F. experienced it initially when our daughter was just a few weeks old.
Although still not entirely confident taking a newborn out and about in early October, F. thought that meeting a good friend for coffee in the local area would be a nice trip out for her and the baby. As my wife walked along the street with her friend, V. in her arms, a passing woman said to her in no uncertain terms ‘That baby ought to be wrapped up better’. The busybody continued walking on, leaving F. stunned.
Later on, F.’s response was to be more upset than shocked. And we were astonished and angry that anyone should be that presumptive. Neither of us could understand how that woman could possible justify giving that advice in such a way. Correction: criticism, not advice. We tried to brush it off. But on subsequent trips out with the baby, I could see F.’s confidence affected and doubt would flash into her mind about her decisions.
No one told us about this kind of thing happening. And I’ve certainly not read anything in any of our baby books. But as soon as you say this to other parents, the stories come out. I mentioned F.’s high street encounter to a client, a mother of three who lives in Primrose Hill. And she happily told me of an experience she’d had when out with her youngest daughter one evening. A complete stranger had said to her “You should be at home by now, you stupid cow”. Years later, this incident was now a family joke. But, for those of you who are expecting your first baby, I can tell you it’s not funny at the time. And it really is hard to believe just how prevalent this activity is.
Up until a couple of months ago, I had not directly experienced this phenomenon. I had started to think that perhaps strangers wagging fingers was a gender-issue: mum’s being seen as soft-targets for the opinionated. But one afternoon in John Lewis, I had a mild, passive-aggressive swipe taken at me whilst queuing to return a kettle.
I was waiting in the Electricals department for service. V. was strapped to my front in her baby carrier, dozing. Although we were indoors, she still had her warm coat on as it was February and I hadn’t anticipated being in a queue for quite so long. Getting served at the reception desk in front of me was a well-spoken woman in her fifties, trying to get a spare part for her fridge. As a harassed staff member made a couple of phone calls on her behalf, she turned to look at my daughter. With a smile, she nodded to V.’s coat, ‘she’ll be warm in that’.
So, basically we can’t win. The baby’s either too cold or too hot. My advice is that, should this happen to you, ignore them.