Guest Post: Three Compliments

4 Oct

This week has been incredibly hectic, and I haven’t had the chance to write anything here, not even the reading list for David Gilmour which I promise is STILL COMING. In light of that, a few friends have stepped in and offered guest posts – here’s one from my lovely friend Joanna, whom I’ve known since high school, about the ways that we “compliment” babies and toddlers. Enjoy! 

Three Compliments by Joanna Schmidt

Three “Compliments” I’d prefer you wouldn’t give my baby:

I love my kids. They are the most important people in my life. So naturally, hearing them complimented warms my heart. I love when they are called cute or pretty or someone says their hair is lovely. Even more so, I love when people tell me that my child is clever or funny, kind or a good older sibling.

There are, however, a few “compliments” that I find to be not so complimentary:

1. “He’s such a flirt” or “ooo, he’s flirting with me!”

My son is 13 months old. Sometimes he’s outgoing and has a quick smile that lights up his face. He will play peek-a-boo with anyone that will give him a grin, whether at home or with a stranger in the grocery line. Funny noises make him break into an infectious giggle. Like all of us, he’s sometimes shy, and that means he sometimes puts his head down and looks up at strangers through the lashes on his big blue eyes, a nervous smile on his face.

Also, he wants to kiss ALL the babies.

However, none of these things is flirting. He is socializing. He is learning about his environment and the people in it. He is developing a sense of self worth as his smiles and interactions are causing others to smile back at him. He is playing games and having fun.

Check out the Wikipedia definition of flirting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flirting Flirting has sexual undertones or seductive undertones. Babies are cute and cuddly. They give drooly smiles. They are adorable. Babies are not sexual. They are not seductive.

2. “Watch out mama, the girls are going to love him!”

This one is tricky. Because, you know, it might be true. He’s classic cute baby. He has these lovely wispy curls and big Disney Princess eyes. He’s tall for his age. It is likely that he will fit society’s narrow definition of traditional attractiveness when he gets older.

The thing is, as parents, we’re busy trying to teach our kids that being attractive is not necessarily what makes you loveable. We’re teaching them that how you act and what you do are the things that define you.

One of my proudest parenting moments to date has been in a conversation with my then 4 year old daughter. She was watching Beauty and the Beast and turned to me, totally unprompted and said of Gaston,

Belle doesn’t like him because he’s mean. The other three beautiful girls think that he’s beautiful but he’s not because he’s not nice. He’s a bully and I think that he’s really the beast.”

SO FREAKIN’ PROUD!

Secondly, the idea of watch out mama also bothers me – what are you saying about these girls that you imagine are going to love my son? Why would I need to watch out? What does this statement say about how we view young women?

And finally, I’m also very conscious that at his age, he has not asserted anything about his sexuality yet. His sister is six. Recently two of my female friends were married. She was very excited for them and proclaimed, “I’m so glad they are happy but I don’t want to marry a girl”. She says things like, “When I grow up and fall in love with a boy, I think it will be L______.” We’re pretty safe now to use terms like boy/man/husband/boyfriend with her. But my boys are younger than her and have not expressed their preferences yet. With them I use terms like person that you fall in love with, or the partner/person that you choose to marry. Statistically it is likely they will be attracted to females, however, until I know for sure I don’t want to make assumptions. Assumptions can alienate. Assumptions could make it hard for one of my boys to express who he is. And really, wouldn’t that be so incredibly sad?

3. He’s going to be such a heartbreaker!

And here’s the big one. This is what made me write this. I hear this often about my little baby boy.

Since when was it a good thing to break someone’s heart? Have you ever had your heart broken? Have you ever had to break someone’s heart? It SUCKS!

My hope is that he is NOT a heart breaker. My hope is that he finds just the right person at just the right time and they love each other forever. I know this is unlikely but I don’t want my son to be a person who causes or feels pain. I still like to wish that he’ll be one of the lucky few that falls in love with his best friend in high school and lives happily ever after.

The other thing that I don’t like about the “heartbreaker” comment is that it sets him apart from the babies that are not “heartbreakers”. Does that mean there are babies that are not as conventionally attractive that are bound to have their hearts broken over and over?

So, here’s the thing. Please feel free to compliment my child. Sometimes hearing that you’ve noticed that he/she has grown up a lot in his/her behaviours lately, or hearing that they made a choice that was kind or compassionate is what gets me through my, at times, difficult days. If my child overhears that, (s)he will catch my eye and see pride and joy and hopefully make a good choice again.

And me? I’ll try to notice the same moments and communicate that pride to your children too.

Joanna's three children

Joanna’s three children

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24 Responses to “Guest Post: Three Compliments”

  1. The Rider October 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Oh I love Schmidt kiddies… 🙂 (I am raising 4 of them…)

    • Joanna Schmidt October 4, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

      In my ENTIRELY biased opinion, they are clearly the best!

  2. ottominuti October 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    It’s really interesting because I have been thinking of writing something like this for a long time. I find really inappropriate this over sexualization of children in any contest. Grandparents, aunts and uncles and sometimes even parents say stuff like: “ooooh, my 3 y.o. has a big crush at pre-school for this blonde girl” or “he’s already a womanizer” (age 5) and they stat asking insistently (my parents do this, and it drives me crazy) to the poor chap: “is there a girl in class that you like? Are you in love with someone?”. Come on, give him a break, it’s barely off the toddler phase!
    And then I realized that the more children are asked about being in love, the more they start behaving and thinking in a sexual way before time. So, good job in pointing this out, people should talk more about this.

    • Joanna Schmidt October 4, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

      Thanks! Exactly the message I was trying to get across.

  3. Cupcakes And Hoodies October 4, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    Thank you Joanna for writing this. So on point! I get these all the time with my boy and they make me sooooo uncomfortable. Another one I get frequently is “He’s such a BOY!” and they look at me smiling. My response in my head is, “well, yes, he does have a penis. But what you are saying is damaging – girls can be just as rambunctous and it’s not a bad thing to be a girl” Sometimes I wish people would just not say anything at all.

    Also I get the “flirting” one all the time and it drives me crazy. UGH. Strangers and babies, amirite?

    • Joanna Schmidt October 5, 2013 at 12:31 am #

      As my daughter was the first of my kids, I was always able to reply to “He’s such a BOY!” with “His big sister was just as busy and curious” (I make sure my pride shows)…but I agree completely with your inner response!

  4. Mandy October 4, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    This was a great read! I don’t have children myself but many of my friends do and I make a conscious effort not to say these things because of the same reasons you mentioned. Lovely stuff x

    • Joanna Schmidt October 5, 2013 at 12:32 am #

      Thanks, hopefully you’ll be a great role-model to those kids!

  5. edenkaill October 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Ugh I hate when people do this! Or when two people have opposite-sex babies and talk about them as dating. The worst.

  6. Jennie Saia October 4, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    I love this! It’s so hard to gently explain to people why these comments are less than appreciated, because in their minds it’s a compliment or just small talk. But I appreciate you pointing out the weirdness behind these seemingly innocuous statements!

    On a lighter note: I always hated the expression, “You’re so cute, I just wanna eat you up!” That shiz is terrifying.

    • Ellie Pearce October 4, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

      Ugh I hate that one too! My daughter has learned to say ”No eat me!!” because she hears it so often…and why would we want to only eat ‘cute’ babies? Or really, babies at all! Ugh. Cannibalism 😦

  7. Britt October 4, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

    Is it only me, or is a rant based on having ridiculously beautiful children a bit silly? These kids are uncommonly gorgeous. Compliments (even the admittedly sexist or creepy ones) will flow.

    • Joanna Schmidt October 5, 2013 at 12:37 am #

      I think that I will always find it wrong when someone is sexist or creepy towards my children. The problem with this argument is that it says it’s okay to sexualize “ridiculously beautiful children” because of their beauty. It says that if a person is beautiful it is justified to be sexist or creepy. I think it’s never okay to be sexist or creepy.

