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Dear Strangers, We Can’t Talk Right Now

strangersBeing out in public with your kids sure invites a lot of comments from total strangers. This took some getting used to for me, as before kids I was on the shy side and very happy to run my errands without making small talk with every person who crossed my path. But now that I run my errands with three small kids in tow, it seems like a small talk free-for-all. “Your kids are so cute. How old are they?” “My, what a happy baby! Does she sleep through the night?” “Wow! You sure have your hands full!”

I know in my heart of hearts that most of these comments are well-meaning. However, the timing of these conversations is not always ideal. While you’re asking me a million, usually quite personal questions about sleep patterns and how my kids get along with one another, my baby is about to lose it, my three-year-old is filling my cart with candy, and my five-year-old has completely disappeared. Now I also have to find a way to politely stop our conversation, and quite frankly, I’m overextended enough as it is.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for the kind comments of others, or annoyed by people showing some appreciation for the three kids that I also agree are pretty darn cute. Nor do I want my children to grow up without the social grace to carry on polite conversation. But I do have some thoughts about the best way to approach moms and kids so that the experience is the positive one that strangers intended.

Offer to help.

See me struggling with bags, kids, wallet, car seats, strollers, and doors? Ask to help while we’re talking. The answer is always yes. 

Please don’t comment on the number of kids I have (or don’t have).

When I was in the process of going through a miscarriage, a woman in the grocery store said to me, “Your children are so beautiful. You should have more.” She meant to compliment our family, but she didn’t know how much that comment hurt. I’ve also had several men say to me when I’m out with my three kids, “You do know what causes that, don’t you?” Actually, I do…and it took a while to get our family to where it is now, thank you very much. Decisions about how many kids people have are totally private and off-limits, so please keep them out of conversation.

Please don’t comment on my child’s appearance.

Maybe you notice that my daughter lost her tooth, or you think her blonde hair is beautiful, or that my babies are big or small for their ages. But just like you wouldn’t say any of those things to an adult, I think children deserve the same respect. My children don’t always know how to respond to comments about how they look because we make it a priority not to focus on their appearance. A quick you look cute/beautiful/handsome is fine. Any gushing or prying after that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Please don’t tell me to “enjoy every minute.”

I’m trying, but not every minute of life is enjoyable (no matter what you are trying to enjoy). Also, I know that life goes fast. Honestly, this comment just makes me feel sad: either I’m not enjoying life enough or I’m not realizing how quickly life goes. Neither are things I want to be reminded when I’m trying to pick out my produce.

Please be encouraging and upbeat.

I know people are often trying to be funny, but there is no comment I like less than, “Enjoy them now. Then they grow up and want nothing to do with you.” Or, “Then they grow up and they’re not so cute anymore.” I know things will be different as my children get older, but I refuse to get on board with your insistence that things will be worse. I don’t know you and you don’t know my kids, so let’s agree to disagree on this one! Instead, tell me a short cute story of what your kids used to do. We’ll both leave the conversation feeling happier.

Sometimes a smile is enough.

Make eye contact and smile knowingly when my toddler is losing it. Or smile if my kid says something funny. Or smile and wave to my baby. Sometimes a smile can be much more meaningful and effective than any words. It also has the added benefit of not distracting or stopping us when we are trying to get in and out before the window of good behavior disappears.

And finally…Sometimes we just can’t talk.

Don’t be too offended if we move on quickly. Sometimes, I’ve pushed errands into nap time, and we really have to keep moving. That blank stare you’re getting could soon turn into a tantrum that there is no turning back from.

Overall, I think it’s important for our children to be comfortable and friendly. Often, we are happy to stop and talk for a few minutes. However, if you are a stranger, and doing some of the things above, don’t be too offended if we tell you, “Sorry, we can’t talk right now.”

Are there any comments you’ve heard while you’re out with your kids that make you want to say to a stranger, “We can’t talk right now!”?

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