Q&A: strangers giving unsolicited “helpful” advice on the street

More Moxie “Trusting Your Instincts As a Parent” is starting tomorrow morning. You can still hop in–just click the link on the left sidebar there and sign up!

Now here’s a question that’s far less emotional than yesterday’s topic was. Krys writes:

“It seems like every time I take my daughter–she’s 8 months–out of the house, someone’s giving me advice or telling me I’m doing something wrong. And it’s not even if Ava’s crying. We can be walking along, minding our own business, and someone will cross the street to tell me she should be wearing a hat. Seriously?? I am about to lose it and say something nasty. Is it just me? Maybe some kind of vibe I give off that says I welcome meddling? And is there anything I can say that won’t sound impolite but will shut them up?”

Ha. Haha. Hahahahahaha. I’ve been hating the meddling for 8 years now (since I was pregnant with my older son). You’d think that as an advice columnist I’d be more inclined to give people random advice, but I rarely do (and it’s almost always about physical comfort issues like the straps of a carrier being twisted or something). Maybe I see enough real problems that I don’t need to make things up.

I think at the bottom of it, that’s why people give un solicited advice to strangers–they want to feel important. Which is understandable, because we all want to feel important. Some people just choose better outlets.

At any rate, I completely understand the feeling of just wanting to punch someone in the face when they tell me my kid is underdressed when it’s sweltering outside. And I may, when particularly sleep-deprived, have said some not-so-nice things in response.

But I belive the high road that also cuts people off in their tracks is the classic Miss Manners response, which is to smile with your lips but make your eyes go cold, and say simply, “How kind of you to take an interest.” And then move on. (This also works when people ask when you’re going to have another baby.) Even if the other person doesn’t immediately realize how presumptuous they’ve been, there’s still not much they can say in reply.

Can everyone please share the most ridiculous or horrifying thing someone’s said to them on the street with their child? Mine was the time I was pushing my older son in the stroller, hugely pregnant, and some lady *chased me down the block* to tell me my son was picking his nose. “Ma’am, he’s 3,” is all I said. I’m still proud of my restraint.

Now you go.

Q&A: depressed partner

There's no quoted email for today, because I've gotten too many emails about living with a depressed partner to pick just one.

I got the first one about two months ago, and delayed answering because I didn't know what to say, exactly. I think my thoughts are maybe not exactly mainstream, because I grew up with a depressed parent who never quite got on top of it, and I have depression myself (that was in remission from the time my older son was born until last month, but I'm back in remission now).

But now these emails are escalating, and I'm getting a new one every week from someone whose husband or wife is just barely functioning, either with or without meds. I think it's clearly related to the economy, and people worrying about not having a job or losing a job and what's going to happen to their families. And WTF does it all really mean anyway? Especially in light of all the climate change and freaky events and the fact that the world basically seems like it's on the verge of blowing up.

The majority of emails I'm getting are from people with depressed male partners. I don't think that's a coincidence, either (aside from the fact that most of my readers are straight women). In general, men tend to be more socially isolated than women do. Even if you don't know anyone in your town, you probably have a friend somewhere that you can talk to if you're a woman, or at least you can come here and hang out and recognize the regular commenters and know you're not alone.

Men are more likely to be emotionally isolated. For the most part, they go to work and come home. Maybe they hang out with some male friends on weekends, but lots of men still don't talk about their emotions, except on approved topics (how much they love their kids, etc.). I don't think most men would feel comfortable talking with other men about the despair and flat-out rage that is part of depression.

So I have so much sympathy for people who are in the middle of it. I know how hard it is just to walk across the room without having your soul hurt. And if you can find those one or two things that don't make you feel like you're going to lose it completely you really grab onto them, even if they're stupid counterproductive things. Even if you're just trading the hurt for rage or derision, or losing yourself somewhere like TV or the internet.

But I've also been on the other side of it. A little kid who didn't know why her dad was never home (self-medicating with work) or alternated among smotheringly loving (because we were the only worthwhile things he had), distant and unable to interface, or angry. I saw how my mom became our parent, and our dad the visitor. It felt like my dad didn't love us enough to try to get out of it. And I vowed that I would do whatever I had to to prevent my kids from ever feeling that way about me.

So the controversial part of my views is this: I think depression is a disease, like diabetes is. And you have sympathy for people who have it, because it affects everything. But if a person with diabetes just stopped doing anything healthy, went off insulin and binged on carbs, that wouldn't be responsible, and you'd hold them accountable for it while still offering them help. There is no one treatment that works for depression for everyone, but someone who doesn't even try anything is not being responsible. And I don't think their families should just take it on themselves to adjust their lives to facilitate the depression.

That may mean having to say to your partner, "This isn't OK. You need to see your doctor." Or asking your partner to stop taking sleeping pills (yeah, insomnia is a symptom of depression, but sleeping pills make the sluggishness worse). Or just making it clear that you can't go on like this indefinitely. If you've been reaching out a hand by offering to talk about it and help with exercise and seeing a doctor or buying supplements or giving massage or buy a light treatment lamp or any of the things that have been shown to help alleviate depression, your depressed partner needs to accept your help. If he won't, then I don't know what the answer is. You're going to have to think seriously about how you can live.

Please be clear that I'm not saying a depressed person should be able to find their way out of it mysteriously on their own (aka "Just snap out of it!"). But if a person is offered help and doesn't even consider it, that's a huge problem.

I know some of you have been going through this and have made some decisions recently. If you feel comfortable commenting, please do, and you can always comment anonymously. If anyone disagrees with me, please go ahead and post. If you agree with me and have your own depression story to share, please comment.

