Always craving more sleep? These 5 signs mean you’re not getting enough
Always craving more sleep? These 5 signs mean you’re not getting enough

Jennifer McShane

‘Confusing’: Scooter Braun speaks out over Taylor Swift ‘feud’
‘Confusing’: Scooter Braun speaks out over Taylor Swift ‘feud’

Jennifer McShane

These are our favourite outdoor furniture brands for every budget
These are our favourite outdoor furniture brands for every budget

Amanda Kavanagh

This home in Kinsale harbour is on the market for €2.25 million
This home in Kinsale harbour is on the market for €2.25 million

Megan Burns

50 years on and we’re still talking about Coco Chanel
50 years on and we’re still talking about Coco Chanel

Rose Mary Roche

Take a look inside – and shop – Cara Delevingne’s LA home
Take a look inside – and shop – Cara Delevingne’s LA home

Holly O'Neill

Details announced for Ireland’s first big outdoor music festival since March 2020
Details announced for Ireland’s first big outdoor music festival since March 2020

Sarah Finnan

Hairstylist Jacqui Fay on going grey in her thirties
Hairstylist Jacqui Fay on going grey in her thirties

IMAGE

Sha’Carri Richardson is the Olympic hopeful you’re about to see a lot more of
Sha’Carri Richardson is the Olympic hopeful you’re about to see a lot more of

Sarah Finnan

The best basket bags to take you into summer
The best basket bags to take you into summer

Holly O'Neill

Image / Editorial

‘Don’t command me or my daughter to smile for you’


by Amanda Cassidy
07th Nov 2020
blank

Whatever you do, don’t tell me or my daughter to smile for you, writes Amanda Cassidy 


From the moment my daughter was born, she had an aura of intimidation. As a first-time mum, I was nervous and unsure of myself but Junior, in all her newborn adorableness, eyeballed me with a look as if to say, you better not f*k this up, mama.

She was calm and strangely rational for a tiny bundle of cute. She would cry only when hungry, settled well, and her independent spirit was undeniable to all who knew and loved her.

We used to joke that she didn’t need us half as much as we needed her. Part of her indomitable personality was that she didn’t smile just for the sake of it. You had to work hard to get that smile and I respected that.

Related: The tweenage years: A survival guide

Moxie

We have a collection of photos of my daughter giving us what we call the death-stare – a WTF expression that my husband and I found both endlessly amusing and a sign of moxie.

But it is amazing how many people are put out when a sweet little baby doesn’t crack up when they coo at them. ‘Where are your smiles?’ strangers would demand, disappointed – followed usually with a glance over at me to see what kind of monster can’t make her baby smile on demand.

And I would be disappointed for them. It wasn’t that she never grinned – in fact, she has a really beautiful smile, but she reserved it for special occasions, and that made it all the more special. I used to make up a lot of excuses for my sassy little Sally during her first few years of life.

‘She’s just tired,’ I’d offer when the receptionist at the doctor’s office spent a good three minutes peek-a-booing from behind her computer. My daughter, snuggled up in my arms, remained expressionless, stoic… a polite but reserved look on her gorgeous little face as she appraised the situation.

Nothing.

‘Not in great form, I see’, the public health nurses remarked as she carried out her two-year check-up. ‘Sorry, she’s teething,’ I fibbed as I packed away the mountain of leaflets they load you up with – knowing full well that my girl was in a great mood today.

Even extended family members would chide her over her lack of obvious joy. ‘Tisk, the naughty little girl, won’t give auntie a smile, who’s a grumpy little girl?’

She’s tiny and the world is big

So I got tired of feeling like I had to make others feel better about my daughter’s lack of conformity to what cute little babies should do. I didn’t ever feel the need to remark on other people’s babies being weirdly happy or smiling goofily.

‘She’s tiny’ – I’d say instead, ‘and the world is big. It is a lot to take in.’ (And maybe you are just not funny, I’d add in my head) As my serious little sweetie grew older, she found things slightly funnier and became more socially aware. By the time she was four, she knew that part of being polite was smiling as a form of communication.

