Posted by: Jamie Stamm | August 14, 2008

If you don’t have anything nice to say …

I think one of the worst parts of being a mom is the unsolicited advice.

That’s not to say that I haven’t gained some true pearls of wisdom from friends and family over the past five years, because I certainly have. And even when the advice has been something that is completely opposite of the way I want to raise my children, it has for the most part been well-intentioned.

What bothers me are the mean-spirited comments and criticism from strangers that are intended to make you look – or feel – like a bad parent.

The first time I experienced this was when Cera was just a few months old. We took her to her first UNC basketball game, and despite the cheering in the Smith Center, my sweet baby girl fell fast asleep toward the end of the second half. I didn’t know if she just needed a nap or if the heat had made her drowsy (if you’ve ever sat in the upper rows of the Dean Dome, you know it can be a sauna, even in the dead of winter). Either way, her cheeks were pretty flushed when we walked out into the cool afternoon air, so I refrained from putting a hat on her. If she got cold, I figured I could use the blanket she was wrapped in to cover her head.

As we waited for a bus to take us back to the park-and-ride lot, an older woman (I would put her age somewhere between my mom and my grandmom) felt the need to browbeat me in front of dozens of other fans.

“Where is that baby’s hat?” she practically screamed at me. “That baby should not be outside in this cold without a hat!”

I was humiliated.

“It was hot inside …” I started, flipping the blanket over Cera’s head.

But as she stood there looking at me, with a smug smile on her face, I realized she didn’t really care about my baby’s well-being. All she had hoped to do was make herself look like a better person – or at least a better parent – than me.

Slowly but surely, my humiliation turned to anger. I bit my tongue and turned away from her, but – with hormones still coursing through my post-baby body – broke down in tears when we got to the car.

It’s been years since that afternoon, but I still get angry when I think about it. It may have made me a tougher mom, though, because I’ve reached the point where I can ignore most of the critical things other people direct my way . Like today …

Cera mentioned before bed last night that her right ear hurt, and it was obviously bothering her as she ate breakfast this morning. Going on my mom instinct, I was pretty sure she had swimmer’s ear. As a former year-round swimmer, I recognized the symptoms: she had pain in just one ear that had been intensifying gradually and that hurt most when she was lying down or there was some sort of pull on her ear, such as eating. She was having trouble hearing, but she wasn’t running a fever.

If it was me suffering the same symptoms, I probably would have tried to treat it myself with over-the-counter ear drops, but this was my 5-year-old daughter, so I felt better taking her to the doctor.

Cera said she felt well enough to go to school, and since she wasn’t suffering from anything contagious, I let her go.

I called the pediatricians’ office as soon as it opened this morning, and the receptionist said she could fit us in at 9:15 a.m. I asked for a later appointment, though, explaining that Cera wouldn’t get out of school until 2:50 p.m.

“You sent her to school with an ear infection?” she asked, not even trying to mask her disapproval.

It was the same tone that nasty woman at UNC had used years ago.

“Yes,” I said. “She’s not running a fever …”

And then I stopped trying to explain myself. Why argue with someone who already had formed her opinion of my parenting skills? She didn’t need or want to hear the story.

“So when can the doctor see us?” I asked.

Cera had her appointment at 3:45 this afternoon.


Swimmer’s ear.



  1. We were stopped in traffic in Amsterdam one blustery winter day, with my baby sister in an American-style carseat in the front of our truck. The seat was one of those handy do-it-all deals, it could convert to a rocker, a stroller, a little basket carrier thingy, you know — all that baby stuff.

    An old lady raps on the door with her gloved finger.

    “The baby, she cannot be in that!” she says, discerning our nationality by our US Military license plate.

    My parents tried their best to explain that it was in fact a carseat, NOT merely a carrier. My parents demonstrated how it was buckled in, etc…

    She wasn’t convinced. And boy, was she pissed off.

    The point of that extremely long comment…

    People love to pretend like they know what they’re talking about, no matter what country you’re in.

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