Mother Drive-By’s

by Belle Waring on February 28, 2005

Via Making Light, an amazing series of posts and threads from Chez Miscarriage. The most interesting one is the thread in which Chez solicits tales of “mother drive-by’s”, horrible, critical comments from other mothers on parenting. It will take ages to read them all, but I couldn’t turn away.

Some are truly, unforgiveably evil: “At the funeral for my 16 year old daughter who took her own life. My mother in law asked how we could have let Marrissa die.”

Or this:

“I was out and about with my then two year old Sara, who has Down Syndrome. A complete stranger asked me about her “condition”. I told him she had Down’s. He made some “tsk, tsk” noise and told me that I should have had an abortion, and how she would be a drain on society, and then walked off. My jaw was completely on the ground by that point and the tears were not far behind.”

Perhaps this is the worst:

The worst drive by happened to a friend of mine. Her six year old was hit by a car and killed. Someone she knew said, “Well at least it wasn’t one of your “real” kids” (Sean was adopted)

Others just plumb the depths of tactlessness:

the worst was an experience when I went with my second son (who was then less than a year old) to hospital. He had very bad recurrent otitis (yes I DID bf him!) and I told the women next to me that the doctor recommended surgery. She looked at me and said: ‘And you take your child there to be murdered? Don’t you know how many children don’t wake up from such surgeries? Do you want to KILL him?”

There are breastfeeding Nazis aplenty:

“From a realtor who was showing us houses. I pulled out a bottle for our 9-month-old and she flipped out. “I want to know why this baby isn’t being breastfed! Do you work?”

“Well I — we were breastfeeding, and now we’re done.”

*snort* “Let me tell you something. My four year old daughter still breastfeeds sometimes, and my toddler is going strong. And I work full time. I’m a member of La LEESH.”

Hey, great, good for you lady. I’m hoping that while my children are missing out in terms of the nutritional benefits of long-term breastfeeding, they will benefit greatly from the fact that I know how to pronounce the word *leche*.

There are anti-breatfeeding Nazis: “That’s sick!” (said of nursing a 4-month-old.) Or this:

I ended up letting my son self-wean, which happened at four and a half years of age. Oh, the comments I endured – “How long are you going to let him nurse?” (I guess until he goes away to college but then again, they do have co-ed dorms), “You’re only doing that to satisfy yourself!” (Yes, I’m pretty satisfied that I have a healthy, well-adjusted child), “Why are you doing that? It’s not like you live in Africa!” (Why should only African children have the benefits of breastfeeding? My American child deserves it too!)

I think this may be my favorite:

After I had my third baby I took a shower (at the hospital, literally within an hour of his birth) and there were no towels, so I rang for the nurse. She comes in with some tiny, threadbare towels for me, looks at my naked, wet, just-had-a-baby body, and says, “You sure haven’t lost that belly yet!”

This is great, too:

Upon telling my mom I was pregnant her second response (after “oh dear”) was “well don’t use this as an excuse to get fat.” Damn, busted, I was SO hoping I could get fat and blame it on the pregnancy.

Halfway through first pregnancy a friend’s mom said “you are getting round in the front AND the back.” Ok now that I’m pregnant it’s socially acceptible to tell me I have a fat ass?

I could go on, but you should just go check it out yourself. The Making Light thread is (as always) good too.

The animosity between mothers who work outside the home and stay-at-home mothers is amazing. I hate to get all blaming the patriarchy, but it certainly seems as if all this mental energy could be more profitably directed towards trying to change society to make life better for parents, rather than in vicious intersororal strife…

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Walt Pohl 02.28.05 at 2:28 am

Without vicious intersororal strife, civilization would have no purpose.


John Isbell 02.28.05 at 4:46 am

Speaking to suffering is a skill born in empathy, and it’s not easily learned. Odin gave up an eye for wisdom.
Thanks for this post.


todd. 02.28.05 at 5:28 am

From the other end of the motherly spectrum, there as a good deal of discussion on my blog about what to make of this ‘PostSecret’.

The internets: it takes all kinds.


Keith M Ellis 02.28.05 at 6:54 am

I’m halfway through the drive-by anecdotes thread. It’s very educational; I think everyone should read it.


