Distracted By Kids

by admin on June 13, 2013

I need help dealing with a situation I have with a very good friend. It’s kind of awkward, and I’m not sure if it is just me being a jerk, or if other people find this behavior annoying… and I really need help with how I should handle this. Beth is the nicest person; she is kind, friendly, thoughtful and overall just a nice sensitive person. Like everyone, she is not superhuman, she has her moods, but she really cares about other people and worries about their feelings. She has this thing she does that makes me really uncomfortable and I just don’t know how to deal with it.

Today we went shopping and to lunch. While shopping, she was her normal chatty self, smiling and engaging all of the salespeople in the stores (and I mean all of them – she is hilariously over-the-top friendly, which is one thing we seemed to have in common – we will talk to anyone anywhere) and now and then I would tell her I was moving on to the next store while she continued her conversation. She’s fun, but a little more chatty than I am, so I am happy to let her go to town and she is cool with me leaving her.

So now we go to lunch and she does this really annoying thing. Every time someone walks by with a kid she has to turn, look, and say something (“Oh, isn’t he cute!” “Look at that adorable hair”, “Look at the widdle baby” – in a baby voice no less). It’s a constant distraction. And she always tries to get the kids or the parents to talk to her. She did want children of her own and was not successful conceiving, so I feel kind of bad about getting so peeved…but it really, really annoys the heck out of me. I just don’t appreciate her turning away when we are in mid-conversation to tell me the kid at the next table is a cutie-pie. I am around enough kids that they are not novel to me at all – I really like playing with little kids (and I have the sense of humor of a six-year-old), but I kind of keep the kid love focused on my nieces and my close friends’ kids. I feel weird in public pestering parents and kids with uninitiated conversations, and I don’t understand why people think if you are pushing a baby stroller you are just dying to talk to everyone who passes about wonderful your child is. I just think back to when my friend Maddy’s kids were born how she would get annoyed when strangers would start fawning all over them when she was running to the store on a quick errand. She used to joke around a bit that she would steer her cart away from older women in supermarkets because grandparents were, in her opinion, the absolute worst to try to disengage from. (So sorry if you find this offensive, I am just trying to show where I am coming from and what I’ve heard from relatives and friends.)

So should I approach her and tell her she is a pain in the ass to me and to many, many others; or do I just let her go? Am I completely wrong; most people actually like it when strangers start talking to their kids in a restaurant, and most people love to discuss every child they see? Would it be rude if I asked her that she not to bother alerting me to the presence of every said child? Am I awful for losing my patience over this?

I don’t have kids. I think my friends and family with kids may be a little more jaded than Beth, so I am looking for an outside general consensus. I really need some opinions here. I’m leaning towards making a joke about it next time it happens, but I don’t know if I could pull that off without hurting her feelings.

Thanks for the help. 0605-13

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Saucygirl June 13, 2013 at 8:54 am

I have a four year old who is very friendly, and I hate the constant interactions I get pulled into with strangers. As your friend said, I just want to run my errands and be done. Plus, I find it very uncomfortable to have my child complemented by strangers. And when she was younger and they “talked” with her, I never knew what I was suppose to do. Was I suppose to answer for her?

The reality though, is Beth’s rudeness isn’t centered around talking to other people’s kids, it’s from constantly ignoring you to talk to someone else. It’s comparable to taking numerous phone calls while together. I would talk to her about it, but I wouldn’t focus on how she is “wrong” for talking to people’s kids. I would just tell her that when you make time in your schedule to spend time with her, you would actually like to have a conversation with her during that time – not to be essentially abanded while she talks to those around her. If that doesn’t work, just invite her over to your baby free house for lunch in the future.

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Kristen June 13, 2013 at 8:59 am

Why not simply tell your friend that it bothers you when she stops in the middle of a conversation to make comments on or about other people nearby. You don’t need to tell your friend she’s annoying to many others (since you actually don’t know that) and its rude. There are always more constructive ways to pass on critique than calling someone annoying.

It bugs you when your friend doesn’t pay you the attention you would like during conversations in restaurants. Tell her that.

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MichelleP June 13, 2013 at 9:05 am

Hmmm. Tough call. I don’t think you are jaded, or cruel. You are not completely wrong. I have a child and it wasn’t long ago that she was a baby. I didn’t mind people fawning over her, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t want to have a ten minute conversation with every one that looked at her. I didn’t like people I didn’t know touching her either. I do tell lots of people their kids are cute, but I don’t do it to every one I see and I don’t initiate full conversations with every one either.

Whatever you do, be tactful. Don’t tell her she’s being a pain in the ass, to you or anyone else. Look for cues that she is bothering the other person: eye rolling, sighing, glancing at watches, etc. The person she initiates the conversation with is responsible for being the one to end it if they want to, not you. If she doesn’t get the hint, tactfully after they leave say, “I think maybe they were in a hurry, maybe we should just talk to each other.”

As far as it bothering you, keep on going to the next store if she is having a lengthy conversation. If she interrupts mid-conversation about the cute kid at the next table, smile and continue talking. Tactfully say, perhaps, “I agree that kid is adorable but I really want to talk to you.” Make sure you tell her that you love her company; maybe say, “just for a few minutes I want my good friend all to myself!”

