AWKWARD! How to deal with those awkward social situations as a parent
Baby breaking wind in a crowded café? Toddler having a meltdown in the frozen foods aisle? Here are some ways to deal with those awkward situations
Birth heralds the beginning of a strange new time in women’s lives. Not just because of the responsibility of caring for a baby and leaking dairy produce, but also because the social rule book has been ripped up, smeared with rice-cake goo, sicked up on and thrown out of the window. Motherhood is uncharted social territory – and it’s only going to get weirder. But never fear: Gurgle has all the answers…
Everyone’s an expert when you’ve had a baby, and sometimes you just want to throttle well-meaning friends and family. New mum Caroline says, ‘My mother is full of advice… but after a while, it starts to feel like criticism. I want to ask her to back off, but I worry that she’d be really hurt, and wonder if it might not just be easier for me to just suck it up.’
GURGLE TIP: Put your foot down and declare that you’re doing things your way at the outset, then life should be easier. But if you miss the chance because you’re delirious from lack of sleep and flooded with hormones, try not to get passive aggressive every time your mum mentions that she always used Sudocrem rather than Bepanthen. Believe it or not, she’s really not trying to make you cry.
NEW RULE: Of course you should say thank you to well-meaners for the advice, but you’re a big girl now and you don’t have to do what you’re told any more.
Give 'em a flash
Breastfeeding in public can go very, very wrong, as mum Katie found out during a friend’s wedding. ‘I made the genius decision to wear a dress I couldn’t breastfeed in, and had to nip to the car to feed the baby during the service,’ she says. ‘I ended up madly trying but failing to get my dress back on as the entire congregation filed out of the church past the car, all having a good look inside to see what me and my best friend were laughing so hysterically about. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I was still feeding the baby, but by this point my husband had her, so I was just a half-dressed woman in the back of a car!’
GURGLE TIP: When the wind has whisked your feeding cover up, or your baby has yanked your top down and you’ve accidentally flashed all your fellow shoppers, diners or passengers, remember that getting your boobs out in public to feed your baby isn’t just natural – it’s also rather brave.
NEW RULE: You’ve nothing to be embarrassed about. Stick your chin out and be proud.
Food for thought
Breastfeed in the vicinity of little kids and you’ll soon have an audience. New mum Becky says she drew a tiny crowd when she fed her daughter at a family barbecue. ‘They were asking what the baby was doing and I wasn’t sure what I should say.’
GURGLE TIP: Keep it simple: ‘Babies are too little to eat sausages, so mummies make milk for them in their boobs’ should satisfy their curiosity until their parents take them away. Failing that, asking them to compile a list of all the foods that babies are too young to eat is a great way to fi ll the time until you’re rescued.
NEW RULE: Most parents are happy for their children to see a breastfeeding mum and have their questions answered, so go for it.
Let's be friends
Comedian Kerry Godliman writes and stars in BBC Radio 4 comedy Kerry’s List, about her home life with children Elsie, seven, and Frank, four. She says she threw herself into the mum scene, not always with great success. ‘I only did NCT to make friends,’ she says, ‘and I was a bit gutted that I didn’t really click with anyone. I’m deeply jealous of friends who keep in touch with their group. Maybe they’re all getting together and just not inviting me! I went to every group going, and I’m fascinated by how antisocial those things can be.’
GURGLE TIP: Yes, it’s weird trying to make new friends, especially when you’re too tired to string a sentence together and you smell a bit like sick. But get down to the local baby groups, join a community Facebook mums’ page and ask people out for coffee. And if you don’t want to pursue a friendship, a new baby is a very good excuse for cancelling plans…
NEW RULE: There are no rules, Pounce, overshare, invite strange women to come over for cake.
It’s always awkward when a friend has made the effort to come over and see your new baby, moves in for a cuddle, and the baby starts to scream like they’re being handed over to the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
GURGLE TIP: It’s time to wheel out that parenting classic, ‘She honestly isn’t usually like this!’ followed by platitudes including, ‘We had a bad night’; ‘I think he’s teething’ and ‘She really likes you, I can tell!’ as you stretch out your aching baby-carrying arm and enjoy a lovely sit-down.
