Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Was it something I said?:

Pregnancy and childbirth doesn’t simply change us, our partners and our family and friends. Perhaps it’s the universal protection instinct. Perhaps it’s curiosity. Maybe it’s love or concern for you or your child. But it appears that being pregnant, giving birth, and having a child loosens the usual social boundaries.
By Jen Dobbie
Date: June 15 2012
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On the one hand, there are those moments when you catch people staring happily at your belly or your baby. Women and men, young and old alike.

Sometimes they progress to your face, and start a conversation. Sometimes, they are content simply to have stared and smiled. Initially I found it odd, and even quite confronting – after all, my mum taught me it’s rude to stare at people. So I was somewhat unused to being stared at myself.

But as my belly got bigger and rounder, I grew used to the stares, and enjoyed the chats. Eventually, it became one of the nicest parts of my pregnancy. It seemed to soften other people, and to soften me, too.

By the time I was due, I’d changed from someone who went around the supermarket with my head down, scanning the list, to someone who stopped and chatted to the person staring at my belly. And it’s carried on now – when I have our daughter with me in her carrier, we often stop and have conversations with people in the shops or on the street. It’s turned the place we live, into our community, our home. It’s lovely.

On the other hand, it appears that, as soon as you are visibly pregnant, it becomes acceptable for strangers (and friends) to tell you in no uncertain terms what you should or shouldn’t be doing for the benefit of your child.

Case in point, last weekend. Being obsessively organised, when I leave the house, I take with me a nappy bag. It contains what I assume are the usual baby accoutrements – nappies, change mat, wipes, bib, change of clothes for our daughter and so on. Thus prepared, we arrived early to meet a friend for lunch, about an hour from home.

As we got out of the car, I noticed my little girl had a leaking nappy, and was able to provide her not only with a clean bum and nappy, but a change of clothes, too. You might say I was feeling a small sense of mum based achievement as I pottered happily along the street.

As I made my way round the stalls of the vintage market, I stopped to chat to a couple of grandmotherly stallholders. After cooing and expressing their opinion that my daughter was beautiful, they asked how old she was. So I told them – nearly four months.

They looked at each other, made a silent agreement that they should say something, as I am so new to this, and told me I should pop some socks on her. (I should explain that her first outfit of the day had leggings with little feet – the second outfit, no feet. So her feet were indeed bare. But it was an unusually warm day, and I was holding her feet as they dangled from the carrier on my chest, so I knew they were warm.) I thanked them for their comment, and said not to worry, her feet were pretty warm. I thought no more of it, and continued happily on my way.

By the time my friend arrived ten minutes later, three other people had told me to put socks, or shoes, on our daughter. Well, I say they’d told me. In reality, one of them did, and the others muttered it to each other, just loud enough for me to hear. It was accompanied by the sort of look you might give someone who had taken a naked baby out into a snowstorm.

The piece de la resistance was an American lady, actually shouting at me down the street “YOU SHOULD PUT SOME SHOES ON THAT BABY!!!” As she was the fifth person, I had unfortunately lost some of my cool. I said, quite loudly that she should keep her opinions to herself.

This is only the most recent example, and perhaps I only used it because it ended with me losing my manners, too. But to cut myself some lack, it has been building for a while now.

For a year I’ve been the surprised, then resigned recipient of lectures by everyone from casual acquaintances to close friends and family.

It seems that what I do or don’t eat or drink, where we have chosen to live, how much I weigh and how much my husband and I earn are all going to have some kind of negative impact on our daughter.

I’ve also had strangers quiz me on our sex life, asked (within 24 hours of having a baby) when we plan to have another child, and been told my inability to breastfeed was all in my mind.

I’m not the world’s most tactful person. In fact I took up yoga largely to ease the removal of my foot from my mouth. Added to that, I’m also in possession of a few opinions, which I’m not afraid to share with my nearest and dearest.

However, due largely to the efforts of my mother, and also as a benefit of growing older, I like to think I am generally capable of knowing when it simply isn’t okay to say something.

Of course, there are moments when we see a friend rasing their child in a way we disagree with. And most of these times, we don’t say anything.

When we do, I think it’s as much about understanding the difference of approach as much as it is a criticism. But these are people we know, from whom we learn, and for whom we have trust and respect.

We know their circumstances, background and beliefs. And we share enough of them that we have chosen to form a friendship. For me, that’s what makes it ok to sometimes ask, to sometimes question.