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Z June 13, 2013 at 9:07 am

I don’t know how helpful this will be, but I want to tell you what I do.

I do not engage children I don’t know. But if a child in the grocery store waves, I wave back. If a child at the library stares, I will make a funny face. And when a friend of a friend introduces me to a child, I offer my hand to be shook and say, “How do you do?” Because I’m just a little silly. But in any of the situation, if the child turns shy in a hurry, or doesn’t respond back, I let it go. And if the parent see the interaction, I praise them on their parenting skills. “You did a good job! They’ve learned ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ very well!” Or if a mother says, “Say hi!” I tell the child, “It’s all right, kid. You’re catching on that whole ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ thing. Good job.” Because that’s what I am – a stranger.

The grocery store mothers think this is hilarious, by the way.

So if you’re going to make a joke, maybe make one along the “Don’t talk to strangers” line. You’d have to tailor it to your situation, but I find it diffuses potentially awkward situations with both shy children and protective parents pretty well. Maybe it would help your friend see this intrusion on the parents/babies in a different light?

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BeyondTheFail June 13, 2013 at 9:09 am

From what I’ve seen of parents, I think they’d be a little creeped out by the whole “stranger cooing at their kid” bit. Someone needs to talk to your friend about it, and she’ll probably take it best from you. I’m not certain on the best method for talking about it, but mentioning the social acceptability (specifically lack thereof) of it will help.

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Lo June 13, 2013 at 9:17 am

I think it would be helpful to try and pinpoint what exactly is annoying to you before deciding whether to say something.

Is it the excessiveness of it? Does it seem to annoy the parents over whose kids she makes a fuss? Is it the baby voice? (Adults doing constant babytalk with children and each other is one of my biggest pet peeves.) Or is it just that she’s constantly taking attention away from your conversation?

And then speak to her about it directly in a non-judgemental way. If she can’t have children this could be a big gaping wound that you’re skimming the edges of. Proceed with extreme caution.

Keep in mind that a lot of strangers do seem to love having their children acknowleged, so if there is a mutually positive interaction going on here and she’s not overdoing it you might not want to dissuade that. You may have to live with the fact that this is how she’ll always be.

I feel your pain, here. I tend to be at the other extreme. I’ll smile at strange babies and children. I’ll interact with those in my family circle. But as someone with no natural mothering instinct or affection for babies, I’m immune to their charms. So I try to fake a little bit when I meet new babies so people don’t think I’m a jerk. Generally, ignoring someone’s kid is a social faux pas. Since I can’t really reach out and shake an infant’s hand and give a “Hi baby, nice to meet you. Okay, good talk. Seeya around.”, I settle for an appreciative look and an approving noise. Yup, that sure is a baby.

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Elizabeth June 13, 2013 at 9:48 am

I would leave the kid part out of it completely (she’ll defend this behavior – don’t let her go there).

Rather, continue the conversation you’re in. “Beth, as I was saying …” “Beth, did I lose you?” “Beth, hello!!!” And don’t let her off the hook: “You’re easily distracted today!”

And you can always walk away. If she abruptly turns her attention, take some control by leaving. Go to the Ladies Room, make a call, (if in a store) walk away and have her turn back to find you gone. And when she says, ‘Where did you go?’ answer honestly: ‘You re-focused your attention.’

Ignoring this behavior will not change it. Change your reaction to her.

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starstruck June 13, 2013 at 9:51 am

i think i would just wait till she does it again and in a very funny, jokey kinda way say beth! you dont have to pester every kid you see and then smile and change the subject. if it happens again say beth, there you go again. evenually this will cause her to notice her own behavior . lots of times people dont notcie what they are doing till they see it through other people . so after you let on how crazy annoying it is she will more then likely stop. if nothing else, bringing it up that way will break the ice for you to talk about it later if it doesnt stop

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gramma dishes June 13, 2013 at 9:53 am

I like the suggestions made by Michelle P.

She is right. It isn’t actually the cooing at babies that bothers you. It’s that your friend constantly redirects her attention away from you and that annoys you and hurts your feelings. So I think the best way to deal with that is to do as Michelle suggests. Just let her know that you kind of ‘selfishly’ want her more all to yourself during these lunches.

As far as the parents are concerned, the truth is you don’t really know how they feel. I never minded someone in the grocery store or wherever saying my kids were cute. But no one ever stopped to try to carry on a long conversation either. If they had, I’m sure I would have found a way to disengage quickly, and I’m sure these parents can (and will) too if they find her extended comments and conversations uncomfortable. So don’t worry about what the mothers think about your friend.

Concentrate on how her divided attention makes YOU feel, because that’s really what this is all about.

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WildIrishRose June 13, 2013 at 9:55 am

As I see it, the kids aren’t the problem. The problem is Beth’s lack of attention to OP. I once went to dinner and a movie with my daughter, her friend, and her friend’s mom. The girls were about nine or ten years old at the time. The mother talked on her cell phone all during dinner, completely ignoring me and the girls, with whom I carried on a conversation as if Mom wasn’t there. Later, at the movie theater, Mom answered her phone just as the movie began, and I quietly told her to hang up and turn her phone off during the picture–which she did. After the movie, we went to my house. She then commandeered my phone to call the person she’d been talking with earlier (a man, not her husband, which I thought was a bad idea to begin with) and spent another half-hour talking with him while my husband and I entertained the girls. That was my last outing with this woman.

Beth is being rude to OP by allowing herself to be so distracted by other people’s children that she interrupts the adult conversation she is having to comment on those children. If I were you, OP, I would just tell her that it hurts your feelings a little bit to have this happen time and time again. She may not realize how irritating it is. But if you tell her, and she does anything but apologize and promise not to do it again, I would limit the times I spend in public with her. If she is doing this because she is distraught at her inability to have children of her own, then she needs professional help.

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Anonymous June 13, 2013 at 10:04 am

Yeah, I think this behaviour can make not only the parents uncomfortable, but the children themselves. Besides the “don’t talk to strangers” message (which I don’t really agree with; I think it should be “don’t go off with strangers” instead, but this is Etiquette Hell, not Safety Hell), it’s patronizing. Kids are people too, and they don’t want to be talked down to. I admit I used to do the same thing, but with dogs instead of children. A friend of mine called me on it, and so, I reined it in a bit, at least around her.

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MichelleP June 13, 2013 at 10:07 am

I’m a little taken aback by some of the comments here. Not to criticize, but why would anyone be uncomfortable with an honest, simple compliment on how beautiful their child is? Not touching them, or keeping a conversation going when you give signals that you want to leave, but just an honest compliment?

As a parent, it never “creeped me out” when a stranger cooed at my beautiful baby. I don’t like it when parents don’t thank me for giving their child a compliment.

I haven’t taught my child to “not talk to strangers” because most kidnappings and virtually all molestations are not committed by strangers. I’ve taught her to talk to people as much as she wants as long as she’s with me, and that it’s ok to say no to adults if they are asking her to do something that makes her uncomfortable. She has her “safe side adults” and they are the only people she can go with without me.

I dislike the opposite also, a parent forcing their child to speak to or hug an adult, whoever it is. Encourage our children to be polite, but careful. Not scared, safe!

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Jinx June 13, 2013 at 10:08 am

I think it’s better to look at this as how it’s affecting the break in conversation. If you make it about fawning over children, you’ll come across as bitter.

I would probably say something like, I love how you’re so outgoing and friendly, and I feel bad saying this, but sometimes it hurts my feelings when we’re having a conversation and you turn away from me to talk to someone else. I know you’re not doing it to ignore me, but it still hurts my feelings.

I would say this after she breaks conversation to speak to a child, so she gets the connection better. Though, if she is breaking conversation continually to talk to adults, it’s still somewhat rude. Either way, I wouldn’t make it about the age of the person she’s ignoring you to talk to.

Honestly, it really would hurt my feelings over a period of time. I would feel like my conversation wasn’t as interesting to my friend as a baby… and while that might be true occasionally (a toddler passes by in full Tigger costume – adorbs!), it would become hurtful that anyone under the age of 6 is more interesting than me.

Make it about your feelings. Definitely don’t bring up how you think the parents may feel (even if it’s probably true). Bringing anything other than your feelings into this has the potential to set your friend on the defensive and turn this into a fight.

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MichelleP June 13, 2013 at 10:09 am

Before I get a slew of comments saying how naive I am and that my child is going to be kidnapped, I know the statistics and believe it or not, there isn’t a pedophile or kidnapper around every corner. By all means, though, be careful.

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Chelle June 13, 2013 at 10:24 am

Let me provide an alternate perspective:
As a person who struggles with infertility, I urge you to cut her some slack. This may just be her way of dealing with her pain. (In fact, as I read the story, I wondered if infertility was a part of it even BEFORE I got to your mention of her difficulty concieving.)
It in incredibly painful to be denied the children that you desperately want. Some find it difficult to be around kids b/c they are reminded of their pain. If your friend is able to deal with it in a positive manner by complementing others’ children, good for her!
I get that it’s annoying – and as a mom (we have one miracle, but even since her arrival, we’ve faced numerous failed attempts for more), I see how it can be frustrating having strangers talk to your kids. (PPs have mentioned this.) However, it’s not really rude – it’s not hurting anything – we can offer grace to one another, right???

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Joel June 13, 2013 at 10:25 am

That would definitely annoy me, too!

The first thing I would offer is: take the effort to show you respect her. You are not trying to be her parent. You are acting out of love.

Don’t make a joke about her actions in public–that kind of comes off as passive aggressive.

Have the conversation with her in private, and especially with no distractions!

Try to keep as your approach that you want her to see the situations from your and others’ points of view. Use illustrations she will connect with (“do you remember that time some stranger just walked…”)

Always reinforce that you are her friend and you’re there for her.