If anyone's feeling depressed right now, please call your doctor, and while you're waiting for the appointment do some exercise that works your core (pilates, T-Tapp, yoga), take some Omega 3s and B vitamins, talk to someone who loves you, and go outside for a few minutes. You can get out of this, and people will help you.

Discussion: Explaining stuff to your children

Whoa. Yesterday was one of the weirdest days in one of the strangest weeks in a long time. I’ve found it to be exhausting, and part of that was dealing with personal sadness (I have several friends who have lost or are in the process of losing loved ones this week). But a big part of it was figuring out how to explain to my kids what was going on.

I had a good conversation with my 4-year-old about the DC Metro crash a few days ago. He had a ton of questions, some of which I couldn’t answer. Then last night the 7-year-old and I spent a lot of time talking about comas and plastic surgery and why adults shouldn’t touch some of your body parts.

I know you all must have been having these same conversations. So I’m hoping we can open up a discussion about how you decide how open to be and how to approach talking to your kids about things. I know someone who didn’t want her children to hear about the netro crash because she thought they were too young to understand, and that’s a valid point of view. I feel like my kids are going to hear things, so I’d rather they hear the facts from me and have the chance to ask questions, which is also a valid POV.

So my question to you is; How do you approach talking to your kids about current events? What are the advantages and disadvantages of your approach? Don’t forget to mention how old your children are, please.

Cat found!

But I had to roll around under my neighbor's dusty bed for 20 minutes and got scratched within an inch of my life. The details of what happened are like a Noel Coward play, and I can't manage it in my current state.

My cat ran away

Alex Rodriguez, the god cat, ran away last night, and I think he’s too freaked out and scared to find his way back.

I’m going to have to regroup a little before I can post anything later today.

Talk about what you’d like to in the comments. Your pets, mystery trips to Argentina, etc.

Why I like DreamBox so much

Post under this one, so scroll down!

The reason I invited DreamBox Learning to be a sponsor is that I was impressed with the games in so many ways. As you probably know, I've been working in educational curriculum and training design for a long time, and currently work for another video game company on a freelance basis.

So I've seen a ton of educational software. Most of it breaks down into "we took this fun game and slapped some math into it" or "we took these math worksheets and added some animation to them." The first one ends up being fun but not educational, and less fun than other games the kids could be playing. The second one ends up being Not Fun and the kids don't want to do it.

DreamBox, though, is really well designed. Really. The games are designed around mathematical concepts that are age-appropriate, and the whole concept and situation of the game comes from the math. The games are designed with the understanding that math itself is fun and interesting, so replicating natural situations and creating games out of them is better and more effective than adding sparkle to camoflage math in the first place. It makes the games intuitive for kids, and the concepts build naturally, just the way they do in real life.

If you've been resisting checking out DreamBox because you've ssen the bad math games out there, just do a free trial and you will see the huge difference a well-designed game makes.

Q&A: why do 4-year-olds suck so much?

Melanie writes:

"Why do 4-year-olds suck so much? My daughter is like a mini-tyrant who throws a tantrum every time I say anything. A-ny-thing. I offer her food–she freaks out. I tell her I love her–she freaks out. It's making me feel like a crap mother. The only "good" thing is that all the other kids in her class are doing the same thing. All the moms hang around after dropoff and just complain about how mean our kids are now. Why? And how long is this going to last?"

So publishing this letter is completely self-serving. My own 4-year-old is also acting like this, to a certain extent. It's definitely some Jekyll and Hyde behavior, because he can be the funniest, sweetest, most loving little sprite, but then in an instant he just wigs out at some imagined or minor injury.

It's like living with one of the Real Housewives.

I remember when my older son was going through this. It was milder with him (because of his personality), but I absolutely noticed the moodiness and a sort of brittle quality to him and the other kids in his class.

The other thing I noticed (and the other parents noticed, too) that made me think about what was going on developmentally was how weird the kids got about social things. Birthday parties were crazy, because the kids would get all excited, and then at the last minute scream and cry that they didn't want to go. It seemed like they were becoming aware of themselves as social beings, and this was stressing them out.

So I wonder if this isn't part of it–the boundaries. In order to establish and enforce their own boundaries, which are confusing the heck out of them, they need something to push (flail wildly) against. And that's you.

Now, bear in mind that this is all just out of my head (ahem) based on observing two sets of kids go through this. But we'd all probably do well to get the Ames & Ilg book on 4-year-olds ("Wild and Wonderful") to see what they observed with hundreds of kids.

Now, what I do know is that this phase doesn't last forever. And it really has nothing to do with you–you just bear the brunt of it because you're the one your child feels most comfortable with. So if you can try to stay above it and know that it's something your kid is trying to work out, and not a battle that you have to emotionally invest in, you might be able to come out of it with less scarring.

Tales of 4-year-olds? Tales of run-ins with 4-year-olds? Assurance that 4-year-olds do grow up and become less prickly?


There seems to be so much loss in the world today. Neda, and the DC Metro accident, and the aftermath of the Mexican daycare fire. It seems like there’s an unusually high number of personal tragedies happening now, too. And people fighting to keep their jobs, and to make good decisions for their lives.

Instead of posting about pacifiers, I thought maybe we could all just use a place to post whatever we’re thinking. Something we’re grateful for, or happy about, or scared of, or sad about. Don’t worry about being too happy or too sad. What you’ve got is what you’ve got, and whatever you put will help someone.