How to make a new mother cry? Let me count the ways. Notice the depth of unwashed dishes in her sink, or the breadth of her once-tiny waistline. . .
Or, cut to the chase and comment directly on her parenting skills.
Lately, my daughter and I have been attending a playgroup with a close friend and her child. The trouble began when a visiting mother-in-law decided to play the role of baby expert. This mostly lovable, surrogate grandma did delight the babies but she also offered unsolicited observations about the children. . . and their parents.
Certainly, Grandma’s attendance changed the atmosphere of the group. What was once a simple chance for the kids to play and their parents to chat turned into more of a class, where Mom and Dad followed Grandma’s cues. I blushed, for instance, when my baby’s feet turned increasingly black because I forgot to bring her shoes. Grandma made me feel sheepish enough by suggesting I remember them next time.
All the other parents were subject to similar comments: this mom should correct her son less aggressively, while that father shouldn’t over-praise his daughter. My friend’s child was overtly pulling a little girl’s hair; there was an actual attempt to separate the poor girl from one of her ponytails. Grandma told my friend to remove her child from the group.
I didn’t give the playgroup, or Grandma, much thought after we left, though. I guess if there’s one thing I’ve learned about having a baby, it’s that everyone chimes in. From those horrifying pregnancy encounters when total strangers make the most unbelievable comments (“Geesh! I hope you’re due soon!”), to the constant observations about my baby’s appearance (“Hello, Miss Chunky!”), parenting comes with constant commentary.
But when I called my friend after playgroup to laugh about good ol’ Grandma and her bottomless cup of wisdom, I was surprised to find that my friend was in tears. And we’re not talking silent tears. She was so upset that, when she got home, her husband thought the baby had been seriously injured.
“What’s wrong?” the shocked husband implored as my friend sobbed, “Is the baby safe? Did you get in a car wreck? What happened?!”
Imagine his surprise when my friend answered, through hiccupping cries, “Grandma yelled at me!”
Being the sensitive husband that he is, the bewildered man just hugged his wife.
But it makes me wonder: why are we moms so hard on ourselves that the littlest remark about our babies can turn us into babies ourselves?
Just because I didn’t tear up in this instance, doesn’t mean that I haven’t given in to waterworks in the past. Catch me on a day when I can’t get my daughter to nap and her activity of choice is spreading smashed bananas in her hair, and then try commenting on the fact she’s not walking yet. . . you’ll see my cry alright.
I guess I never fully appreciated the level of stress parents are under. We’re in charge of creating a brand new person, for goodness sakes. For many mothers, we actually grew this thing inside us, so we’ve been analyzing minutiae from the beginning. And now we have this precious, tiny being that knows absolutely nothing, staring up at us wonderingly. Not only are we charged to teach them every little thing — I am currently trying to teach my daughter not to pull her own hair out — but we also try to control all outside environmental factors to keep these young ones safe. Now that’s pressure.
So for all of you who’ve been through this stage of parenting and know better, please tread softly. It’s not that you don’t have pearls to share with us new parents; it’s just so easy for any advice to sound ultra-critical. And you don’t have to worry about a lack of critics, because we’re our own worst ones.
Be gentle, Grandma, we’re begging you.