rosefox: A giant X and the word "IRRITANT". (annoyed)
Rose Fox ([personal profile] rosefox) wrote2016-06-06 11:01 pm

"Give it an understanding, but no tongue"

I am getting really tired of people asking "Boy or girl?" and "Is this your first?" and "How are you sleeping?" and have also been caught without suitable alternatives when meeting other people's babies. So here, have two lists of useful, appropriate, non-intrusive things to say when someone (EDIT: by which I meant someone you don't know well--apologies for not making that clear!) tells you they have a baby, introduces you to the baby, or shows you pictures of the baby. If you feel totally lost when confronted with babies, memorize these lists and you will come off like the world's #1 baby fan.

1) Statements. Statements are great! They make no assumptions at all--they don't even assume that the parent is the biological parent, or is happy to be a parent (that day or at all)--and don't require the parent to give you information that might turn out to be way more personal than you (or they) want. Statements can also be made directly to the baby, which further reduces the risk of asking accidentally inappropriate questions or hearing discomfiting anecdotes from parents given to TMI.
  • "Congratulations/mazel tov/that's wonderful!"
  • "What a cutie!"
  • "Oh gosh, so adorable!"
  • "That's a great outfit!"
  • "Look at all that hair/that bald little head!"
  • "Look at those smishable cheeks!"
  • "What long fingers/toes!"
  • "ELBOW DIMPLES OMG" (Seriously, you are permitted and encouraged to be loudly impressed by any visible part of the baby, because literally every part of a baby is, by definition, cute.)
  • "Aw, you're getting sleepy."
  • "Aw, you're a little shy. That's okay, kiddo, you're not required to make friends."
  • "Wow, what a smile!"
  • "You're making noises with your mouth! That's so cool!"
  • "You just cooed/farted/grabbed that toy! Yes you did!" (This sort of babble sounds like nonsense but it really is part of how babies learn to identify objects and actions.)
  • "Who's the cutest baby in the immediate vicinity? It's you!" (Asking and answering rhetorical questions teaches babies the patterns of conversation. I'm not making this up.)
  • "What a strong grip! Ha ha, guess you want to take my finger home with you!" (You washed your hands before touching the baby, right? Good.)
In essence, you are agreeing that the baby is a baby, and approving of the baby's baby-like qualities. You really can't go wrong with this.

2) Minimally invasive questions. Any question is going to put the parent on the spot a bit, but these at least avoid the possibility of answers involving infertility, miscarriage, life-threatening labor complications, and the like.
  • "What's the baby's name?"
  • "When was the baby born/how old is the baby?" (Do not follow this up with a comment on the baby being big or small for their age, or on expected milestones.)
  • "What's the latest exciting thing the baby learned to do?"
  • "Can I do anything for you?"
  • "I'd love to give you a present for the baby--is there anything you especially want or need?"
  • "I've/we've got a baby on the way--any advice or recommendations?"
  • "May I come over and babysit sometime?"
Topics to avoid, unless you are a close personal friend of the parent and they have indicated that such topics are fair game (because obviously these aren't things that one may never talk about, but they need to be handled with some care and context matters a lot):
  • The baby's health (including eating, sleeping, and digestion), size, personality, intelligence, or well-being.
  • The parents' health, weight/size (yes, people make comments about the bodies of people who've given birth, it's terrible and disgusting), age, mood, parenting skills, or well-being.
  • Labor and delivery. Even if you've given birth yourself and are well equipped to offer support and sympathy over a hard labor, hesitate before asking someone to recall what may have been a traumatic experience.
  • The process of procreation, including plans for any frozen eggs, sperm, or embryos.
  • The process of adoption, guardianship, or fostering, or anything regarding the baby's birth family.
  • Existing or future siblings.
  • The baby's assigned gender or genital anatomy.
  • The baby's race, citizenship, or ethnic heritage.
  • The baby's intelligence or achievements.
  • Comparing the baby with their age cohort or with any other individual child in any way.
  • Plans for the baby's education.
  • Plans for the baby's religious upbringing/education or lack thereof.
  • Plans for childcare.
  • The baby's future profession or accomplishments.
Folks with kids, feel free to let me know what you think I should add to any of these lists!
mrissa: (Default)

[personal profile] mrissa 2016-06-07 11:23 am (UTC)(link)
Does your "existing or future sibling" comment apply if the existing sibling is right there, or are you merely trying to head people off at the pass with, "You're going to give baby a little brother, right? Only children are the worst," or, "You're not going to have another one are you? at your age?" or "How many do you have? Oh my God do you know what causes it?" comments.

