The other week, Joel and I were walking with Ella through the streets of Nimbin. Nimbin is a small, country town saturated with dreadlocks, drugs and dole payments. It’s also a bit of a tourist attraction – for those very same reasons – and it was a stop-off on a drive we were doing. As we walked along, we came across a group of locals sitting outside a shop. They looked damaged and seedy. I became a little nervous as I approached them. One woman looked at us. “Want some weed?” she asked. “No thanks”, we answered pleasantly. “What about some cookies?” she said. I replied, “Ah, no, we’re fine thanks”, thinking firstly, do we look like the kind of people who eat drugs and secondly, can you not see the small child we have safely bundled in our arms? We are role models now. You clearly have not been reading the red tent’s latest blogs, sister. The woman then pointed her head towards Ella and tutted her tongue. “Isn’t she cold?” she asked me. “She should be wearing warmer clothes. You don’t want her getting sick, you know.”
I looked back at her in disbelief.
Although I said to her, “Oh, she’s fine”, what I really wanted to say was, “Really? Seriously? You as well? A skinny, grubby, bare-footed drug dealer trying to sell me pot at 11 am on a Monday morning? You too have some advice you wish to impart upon me? You too have something to say about the way I’m looking after my child? Sister, the irony is not lost on me, my friend. Not even a little bit.”
Unsolicited advice flows with abundance when you are a parent. It goes with the territory, really, and unless you live like hermits in the protection of dark and secluded caves far away from any form of civilization, you will have to find a way to deal with it on a daily basis. I’ve had people tell me how to dress my child, feed my child, and comfort my child. I’ve had people inform me what she needs to get used to, what is good for her and at what stage she’s ready to have time away from me. I’ve listened to people fix parenting problems I’ve never had. I’ve allowed to them push me into decisions I didn’t want to make.
All this time, I’ve listened with a smile on my face because I believe these people mean well. I realize that it must feel nice for experienced parents to share what they have learned. I understand that people feel nostalgic about a part of their life which is now over. I know that we humans have a strange inbuilt evolutionary reflex to want to protect children – even when they are not our own.
So I listen because it is kind to.
Because people mean well.
But I have to say, I am one more drug-dealer away from packing up my belongings – Joel and Ella included – and running into the mountains never to be found again. Suddenly it’s dawned on me that it probably won’t stop, this unsolicited advice. Toddlers, school aged children, teenagers – each new phase comes with new territory and new advice and unless I learn how to divert unwanted interference, I’m going to end up a tightly bound woman. I’m going to end up weathered and disheartened and a little on the edgy side because, quite frankly it’s getting PRETTY ANNOYING.
This post is a pledge to myself.
Firstly, to find a gentle way to say to others enough.
Secondly, to repeat to myself in breathy, rapid whispers they mean well, they mean well.
Thirdly, to break the cycle.
From now on, I vow to remember this when another mother is before me. I hope I stand to the side, watchful and smiling and bursting with solidarity. I hope my words are encouraging. I hope my voice is gentle and kind. I hope I don’t assume to know more about her child than she does.
Most of all, I hope I remember this when my daughter has children of her own. I hope I don’t barge my way through. I hope I don’t take over. I hope I don’t want to be so involved that I overlook her own experiences. As she cradles her baby in her fresh young hands, I hope I look upon her with awe. I hope I stand back and take in her every part of her adoring face. I hope I absorb every bit of emotion that floods through her eyes and explodes in the space between her and her baby. And I hope I hold that image in my mind whenever I feel like interfering. I hope I notice her love, no matter how different it may be to mine and I hope I wrap that love so tightly around my own heart that it hushes me into an admiring and humbled silence.
Because I’ve had my turn.
And now I get to watch someone I love have theirs.
“Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others”. H. Jackson Brown. Jr