Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What a cute baby!

An exchange I had with my stepmother this past weekend made me wonder whether I am odd and whether I should have acted differently.  (Note: either could be true, and it would not be the first time.)

I should start by saying that I am usually honest to a fault.  I will admit that I have sometimes been accused of being too blunt as well.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not one to use false flattery or mince words.

Because I don't believe in lying, I generally will not say that a baby/child is attractive if I don't genuinely think s/he is.  I will usually find something else positive to say about the child ("Wow! He has a lot of hair for a little guy" or "Aw, look how peaceful/innocent/strong/happy she looks"), but I will not comment that I think the child is attractive if, in my view, s/he is, in fact, average or unattractive.

(BTW, clearly I am not one of those people who thinks "All babies are beautiful."  While I love the purity and innocence of babies and small children, just like adults, they are not always good-looking.  I also realize that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.")

The easier situations in which to avoid a white lie about appearance are when you are actually interacting with the child.  It is then easy to focus on his/her immediate behaviors, rather than on looks.  Every baby or small child DOES cute things, even if s/he is not particularly attractive.  It's more difficult to be diplomatic and say something nice when you are only seeing the child in a photo.

As further background, let me mention that my stepmother and I are not particularly close.  My father married her when I was already an adult.  You should also know that she and my father do not know about our IF or treatment.  (I wrote more about her and why they are not in the loop here.)

This brings me to the situation for which I am interested in others' opinions.  While with my family last weekend, my stepmother wanted to show me a recent photo of her  now-22-month-old great-granddaughter.  My stepmother was a mother at 16 and a grandmother by my age.  Her second-oldest granddaughter became a mother for the first time in August 2008.  Needless to say, the photo was not the first one I've seen of this child; every time I have seen my stepmother since her birth, she has had new photos of "R" to show me.  As likely any great-grandmother would be, she is very proud of her (so far only) great-grandchild.

My stepmother pulled up the photo on her mobile phone while we were out on a boat on the lake.  (I wish there was a way for me to post it here.)  The photo showed an average-looking toddler girl with short, curly medium-brown hair who slightly resembled her mother, tightly hugging a stuffed Elmo smushed close to her face.

I looked at the photo for a few seconds and said "Aw, looks like she really loves her Elmo, how sweet" and handed the phone back to my stepmother.  At that moment, no more was said on the matter.

Later that day, in the evening, my father was telling a story about R from when they visited her last in April.  While telling his story, my father made to get his wife's mobile phone to show me the same photo she had shown me earlier.  I told him that I had seen the photo earlier on the boat (which he did not realize because he was not in the immediate area).

At which point my stepmother (snarkily) said "Yeah, and you didn't show much interest in it either."

I replied that I had looked at the photo, commented on it, and wasn't sure what else she expected me to do.  To which she responded "You could have said what a beautiful child she is."

It was on the tip of my tongue to say "If I thought she WAS a beautiful child, I would have said so, beyotch" and "Maybe the reason I'm not more interested in your $%&^ great-grandchild is because I have been trying to have a baby of my own for two years, while your underemployed, uneducated granddaughter had no trouble popping one out at age 25."  But I held my tongue.  I have kept her and my dad in the dark about our TTC efforts for a reason, and I don't intend to change that decision now.  I also didn't want to get into an argument with her when I had to spend the rest of the weekend (and the next weekend coming up) with them.  I think that instead I just shrugged and said "OK. . ."

Bear in mind, this is a child whom I have not seen, and am unlikely to see, in person.  While I have been shown photos of her by my stepmother during each time we have seen one another since R was born in August 2008, I have never seen her face-to-face or interacted with her.  I've never seen how "cute" she is, in terms of "cute" behavior.

