"To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn't know what to do or that he can't do it on his own."
~~ John GrayIt's not a new problem, I've heard parents of every type and experience talk about dealing with unsolicited advice. With that said, I do think Full-Time Dads see this phenomenon a little more than Moms. People see a father with a child and immediately assume it is just a "day out with Daddy" or that Mom is sick or even deceased. Yes, I have been asked if my wife is deceased before as that explanation would apparently, at the least, provide some sanity to a crazy world where bumbling idiots like me are allowed to care for toddlers. It is a common assumption that fathers are inattentive and incapable of properly caring for a child despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of us do it every day right here in the US of A.
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Another time, a beauty product clerk in a department store asked me as I walked by with J. Bean if there was a baby sleeping in the stroller I was pushing. Yes, I replied, hoping no more conversation was necessary as I didn't want to wake said baby. You see, I had a light blanket tossed over the stroller creating a block for the light while being sufficiently ventilated. Unfortunately, the woman couldn't help herself; she asked me if the baby could breathe in there. What type of reaction is appropriate to that question? "Baby's need air?!", "Probably not, but I'm in a hurry right now", "Where is the men's department?" I had no idea how to respond to it, so I didn't.
Other examples abound. A Dad friend of mine, Philosophical Dad (aka P.HDaddy), recently shared a story with me about riding the blue line with his near two-year old daughter, Abby. It was a cold day in Chicago and P.HDaddy and Abby were making their way downtown. Apparently, Abby wished to be rid of her gloves and jacket once they boarded the train. P.HDaddy acquiesced to this request, having already assessed his surroundings and deciding the temperature and conditions within the car were acceptable for his daughter and knowing that he would exit the train underground and walk through a heated pedway to his destination. In other words, he did what all good parents do; he made a decision which was most likely to result in the best outcomes for his travel with his daughter. He considered the options on many different levels (emotional and physical well-being, irritability, time of travel, path of travel, layers of regular clothing, past experience, etc...). The "advice" in this instance came from an elderly woman who spoke no English (although she was obviously fluent in the international theory of Daddy Incompetence). This matriarch would not let a simple language barrier keep her from making P.HDaddy aware that toddlers actually need to be sheltered from the elements. P.HDaddy had actually already put Abby's coat on in preparation for the indoor walk through temperatures that might dip to 65, but this woman was about to lose her mind because he had neglected to put gloves on the poor child. P.HDaddy, knew right away she was just flinging T.U.R.D.'s so he did the right thing and walked away.
The insults can always get worse and I'm sure I haven't been exposed to the worst of them yet, though a guy did get under my skin the other day. I was in the pedway with J. Bean, having just danced to the music of our favorite pedway performer we were heading home when we approached a revolving door. Keep in mind, J. Bean and I walk this route frequently. I am aware of the nooks and crannies of the pedway and my daughter is no stranger to the hazards of the pedestrian walk-ways of the city. Now, I occasionally utilize the skill I see in so many other good parents which is that ability to talk with someone or attend to a small task while being completely aware of my child's location, placement, arm-reach, sprint radius prior to capture, incoming objects and people, choking hazards, things and people she might be afraid of and of course my special spidey-sense for the unpredicted danger is sharply honed. In this case, I had turned to say goodbye to the guitarist, with J. Bean in my peripheral, as we approached a revolving door. J. Bean stopped a safe distance away to wait for me and to find out if we were going through the spinner or if I would open the regular door, as I often do. Meanwhile, a few people came through the door, most greeted loudly by J. Bean. Then an older businessman came through and put his hands down as if he were trying to herd cats. I guess J. Bean was too close to the door for his liking. By this time, I was asking J. Bean to head to the regular door and she was complying but the man thought she was heading for the revolver still... she wasn't. He starts shaking his head and spouting at the mouth about how I need to pay attention and how J. Bean is in imminent danger and going off on a general diatribe about my idiocy... I'm proud to say I didn't say a word. We just continued on our merry way. Why should I stop and justify myself to this man who probably spent less time with his kids in a year than I spend with J. Bean in a month? This man who if asked, wouldn't know J. Bean's age or if she can talk, but presumes to know her behavioral quirks and physical capabilities better than me? Oh yeah, and don't forget that little piece of the equation which is "daddy's presence"... does he really think my situational awareness is that poor? I'm an investigator by trade and I already noticed your socks don't match, your eyes are brown, you are about 50 years old and a smoker, you stand about 5 foot 8 and weigh approximately 185 pounds, your blue striped tie is outdated and crooked, your nose was once broken (probably for giving unsolicited advice), your hair is dyed, your briefcase handle is held together with electric tape, you smell of Brut aftershave and you are within sippy cup slinging range of my daughter now which is about as close as I am comfortable with. In fact, I'm officially slightly more concerned about you than I am about the door at this point, but that still doesn't mean I'm not close enough to jam the door with my foot if necessary and/or pull J. Bean to safety if a roving band of skateboarders come flying into the passage hell bent on trampling unprotected babies... but I say nothing. I just nod knowingly and keep my attention on what is important, this little wonder who is walking through the door and calling back to the performer "Take care, Bill. See ya soon!", she hasn't a care in the world (and rightly so, because Daddy is always looking out for her)... why should I taint her day with a retributive rant directed at this tool belt?
So what should we say to strangers when they feel the need to offer us unsolicited (and often bad or misguided) advice about our children? The best thing to say is nothing at all or a simple "Thank you". It is just easier for all involved that way and I'm not in to getting angry in front of my daughter or subjecting her to interactions with that type of person any more than necessary. I'm certainly not without character flaws and a temper of my own though and I know that given the correct mix of a bad morning, a rude meddler, lack of sleep or caffeine and a sick kid and I'll probably say something one day... but I will check myself and won't let my temper flare when I say it because I try to remember that Mom's and Dad's are not allowed to have bad days. The little ones we raise are watching and learning from us how to interact with others. If I do have a weak moment though, I've got my line prepared for delivery with a smile: "Do you think you love and care for my child more than I do?... What's that? No? OK then, thanks for your concern, but I've got this under control and it's not my first day as a father believe it or not."
I was thinking of ordering one of these shirts from Zazzle.com to help with the problem: