The Bad Liar’s Guide to Baby Praise

“Mildly Inappropriate Mommy” presents a guide to talking to strangers — and stranger babies…

We always tell children never to talk to strangers. Yet when you have a child, talking to strangers might just become a bigger part of your life than ever before.

When you’re out pushing the stroller, people stop to coo or to ask how old the little darling is. When said cooing folk are toting their own tots, then you have no choice but to return the courtesy. If you’re a rotten liar or, like me, helplessly candid, then woe be to you if, in your eyes,  the stranger baby is lacking in the cuteness department. No on-the-street exchange has ever ended well following a “What an *interesting-looking* child. I see he’s inherited his father’s nose hair.”

A friend of mine has devised an elegant solution when facing such an uncomfortable situation: Focus on the child’s clothes, not the child herself. Say, “What a lovely dress” or ”What precious little shoes.” The latter might prove most useful of all: Even if you might not agree with stranger parent’s sartorial choices, you won’t be lying if you observe that her child’s clothing is, indeed, small.

It turns out Peggy Post, the co-author of the forthcoming “ The 18th Edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette” and the great-granddaughter-in-law of the famous manners maven, wholeheartedly agrees with the idea of praising clothes over, um, person. She has some other suggestions as well — try redirecting the conversation by saying, “How exciting for you!” if the baby is a newborn or asking what the child’s name is.

“You can always say something kind without lying,” she said. “Not all babies are really cute. That’s a fact of life.”

So taking the good with the bad, I’ve realized that when it comes to the size-related compliments, you don’t necessarily have to go the “small and precious” route. While you might not appreciate someone telling you that you ”look big for a 34-year-old,” telling a parent of an eight-month-old that he looks big for his age could elicit a beaming smile. What mom or dad doesn’t like to think that their wee one is growing like a beanstalk?

It was why, I suppose, the cashier at a children’s shoe store recently didn’t hesitate to tell me how large my son’s feet were…though she took it a step further.

“I see that when it comes to big feet,” she whispered, throwing a furtive glance at my husband, “he takes after his father.”

I whispered back, “Yep, that’s how he knows it’s his.”

I think I’m really getting the hang of this talking to strangers thing.


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