      • Britt October 5, 2013 at 12:44 am #

        Is it okay for them to be old fashioned and trite, but well-meaning? I was overstating the sexist/creepy thing, but I honestly find nothing offensive in any of these compliments. Your kids are lovely. Lovely! That there is a “wrong” way to compliment them saddens me.

      • Joanna Schmidt October 5, 2013 at 1:39 am #

        In this case, I definitely recognize that people are being well-meaning and I appreciate the sentiment behind the words but the sexualized wording is what makes me uncomfortable. (your boys are super cute too!)

  8. Writer / Mummy October 5, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    I’ve probably said all of these things without really thinking through the connotations. Thank you for making me think through the meaning behind the empty phrases people say because they don’t know what else to say. I’ll be sure to choose my words more carefully in future! 🙂

    • Joanna Schmidt October 6, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

      Thank you so much for this response. As I said above, I understand and appreciate the sentiment but not the wording.

  9. earthedangel October 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    I, too, have said all these things about my and other babies/toddlers, and I thank you for drawing my attention to it. I also think you’re awesome for the way you’ve responded to your (oddly flattering) detractor. I get that you aren’t saying, “Would everyone please just STOP with the cooing over my gorgeous children!” and I love that you’ve kept firm on what about these things you don’t like and haven’t gotten derailed.
    On the girl side, I hate when people say, “oooh, watch out Dad!”; that just adds an extra layer of ickiness on top of what you covered with “watch out mama!”

    • Joanna Schmidt October 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

      Thank you so much. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate hearing that. This being the first time I’ve had anything I have written be public, it has been a very interesting (and to be honest, a bit anxiety causing) experience for me all around!
      I would love to see someone write a baby/toddler girl version. I imagine it would be interesting to compare the things said to baby girls and baby boys – and to look at the things we are communicating about sex and gender to those of such a young age.

  10. Matt October 7, 2013 at 2:52 am #

    This is just.. copious food for thought. I’ve teased my son (2.75y) for “being a flirt” when he makes eye contact with and at smiles at women who talk to him on the subway, or the bus. It’s never meant admonishingly; I kind of want him to feel comfortable about the idea of flirting, but I suspect that that’s mostly because I was (and am) a really shy kid who felt awkward around girls–it took till probably after I met Anne before I stopped looking in the mirror and thinking, “what does she see in me?”

    Never before has it occurred to me that this is providing a sexual connotation to his interactions with women. I gotta stop that shit, because, really, I’m just lining him up for a When Harry Met Sally-esque belief that it’s impossible for men and women to be friends without wanting to sleep with each other.

    So thanks! This is definitely something to add to my own parenting.

    • Joanna Schmidt October 7, 2013 at 3:20 am #

      Matt, thanks for your reply. I find it so sad that your shyness made you feel insecure about yourself. Based on the time we met and the descriptions of you that Anne has shared, you are a wonderful person who should feel completely confident. Your son is lucky to have you to help him navigate the times ahead when he may feel awkward and is trying to figure out flirting and attraction.

      Luckily comments like this are not the only context that children have. They get to watch their parents. You and Anne will provide him with the opportunity to see what relationships can be. He will see you have friendships with a great variety of people and realize that he can have all kinds of friendships too.

  11. schmidtdisturber November 1, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    Reblogged this on schmidt disturber and commented:
    This is a piece about the language we use when we compliment children that I wrote about a month ago. Anne of the Belle Jar was kind enough to have me as a Guest Author on her blog. Now that I have my own blog I thought I should post it here as well!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Your baby is totally flirting with me | East Meets Breast - October 5, 2013

    […] to unearth slights and inequalities in innocuous settings. Tagged with feminism! and gender this was published today on the always entertaining Belle Jar. A proud, but irritated mother of three […]

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