On a side note, its situations like these that forge strong friendships. It takes a real friend to confront someone out of love and a desire to see them grow. A lot of times, they will not see this, and they may be hurt, but the responsibility now falls on them to ask if losing a friendship is really worth it. If it is, it’s possible you’re stronger without them. What you’re doing is a scary thing, but it’s a lost art in today’s society.

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acr June 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

I agree with the posters who say that the fact she is commenting on children is largely irrelevant. Would it be less annoying and disrespectful if she commented on every blonde she saw? In your place, I would quietly keep count for a meal with her how many of these interruptions there are. You may find that what feels “constant” to you is actually only a few per meal. Or you may find that she is doing this 10-12 times per meal.

Then perhaps at your next meal, after her third or fourth comment, something like, “You may not have noticed, but that’s the fourth time you’ve interrupted our conversation to talk to or about a baby since we sat down to eat.”

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Allie June 13, 2013 at 10:56 am

Gosh, that is a toughie, especially given her history of unsuccessfully trying to conceive. But to answer your questions, no, you are not completely wrong and many people on your position and in the position of the parents she approaches would find this annoying. And you haven’t lost your patience. You have asked for advice before deciding what to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. You suggest two extremes: telling her she’s a pain in the ass or letting it go. You may, ultimately, have to let it go if she chooses not to (or is unable to) alter her behavior. I would approach her as gently as possible and tell her how you feel. Make it about you, not her. In other words, instead of saying how annoying her conduct is, focus on how it makes you feel and ask her if she can tone it down. Not change her personality altogether overnight, just tone it down and see how that works. It’s okay for her to do this once in a while in appropriate situations (i.e. where the parent of the child is clearly interested in being engaged and not in any apparent hurry). However, as a new mum, I do sometimes avoid certain situations because I’m in a hurry or just don’t feel like chatting. For the most part, I’m okay with strangers engaging me for a few moments. It’s kind of nice that people will smile or say good morning when you have a stroller. It does get annoying, however, when they make a big fuss and especially when they touch my baby. We are deathly sick with some kind of cold or flu virus at the moment and I suspect it was one of the ladies at church who was fawning over us with her germ-laden hands : ) If you are overwhelmed by your desire to touch my baby, please do not touch her hands and face. Touch her on her foot, her knee, her shoulder; any part of her that is not her face and won’t end up in her mouth.

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Harley Granny June 13, 2013 at 11:08 am

Personally I feel she’s being very disrespectful to you.

Every time she does that I would imediately stop the converstion, wait until she’s done and then with one eyebrow raised say very sweetly…..”are you ready for me now?”

Repeat as many times as necessary. If she asks what’s wrong the say something to the affect….make it even a bit silly if you wish….”I’m pouting because you’re paying attention to them and not me” or if you want to be more direct…”I lose my train of thought when you stop to make faces at children.”

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Calli Arcale June 13, 2013 at 11:18 am

It’s a good thing she hasn’t run into me and my daughters. My youngest will talk your ear off. She’d never escape from the six-year-old stream-of-consciousness onslaught! I’ve started encouraging her to come to the door with me when the Jehovah’s Witnesses call. I like talking about the Bible, and so does she, so I actually enjoy the JWs even if I don’t share all of their doctrinal positions. But it’s a good opportunity to let her test her conversational skills with adults who are actually in a position to have a lengthy conversation with someone they hardly know. And it’s amazing what comes out of a six-year-old’s brain sometimes.

I’m with the others. It’s not so much the striking-up-conversations-with-strangers that’s the problem, as it is the fact that she’s interrupting your conversation to do it. In general, if she’s annoying people by talking their ears off, I’d say it’s the other people’s job to let her know that. But if you see her ignoring clear signals to back off, you could consider gently informing her of that. But it’s really between them and her. The interruptions of your conversation with her are definitely your business, though, and you should tell her that it bothers you. I love the suggestions others have come up with already for how to do that gently.

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Wowsers June 13, 2013 at 11:22 am

The etiquette issue here does NOT have anything to do with children.

It’s your friend interrupting conversation after conversation to do something….else.

Bad friend. :-) But you already admit you both are like this, enjoying conversation and engaging strangers, chit chatting, sanguine….the whole bit.

I think you have to deal with it since that’s just the way you guys are. If it’s really troublesome just say “hey, I’m trying to talk to you here” enough times she’ll get the hint. Or make sure you don’t lunch with her.

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Victoria June 13, 2013 at 11:30 am

I never minded when people cooed at either of my kids. They were the prettiest babies ever, of course. :-) But I also wouldn’t stand and have a conversation with them, just said thank you, smiled, and moved on.

I do remember once when I was having a terrible day, I can’t even remember why, but I was feeling really depressed (I had severe postpartum depression, for about two years after my youngest was born). When I was in the check out at the grocery, one of the kids asked for candy, I told them no, and they said ok. The person behind me in the line told me I was a wonderful parent, that I had taught my children to accept the word no. It honestly made my day, and really lifted my spirits, so much that I remember it ten years later.