Keith M Ellis 02.28.05 at 7:06 am

Oh, I also wanted to mention (and to ask others what they think of it) that the unrestrained and often vicious judgmentalism of mom drive-bys seems very reminiscent to me of that often seen in relation to the decision itself to have children or not have children. People that normally are very tolerant for some reason feel perfectly at ease making very condemnatory statements about the choice to have children, or the choice not to have children. What it is about this topic in general that provides an excuse for normally tolerant people to indulge themselves in intolerance?


john 02.28.05 at 7:25 am

Keith Ellis,

Good point. I think the start of an answer is reframing the question: not why people feel free to ask such questions, but why they’re driven to do it.


gordon 02.28.05 at 11:15 am

References to “gas” and “nickel” on the parent site indicate that the “drive-bys” quoted in the post are from America. Are there any Australian examples?


Doug 02.28.05 at 11:27 am

So whatever happened to a slap in the face? The mother-in-law at the funeral, for starters. The tsking stranger, probably as well. And probably the acquaintance with the “real kid” comment, too.

I realize there’s that stunned half-second when you can’t believe someone has SAID THAT, but if someone told me I should have aborted my kid, I think I’d pop them one right quick.

Maybe that’s why dads don’t get the drive-by treatment very often…


Bill Gardner 02.28.05 at 1:37 pm

When my daughter was a few months old, I took her to the grocery store. I started playing games with her in the cart — peekaboo, etc. — and this woman comes up to me and says in this imperative tone, “You’re overstimulating her.” I thought it was just that women don’t trust a man with a baby. But maybe my gender had nothing to do with it.


Bill Gardner 02.28.05 at 1:40 pm

When my daughter was a few months old, I took her to the grocery store. I started playing games with her in the cart — peekaboo, etc. — and this woman comes up to me and says in this imperative tone, “You’re overstimulating her.” I thought it was just that women don’t trust a man with a baby. But maybe my gender had nothing to do with it.


dsquared 02.28.05 at 2:13 pm

This is one aspect of the Internet that always puzzles me; this whole world of horrific nasty people who say horrid things to complete strangers. Often doing so in the form of convenient feed-lines to allow you to make a remark that is both witty and underlines your own sterling moral character.

I just don’t understand it because it’s never happened to me or anyone I know. It’s like email death threats; a phenomenon which is apparently widespread but has passed me by completely.

I’m not saying that every single one of these anecdotes needs affidavits from three independent witnesses saying “yes it happened exactly that way and no relevant details have been ommitted”, but I’m sure that a lot of them have improved in the telling. The fact that a very high percentage of them involve family members reconfirms me in this view; in general, for any important family event , you find that there will be at least two sets of family members who remember things in ways which are simply physically incompatible with each other.


LizardBreath 02.28.05 at 2:35 pm

I think the tendency to which you will have unfortunate interactions with strangers is highly determined by your personality as expressed in body language. I hear these stories as well, and they never happen to me either. I assume that it’s because my natural, unthoughtout reaction to being addressed by a stranger for a reason that is not immediately apparent, is to stare blankly at them in the manner of Queen Victoria being asked to examine a dead toad. Generally, strangers don’t speak to me — I assume the reaction they will get is apparent. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a similar demeanor in this respect.

People I know who have bizarre things said to them tend to be sweet, friendly, open-faced people who invite interaction — while they do make more friends, the tradeoff is that they have to listen to the weirdos.


biscuit 02.28.05 at 2:57 pm

I made a comment here a couple of hours ago (and yes, accidentally posted it twice, your servers are screwing up) and now it’s gone (both copies). I thought it was relevant and not comment spam, and said some things I would like to remember, even if you don’t want it here. So if you deleted it because you didn’t like it, could you at least email me a copy of said post?


John Emerson 02.28.05 at 4:32 pm

I think that lizardbreath answered D2’s question. Some people are stronger than dirt, but moms usually aren’t. People tend not to fuck with me either.

My parents were strongly of the satisficing school of parenting, as was I, and I did get hate stares from moms occasionally, most noticibly when I took my son out on a cold day without cute little booties on his feet.


anna 02.28.05 at 6:24 pm

Very weird. I have a very hard time imagining any of those anecdotes actually taking place. I’m not even used to strangers say anything at all, nevermind giving you lectures out of the blue on personal matters like that.

Is this an American thing? Does it really happen so often over there?


Dan Simon 02.28.05 at 8:03 pm

Another way to look at the phenomenon: there is unfortunately no shortage of nasty, hateful people who like to seek out victims to hurt and humiliate. A man targeting men will probably use physical violence, or the implicit threat of it. A man targeting women will probably use crude sexual advances. A woman targeting men will, likewise, tend to use sexual aggression. And a woman targeting women will probably seek to exploit a likely emotional vulnerability–say, insecurity about parenting skills.


luci phyrr 02.28.05 at 9:16 pm

I also thought, surely, there must be exaggerations in there. But even if, there’s still something going on.

