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Last week, Dave, Viv and I ate at a casual outdoor restaurant that welcomes families.  Our 18-month-old is a delightful lunch companion, but she’s a bit of a slob, and new with a fork, so chunks of grilled cheese and an entire cob of corn had fallen to the patio below.

I was away from the table taking a phone call when a pair of middle-aged women approached Dave.  One joked that it was too bad her dog wasn’t there to eat the scraps.  The other rolled her eyes and muttered, “I have nothing to say about that,” looking pointedly at the mess.

When I came back to the table, I found poor Dave hanging his head in shame like that middle-aged lady’s dog (or so I imagine).

Welcome to Stranger Scorn, babe.   It’s here, it sears, get used to it.

Dave was shaken up.  I told him not to take it personally–that all parents of young children have at some point received rude comments about their kids, their parenting or both.

I gave examples:

  • A woman I know was rushing her crying baby to the back of an airplane, trying desperately to calm him, when a passenger glared at her, put a finger to his lips and hissed, “Shhhh!”  Like that helps.
  • A group of mommies and babies were dining at 5pm at a family restaurant, and the noise level got a little high.   An older woman stood up from her table just to gripe, “Did it ever occur to you ladies to order take-out?”
  • Then there was my friend Cathy who, while flying solo with her boisterous toddler, was asked by a passenger, “Can’t you just put him in a closet?”
  • I, too, had been a victim of Stranger Scorn.  While Viv waited with me for a doctor’s appointment, I read her stories to pass the time.  A man growled at me to keep it down.  When I protested, “She’s just a baby,” his wife helpfully clarified, “It’s not her.  It’s YOU.”

Maybe these jabs don’t sound that bad, but in all cases, the moms were humiliated and pushed to the edge of tears.  That’s because parents of young children are vulnerable.  Our skins are thin.  We’re exhausted, beaten down and plagued with doubt, constantly wondering if our parenting choices will result in years of therapy or the minting of a serial killer.

On the other side of the brouhaha, you have these grouchy, outspoken folks–often older people who’ve been parents themselves, but who seem to have completely forgotten what it’s like to raise a child.

Sometimes I wish I was wearing a t-shirt that says, “I’m doing the best I can.”  Or better yet, “You were once a baby too.”

Despite my best efforts to reassure him, Dave took that cranky lady’s comments to heart, wondering if Viv’s poor table manners were a sign that our parenting was too lax.  I argued that at this age, we’re better off working on taking turns, saying please and not shrieking.   Eating neatly involves motor skills that Viv hasn’t yet mastered.  When her manual dexterity catches up, we’ll break out the Emily Post.

I don’t think he’s convinced, and my sense is that we’ll be eating at home for a while.  The grouches win.

Look, I get that babies and toddlers are not the most relaxing of companions.  And if they’re not your kids, then you’re taking on some of the headaches (noise, mess, chaos) without gaining the joys (snuggles, giggles, I wub you mommy).  So while it may not be realistic or fair of me to expect strangers to embrace our kids like relatives, I wish they could find it in their hearts to keep their scorn to themselves.

We’re very impressionable, and did I mention, tired?

I swear, on my blog, that I will never, ever forget what it was like to raise a child.  I will endeavor to always have empathy and appreciation for new parents.  I want to be the stranger who, instead of grimacing and muttering insults, offers to prop open a door, fetch napkins or engage in a chorus of Twinkle Twinkle.

You can hold me to it.

If you’ve been a victim of Stranger Scorn, please leave a comment.  It will help me win this argument, and maybe see the inside of a restaurant again.

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