Friday, July 2, 2010

Don't tell me I HAVE to do anything.

Most moms fend off their fair share of unsolicited advice. Recently, though, I've found myself on the receiving end of an even more disturbing trend: the unsolicited imperative. People, mainly women and the odd man in the over 55 demographic, love telling me what I absolutely must do in order to be an adequate mommy to The Grape.

Not that I've ever asked anybody from that generation, except my own mother, for an opinion on anything baby related. She raised three kids with no addictions or convictions among us, so I'm inclined to believe she's fit to hold forth on the subject of motherhood. How do I know the busybody lady in the corner store didn't bring up a gang of complete loser delinquents?

Maybe a subset of the busybodies desperately yearn for a do-over, so it's somehow therapeutic for them to dispense their hindsight to others. Sorry, ladies. I don't care what motivates you to insert yourself into my business. Even if you have altruistic intentions, any recommendation delivered as an order is going to do nothing but irritate me.

If I'm hazy on something, I like to compare notes with my mommy friends. They tend to be helpful as they have actual, daily, real-time experience with the full gamut of child-rearing issues. Unlike older strangers, they readily acknowledge that every kid is different, and what works with one child might be a disaster for another.

Maybe some of the bossiness is well-intentioned, but I've come to suspect that most of these women just have fundamental difficulty with minding their own business.

A recent sampling of uninvited wisdom:

"You have to adhere to a strict napping schedule so he doesn't do that." This from a library patron who noticed The Grape catching a cat nap in his stroller.

"He has to go to bed before eight o'clock." Um, why? So we can all be up at 5 every morning? I don't think so.

"You have to teach him to pray."

"You can't push him that high on the swings."

"You have to feed him only bland foods." Um, good luck getting anything tasteless into him. The Grape likes his meals with a little kick.

"You have to send him to school as a two-year-old." What if I don't find that necessary? So long, upper Ivies?

"You can't give him ice cream."

"You have to keep the dog away from him."

"You have to teach him sign language." A lot of people teach their infants to sign, but we already have two languages going at home, so I haven't pushed the signing. He'd probably sign things like, "I'm not tired!" or "I want another ice cream!" anyway.

"You have to reapply his sunscreen every single hour. Any less often is negligent." (!?!?) This gem came from the mouth of a complete stranger who launched into a diatribe about all the varieties of skin cancer. If I'd managed to slide a word in edgewise, I could have pointed out that he was wearing waterproof sun block as well as a hat, and he was sleeping in a UV blocking tent under a beach umbrella. And what sun he got splashing in the water probably provided a healthy dose of Vitamin D, a nutrient that up to a third of American children receive in insufficient amounts. Largely because twits like this lady prefer to keep their grandkids locked in the basement playing video games than running and playing outdoors. That's my theory anyway.

I could keep going but you get the idea. The Grape hasn't even been around for a year yet, so I don't hold out much hope of the uninvited orders ceasing anytime soon. And unless the advice qualifies as truly egregious, I'll try to stick with my default response of grinning and nodding. But every time I encounter such people, I can't help but think it would have been nice if someone had told their mothers to teach their kids some basic manners.

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