I do tend to say to elder siblings, "People talk about the baby a lot, huh?" and then if they don't interrupt me to tell me twelve things about the baby, segue into a comment that is age-appropriate and appropriate to the level I know them.

Yesterday I saw my doctor. She is 39.5 weeks pregnant, or was yesterday at 9:00 a.m. She may not be now! And I said, "Good luck, I hope delivery goes well for you guys." And then I stopped talking. And she relaxed visibly, and I realized that a great many people think that because she looks at their ears and genitals and tells them to wear sunblock, they are people who know each other. I don't get to know her baby's prospective name or sex or how pregnancy has gone for her or anything like that! If we were friends, I would not have discovered that she was 39.5 weeks pregnant when I turned up for my physical! But the relief was palpable.

One of my favorite baby comments when the baby is distinctly not sleepy is, "Look at those bright eyes! You're just taking it all in, aren't you? Got a lot of world to figure out!" Because this is baby's job (hell, it's still my job now) but does not either presume developmental milestone/intelligence or focus on beauty. I know some beautiful babies. I really try not to say so. Sometimes it takes parents aback when they show me a picture of their grade school child and I comment on the kid looking self-possessed or focused or something that is not "pretty/cute." But I feel like once the kid is conversational age, cute comes to have different meaning to the kid's ear even when I mean it substantially behaviorally or, I don't know how to put it, non-hierarchically, and...I would like to be an adult who has a different focus.

With a baby, "what a cutie" mostly still does not mean "how well your child fits a narrow cultural standard of beauty." It's so nice for awhile. I wish I could still say to my friends with 10-year-olds, "What a cutie," and have them hear, "how their personality shines through, what great faces they make."
likeaduck: A Vespa motorscooter with giraffe print paint job. "Vespa" logo appears in black behind the scooter. (Default)

[personal profile] likeaduck 2016-06-07 04:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Also curious about the advice against discussing existing siblings! My impulse is often to also discuss siblings when I run out of baby things to say ("How's Ava btw, still really into boats?") but like is it rude to ignore the baby? Or are we talking about avoiding "how does Ava like having a new baby around?"?
avivasedai: (Default)

Good list.

[personal profile] avivasedai 2016-06-07 06:04 pm (UTC)(link)
Identifying emotions works, too: You look very happy! That looks like a grumpy face! What a frown! (All in a pretty cheery voice, of course, because talking to a strange baby never works well with any other voice.)

If I know the parent, for instance a coworker bringing their baby to work to show off, I will go with "You're looking well!" or/as well as "nice stroller/diaper bag" or something. Making that purchasing decision is a big deal!

I do like "what's the baby's latest new trick?"

It is definitely no-one else's business when or if we're having another, but it's the most common question and it is bordering on personal. It's right up there with being asked AT OUR WEDDING when we're having our first. It got to the point that I told a friend "you need to stop asking us because you're basically asking me when I plan to have sex next and I don't feel comfortable with that." He backed off immediately and apologized.
avivasedai: (Default)

Re: Good list.

[personal profile] avivasedai 2016-06-07 07:02 pm (UTC)(link)

We have found friends and support networks who think outside of themselves. I think that most of society does not think outside of their silos, whether that's in their professional spheres (as is rampant in academia, my surroundings) or their personal ones ("I'm cis, hetero, WASP, monogamous, all my assumptions shall come from that paradigm"). They only want the best for you, but they assume what the best is. They're not mean, they mean well, isn't that enough for everyone?!

I could go on, but I know I'm preaching to the choir. sigh

ailbhe: (Default)

Re: Good list.

[personal profile] ailbhe 2016-06-17 10:20 pm (UTC)(link)
People used to ask me when we were having our second when I was basically still mincemeat down there. Which was for about a year, anyway.
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)

[personal profile] ironed_orchid 2016-06-08 04:51 am (UTC)(link)
This is a good list.

