As I sat in a bank, minding my own business, a lady came up to me and TJ to strike up conversation. I thought it would be the usual ‘he’s gorgeous, how old, blah blah blah’ chit chat, which we do get from random strangers pretty often. I usually love it too. But instead, she asked me if TJ was walking yet. When I said yes, she said ‘that’s good – the only problem is that he’s still quite large isn’t he’. I smiled through gritted teeth, mumbled something about his healthy appetite and made a quick exit.
Although the bluntness of this maybe well-intended exchange is a rarity, there’s nothing like parenthood to make you feel like you’re living your life under a microscope. It can sometimes feel like every move you make is under constant scrutiny from other parents, people who are grandparents to children other than your own or people haven’t become parents for themselves yet.
It doesn’t seem to matter what I am doing – whether I am letting TJ get away with murder as he runs riot or when I do my best to discipline an 18-month-old, I always feel like there’s a disapproving look or a wagging tongue just over my shoulder. And, because I have ears which can hear things, sadly I know I am not always too far from the truth. Today’s encounter isn’t the first time something like this has happened and I fear that it won’t be the last.
I don’t blame them, really. I used to do the same – although I didn’t say it out loud. I didn’t understand the people who took an iPad to a dinner in a restaurant. I couldn’t figure out why people let their kids trash displays in shops. I was sad for the mum who told her child to shut up. I have done all of those things – and my child isn’t even two years old yet.
It’s a different ball game altogether when you’re on the receiving end of judgement. For me, it started from almost day one – people I had never seen before in my life (and I hope to never see again) told me that TJ was cold, hungry, tired or all of the above. I may have been a newbie to the parenting game with a tiny baby in tow, but I also used to be a beginner at cooking food and I didn’t want the opinion of the checkout girl on how to prepare my onions.
It’s led me to critique my own behaviour. I use Disney on YouTube to keep TJ happy far too often – what started as a way of keeping him still during nappy changes has crept into other areas of life including the odd pram ride, meal time or even when I just need to get some jobs done around the house. I let TJ get his way and watch the same DVD over and over again instead of trying to convince him to read a book. I ask him to do something and relent the second he says ‘no’ or I can sense a tantrum brewing.
But, sometimes, needs must. We all do what we need to do to both survive and try our best to raise rounded, positive, ‘spirited’ little people. I don’t let TJ watch a small screen all day – we go to baby classes, we go to the park, we point out every bus, plane and train which we see out and about. The name of the game is everything in moderation – food included.
Having brought an overdue seven pound baby into the world through a traumatic emergency C-section, failing to exclusively breastfeed like I had intended and being told by a health visitor that my five-day-old son was seriously failing to gain weight, I take comfort in watching TJ eat a healthy diet and I kiss his chubby little baby legs as often as he will let me.
So, you know what, random stranger – if you don’t like it then look the other way. Don’t make a beeline for me just to make me feel bad. I don’t judge your life choices (even when you’re wearing such ugly shoes) so don’t you judge mine.