Let me also add, in case you might think this relevant, that I don't really have a relationship to speak of with the child's mother, my stepmother's granddaughter.  Obviously I have heard about her (and her twin sister) often over the years, but the child's mother lives in North Carolina, and I have only seen her in person once in the over 20 years that my father has been married to my stepmom.  And that single meeting was brief and several years ago, when she traveled to the state where my father and stepmother live for her cousin's graduation.  I doubt I could pick the granddaughter out of a line-up and could easily pass her on a street--if we lived near one another, which we do not--without knowing it was her.

Looking back, I wonder if I should have just lied.  If I shouldn't have just (falsely) gushed about R's cuteness in the first place when my stepmother showed me her photo.

But on the other hand, I think that I was diplomatic, while not effusive, in my comment.  I certainly did not ignore the proffered photo and spent a few seconds looking at it.

(Clearly there is a lot of history between my stepmother and me that I am not going into here.  Suffice it to say, our biggest conflict over the 20+ years she has been married to my dad is that she wants me to view her as a mother, and I don't.  Being an adult when my dad married her, with a living mother who is part of my life, I view her as my father's wife.)

So what say you?  Was I wrong not to exclaim effusively over the cuteness of R, even though I didn't think she was exceptionally cute?  Should I have just lied?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I ran this scenario past some coworkers, and opinions were mixed on whether I acted appropriately or not.)

Feel free to be honest.  What's done is done, but perhaps if a majority of people think I was wrong, I will act differently if/when I find myself in a similar situation.


  1. What we're not getting here is tone -- because to me, "Aw, sounds like she really loves her elmo!" almost is the same as "aw, what a cutie!" But your stepmother said that you acted "disinterested," which to me is more an indication of tone. So who knows.

    I think it is okay to say "Aw, what a cutie!" even if the kid is not cute. I don't consider that a lie. I consider it etiquette. But I also don't think that what you said was wrong either.

  2. Ummm... I think it takes some chutzpah for someone to demand that someone else tell them how beautiful their child (or grand or great grand) is. Obnoxious, much?

    Not all kids are physically beautiful. In fact, many babies look like aliens or monkeys, IMO. They're cute because they are small and cuddly, but sometimes... they're ugly.

    I think your general strategy is a good one- find something positive to comment on about the child. And in this case, this is a child who you've seen many pictures of, so I don't think commenting on specifics about that picture isn't unreasonable.

    Here's something I don't understand- why doesn't it occur to more people that if a couple has been married for a while, the reason they don't yet have kids MIGHT just be because they are having trouble. It's not like it's that uncommon.

  3. You know what I think--S is far too sensitive and looking for perceived slights. It's exhausting. That said, I probably would have lied and said "how cute"--but you know that's just how I roll. LOL

  4. Although I have no problem with etiquette-related lies, I am not a "gusher." Although that may be partially because I have no children of my own and so don't want to coo over someone else's, it's also because I'm just generally less effusive than most. So I would've probably also seemed "disinterested" even if I had said "what a beautiful child." I just don't have it in me to gush. And if someone had a problem with that I would just shrug it off because, seriously, does that person really need that much ego stroking to feel okay about themselves? So, yeah, it's not you, it's her.

  5. I LOVE this post. At least you call her your stepmom. My Mom passed away two years ago and my Dad has remarried. I call his wife "Dad's wife" and that's when I'm feeling particularly nice.

    She adopted two children. The oldest has a child and moved away. The youngest got married, had three boys, cheated on his wife, separated, started dating a kid, knocked her up... lives with her now, etc. I mean, you get it right? He's a year or two older than me and has four kids - none of whom he can truly afford. Last Christmas, I asked Dad if he was considering paying for his stepson to get "fixed." Haha. (Hateful. Yes?).

    Then, when the witch found out I was pregnant, she said to Dad, "Well, I know this will be your first grandchid, but I hope you're not going to treat my grandkids any differently." WTF? Did you seriousy just make this about you, witch.

