It’s not until you become pregnant and have children, really, that you realise how very many ways there are of being wrong. And also how very many people there are out there see it as their mission in life to tell you so. Sometimes they’re quite upfront about it – although I’ve never actually seen anyone with the t-shirt – and they’ll tell you right to your face. More often it’s just a little comment, a pause, a raised eyebrow, a tone of voice. Nothing you could really put your finger on, much less call your tormentor on. Passive aggression is the lingua franca of competitive parenting.
I’ve yet to work out what the motivation really is behind someone blithely telling you, just when you’ve let it all hang out in the changing room at the swimming pool that they have no stretchmarks at all, or that their child is sleeping through the night when you’ve just snorted yourself awake moments before your head hits the desk at work, or that their child simply never has tantrums when you’re exiting, red-faced and sweating from a party, with a screeching, scratching, spitting demon slung over your shoulder. What is it all about? It is extreme insecurity that can only be assuaged by making everyone around them feel like shit? Or do they genuinely think they can do anything better than you?
Well, no point tormenting myself with questions that have no answers. I will say one thing, though.
When you witness a really skilled demolition operative at work, it’s quite impressive, in a nasty kind of way. Here, for your future information is a list of phrases that mean rather more than they say, along with their translations:
‘Isn’t it exhausting, running them from pillar to post?’
(But when they’re as talented as my children, it would be crime not to.)
‘It’s so hard to find trousers to fit Seamus. If they’re long enough, they’re far too big round the waist.’
(Because he’s so slim and athletic, unlike your porker.)
‘Lucky you, not having to freeze on the touchline!’
(Cos she wasn’t picked for the team – nyah!)
‘You’re so sensible not to buy a new buggy for each child’
(But I did, because I can afford to.)
‘I love the way you encourage them to express themselves.’
(Don’t they ever shut up?)
‘You are breastfeeding, aren’t you?’
(Because there’s no other explanation for those tits!)
‘You really are a devoted mother!’
(You’ve completely let yourself go!)
See what I mean? This is a competition where everyone is a loser. Personally, I reckon all you can do is rise above it. Take all such comments completely at face value, smile nicely, and move on.
(Unless you’ve got a killer put-down you’d care to share?)