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AMC June 13, 2013 at 11:34 am

I have a one-and-a-half year old daughter. When out and about, we often get compliments on how cute she is and how big and blue her eyes are. I personally don’t mind hearing others compliment my child and usually love any excuse to show her off. Getting pulled into a 10 minute conversation by a stranger while I’m trying to run errands would probably be a different story though.
As another commentor said, the issue isn’t really *who* she’s talking to; it’s that she’s interrupting a conversation with you to talk to someone else, and that makes you feel like you’re not as important. The next time she does it, gently tell her that it hurts you when she cuts off a conversation with you to give attention to someone else. I would tread lightly though on the fact that the people she’s talking to are parents and kids. Given her history, this may be a sensitive subject for her.

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Huh June 13, 2013 at 11:39 am

Can you say something like, “Yep, he/she is cute” and immediately redirect her back to your conversation? Or, if you think it would work with her, mention what your other friend said, that moms generally want to get in and out of stores/lunches as quickly as possible, and maybe she should just smile and wave at the kid and move on?

I am a shy person and one of my kids is too. I hated being approached by strangers with her, because neither of us enjoyed the experience. She and I both will say, “Hello, how are you?” to strangers and that is it. I once had an older person berate me for raising my kids to be brats for not talking to them! People get it into your head, YOU ARE A STRANGER. You are not owed a conversation with anyone!

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Wendy B. June 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

Echoing what others have said…it is no different than if she kept taking cell phone calls during lunch. And I would do what others have suggested, either say you carved out time to be with her and thought lunch would be time to talk, or continually call for her attention, or walk away.

The question is, which is more important? Your friendship or engaging every child within a 100 yard radius? By her actions thus far, I think it’s the latter.

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Green123 June 13, 2013 at 12:12 pm

It doesn’t matter whether Beth is commenting on passing children, dogs, cars or whatever, the point is when you’re with a friend you’re supposed to be concentrating on your conversation with them! Everyone gets distracted sometimes, but it sounds like Beth is being distracted all the time which is very disrespectful to the OP.

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Saucygirl June 13, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Michelle p, to answer your question about why would anyone not want an “honest simple compliment of their child”, my personal reason is because that is seldom what we got. We got people who carried on about how gorgeous our kid was, with her curly hair, dimples, etc. People would tell us she was the most gorgeous kid ever, and they would do it in front of their own kids! Then as we ran into them in various aisles of the stores, they would start all over again. And this literally happened weekly, for years, until my daughter got older and the curls went away and she started talking so much that she didn’t have time to smile and show the dimples. It was not only uncomfortable, but could also add an easy 10 minutes or more of time to an errand. No thanks.

Now, a quick compliment about my daughters behavior, like the one Victoria mentions in her post, I will happily take that any day. And I will happily give them too.

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Brenda June 13, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I’m glad my kids are past the adorably cute phase (they honestly were very cute kids, with huge cheeks, curly hair, and long, dark eyelashes).

When you’re trying to run errands with babies and toddlers, just getting out of the house is a major task, what with strollers, bottles, diaper bags, etc., but then to be stopped all the time, while sweet and well-intentioned, just drags it out longer. If the parent is waiting in line with you, sharing public transit, or in a situation where small talk passes the time, that’s okay, but if you’re stopping the parent, the attention is probably unwanted.

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sv June 13, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Your friend is noticing every cute child out there because that is what her mind is focused on right now. You very casually remarked that she was unable to conceive as though this were a small matter. It’s not. She has probably read every book, taken all advice, wept, stressed and obsessed about it for much longer than you realize. She sees beauty in these children because she wants one. You don’t seem to mind when her talking concerns adults ( who may have other things to do, by the way; most salesclerks cannot simply make conversation all day).If this brings her a measure of happiness, why not just leave her to it? As for the parents you are presuming to answer for, I assure you they have had practice in getting away when caught in an involved conversation. Going out in public with a young child is a guarantee that you will be assaulted with good wishes, inquisitive questions, and intrusive advice. All parents deal with it and we are all used to cutting the conversation short when we need to. If the parents are uncomfortable they will leave; and if they are enjoying bragging about their child, who are you to cut it short?

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E June 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I have no advice to add, but experienced a similar situation. I had a friend (single woman) who had a dog. When we would hang out at her house, she would interrupt me in mid-sentence, mid-conversation, to engage in some loud baby-talk with her dog. The dog wouldn’t even be doing anything, just laying there. It served to (sometimes) rile up the dog, and it was naturally very distracting to the conversation. I had no idea what she was getting out of it. It was very annoying, and I never did figure out how to address it. At first, I thought she wanted to change topics to the dog, but after awhile I just ignored it.

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Ellen June 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm

I’m gonna go much bigger picture here. I wonder how the people Beth encounters get anything done! Those salesclerks she’s chatting up while you’re moving on to another store…they’re working and I’m sure their bosses would much rather they move on to the next customer than continue discussing the pros and cons of gel manicures. And parents with small children already have their hands full without dodging the assault of an over-friendly stranger.
I am NOT discouraging good natured pleasantries, but the world is not responsible for providing Beth with continuous amusement and conversation. Beth really needs to loosen her manic grip and let the people go on with their lives.