Despite the softening of my character that pregnancy and motherhood have brought about, I still find it hard to be criticised by strangers.  But I have a feeling that as a mother, it’s something I’ll get used to. And I think it might be ok.

Because for every person who takes the time to stop and tell me I’m doing something wrong, there seem to be two who tell me how beautiful or smiley our daughter is, or how happy a baby she seems. And I can live with that.


As well as being a mum, Jen is a freelance writer. Find her online at or email her at
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6 Total Comments
Gemma C says: 2012 06 15

This article really made me laugh.  It brought back so many similar instances of being told ‘what I should do’.  Breast feeding is best cause it’s natural vs bottle feeding is better cause you know what they’re getting, give the baby solids before 4mths vs don’t give them solids till 6mths, they’re sleeping too much vs they’re sleeping too little, bath every second day vs every day - in other words - Blah blah blah blah.  If I followed everyone’s advice I would have ended up chopping and changing my poor kids way of doing things every second day.  There are people out there that know more than me - I’m sure.  Being a mother of two youngies (18mths and 4mths) and I know that there is alot to learn.  However, the people giving advice sometimes forget that they too were inexperienced mums once who put their heart and their sole into doing the best for their children - and probably did what the rest of us do.  Fumble around in the dark till we find something that is good for our individual offspring.  Thanks for the advice lovely ladies out there - but the reason we DON’T put butter on burns anymore is because that’s not the best thing.  Times have changed grin

Jayne says: 2012 06 17

Very funny, particularly the look from the old ladies like you’d taken your baby ‘out in a snowstorm’! As the mother of an 19month old, I wish I could tell you that the unsolicited advice and outpouring of opinions only gets worse from here on I’m sorry to say!
As my daughter continues down what i believe the most challenging phase of parenthood so far, I’m surprised to find myself feeling more and more stigmatised and judged in recent months by complete strangers during several of my daughters very public ‘meltdowns’. During a flight recently, as the plane began its descent, my happy little girl turned into a screaming, violent banshee as she was forced to sit restrained on my lap. Even I was shocked as 15 minutes of hair pulling, scratching and screams ensued. Without my partner there to share in the joys of this moment, I had to bite my lip and surrender to the sheer humiliation of it all. To be honest, most of the time these parenting moments are so beyond our control it’s almost comical. What was more disappointing however was the older chap sat next to me- how much I would have appreciated a sympathetic smile or a ‘kids,eh?!’ sort of expression! Instead I had to endure several disdainful glares thrown my way followed by a very deliberate, huffy, putting in of ear plugs!
My favourite comment though has to be the male cashier in a department store the other day- my daughter was having a mini-tantrum (I’d say a modest 5 on the tantrum rictor scale) as I calmly paid for my purchases. The male cashier stared down his nose and asked, in a horrified tone ‘what’s…(dramatic pause)...WRONG with her?’‘.!!
Thanks for another really thought provoking article Jen, keep them coming!

JayJay says: 2012 06 18

An appropriate response to the ladies who forced there unwanted opinions on you could have been, “I’ll pop booties on my baby if you strap on a muzzle.”
What was probably more ridiculous is knowing your daughter she was probably smiling away at everyone, looking very happy and content, not cold and miserable at all.
The upside is that because we’re mums and usually tired and or emotional we have an excuse when someone crosses the line and we lose out manners at them.

Megs says: 2012 06 19

I always think it is more fun to make a joke of it and go for shock value as a diversion eg you could have said “gosh her socks always seem to fall off when we go on the motorbike… I must remember to get some much tighter ones.. thanks for letting me know”... and then walk away.  If they are going to talk about you, you may as well make it interesting wink

Fiona says: 2012 06 20

Very well observed article,funny and honest. As a grandmother I have to agree that it is confusing and difficult to deal with the multitudes of information, advice, unsolicited opinions etc. Let me assure new mums that as you get older and more experienced with your own child these experiences really have less power.
Maybe these women are taking way too much to heart the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child” especially when they decide they are part of your village when they are clearly not.!
Mothers need support not criticism just as much now and as they always have

Amanda says: 2012 06 22

Jen, your article is just the tip of the iceberg! It was great to read and feel reassured that as a new mum I am not the only one feeling the frustration of unwanted opinions, and finding it hard to refrain from losing my manners!

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