These are just a few of the comments I hear when in public with my kids as babies/toddlers. When my daughter was a baby/toddler, people said these things and now I hear them again with my son. I used to get angry hearing these accusing questions yet felt the need to explain myself and my kids to these strangers. In those early years of being a mother and wanting to do everything perfectly and have the perfect kid, I took offense to these questions yet still tried to please the stranger with explanations. I no longer do this and just smile and shrug off the “what’s wrong with him?” if he isn’t participating perfectly in a group activity or smiling constantly and say, “he’s two.” But even that is not true. What I want to say is “Nothing is wrong with him. What is wrong with you?”
There is a ridiculous expectation put on children to fit a certain mold; one to fit either a child throwing a tantrum or one who is perpetually happy, giggly and friendly. My kids both are cautious, thankfully, and were more so as babies and toddlers. They furrow their brow in public sitting in the grocery cart and observe their surroundings with intense focus. Just passing by a stranger in a store, the stranger will give me comment #52 in the list I’ve heard, “ooo, someone must need a nap” when in fact he or she had just woken up. Do I need to explain this to the stranger? Would you ever consider telling someone who looked tired and ragged in a store such a thing? Never. And I guarantee if you did, you’d get a whole lot more than a grumpy look.
I teach my kids to beware of strangers, not to speak to them unless I am there and say it is okay. Yet, strangers act offended when my child doesn’t say hello back and they look at me like I am raising a rude little punk. I have told these same people that I am teaching my children “stranger danger” and not to be offended but then again, feel frustrated that I have to explain myself or my kids to random people. I am working hard to raise cautious but loving and friendly children; teaching them to be self-sufficient and compassionate but not people-pleasing, to be accepting and loving without judgment yet they are confronted with the exact opposite and figuring out the best way to model these teachings can be a challenge.
There are loads of articles, books, quotes and mantras teaching us to “let go” or “just be” and I am one to write about these things too but we don’t always teach our kids the same lesson. I try to allow my children to be who they are while still guiding them and teaching them acceptable behaviors. But when people who do not know my children and how happy, silly, giggly, smart, witty and loving they are question why they look a certain way or are not meeting some arbitrary expectation, I begin to wonder what is wrong with the person who questions. Does my child in some way make them feel inadequate if he doesn’t run up and hug you without knowing you? Do they feel they have failed if my son doesn’t want to follow every single structured activity at what he calls “the jumpy place”? I do teach him to follow direction and cooperate, but at two, we go to the “jumpy place” to have fun, not to do rigid gymnastics routines.
For almost five years, I have been listening to these seeming innocent questions and statements. I have spoken to friends who also have cautious, quiet or shy children and deal with the same line of commenting. While it frustrates me that people are looking at my children and expecting them to fit a mold, it also reminds me to allow myself and my children to be; to let them look however they are; to encourage them not to speak or smile at strangers because their safety far outweighs any lessons on friendliness. It reminds me that while I have made personal strides in confidence thereby downplaying my need to please, that I need to model that confidence by not explaining my child’s behavior. I don’t ever want them to think that the way they are is not good enough or feel the need to explain themselves to the millions of critics in the world. As long as my kids are growing into functional people in society and are happy, then I have done my job. Maybe next time instead of an aggressive comeback turning the tables of accusation, I will instead reply to any questions or comments about the look on my child’s face with “he/she is just being him/herself and that is fine with me!”
How do you handle strangers making annoying comments about your kids?