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SJ June 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

It’s really about her ignoring/interrupting conversations with you, so that’s the issue to address, I think.

My husband does this with cars instead of kids, so I think I understand. It’s not anything to do with how I feel about cars, it’s just I don’t want to halt our conversation every time he sees a cool one.

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Erin June 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I have to disagree with people saying it’s exactly like answering your phone in mid-conversation – there’s a deep emotional element to this that changes everything. Wanting children but not being able to have them is no small thing. Cut her a little slack, and if it gets to be too much, try to redirect her attention with humor and kindness.

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Marozia June 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm

You are not annoying or even offensive. It is your friend Beth who is. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘what a gorgeous baby’ or if a toddler is wanting to be picked up (which happened to me yesterday), saying and smiling ‘what a cutie boy/girl you have’. But to engage in conversations with kids and parents can get a little longwinded and insufferable.
Beth is the rude person for cutting off your conversations to speak to others’ kids.
Ever heard of STRANGER DANGER??

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arrow June 13, 2013 at 4:13 pm

As I’m reading the letter, there are two possible scenarios:

1) Friend interrupts the conversation to say, “Isn’t she cute? So you were saying…”
2) Friend interrupts the conversation to say, “Isn’t she cute?” and then runs off to start a conversation with the parent of said cute child.

I consider 1 to be only a little rude, and mostly just annoying. I have trouble keeping on with my story if someone interrupts me; with each interruption, I can’t just pick up where I left off, I almost need to start the story again or backtrack significantly in order to keep my train of thought going, to remember the point I was going to make. Friend’s conversation style sounds a little too ADD for me personally to be friends with her, but different strokes for different folks.

I find 2 to be far too obnoxious to put up with, personally. If I felt the need to maintain this friendship, I would not go to public spaces where my friend would be so distracted–I’d invite her to my home only.

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Stella June 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I kind of have a different take on this. I badly wanted kids but quite recently found out I cannot conceive. So I know that when I see a cute baby in public, I have to be careful not to go overboard because while part of reaction is genuine admiration for an adorable baby, but part of it is also that biological clock that will never be satisfied and could potentially come off as creepy. I might remark about a child to my hubby or a companion I’m with but would try not to let it distract me from the conversation. It sounds like Beth might have the same reaction – she may be fantasizing, just for a few seconds, what it would be like to be on the receiving end of the cooing and fawning over a baby of her own. Maybe try to draw her into a conversation about her infertility and be sensitive to it? Or if that’s too personal, then do as someone else suggested and leave the “kid” part out of it. As far as salespeople, maybe a gentle tug and a “Hey, let the nice lady get back to work” would distract her and allow the saleslady a graceful exit. Your friend sounds like a gregarious, loving soul and fun to be around. Don’t let a couple of minor annoyances get in the way of an otherwise good friendship.

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Suzanne June 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Drfinitely cut her a little slack here. It doesn’t seem to bother you when she talks with grownups so why is talking to little ones such an issue? My husband and I can’t conceive naturally and so we are saving for IVF in a couple of years. He’s not a huge “baby” person and I absolutely ache to have one. I know it’s a long ways off (if ever) and so I do get excited when someone else has children because that may be the closest I will ever come to having any of my own. If your friend already knows that she won’t be a mother then there’s a very good chance that she’s really hurting over it. She’s not chewing with her mouth open, panhandling, or anything else unsavory from what I can tell so if this is the worst she does then maybe just let her.

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Hilary June 13, 2013 at 6:05 pm

I would just add that it could be annoying to have strangers compliment your children’s looks if you’re trying to teach them that they should be valued for their brains, their kindness, or any other trait. My sister runs into this with her daughters. They both have long, silky blond hair and blue eyes, and people are constantly telling them, “Your hair is so gorgeous,” or “What a beautiful girl you are!” It’s meant as a compliment, but my sister wants her daughters to know that their looks is not where their value lies. Kind of a feminist thing, but I could see being annoyed to have that message undermined by well-meaning strangers.

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Stella June 13, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I would agree that it would be best to politely, in a friendly way, say that you feel slighted when she breaks conversation to comment on passers by. I wouldn’t necessarily point out the fact that she’s always doing it to children.

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Barbarian June 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm

It sounds like your friend needs counseling for her infertility issues or to involve herself in a volunteer group with children. I think she would get more meaningful contact with kids that way instead of forcing herself on stranger’s kids. If you don’t feel up to bringing up these suggestions with her, maybe you can anonymously mail her literature for counseling services or children’s groups.

I can sympathize with the parents. A friend told me that their daughter was so pretty as a child that strangers would spontaneously buy her things in stores because she was “so cute”. One time, I reprimanded my son in a store and a stranger bought him a candy bar and pressed it into his hand because she felt sorry for him. What if he had been allergic to the candy? I took it from him, stuck it in my purse, and shot the lady the Glare of Death. He never saw that candy bar again.

True, it takes a village to raise a child but a village can spoil a child too.

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Lex June 14, 2013 at 3:12 am

Hmm. Difficult one.