Maybe it really does “take a village” to raise a kid – and the passerbys are just trying to do their part. Not knocking Hillary (I like her), just wondering where the motivation to offer unrequested advice comes from.

How about a “just so” story? Maybe this kind of talk is similar to gossip, which has its useful social purpose: teaching the norms of a group (what benefits/censure one can expect for actions/transgressions), disseminating information. Etc.


SloLernr 02.28.05 at 10:10 pm

It may be body language (a la lizardbreath and john emerson) but that’s not always enough. I know a parent who is in behavior and manner implicitly but pretty clearly uninviting of outside commentary, who nevertheless gets this kind of assistance now and then. Sometimes it’s very hard to deter the idiots in the village that it apparently takes.


Peggy 03.01.05 at 1:05 am

D2- Women are often the target for remarks. Strangers have come up to me in the subway and told me to smile or made other remarks on my appearance. If I had a child, no doubt they would give me advice.


DonBoy 03.01.05 at 4:39 am

Some are truly, unforgiveably evil: “At the funeral for my 16 year old daughter who took her own life. My mother in law asked how we could have let Marrissa die.”

That strikes me as a special kind of horrible moment; after all, the mother-in-law is at her own granddaughter’s funeral. That’s not a justification, of course.


James Palmer 03.01.05 at 9:51 am

The worst example of this I’ve ever heard of was when a friend of mine was four or five months old. He was born with a cleft palate, and wasn’t, to say the least, a pretty baby. His mother was pushing him along when a casual acquaintance of hers came up, looked in the pram, and then looked up and said ‘Oh, you wouldn’t have thought they’d let him live, would you?’


geekymom 03.01.05 at 1:49 pm

Thanks for posting this Belle. I find it interesting that many of the commenters here can’t believe this happens. If you read the “drive-by’s”, and I’ve read about 2/3, you’ll notice that many of them take place with first children and when they are very young. The mothers in question are tired and vulnerable and not entirely sure they’re doing the right thing and won’t know if they are for many years to come. In that kind of state, even comments that are meant to be truly helpful or are meant in the best spirit (some of them obviously aren’t) can be taken to be digs at their parenting skills. So many people don’t think before they speak and make assumptions about situations they know nothing about.


biscuit 03.01.05 at 4:48 pm

Some of the mommy drive-by stories are probably enhanced, as some comments above allege, but I’ll warrant it is fewer than you think. People really do say the damndest things to perfect strangers about the right way to raise their children. At least other mothers can justify their unwanted advice with the authority of experience; what’s amazing is the number of childless people who think they know how to raise your kids.

An excellent example of a mommy drive-by (sorry, it’s their damn archive…) appeared this Valentine’s Day on the Times op-ed page. [You can read quotes from it on my own blog where I complained about it when it appeared.] The author, Judith Warner (who apparently repeats many of her charges against other mothers in a new book, see review and ensuing discussion at Salon) blames parents who let their kids sleep in their beds with them and “extended” breastfeeding for unhappy marriages and divorce. This is the most pernicious brand of mommy drive-by: so-called expert mommy drive-bys, indicting a whole category of parents (in this case, those who practice ‘attachment parenting’) at once. Entirely lacking in evidence, but lecturing from the valuable Times op-ed real estate, Ms. Warner butts into the relationships and sex lives of all parents who don’t do it the way she does.

I don’t blame her for thinking that; I don’t know any parent who doesn’t think, some of the time, that the way they’re raising their own kids is the only and best way to do it. We all have days we wander around in a snug little bundle of self-satisfied conviction that we are the best parents ever. If we didn’t, how could we survive the other days, when we’re certain we’re not? I do blame her, and all other perpetrators of mommy drive-bys, for saying it. Mommies of the world, bite your tongues. No one wants your parenting advice. On days you’re sure you’re best, open up a diary and write, over and over “I am the best mommy in the whole wide world,” until the conviction passes.

The best response I have found to a mommy drive-by is this: “Show me the double-blind study.” No such study of parenting exists, and none ever could. Raising kids is not a science. Science has something to say about it, no doubt (for example, regarding the wisdom of feeding your infant homemade vegan formula), but less than some people claim. We do not know what will become of our children, and we cannot know precisely what difference we’ll make in what they will become. And who, after all, would bother to have kids if they knew in advance exactly how to do it, and how it would all turn out in the end? It’s terrifying, of course, not to know, which is why I suspect we are all sometimes overcome with the certainty that we are doing it the ‘right way’. But darlings, we have no idea.

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