Friday, March 23, 2007

Welcome to Blameville, Population: A Lot of Parent Critics

I was crossing 125th St. at Lenox Ave.--an incredibly busy corner, even by Manhattan standards--when a man shouted at me from across the street that my baby looked a little low in my front-pack carrier. Then there was the time that as we were getting off the subway, our daughter dropped her binky and a fellow passenger said to my husband, "You better wash that before you give it back to her."

Now, I know intellectually that these people were perfectly well-intentioned; they simply wanted to be helpful. However, I say this from a place of well-reasoned remove, and not in the heat of the moment where I wanted to say, "Thanks, I had no idea what I was doing as a parent until you came along."

I think it's exceptionally strange that a perfect stranger should come up to a parent and offer advice. Think about it: Do people approach police officers and tell them they might catch more criminals if they spent less time in doughnut shops? Do advertising agencies receive anonymous phone calls suggesting catchy slogans or jingles for their advertising campaigns? Somehow, I think not. And yet, parents are regularly advised on how better to do their jobs.

Now, I have a very strong support network as a new mom, and their support acts as a buffer between my ears and my brain when I receive unsolicited pareting advice. But I'm concerned for parents who don't have such a support buffer. What happens when this onslaught of advice takes root and grows into feelings of self-doubt and shame? How do they counter all the parent-blaming messages that are so prevalent in society? If it takes a village to raise a child, I think our villages need fewer advice-givers and a few more residents offering to carry our babies and wash their binkies. May we all live in a village like that.

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