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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m the mother of a 20-month-old former micro preemie. She came three months early weighing 1 lb. 14 oz., so she’s still catching up on milestones, like walking. As a result, she often gets mistaken for a baby, even though she’s strictly speaking a toddler. Whenever I let her do things that seem age-appropriate, like exploring outside our house, I get comments from complete strangers reprimanding me. For example, on several occasions, when she’s been crawling on the sidewalk near our house (with me following very closely to make sure she’s not picking up or touching anything dangerous or too dirty), I have people telling me off for letting her crawl around germs. I feel like they would never say something similar to a parent whose 20-month old was toddling next to them exploring outside. Is it unreasonable of me to get hurt (and sometimes angry) at these comments? I’m sure the people are well-intentioned, but I don’t know what they expect me to do: Carry my almost 2-year-old daughter everywhere or keep her confined to a stroller/the house until she can walk?
— Preemie Mom
Dear Preemie Mom,
Assuming all of these scoldy annoying people are “well-intentioned” might be giving them too much credit, but it is kind of you to say so. It’s not at all unreasonable to be hurt or angry—I would be extremely pissy about this! In any case, feelings aren’t good or bad in and of themselves, and you aren’t wrong to have them.
I know sometimes the quickest way to end an uncomfortable encounter is to say as little as possible, so I don’t want to advise you to speak up in every single instance, especially if you’d rather not. But you could think about whether having a few go-to, more-polite-than-“shove-off” phrases might make you feel better and/or encourage certain people to think twice before being so irritating about your crawling toddler in the future. Maybe something like: “She’s doing great, and I want her to be able to explore so long as it’s safe, which this is.” I’m always so tempted to add a clearly sarcastic “Thanks for your advice” when strangers concern-troll or offer parenting tips unsolicited, but then sometimes people don’t pick up on the sarcasm, so maybe it’s not worth it.