I honestly, genuinely cannot understand what drives people to try to interact with children and parents they do not know. I can’t understand why random strangers think it’s okay to cop a feel of a woman’s body just because there is a baby inside and I can’t fathom why on earth the cuteness or otherwise of some random strangers child is of any importance to a person.

Perhaps it is a personality flaw with me but I prefer to keep myself to myself and engage only at an appropriately distant level. I would never dream of commenting on a strangers baby bump because you never know whether or not they are actually pregnant, or whether something tragic might have happened and they’ve lost the baby and are waiting for a hospital call or something. It is better not to put yourself in that awkward position in the first place.

I discourage people I don’t know from getting involved in lengthy conversations with me about personal things as I REALLY don’t like the invasion of privacy.

LeBoyfriend and I are giving consideration to starting a family and the idea that a random stranger might lay their hands on me genuinely terrifies me and as I already suffer agitated depression I cannot predict how I might react to that but I’m pretty sure screaming will be involved as I LOATHE being touched by strangers – I get panicky. I even find doctors appointments a struggle sometimes so I always try to see the same one (not easy in the UK as getting an appointment with the NHS is like trying to win the lottery).

The idea that random strangers might try to engage me in conversation about my child also terrifies me. Perhaps there is something wrong with me but I just like to live my life and do my own thing. I don’t go out of my way to be rude, but I just don’t like making small talk. Perhaps it is because I’m painfully shy. I don’t know. I go through my life speaking to everyone I don’t know in a detached and professional manner. Cool, calm and polite but rigidly formal.

I think it is wrong of your friend to force her interaction on people. Her behaviour sounds borderline masochistic as you mention that she failed to conceive but yet draws attention to every child and infant she sees? That must cause her some inner pain. I think you are possibly being a bit unreasonable to expect her to stop, but as other posters have said, if her behaviour is resulting in her being rude to you then it is worth saying something.

I’m quite conflict avoidant as I end up having panic attacks otherwise so I would approach this from a more self-centric way:

“Beth, could you do me a favour and not point out kids and babies and stuff to me please? It makes me a little uncomfortable as I’m not keen on getting involved in conversations with the parents.”

I would make this more about how you feel than how the parents might feel as straying into that realm is speculative. It is also not asking her to cease her preferred masochism but to exclude you from it. I also think a suggestion from an earlier poster about interrupting her to re-establish your conversation is a good plan.

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Louisa June 14, 2013 at 5:06 am

Agree with Chelle and Erin. The pain of not being able to have a child runs deeper than many people realise, and often because a bright face is put on it. I suffered several miscarriages before my kids and was diagnosed infertile, so now always welcome interactions from strangers, a) because I don’t know their story, and b) because I want my children to learn that society is largely friendly and helpful and smiley. At least a good one is. To those who focus on the interruptions and take the focus off the kids, I think perhaps in this case, a little compassion for the unique circumstance could make the difference. It doesn’t kill us to indulge a love of kids. After all, there are far worse faults. And telling your friend it irritates you-you just don’t know how badly it might hurt given her circumstances. Is the friendship worth the gamble? Little love and tolerance here fellow eHellions?

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--Lia June 14, 2013 at 6:11 am

That Beth is overly engaging with babies is for the parents to disentangle themselves from– if they want to.
That Beth is interrupting you mid-sentence is for you to address. When she gets back from her fawning, tell her that you’d been in the middle of something, that it’s hard to find your place again, and that you wish she wouldn’t cut you off like that. I agree with those who compare it to other interruptions. You shouldn’t have to sit there while a friend takes a phone call or texts with someone else. Babies are more appealing in general, but in the long run, the principle is the same.

Like others, I’d also draw a distinction between a passing compliment and treating a child like a side show freak. If it’s impolite to stare and make a fuss over an adult, it’s impolite to stare and make a fuss over a child. I don’t care how old the child is, look for cues from the child herself that she’s enjoying the attention. You know the way people laugh when they’re being tickled but there’s really nothing enjoyable about the sensation? Too much attention can be the same thing. The child might smile when he’s really self-conscious, shy, and wish the overbearing stranger would go away.

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Miss-E June 14, 2013 at 7:06 am

All of these comments are making me a little sad. I work in a grocery store that has a huge emphasis on having friendly customer relations and I often say hi to the little kids shopping with their parents (mind you, not a long drawn-out conversation just “hi”). I had no idea saying hi to someone’s kid is such an offensive act. My parents always told me stories about how people fawned over my sister and I as kids and that made them so proud. Do we really live in a world so paranoid and harassed that saying hi to a four-year-old is considered rude?

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another Laura June 14, 2013 at 7:38 am

Why not try lunching in a relatively child-free restaurant and see if that helps? There are some which don’t allow kids and others which don’t cater to them (no kiddie menus, highchairs, changing tables) which should allow you to dine and converse uninterrupted.

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Lo June 14, 2013 at 9:56 am

@Lex

“…the idea that a random stranger might lay their hands on me genuinely terrifies me and as I already suffer agitated depression I cannot predict how I might react to that but I’m pretty sure screaming will be involved as I LOATHE being touched by strangers – I get panicky.”