NEW RULE: Lie through your teeth. Never tell a friend, ‘She’s probably terrified because you’re holding her like she’s an unexploded bomb, you’re wearing enough aftershave to knock out a herd of marauding elephants and, to be honest, everyone’s a little bit scared of that moustache.’
As they find out more about their bodies, children can’t wait to show them off to, well, everyone. You don’t want to tell them off for being so proud of the bits they’re only just learning about, but you’d really rather your three-year-old wasn’t running around shouting, ‘Look at my noo-noo!’
But, says Kerry, you might get a new friend out of it all. ‘My son Frank’s friend and his mum had come over. Frank went off to the loo and started wobbling around saying, “I’m playing the willy banjo!” I didn’t really know the other mum that well, but fortunately she laughed. She texted me later saying her son was now playing the willy banjo, and made a joke about how he must get it from his father. It’s a good way of deciding whether people are going to be keepers, although it’s a slightly awkward one to wheel out as a friends test!’
GURGLE TIP: Keep smiling as you mutter through gritted teeth, ‘It’s just a phase.’
NEW RULE: Don’t feel obliged to pretend that you’re horrified. Yes, it’s embarrassing but, come on, it’s funny too!
Dealing with a puking child in your own home might feel like a DEFCON 1 situation, but when they do it somewhere else it’s a whole new level of hell. Mum Kirsty recalls with horror, ‘We were house-hunting when my then two-year-old vomited in the middle of the lounge. Needless to say it was highly embarrassing, especially as the young estate agent showing us around clearly didn’t have kids, or know what to say or do! We didn’t buy that house in the end… ’
GURGLE TIP: Apologise profusely for the mess, never go anywhere without a bag full of baby wipes and offer to pay for any dry-cleaning that may be required.
NEW RULE: It’s up to others to be graceful and understanding – you shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed about it. Just make sure you don’t join in!
Little ones may look like angels but, by golly, they know how to let rip. Mum Katy recalls, ‘I was sitting in a very quiet café with my then eight-month-old baby, waiting for a friend. The minute we settled down, the baby did a simply enormous parp and, by the looks on their faces, everyone thought it must have been me – because this sweet little baby couldn’t possibly produce a sound as loud as that!’
GURGLE TIP: Looking directly at the baby and pulling a horrified face should make the message clear who’s responsible.
NEW RULE: Blame for all gaseous expulsions and whiffs should be laid squarely at the booties of the perpetrator.
Public tantrums and theatrics are among some of the more excruciating aspects of the world of parenting. Says Clare, ‘My son went through a phase, when he was about 18 months old, of fake choking! It was very embarrassing in the queue in a supermarket as everyone would turn to stare at him.’
GURGLE TIP: Remember that most people aren’t judging you – they’re just relieved that they’re not having to deal with a public toddler meltdown themselves. Simply smile, shrug and repeat the mantra, ‘I am an awesome mother’ as you pick yourself up a treat on the way home.
NEW RULE: Apologising for the racket is only polite, of course, but remember that tantrums are not your fault. And if anyone suggests that you should keep your child at home, feel free to suggest creative ways in which they could clear off.
Watching a baby evolve into a child is an extraordinary thing. Within weeks they’re smiling, in months they’re on the move, and in a few short years they’re insulting complete strangers. If only tact was a part of their fundamental development. Kerry remembers, ‘My son said very loudly that a man in a café looked like a troll. To be fair, he did look just like the troll in his Three Billy Goats Gruff book. It was mortifying. You know when your voice goes really high? I was saying, “Oh, Frank, stop being silly!” I just didn’t know how to handle it. You can’t apologise because that just makes it worse. I felt more British than I’ve ever felt in my life – I was just paralysed.’
GURGLE TIP: Simply smile your broadest smile and run away. But remember: revenge is a dish best served cold. Whether it’s their 18th birthday or their wedding, this is all really great material for a speech.
NEW RULE: If you say sorry, you only risk endorsing whatever horrifying truth your child has come out with. Retreating and feigning deafness are the only dignified options for all parties.