When you become a parent, unsolicited childcare advice is as inevitable – and about as welcome – as sleep deprivation and getting poo on your hands.
Suddenly, the world and his wife feel compelled to impart their best-kept parenting secrets. And this 'well-meaning' advice is not restricted to the know-it-all mother-in-law who has seen it all before or the smug mum at Stay & Play whose baby never cries – even the snotty supermarket checkout girl and the grumpy old bus driver can turn amateur super nanny at the sight of a beleaguered mother with a screaming infant.
Whether or not these kindly people really do just want to help, this relentless advice can be at best irritating and at worst undermining and paranoia-inducing. So, take some inspiration from these feisty parents and next time you're walking down the street with a crying baby and a stranger asks, "Is he hungry?" for the third time that day, make sure you're ready with the perfect comeback.
"Shouldn't he be wearing gloves?"
"I could never get my baby to keep his mittens on. I tried every trick in the book short of gluing them to his hands, but within two minutes his fingers would always wriggle free. One icy-cold day we set off to the shops and, as usual, by the time we hit the high street, his mittens were dangling redundantly from his sleeves, his tiny fists turning an angry shade of red.
I was just about to go through the usual futile exercise of putting them back on when a man, probably in his mid 50s, dressed head-to-toe in marble washed denim came over and said, 'You ought to have your baby wearing gloves in this weather – he must be freezing, the poor mite.' I was about to defensively explain the situation when the red mist descended. 'If you think my baby is going to take fashion advice from a man in double denim, you've got another thing coming,' I retorted."
Sarah, 27, Canterbury
"Is she hungry?"
"The other day, I was in the supermarket checkout queue when my four-month-old daughter, Millie, began screaming her heart out. She'd been fed, changed and had her nap but she was completely inconsolable.
The woman working on the checkout tactfully shouted down the queue, 'Do you think she might be hungry?' This confirmed my worst fear: Everybody thinks I'm a bad mum. So feeling somewhat sensitive from extreme sleep deprivation and dealing with a colicky baby, I replied with a sweet smile, 'Probably, she's on the 5:2 diet and it's a fasting day. Got to get rid of this tummy!'
Karen, 31, Brighton
"It wasn't like this in my day..."
"My two-year-old boy had a complete meltdown on the bus because I wouldn't let him sit on the back seat as we were only staying on for two stops. I was dealing with the situation as best I could by talking to him quietly but firmly. But he'd got himself into quite a state so it was taking a while to calm him down.
Just as I was getting somewhere, an elderly man tapped me on the shoulder with his walking stick and said, 'We didn't have any of this in my day. That's nothing a short, sharp slap round the back of the head won't cure – that'll teach him some manners.' A short, sharp slap was certainly looking tempting: 'And will a short, sharp slap round the back of the head teach you some manners because I'm happy to oblige?' I replied."
Lizzy, 26, Cardiff
"Don't say 'naughty'"
"Last week my next-door-neighbour – who has become the world's leading authority on parenting – reprimanded me for calling my 18-month-old boy 'naughty' while we were at the playground. She said that children shouldn't be labelled in this way as it can psychologically damage them, and had I thought about reasoning with him instead, then asked what he did that was so wrong. "He got your Evie in a headlock then bit her on the arm," I said breezily, then gave him a cuddle. She didn't look so sympathetic after that."
John, 36, Chester
"When you were little..."
"A true parent of the 70s, my dad has no time for 'modern parenting' and is continually hinting that I need to chill out a bit. One day he pushed it too far. "Oh go on, let him have an ice-cream. It won't do him any harm. When you were little there was none of this organic nonsense – you had the same as the rest of us. And you turned out healthy enough, didn't you?'
I pondered it for a moment then said: 'Yes, I suppose so... apart from the asthma and eczema and hay fever... and IBS... and migraines... and that problem I had with my sinuses. Yep, clean bill of health, me.'"
Lucy, 39, Leicester
"Can I suggest a dummy?"
"We recently took our three-year-old son, Harry, to a family restaurant in the middle of the afternoon. Unfortunately, the food took about half an hour to arrive and Harry started doing that 'fake crying' that toddlers turn on when they can't have what they want.
A walk around the block and two rice cakes later he was still going and, despite my apologetic glances, I could feel the evil death stares coming from the miserable – and rather large – couple at the next table. Eventually, the woman leaned over and said in an angry whisper, 'Can I suggest a dummy?'. I'm slightly ashamed to say my temper got the better of me. 'Sure,' I said. 'Can I suggest you share a salad and hold the dessert?'"
Amelia, 32, Leeds
What's the most annoying thing you've had said to you? Any great retorts?