Other People's Babies
If you have not yet had children, or if memories of early parenthood are fast fading, you may find friends with babies a real challenge. While there are undoubtedly many parental pitfalls that must at all costs be avoided, you should be aware that your behaviour is equally important. Impatience or censoriousness will destroy new parents' confidence and will make a difficult time unbearably fraught.
Here are some ways of behaving around babies and new parents with tact and diplomacy:
- Never criticise. It's almost inevitable that you will see behaviour around babies that you find baffling, provocative, or just plain stupid. But unless this behaviour is life-threatening, you must keep your criticisms to yourself. Head-on critiques will cause anger and defensiveness, and are therefore totally pointless.
- If you want to convey a message to a parent, you have to use the tact of a seasoned diplomat; anecdotes about your own experiences, self-deprecating tales of mistakes made, lessons learnt and so on, might work, but only if they are deployed with the utmost subtlety.
- Lead by example. If a baby is causing unacceptable disruption (at a dinner table or in a restaurant, for example), and the parents are resolutely determined to ignore the interruption, offer to take the child outside yourself.
- There's always a chance, of course, that they'll just let you do what you suggest (although only the most insensitive parent will leave you in sole charge for long); but they may also correctly read your suggestion as a gentle reminder of their responsibilities.
- No snatching. Many babies don't enjoy being grabbed by comparative strangers (and almost everyone, apart from their parents will seem like a stranger to them at first, even if they are blood relations). They will wriggle miserably in your arms, reach out for their mother, start grizzling. It's really not a good idea to put either the baby, or the parent, through this misery. Wait until the baby is handed to you and then you can welcome it with open arms.
- Accept parental fussing. If parents make a song and dance about feeding the child, getting it to bed, settling it etc., don't adopt a world-weary 'been there, done that, never did me any harm…' line. The parents' fussiness is, obviously, a manifestation of anxiety about new responsibilities, and will have to be worked through at their own pace. Just try and let it all wash over you…