I’ve started noticing that one of my biggest pet peeves—the backhanded compliment–is taking on an entirely new form in parenthood. Before I had a baby, I would get slightly annoyed if anyone dished out one of those obnoxious excuses for a cutting remark that was thinly masked as being politely congratulatory. These days though, the backhanded compliments have reached a new height as friends, family, and even strangers on the street like to observe and comment, often leaving me speechless.
“You look great…for having given birth X months ago.”
This is typical fare for someone who has never carried a child or is decades from having done so that they simply must have forgotten how much a postpartum mom doesn’t want to talk about the state of her weight. It’s essentially like being told that you are acceptable looking for someone who is trying to shed pounds and should really just keep at it.
“You seem like such a carefree parent. You’re really not worried about anything!”
Anyone who says this seems to be saying you should be worried. In fact, you might not be doing your job as a mom if you’re not sufficiently freaking out. Even though you secretly fret over every little milestone and moment, you’re being made to feel like a bad parent for not outwardly expressing those neuroses.
“Your baby is so beautiful–she looks just like her dad.”
I’m fine with my daughter looking like her dad, but would she be any less adorable if she looked like me? Sure the people doling out this backhanded compliment have the best of intentions, but it still strikes me as odd.
“You’re so lucky your baby is never fussy.”
This is only a backhanded compliment when it comes from someone who’s been the recipient of my parent grumbling. Seriously? My baby is fussy all the time! That’s one of the challenges I’m griping about to you! Are you telling me I actually have it easy and shouldn’t complain?
“She’s adorable, even though you dress her like a boy.”
If you don’t put a bow on your baby girl, people tend to get pretty scratchy. Whether it annoys them because it’s confusing or they truly want to see every little lady in pink sparkly dresses, they’ll let you know they’re bothered. But they may open with a tiny compliment to make it seem like they’re saying something nice.
“What a unique name!”
We picked a unisex name for our daughter knowing that people might wonder where we came up with it. The remark I most often get is that it’s a unique name. It’s a diplomatic way of saying it’s not their cup of tea.
“You’re taking care of your daughter 24/7. You have to give yourself a break!”
I really don’t think this kind of talk comes from a mean-spirited place, but it feels like I’m being told I’m incapable of handling it. Yes, I’m taking care of my baby all day every day (and all night, too) but I’ll be the judge of if or when I need a break.
Whitney C. Harris is a freelance writer living in Westchester, NY. She had her first child, a daughter named Rowan, last summer. Find her at whitneycharris.com.