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Learning To Accept A Compliment — For My Daughter

A new mom learns that it’s OK to be a little vain when it comes to your baby. (aarongilson/flickr)
A new mom learns that it’s OK to be a little vain when it comes to your baby. (aarongilson/flickr)
This article is more than 6 years old.

Of the many things I envisioned myself doing as a new mom, not one included insulting my infant daughter in public.

But this is exactly what I found myself doing when strangers complimented my sweet 8-month-old, my beloved “turkey girl.” It’s a knee-jerk reaction that I realize has to stop, and it probably stems from the fact that I don’t know how to graciously accept a compliment. Nor do I want to usher in the “evil eye” by agreeing with kind strangers that my daughter is, indeed, cute or happy or content. If I were to acknowledge that I agree with these strangers (which obviously I do – in spades) then I might as well just invite superstitious forces to wreak havoc on my baby girl with the power of gale-force winds.

So instead of beaming and saying “thank you” to the smiley folks on the street, I counter their generosity with grumpiness. Here is a typical exchange:

Kind stranger: “Look at her big blue eyes!”

Me: “You should have seen her blue eyes last night — all tears.”

Of the many things I envisioned myself doing as a new mom, not one included insulting my infant daughter in public.

Or this scenario:

Kind stranger: “Your baby seems so content.”

Me: “She has her moments.”

As these interactions unfold, my daughter is being her delicious baby self — and I morph into a sullen type of mother that is unfamiliar to me, and certainly one that I’d never want my daughter to witness as her language skills develop.

I don’t want to insult my baby daughter on principle, and I certainly don’t like making strangers feel bad for their kindness and their efforts at making a personal connection. But at the same time I’m fighting a neurotic element deep inside myself that A) accepting a compliment is an exercise in vanity and B) that by acknowledging the compliment — a cuddly baby girl! — I’ve been bestowed a karmic gift that will surely backfire in the end.

I realized the effect my affected grumpiness can have on strangers recently, when I became the admiring party at Trader Joe’s. I was making a quick, baby-less stop to pick up bananas and cashews when I came face-to-face with a bouncy infant in the grocery cart. “Oh my, your daughter’s just adorable,” I enthusiastically proclaimed to the woman I presumed to be the child’s mother. We locked eyes but I barely got a smile in response. Hers was a wan effort that made me feel as if she receives an abundance of such compliments, which have become too tiresome to properly acknowledge. I felt awkward that my keen excitement was tossed aside, before I realized that I’m guilty of the same social faux passé.

Little Mirabelle (Courtesy)
Little Mirabelle (Courtesy)

That’s why I attempted to reform myself recently when I picked up my daughter from daycare, and a caregiver I never met before began to shower praise onto Mirabelle.

“Your daughter is so content,” said the caregiver who identified herself as working at the daycare center for 14 years. “She just plays on the rug and bounces to the music. She really is an easy baby.”

At first I rejected the compliment, since I didn’t want this woman to think I had it so easy, especially since we live in a society that practically fetishizes challenges and overcoming all manner of difficulties. If your life appears “easy” then you must not be busy enough.

“Well when Mirabelle was a newborn I spent hours Googling colic and gripe waters — she had projectile vomiting — in and out of the pediatrician’s office every week,” I began. The caregiver’s face began to tighten — not because of my rudeness but because she was upset to learn that Mirabelle experienced such discomfort.

“Oh the poor thing! I’d be crying all the time too if I had such bad gas.”

I felt like a dolt. I was taking compliments for the baby and twisting them into issues about myself. There is also the distressing realization that my daughter will soon absorb these unloving statements coming from her own mother. So I stopped my rambling about Mirabelle’s spit-ups and low birth weight, and told myself it’s ok to accept a compliment, even if it still puts me on edge.

I was taking compliments for the baby and twisting them into issues about myself.

“This is the best turkey girl,” I told the caregiver, as Mirabelle put her hands to my nose for a playful bop.

I still felt like I was being a bit boastful, but at the same time I felt a release. I was simply verbalizing what I privately think to myself each day. Saying it aloud didn’t change my karmic alignment — at least not yet.

Now I tell myself that by accepting a compliment I’m living in the moment, practicing graciousness and gratitude for the sake of a stranger, myself and a baby. Besides, I now grasp that the compliment is not about me. It’s about my daughter, and until she’s old enough I’m the one who needs to accept it on her behalf with humility and kindness — not rejection.


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Hinda Mandell Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Hinda Mandell, a Boston-area native, is associate professor in the School of Communication at RIT in Rochester, New York.

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