Thinking about what I usually say when customers come in with a baby... I often ask "How old are they?" At which point the parent usually genders the baby. If it's anything over 6 months, I then say something about how the world is full of things to discover at that age. If younger and still tiny, I might say something about how they're working hard on growing, which needs lots of food and sleep. If the baby or toddler is restless or fussing, I say something about how I some days I feel like I need an afternoon nap to get through the day.
ironed_orchid: pin up girl reading kant (Default)

[personal profile] ironed_orchid 2016-06-08 04:56 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks! I've been working there a long time, and we most days we have at least a couple of people with with kids in strollers or slings. But getting to hear about experiences from parents like you really helps, as does spending time with my niblings and friends' kids.

[identity profile] ethelmay.livejournal.com 2016-06-09 04:59 am (UTC)(link)
Other things not to say: "Why are you not old enough to date?" (yes, my son got that one at about eight or ten months old). Of twins: "Which one is dominant?" "Do they have a psychic bond?" (that one I answered, "How would I know?" as they were too young to talk) A question that is okay but will make you look silly: "Is it identical or fraternal that look alike?" (Seriously, in any other context people surely know what "identical" means, but when it becomes a Medical Term their brains appear to freeze.)

You've probably heard the story about the minister who always said, with great enthusiasm, "Well, now, that is a baby!", invariably delighting the parents.

[identity profile] ashnistrike.livejournal.com 2016-06-12 06:24 pm (UTC)(link)
For anything that sounds a little awkward to de-gender in the third person, I just talk to the baby: "What's your name? How old are you?" The parent will answer; no one is ever confused.

Making faces is always good. Until I was constantly carting around my own baby, I didn't realize how wonderful it would be when a stranger acts entertaining while we're stuck in line.

[identity profile] browngirl.livejournal.com 2016-06-07 06:46 am (UTC)(link)
This is an excellent list.

[identity profile] vschanoes.livejournal.com 2016-06-07 02:48 pm (UTC)(link)
These lists are good. Some of these hadn't occurred to me--as a good Jewish woman, I often say "What a good, fat baby!" and I only ever mean well by it, but unless I KNOW it's OK, I guess I should stop.

I would say that pretend conversations with the baby are good: "Oh, I see you're wearing purple! Is that your favorite color? [pretend to listen] It is! It's mine, too!" and so on. That teaches them the rhythm of conversation. Plus, it's fun.
ext_45721: Rabbit lying on a couch, reading large, antique book of Poe. (gumshoe winnar!)

[identity profile] caudelac.livejournal.com 2016-06-07 04:44 pm (UTC)(link)
/APPLAUSE

[identity profile] amaebi.livejournal.com 2016-06-07 11:05 pm (UTC)(link)
I dream of the day when a cheery "Fuck you" is considered a perfectly reasonable response.

[identity profile] amadea.livejournal.com 2016-06-08 03:32 pm (UTC)(link)
"Give it an understanding, but no tongue"
Hey - this* is not something I'm cool with being asked for. I'm really grateful for the friendship you've offered me over the years, but I'm not going to follow this journal anymore, because the kind of constraints you'd like to place on what is and is not said, to you and others, is starting to feel uncomfortable enough to me that it's not something I want to be exposed to in this context. I hope you understand and please feel free to write to me offline if you want to talk about it further.

*I read it as: understand what your experience is, but have no voice of my own.
Edited 2016-06-08 15:32 (UTC)

[identity profile] silkensteel.livejournal.com 2016-06-08 11:07 pm (UTC)(link)
There is a hard one, and it turns out i handled it right, but you also raise some excellent points.

While visiting with friends and their toddler (i hadn't met the toddler yet, she was an unexpected and then welcome surprise to the parents, who having had no experience with babies or kids, were kind of living in a milestone vacuum) i noticed some very clear (to me) early signs of autism. The classic signs I had with Mariel - no eye contact, no "checking in" patterns while she played at the playground, no vocalization but very musical humming repeated over and over, smooth angelic face with no expressive reactions.

After an hour or so of seeing no change, i apologized profusely in advance for "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" thinking, and pointed out my observations. The dad affirmed my observations, thanked me, said he'd talk to the pediatrician at her next visit. Turns out yes, she was falling behind on milestones, and they got her into OT right away. She is officially diagnosed now as on the spectrum, and after years of needed intervention is doing very well.

