It’s a tried-and-true adage that parents have been telling kids for generations: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. But after a couple of bizarre interactions with strangers this week, I wonder — have people totally forgotten this common sense rule?
N and I were out doing a little holiday shopping recently when I spotted a Dunkin’ Donuts across the street. I love a delicious, cozy latte on a chilly December afternoon, but these days I never have time to pick one up. I decided that I would treat myself and led N across the street.
As soon as we entered the store, N started whining. “I’m huuunnngry,” she complained, despite having just finished off a Gogurt. I responded rapid-fire: “You just had a snack. I don’t have anything for you. This is a mommy coffee store. There are no snacks for you here.”
N didn’t miss a beat: “But when Daddy and I come here, we get donuts.”
“That’s in the morning, not the afternoon,” I snapped.
While we were in line, N became That Annoying Kid in the Store. You know, the kid who won’t stop whining, won’t stand still, leans up against shelves and makes merchandise wobble precariously, etc. I was just trying to hurry and get out of there as quickly as possible when the woman behind me (who looked like a young professional and — I can only assume — was not a mother) loudly proclaimed,
“Well, isn’t SHE spoiled??”
I swear that a hush fell over the whole store. I felt the eyes of everyone in line waiting for me to respond. I turned around slowly to face the woman.
“My daughter,” I said through clenched teeth, “is NOT spoiled.”
“It’s okay,” she said breezily. “Lots of kids are these days.”
“My daughter is NOT spoiled,” I repeated, and turned my back to her.
“Mom, can I puh-leeeese have a snack?” N whined.
“No!” I said firmly. Then I turned back around to face the stranger. “You know why she’s not spoiled? Because I say NO to her.”
I walked out of that store shaking my head. How could anyone think that’s an okay comment to make to ANYONE, whether you know them or not??
Sadly, that was not the most outrageous encounter I had this week. Baby Sis and I went to get the car serviced at our local Toyota dealership, where they asked us to sit in the waiting room for 20 minutes or so while they did their initial assessment. The room was so toasty that I had to peel off a few of her layers, including her hat. Then our service advisor called us into his office. In order to get there, we had to walk a few steps through the service garage.
As soon as Baby Sis and I set foot in the garage, an older woman (who I can only assume was a longtime mother) said loudly, in front of a group of her friends,
“What are you doing out here with no hat on that baby?? You don’t know how cold she is without a hat!! YOU DON’T KNOW!!” she practically yelled at me.
Later in my head, I came up with all kinds of clever responses, but at that moment all I could think of was, “She has a hood.” (Actually, she had two hoods — one on her fleecy shirt and one on her coat.) I was so rattled by her hostility that I could barely pay attention to the guy who was explaining the work on our car.
I’ve noticed a big difference in the way strangers treat me when I’m with the girls, versus when I’m alone. When it’s just me, I can blend into the crowd — just another anonymous person on a New York City sidewalk. People don’t come up to me and offer advice about my diet, work habits, religion, hygiene, etc. In New York, people leave me alone. Like everyone else on the street, I have a little bubble of privacy around me because everyone is cautious about interacting with strangers. You never know when there’s a crazy person next to you — better to leave well enough alone.
But when I’m out with the girls, there is no bubble of privacy. People think it’s okay to voice their opinions — which are formed in about 3 seconds or less — about my kids, my parenting skills or decisions. Maybe people instinctively trust mothers and figure they’re not likely to be one of those “crazies” – ?
Most of the time when I’m out with the girls, people are polite. They open doors for me, smile at my cute kids, or share something about their grandkids.
But there is the occasional jerk who feels compelled to say something negative. I know it happens to other moms too — in one of my parenting books there’s a whole section on how to politely listen to parenting advice without feeling defensive or that you have to respond. (Easier said than done!)
(By the way, do people make similar critical comments to dads, questioning their parenting abilities? Or is it just moms?)
Now that I’m thinking about it, I have a comeback. Next time someone makes a negative comment, I’ll turn to N and use it as a teachable moment: “See, N — this adult is not being polite. What’s our rule? If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all!”