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Why we all have a secret inner gorilla.


It turns out “tut” is an international phrase. In French, it became more of a “tchsuh!”, but the intention was there.

The utterer was a lady sitting on the bus behind us on hols in France this past week. The sitch: my hubby was sitting holding B on his lap, but B felt that standing up against him to get the lowdown on her fellow bus crew was preferable to sitting down. Naturally. Wouldn’t you?

The “tut” was swiftly followed by an “Uff, Madame, c’est dangereux. C’est trΓ¨s dangereux. Tu ne devrais pas faire Γ§a”. After getting over the shocking realisation that I had at some point become a ‘madame’ in the eyes of the French, I explained in my ten-year-ago degree French that it was fine, thank you for her concern, not to worry, my husband was holding on to her nice and tightly (the baby, that is, not the lady). And he was – she was very secure. I wasn’t worried.

However, in this lady’s eyes, we shouldn’t have been letting our little girl stand up. And so it seems that it’s not an isolated issue to the English-speaking world to want to tell parents what they should and shouldn’t do with their children. It happens in every language, every culture. People see something happening that they wouldn’t do themselves and they try to fix it. They may be nice people (let’s give the benefit of the doubt to our lady – she had twinkly eyes) or they may be meddly people by nature, and not express their intentions nicely – it actually doesn’t matter. It’s how we respond to it that does.

Was she wrong to say something? Well, I’d say no, probably not actually – we are a society of free speech, after all. It was just her opinion. Every population, every culture, has its accepted way of doing things, its parenting ideals, that have grown out of the geographical and social needs of its context. This lady too – she has her own culture. It’s her own personal code, one dictated by her past experiences, her upbringing, by her own story right up to that moment which has coloured her perception of our handling of our daughter on that bus. We can’t control that.

It’s a bit blinkin’ grating though, isn’t it? Whenever anyone tells us what to do, we immediately resist. The hackles go up and our inner Mama Gorilla comes out: “Ne mess pas with me or my baby, b***h!”. But I’ve learned that the fact she said something and what she said really needn’t bother me. At the heart of it, she’s not telling me what I should do. She’s merely saying what she thinks she would do. Her ‘should’, not mine, and that’s a very different matter. How it affects me is something I can control.

We will always come across people who feel the need to tell us what to do as parents. It can come from strangers or even closer to home. More often than not, I’ve come to realise that people reach out because of something entirely to do with their own personal narrative, their own belief system. Parenting hits everyone hard – even Kate and Wills, I have no doubt. It is a story as old as time itself and everyone needs to share their version of it. To know deep down that they did an OK job. We don’t need to take it to heart or take it as judgement. We can just respect their need to share, respect their opinion, and even conjure up a glimmer of curiosity in that person’s backstory. Sometimes their advice can even be really helpful. If we are on auto-pilot resistance mode against each and every unsolicited nugget of opinion, who knows what we might miss learning about?

And while we’re at it, most importantly we need to show the same respect to ourselves. If we are kinder and more respectful towards our own personal code, if we change our personal narrative to one which gives us a mini fist pump or cuts us some slack when we need it to, rather than telling us off, then someone else’s unsolicited ‘shoulds’ slide off a lot more easily. We can see them for what they are: just someone trying to share their story – nothing more. It doesn’t have to be taken as a personal attack.

As I travel further on my journey, and meet so many of you travelling the same road too (thank you to all of you who’ve been in touch to share your stories – you make me feel like Forrest Gump on his run), it now feels a darn sight more achievable to banish my own ‘shoulds’ than to go all Mama Gorilla on well-meaning (compassion compassion compassion) old ladies on buses. Because the large majority of unsolicited should-givers most likely do mean well. If they don’t, then they’re not worth the time worrying about anyway (and besides, you know full well you could pop those meanies back in their box with your big mama foot if you so chose).

From now on, I’m just going to take care of my own ‘shoulds’, and try to see the ‘shoulds’ of others for what they are: simply their own inner gorilla asking to be heard. Who’s with me?

This post has also featured on Selfish Mother.

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