct her. "Oh, she has her moments," I said, gesturing to my daughter. "All babies do." She smiled and told me again how darling my little girl was before we went our separate ways. Though it wasn't a direct remark about my parenting, the woman had certainly triggered my need and responsibility to tell her she was wrong.
After two weeks, I couldn't believe I hadn't had any moments with my own family that called into question my parenting. There was no time for that now, though, because my partner and I were going out of town with our daughter. I knew in my mind there would be ample opportunity for conversations with strangers in the airport or at the conference we would be attending over the weekend and not long after entering the venue, my chance came.
I was wearing my daughter in a Baby Bjorn we'd just bought that day and I hadn't fully adjusted it to my daughter's size yet, but she was happy and fine all the same as we walked around to find our seat in the crowd. On our way, a woman stopped me with a horrified look on her face to say, "Oh my gosh, is she OK?" as she motioned toward my daughter's mouth, which was slightly covered by the top of the carrier. Confused at what she meant at first, I gave her a blank stare. She made the same motion and asked again before it clicked in my mind that she must have thought my daughter's breathing was compromised. I'm sure my face said it all at that point. Sure, the lady was probably just trying to be helpful, but her utter fear over whether or not my baby could breathe became almost laughable. I said, "Uh, yeah. She's fine, thank you," and made sure to lace my words with some major sarcasm. She has a nose, you know, I thought. Did this lady really think that if my baby couldn't breathe, I'd be walking around without noticing it?
It wasn't the first time I felt like telling someone to mind their own business that day. We were with our friends who have a 13 month old, and we were also in an outdoor venue. It began lightly raining and it was a little chilly. My friend and I both had our babies covered, but a woman behind us came up, placed a poncho on my friend's lap, and said, "Cover that baby." She was helping, I reminded myself, but her tone was far too patronizing for me. I could feel a sense of offense rising up within me. A few minutes later, the same woman approached a father wearing his toddler son in a carrier on his back. The boy had fallen asleep with his head tilted back, and the woman took it upon herself to inform him. She was giving a helpful tip, but I really just wanted to ask her who appointed her the baby supervisor for the day. Had she said something to me about my baby, I might have actually told her to butt out. After all was said and done, my disdain for a stranger's help surprised me. All throughout this experiment I felt a confidence in my choices as a parent and a deeper respect for the right of other parents' choices rising in me.
For the duration of the trip we were sharing a hotel suite with our friends and their 13 month old. We all knew it'd be interesting having two babies outside of their established routines and we'd all thought about what it'd be like to share living space with two other adults. What I hadn't thought about, however, was how staying with our friends would give us both very clear pictures of how differently we parent.
There was an instance when my baby was crying for no real reason — aside from the fact that I'd just put her down to do my makeup and get dressed — and my friend began imitating a baby voice saying, "Mommy, stop putting on your makeup. You're already pretty. Come hold me." I couldn't believe what I'd heard. It felt like a passive-aggressive way of telling me I should be holding her instead of taking care of myself.
For example, my friend responds to every cry from her son. She and her partner have practiced co-sleeping with him every night for 13 months, and she gives him milk every time he wakes up. I tend to let my daughter cry for a short period when I'm putting her down for a nap or when I need her to stay in the playpen while I do something. And we only bring my daughter in the bed with us after her 6 a.m. feed. She no longer gets milk during the night. I noticed these differences straight away, and I knew they were completely OK. I trusted my friend's ability to know what's best for her child, and I was sure she felt the same way about my choices.
However, when my daughter became fussy in my friend's presence, I felt a bit of pressure from my friend to tend to her immediately, the way she'd done with her own baby. There was an instance when my baby was crying for no real reason — aside from the fact that I'd just put her down to do my makeup and get dressed — and my friend began imitating a baby voice saying, "Mommy, stop putting on your makeup. You're already pretty. Come hold me." I couldn't believe what I'd heard. It felt like a passive-aggressive way of telling me I should be holding her instead of taking care of myself.
We were at a baby shower when our daughter started fussing in his arms and a complete stranger jokingly looked at our baby and asked, "What did you do to her, Daddy?" She even said, "Aww, bad daddy, let me take her." Um. Hold on. Who in their right mind thinks saying something like is appropriate or that anyone would take their words lightly?
During our stay together, there were a couple of other little things that made me feel like my friend was telling me how things should be done. I found out that, in the middle of night, my friend checked on our daughter without telling us whenever she heard her. Though some women may feel comforted by that, I felt my friend's concern was over the top. I would never take on another mom's role as protector if I wasn't explicitly asked. Personally, I'd see that as overstepping a boundary.
I didn't voice my thoughts to my friend immediately. To preserve the peace while we stayed together, I let it be and tried hard not to be offended. But once we returned home, I opened up a discussion on how these things made me feel. It still felt risky,but I wanted to express myself. And I was delighted by her reaction. She told me that her instinct is to always pick up a child if they're crying, but that she respected the fact that we had different ways of raising our children. She also agreed that I am the best mom for my daughter, just as she's the best mom for her son. She added that she was never trying to put pressure on me to do things her way.
In the end, it was important for both of us to see the other's perspective and grow in respect toward one another.
My ability to use my voice to advocate for myself and my parenting felt surprisingly natural by week four. Even my husband was trying it out. We were at a baby shower when our daughter started fussing in his arms and a complete stranger jokingly looked at our baby and asked, "What did you do to her, Daddy?" She even said, "Aww, bad daddy, let me take her." Um. Hold on. Who in their right mind thinks saying something like is appropriate or that anyone would take their words lightly? It sounded like my husband did something wrong, and implies he's a bad father. And then she had the gall to want to take our baby from his hands.
I could see my husband almost give in to this lady's inappropriate comments, but I was so proud when he hesitated and said, "Oh, no, actually, doesn't want to be held by anyone else right now. She's just a little tired." I chimed in, "Yes, Daddy knows what he's doing," and gave her a smile. The woman walked away as if she was the one with a right to be offended.
A little while later, our daughter was in a better mood, so I suggested we take her to the woman and explain that now was a better time if she wanted to hold her. She didn't apologize to us, but my husband's actions were enough.
Did This Experiment Change Anything?
Even after a month of advocating and standing up for myself, I still don't think of myself as an outspoken mom. But I do feel like a mom who's much more bold. Confronting people in a healthy way has helped me to trust myself even more as a parent. I also realized where my boundaries are when it comes to other people interacting with my daughter. I don't want to live perpetually offended by people, but I'm also not afraid to let them know that when it comes to my baby, until she is old enough to do it herself, I'll help speak for her.