I feel you. Practice now to fortify yourself for this. I don’t know about the UK but here in the US there is an epidemic of people touching pregnant woman. How anyone thinks this isn’t a violation of privacy and decency is beyond me. Practice saying “I would appreciate it if you didn’t touch me.” or “Please don’t touch me”. Say it without a trace of apology and say it after a first offense. If there is a second offense, remove yourself immediately from the situation. If they have the gall to be offended then write them off immediately. Just don’t engage. Having a plan for this will help to manage your anxiety about it. I’ve never been pregnant but I do have an anxiety disorder so I’ve had to learn to cope with my reaction towards strangers (and even family) trying to put their hands on me in a way they see as friendly but causes me to feel scared and nauseous.

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Gabriele June 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I agree with Ellen about over-engaging with people who are working. I am a talker but I try to offer substance which concerns what the person is selling/doing. At the same time, I do know that that there’s a chance the sales person will be told after work to cut back on the chatter…and I don’t want to be the person responsible for getting them corrected.
A food store I shop at had a sale on asparagus and I bought three pounds of them. The clerk asked me what I was going to do with them and I told her I was going to make soup; I love asparagus soup. She said she loved it too! I started to tell her the recipe but realized she couldn’t remember it and it would take time from people in line behind me. I told her I’d print the recipe for her and bring it on my next visit. I did so.
I not only enjoyed being able to share a favorite recipe but it was a learning experience for me, that sometimes actions really are better than words.
I see the interaction with all the other people as an expression of something lacking in the friend’s life, that she has to invest so much time in people who are not really ‘in’ her life. If she is a genuinely over-friendly person then perhaps she’s in the wrong line of work and needs to find something that gives her the opportunity to use her communicating abilities. When I was in customer service for a shipping company (ocean) my day was spent on the phone providing information and assistance, often to regular callers, so my communications need was fulfilled that way.
A friend who was a special ed teacher spent so much time with children and with no adult conversations at work, she’d spend her evenings on the phone.
I suggest the OP do a search on ‘excessive talking’…it can be a sign of anxiety (other things too)..but
if the OP takes time to watch her friend’s behavior she might see that some of the talking is compulsive rather than just friendly, and accept it because her friend can’t help herself–and the OP should not expect her to. I think it’s more than an etiquette issue. As far as the overinvolvement with strange (unknown) children, if she is a close enough friend then suggesting she talk to someone about not getting pregnant to help her get a different perspective (again, Not Change), or join a group that discusses the issue. The OP might consider contacting such a group herself and ask if the extreme focus on other people’s children is something they deal with.
She may have no one left to talk to about her childlessness. Her husband may have dealt with his emotions and not understand that she hasn’t gotten over her sense of loss and tune her out.
The wonderful thing about sites like this is that while it’s primarily about manners, other issues are raised. So the OP could talk about a funny story she read here and then another, and then mention reading about this issue and ask if she still needs to talk about not having her own children …and then mention suggestions made online…
The OP could also suggest that since the friend has so much interest in others children that perhaps she should look into volunteering at some place where children need attention. It might be too much to bear but if she could, it could give her a productive, generous outlet for her child involvement issues.
I hope the OP can help the friend as I don’t think that much talking makes her a happier person…

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Miss-E June 14, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Also: all the comments on this site are making me glad I’ve always followed a paranoid policy of asking a parent to remove their children from shopping carts when I ring them up (from the main part, not the part designed for kids to sit in). I am terrified of dislodging a bunch of bananas, bruising some kid and getting fired because some nervous, paranoid parent who thinks everyone is trying to hurt their child flips out on me.

It still makes me sad that this is the world we live in where people can even stomach a little small talk when someone tells you your child is adorable.

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MichelleP June 14, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Thank you, Miss-E. Good grief people, they are only telling you your kids are cute!

@Lex, no one has even mentioned strangers putting their hands on anyone. I agree with you that people should not touch a pregnant woman’s stomach unless she agrees, but that issue is not the one the OP and her friend have. As a nurse, I have to say I think you need counseling. I don’t want to offend you, but it sounds like you have serious problems and I urge you to get therapy before you even consider having a child.

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Saucygirl June 15, 2013 at 9:53 am

Miss e and Michelle p – I don’t think you are really reading/understanding what people are writing. We are not complaining about quick hi’s or short compliments to our kids. We are talking about people wanting to have prolonged conversations, continually approaching us throughout a store, and in a couple of people’s case, buying unwanted toys and candy for their children. That is to much. It goes beyond being friendly, and into harassment. And miss e, you even went in your first comment from saying you were saying quick hi’s, to saying in your second comment that you wanted small talk. Now imagine that a parent is approached by three to four people per store at every store they go to, who just want small talk. Do you really not see how this can get overwhelming and become a huge drain on their time?

And Michelle p – there is nothing wrong with lex saying she doesn’t want to be touched by strangers. I have yet to meet one pregnant person who does. To suggest she needs counseling because she has a fear of it is outrageous. Pretty much every pregnant person would need counseling if that was the case

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