How would you include "see a clear indication of (something) but afraid of being rude or intrusive" on your list?

[identity profile] eneit.livejournal.com 2016-06-09 04:13 am (UTC)(link)
Sometimes when I see a new mum in the shops and she's obviously struggling, I will deliberately make eye contact, and make one of the statements such as you've listed above about her child. I finish by telling the mother I think she's doing a great job, and then move away so she doesn't have to respond.
ailbhe: (Default)

[personal profile] ailbhe 2016-06-09 09:51 am (UTC)(link)
I do this, and if the situation is really awful - parent and baby both crying, groceries all over the floor, etc - I say "would it help if I helped?" or offer to hold the baby. If I offer to hold the baby I sometimes say "because it's not my baby so the crying doesn't hurt me as much as it hurts you." I've been on the receiving and giving end of baby-holding while the parent cries, and it really does help, but it can also feel like criticism of a parent's inability to cope.

[identity profile] eneit.livejournal.com 2016-06-10 12:31 am (UTC)(link)
Yes, when the situation is that bad I'll ask if I can help and tell them I've been where they are. I love kids, so if I must make noises at them, then it's got to be the kind that gives the parent a boost.

I wear fairly distinctive clothes (broken body, long and flowing covers a multitude of ills) so occasionally I get random hugs from strangers with toddlers because they remember me. Recently though, I had a young lady in a business suit, carrying a briefcase and talking a million miles a minute into her phone, walking towards me. She took two steps past me, hung up on her call, and whirled back around to hug me. She said I didn't know her, but I'd helped her when she was at her lowest with new baby and depression a few years ago. I vaguely remembered, I'd taken her to a coffee shop and let her talk herself out, then took her to the childcare nurse so she could get the help she needed.When I left her, I told her she could do this because she already was. She told me the baby was now at school, she'd gone back and got a degree and now had the job she'd always wanted. Then she opened up her briefcase. On the inside she had a sign "You can do this - you already are!" Yeah, I shed a few happy tears for her. :)

[identity profile] eneit.livejournal.com 2016-06-10 12:39 am (UTC)(link)
It makes me smile each time I think of it.
adjectivegail: (lucy big smile)

[personal profile] adjectivegail 2016-06-10 10:15 am (UTC)(link)
Oh - <3

[identity profile] silkensteel.livejournal.com 2016-06-09 01:00 pm (UTC)(link)
Both of you: awesome! I haven't flown in years, but airports are the absolute best places to be the non-judgey offerer-of-help.

[identity profile] eneit.livejournal.com 2016-06-10 12:36 am (UTC)(link)
agreed. A friend who flies a lot carries origami paper with her, sits down beside families with fractious children and makes paper toys to distract toddlers.

[identity profile] eneit.livejournal.com 2016-06-10 12:46 am (UTC)(link)
Kids amaze me with electronics, it's a medium they grasp almost intuitively. I bet you made the kid's day by being allowed to play.

[identity profile] eneit.livejournal.com 2016-06-10 01:08 am (UTC)(link)
I love the piano apps. Downloaded a piano app for the boys to help with their physiotherapy (muscle planning issues, piano exercises help with an instant sound reward) One of my aunts has taught piano for 60 years, and she was very impressed with the app. They've done so well on the app that I bought them an old fashioned reed organ, and they are slowly learning to play the real thing. Wouldn't have even thought about it had it not been for the piano app!

[identity profile] silkensteel.livejournal.com 2016-06-10 02:45 am (UTC)(link)
I remember now - our first flight ever, which was our first flight from JFK to Israel. I was 10ish, my big brother was 13ish. So, early 1970's.

A Japanese businessman had the... fortune, good or bad who can say? of sitting next to me. He made me an entire family of cranes, and I kept those birds alive for the entire six week visit. I think I eventually destroyed them trying to replicate them.

Origami rocks the kiddo world.

[identity profile] the-xtina.livejournal.com 2016-06-12 05:13 pm (UTC)(link)
Another one for the to-avoid list: "Are you breastfeeding?" If you are not my medical person, then leave my tits out of the conversation, thanks ever so.