It still didn’t come as naturally as it does to others, but her wicked sense of humour and happy nature showed a contentment that was enough for us. In fact, we forgot all about her being such a serious little thing until recently when she was laughing hysterically at something her brother said and we commented on what an infectious laugh she has.

Go on, give us a smile

Now my girl is a kind, sweet and generous seven-year-old. She’s friends with every girl in her class, she is easy company and is probably one of my favourite people in the world. I wasn’t one of her favourite people in the world last month when I brought her for her meningitis vaccination.

She was brave but sore and when we waited in the supermarket checkout queue afterwards, a man behind us exchanged some friendly banter. ‘Go on, give us a smile’ he said to my daughter. I felt her bristle beside me – more out of the embarrassment of not knowing what she should do than anything else.

A feeling came over me then, a familiar and helpless feeling of being asked to feel an emotion you didn’t particularly want to, in order to please society…or a person. And that person is usually a man. ‘Cheer up love, it’ll never happen’.

I consider myself a strong female, but I realised then that I was buckling under societal expectations. Be nice. Be polite. Smile. For me.

And now my daughter was suddenly entering the same situation, under my watch. I flushed. Naturally, the comment was meant in a caring rather than a controlling way but as well-intended as it was, I felt so protective over my serious little girl and angry that her facial expressions should be used against her, by a stranger, in any way.

A reflection on others

She looked helplessly at me, unsure if she’d offended this stranger. By the time I realised that this was a very pivotal learning moment and I better get it right for my daughter, the man was gone. It made me think of all the times, she’d been made smile for the benefit of others – as if her facial expression was a reflection on them.

To tell someone to smile is invasive. It is a comment on personal circumstances and an expectation that you need to be pleasing in order to please. Later, I asked my daughter if she’d felt uncomfortable and she admitted she just didn’t know what to do or why she was being asked to smile on command.

I explained to her that she should never feel she has to do something to please others, especially if it makes her feel uncomfortable.

The pressure to be polite and not to make a scene is deeply ingrained in us from childhood. Telling us to smile makes us feel watched, embarrassed, vulnerable. So the next time you see a grumpy-looking baby, think twice before you demand a smile all for yourself.

They are not yours to demand.

Image via Unsplash.com 

Read more: Peaceful parenting: Who has time for that?

Read more: The best parenting secrets from around the globe

Read more: The only parenting book you’ll ever need in your life

Also Read

connection
EDITORIAL
‘I didn’t realise how much I was craving connection until I saw my friends for the first time in months’

The easing of lockdown restrictions in Ireland has taught us one thing – we are all craving human to human...

By Edaein OConnell

blank
EDITORIAL
‘Suddenly alive again’: The heartbreaking joy of finding a deceased loved one on Google Maps street view

“I look at my mum’s old house on Google maps street view, the house where I grew up. It says...

By Amanda Cassidy

audiobooks
EDITORIAL
6 brilliant audiobooks worth listening to during lockdown

Six great audiobooks to listen to in lockdown. It took me ages to come around to the idea of audiobooks....

By Jennifer McShane

DIY wall murals
EDITORIAL
People are getting creative with their walls in lockdown and we’re dying to give it a go

While staying at home and with plenty of time to spare, creative people are turning to their walls as a...

By Megan Burns

blank
EDITORIAL
‘Social media’s obsession with filtering faces is a form of self-gaslighting’

By Amanda Cassidy

blank
EDITORIAL
‘In a public health emergency, why does so much of the post-pandemic talk revolve around drinking?’

No other European country is having the same public order challenges our capital city is experiencing, writes Amanda Cassidy I...

By Amanda Cassidy

blank
EDITORIAL
Laura Whitmore’s baby name retaliation is about so much more than double standards

The Love Island presenter has divided social media after she singled out a journalist trying to confirm the name of...

By Amanda Cassidy