    So, Dad's wife sucks, and R probably isn't cute, so good for you. She sounds overly dramatic, and just for kicks & giggles, I'd act the same way next time. ;)

  6. You know we are on the same page, all babies are NOT cute! You handled it completley appropriately, why lie? I hate to say things I don't mean.
    I think its pretty weird that your step mother made the comment she did. What's up with that? Is expressing interest in a child synonymous with gushing over its beauty? And why place so much emphasis on physical beauty anyway? I think about that sometimes. Being told over and over how cute you are is not helful. What does that teach a child? Sorry, I am getting off the subject here.

  7. I totally agree with you - not all babies are cute. I have in fact seen a few pretty ugly ones in my life....

    I think that you reacted completely appropriately in response to a pciture of a child that you have never met in person. At least you didnt totally dismiss it as some would have!!

  8. GOOD FOR YOU. Not all babies are cute and you shouldn't have to say that a baby is cute just because someone tells you to. In fact, I think many babies look like miniature aliens. Would she rather you have said that about her precious great grandchild? She needs to get the hell over it. She has a lot of nerve to say that to you.

  9. I do the same thing - I'll try to find something nice to say about the baby or child in question, even if I don't find it physically attractive. I do, however, try to do a really upbeat tone, so there's no hesitation and thus, questioning of my opinions. I.e. "Wow! Her eyes are SO. BLUE!" as opposed to "....(silence) wow. her eyes are so...blue." You know?

  10. I agree with you. And btw, your step-mother sounds like my mom (who sometimes talks about how ugly other people's children/grandchildren are, but expect everyone to gush about her grandchildren). I also have a hard time saying someone is cute/beautiful/smart, etc. if I don't really believe it. It sounds like your step-mother wanted you to say something very specific and was going to be put out if you said anything else. And I agree with Gurlee that we shouldn't be so tied up in appearances.

    To me, it sounds like the whole situation was a bit of a "bait" to get you to do something wrong - first you didn't say the right thing, then you were challenged and expected to defend yourself, which, if your step-mother is like my mother, would have resulted in being told that you are rude/mouthy/snotty/etc. I just don't think there's any way to win in a situation like that. So I wouldn't worry about it.

  11. your post has me absolutely cracking up. It sounds like your stepmon was just trying to start shit. No, you did the correct thing and stayed quiet.

    BTW, you totally rock. I usually lie in these cases, especially with babies and other people's boyfriends. You know, when they show a photo and say "He's so hot" or something and I'm always like " yeah" even though he's awful.

  12. I think you did things perfectly. I agree with an earlier commenter, it takes some pretty large balls to imply that someone should tell you that your grandchild is beautiful. Hmph!!! In the future I would refrain from doing so just because of that one statement! I'm stubborn like that, in fact I may even imply the opposite if pushed again!

  13. In case you want something to say in the future, I'll let you in on a little secret. When I worked as a teacher in a child care center, our "code word" for a not so cute baby was "precious". Maybe you can use that one, knowing in your heart you are not lying at all, just using your own code when you aren't willing to call the baby cute or pretty.

  14. c by the sea: that's funny! My BFF worked at a Christian day care in college, and she also suggested using the word "precious." LOL

    I don't think I can say "precious," but only because, in my family, use of that word is actually a private joke started by my BIL toward my stepmom's grandson years ago . . . but perhaps I could say "What a darling!" or something similar.

  15. Sounds to me like she needs some reassurance that the child is cute or something. I personally feel like you. If a child isn't cute then there's no need to lie and say they are. Just don't say anything at all.

    My dead beat cousin had a baby with some crack head teen and my grandmother dotes on the child like it was sent from heaven. It drives my mother crazy! This child is by far the least attractive baby I've ever seen. My mom flat out said it to my grandmother and she just looked stunned and said, "you're not a grandmother yet so your just bitter"


    It's so annoying when people are constantly looking for you to comment on their child's photos.

  16. I think you did the right thing by remaining true to yourself. Maybe you were a little under-enthused. Who knows? I don't think anything would have been made better if you told your Dad's wife that you didn't really think the kid is all that attractive.


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