There’s this creepy Alanis Morissette song about this rather obsessive lass who lets herself into her ex-boyfriend’s pad just to, you know, hang out. You half-expect the poor man to walk into the room and demand to know what on earth she was thinking, letting herself in like that. It may be old territory; she might have known the place very well once upon a time… but you get the sense that she’s crossed some kind of line here.

Enter the weird and wonderful world of motherhood.

I’d assumed that the whole everyone’s-your-auntie mentality was just an Asian thing. I mean, Asian food stall holders – complete strangers, mind you – take it upon themselves to heap extra veggies on my plate “because it’s good for me”, and then top it off with a free springroll and a wink. I go back to Singapore, and women I don’t know all that well have absolutely no qualms

  1. rubbing my tum-tum, while
  2. asking why I haven’t “started a family”, and then
  3. go on to inquire if “the factory’s not working”.

You try anything like that in Australia, and the recipient of such an assault is completely within her rights to cheerfully deck you for your insensitivity. Or so I thought.

Had a chinwag over a farewell dinner with a lovely sister in Christ and friend last night. She told me how, while she was on a flight some years ago, she’d handed her younger child a dummy… and this complete stranger piped out of nowhere to say rather snidely that “that child is too old to be using a pacifier”.

Well, who died and made you Queen of Motherhood? Is one of the things I wanted to say. And I wasn’t even on that flight, and that wasn’t even my child. And somehow, that already got my heckles up. And oh, I’m going to SO struggle with teaching Blob the concept of a shut mouth gathering no foot…

What is it about women that makes us pass judgement on other women so super-quick? Take my reaction above, for example. Bazinga! Didn’t take me a second to judge her right back. But for an entire sex that is renowned for being “the nurturing one”, we are amazingly quick at eating our own young – when the “young” is another woman.

And when it comes to the topic of motherhood, it’s like it’s open slather.

Whether it’s that hot and heavy glare at a child throwing a tantrum, or that inward tsk-tsk when a mother uses formula instead of “wholesome, natural boobjuice”, we judge and judge and judge. I know I’ve done it. There’s so many times when I’ve given some tetchy kid the death stare, yet somehow sensing that if God was the vengeful sort, he’d give me a child about 20 times harder to deal with.

The flipside isn’t all kindness and sunshine either. Well-meaning advice, when unsolicited, can still be hurtful and unwelcome. And although the outward motivation can be desperately loving, there can be an element of “I told you so”, or even just a selfish desire to prove some sort of superiority, some sort of monopoly on wisdom.

Which is why advice, when not taken, can really smart for the giver. Because in some ways, it’s like a rejection of their knowledge and the validity of their experience. And the reason I know all this? I’ve given unsolicited advice before. Of course I have. Which woman hasn’t? I think lots of women have learnt early on that you’d better grow up knowing your own opinion. Otherwise, some other woman just might give you hers.

There’s a lady in church who is the embodiment of the old woman in the purple. And while we were sharing testimonies in class this Sunday just passed, she told us how she makes it a point to go up to women who are taking the time to discipline their children in a Godly manner… and give them the verbal equivalent of a warm hug.

The louder school of thought on the street in Australia is that smacking is just bad, lazy parenting. There are many who are extremely vocal about that sort of thing. And it takes extra guts for a parent to be seen smacking a child in public, or taking a young child aside and holding them accountable for wrong-doing. What Purple Lady did on two accounts was to walk right up to the parent and simply say, “It’s so good to see parents take the time to discipline their children in a Godly way.” One reaction was stunned silence, followed by relief and near-tears gratitude. The other was at first suspicion, followed again by gratitude.

And I just sat there and thought, wow. No advice, just affirmation. Not, “you really should say this instead of that.” Not, “you would do better to take the child into the bathroom instead of remaining out here.” Just a simple acknowledgement from one older woman to a younger one that says, “Hey, it’s a tough job! And I think you’re doing great!”

Isn’t that a better education?