I first remember the joy that is other people’s unsolicited advice on parenting, when I walked into a dentist’s surgery holding my snotty two-year old in my arms.
“Mummy, I think my nosey needs a wipe,” said the receptionist, looking me straight in the eye.
I told her that it was both ridiculous to suggest that I was her mother, given that at most five years separated us, and that I harboured not the least desire or intention of going anywhere near her nose.
It was hilarious watching her try to work out if I was serious, deranged or taking the piss.
But this is one aspect of parenthood I was not expecting. That total strangers seem to think it’s OK to tell you where your parenting is falling short.
I have lost track of the number of times that people have told me that my children are not experiencing optimal thermal comfort.
There we are feeding the ducks and someone feels the need to share their concern that my children are too cold in their raincoats, too hot in their onesies, too wet in their thermals.
Other unprompted advice from complete strangers has included: that my child is up too late, on formula too early, has a haircut that is preventing them from seeing properly, needs their ears taping back.
At it’s very best it could be that these pontificators actually think that they are helping you. But in many instances it seems more to do with passing judgement and intolerance.
I try to simply smile and ignore them and/or just move on. Occasionally, though, I can’t help but answer back.
I have used the line that, “I’m hoping that with God’s good grace, and despite my parenting inadequacies, they will survive the afternoon and make it through to adulthood.”
Something along those lines normally ends the conversation.
But there will always be another social reject, waiting in the wings to invade your space.
I remember standing at a bus stop, with my two and three-year-old in a double buggy, when I was asked by the lady standing next to me if, ‘it was with travelling in buses in mind that I had made the decision to buy such a preposterously large pram?’
I replied that no, my overwhelming consideration had been the comfort and safety of my children, but that I was deeply grateful for her input on the matter. I assured her that the next time I was planning to purchase a pram I would come to her for advice first. I wanted to ask if advice on sexual techniques for those with bust pelvic floors was also part of her parenting advice repertoire, but I restrained myself.
While there are undoubtedly more of these hectoring undesirables around than I had ever anticipated- not all strangers are tossers.
There have been many incidents of lovely, random people opening doors for me and my pram, picking-up dropped, irreplaceably loved toy rabbits, helping carry buggies up and down stairs and simply exchanging sympathetic smiles.
But there have been the complete opposite too. I vividly remember one Sunday afternoon walk back from the park with my husband and then two and three year old girls.
The three-year old was having a riotous tantrum because we would not buy her a second ice cream and her Dad would not carry her the whole way back.
From the other side of the road I suddenly heard alarmed shrieking and an elderly lady started to point at the pram screaming “she’s dying, she’s dying.”
Shocked with fear I stuck my head over the pram canopy to check my offspring for vital signs. I could not think what was wrong but thought that maybe the pram strap had moved into a dangerous position. To my immense relief one child was still sleeping soundly while the other, scarlet with ice-cream deprived rage, continued to scream and yell.
To my amazement this lady then crossed the road and started to tell me in no uncertain terms that my wailing toddler was close to death because the ferocity of her screams was causing her throat to swell and cut off oxygen supplies.
‘No, no she’s fine,” I said. “She’s tired, hungry and three. She’ll be asleep in five minutes.”
This woman continued to rant at me that I was a dangerously neglectful mother and that she, a qualified paediatrician, was going to have to insist on reporting me to social services.
The penny dropped. I told her, in no uncertain terms, that a degree in being a nut job, and a masters in vegan flapjack-making, did not an expert make her. I also told her to fuck off and stop being such an interfering old bag.
This is obviously a very extreme example but I am pleased that I did not allow this woman to get away with frightening me. As I said to my husband, I was capable of handling her comments but if I’d been on my own, with my first child, and less experienced, she could have caused a real crisis of confidence in my parenting.
If it’s of help, if you have an audience when cherub chucks a humdinger of a hissy fit in the first instance I would simply focus on the child and ignore the mutterings of those around. Sometimes, after one too many, ‘oh dear he is having a bad day’ comments I have been known to say that no, the little poppet is not having a bad day, he was simply born with a really awful personality.
If pushed to it I will point out that despite the thousands of self-help parenting manuals out there, I had yet to find the one entitled, “How to parent when you are a psychopath with borderline dissociative identity disorder.”
That can clear a supermarket aisle in seconds.