While I was pregnant with my son, I was hyper-aware of any parents with small children that I encountered. I would watch them – sometimes less than discretely – to see how they interacted with their kids and responded to everyday situations (random silliness, tantrums, gibberish requests, poorly-timed messes, obstinacy, etc.). I began to notice a surprising trend: regardless of their child’s behavior (but especially if the kid was being cute and well-behaved), the parents generally seemed dismissive – talking on their phones, window shopping, sipping coffee, or absent-mindedly jingling a toy in front of the stroller while they waited to cross the street.
“Does that woman not realize her son is making the most charming face?” I’d wonder.
“Is it possible that she’s so used to hearing her toddler sing that she no longer even claps or sings along?”
“Does that dad not see that his daughter is blowing him kisses?”
“How could she not want to squeeze those chubby cheeks every minute of the day?”
I was puzzled by these parents’ apparent nonchalance towards their kids. It was a widespread phenomenon, however, so I eventually concluded that this behavior was the result of (a) being around their children all the time so therefore developing a sort of immunity to their sweetness; and (b) not wanting to make a public display of how darling they think their child is.
When my son was born, I tried hard to follow this example. I’d put him in the sling and go about my day, sneaking glances and kisses when it seemed no one was watching. When visitors cooed at him, I attempted to be blasé – sure, he had perfect proportions, great skin, and impressive head control, whatever. At mommy and me classes or playdates I would do my best to watch my child impassively, as if it was just another meet up on just another day. That was my public mommy persona.
But then, when I got home, I’d gush to my husband about the amazing and adorable things my son had done (which I had carefully cataloged in my memory). I would kiss and cuddle my precious boy until he pushed me away, and I gleefully delighted in every gesture, gurgle, and funny face he made. “Isn’t he the cutest/cleverest/most amazing baby you’ve ever seen?” my husband and I would constantly remark to each other.
Then, at a playdate one day, a friend who was also a new mom gestured to her three-month-old daughter and exclaimed to me, “Isn’t she adorable?” She looked like most three-month-olds to me, but I wholeheartedly agreed as my friend smothered her daughter with kisses and baby talk. Rather than be put off by this public display of parental affection, I found it refreshing and endearing. Of course, I did not think my friend’s daughter was as cute as my son, but I was touched by how openly she displayed her love and pride in her baby.
From then on, I slowly began to drop the blasé mom façade. I started small, just some kisses when my son was in the carrier and sweet nothings whispered while he was sitting in my lap. Soon, I let myself fuss over my son on the Metro, take photos of him just because, and voice my delight in him to whoever was around (including to my son himself, on a regular basis). Now I save my “playing it cool” routine for settings where the others present don’t have kids and may be bothered by mine, but generally, I gush openly over my son.
I believe my kid is the greatest thing on earth, and I don’t care if everyone knows and no one agrees. Childhood is fleeting, so we parents must take every opportunity to find joy in our little ones, even if it makes us late for the bus or causes strangers to stare. I hope every parent believes his or her child is the cutest, smartest, most wonderful person in the world, and I encourage shouting it from the rooftops. I certainly won’t judge you, and it probably means a lot to your child(ren), even if they’re too busy playing it cool to show how much they care.