I held my one year old on my hip and sipped from my beer. Of course I forgot to bring my wrap today, I thought. I shifted her weight and she nuzzled her nose into my shoulder.
“It’s gorgeous out today! A great day for a party.”
“It is,” I responded, “Their house looks great!”
“You can put her down you know.”
“Yeah,” I smiled, overcompensating as I tried consciously to not look awkward. “This is what she wants right now, so she’s OK.” I glanced around for my husband, trying to spot him in one of the clumps of people scattered around the yard.
“The grass won’t hurt her!”
“Oh, I know. She actually loves the grass. There are just a lot of people here, I guess. You know how toddlers are!”
“Well if you put her down, maybe she wouldn’t be like that.”
Having a child who has always preferred co-sleeping to sleeping on her own and being held as she warms up to new situations, I have had this conversation many times now. You would think that I would have quickly developed adeptness at this confrontation, that I would have devised some snappy comebacks that make them think wow, I should mind my own business. In the conversations in my mind, which conveniently take place just after the real ones, I have. In my imagination I am poised and charming as I cite rock-solid reasoning and change their very outlook on giving unsolicited parenting advice. They thank me for the enlightenment and swear to pass it on. Confetti falls and a banner unfurls: “Congratulations!”
And yet, there I was at a friend’s party cornered by a well-intentioned person who I just could not convince that I had it under control—and I froze.
Why couldn’t I respond like the strong-minded person I normally am? Why does a public critique of my parenting always cause me to melt into myself and lean on nervous laughter? Parenting is very personal; it can highlight insecurities and shake long-standing beliefs of how it “should be.” My husband and I knew that in a few minutes my daughter would be running barefoot in the grass, chasing new friends and charming guests. No one else would know that because no else knows her the way her parents do. So this person was concerned. And that concern is construed as judgment, not just of me, but of my daughter, my choices, and the repercussions of those choices.
Not today, my friend. Not today.
I took a deep breath. “I’m surprised you feel comfortable saying that. I won’t get to hold her for very long, she wants to be held, and I want to hold her.”
“Yeah. I guess that’s true. She’s so cute, too!”
So, guys—I did it. I said what I was thinking and it felt wonderful. Standing there, no one else could see a difference, but I could feel it. I felt like the version of the parent I always want to be, one who was advocating for herself and her child. It may seem like small potatoes to many people, but to me it was big. It meant that I was gaining confidence not only in my parenting, but in myself. The decisions I make are in my and my child’s best interest. No one else knows her like I do, and that is worth something. As she gets older and I must fight for her in other realms, whether it is for her education or her health or any other arena, I will carry this with me. And that is something.