DEAR MARY ANN: As I entered a store I could hear a baby screaming. Thinking that an accident had happened and perhaps I could help, I went directly to the scream.
I found the child, perhaps 6 to 9 months old, in his carrier bed that was placed in a store cart; sitting in the front of the cart was another child about 3 years old. The mother? Down the aisle casually looking at a rack. I asked her if she would like for me to pick up the baby to comfort him, and she replied, "He is fine." So I went on to shop. During the half-hour that I was in the store the screaming was nonstop. Clerks were concerned, as were other customers. By the time the mother checked out, the baby was shuddering and gasping between screams. Should anyone have intervened or called outside help?
-- CONCERNED ABOUT SCREAMING INFANT
DEAR CONCERNED: When a parent ignores a screaming child in a store several things can be surmised. The mother may have diminished nurturing instincts. She doesn't understand or feel the need to comfort her screaming baby. She knows that eventually the noise will stop so she goes about her business in a blase kind of way ignoring the child. For whatever reason the child may scream day and night at home, and the mom is used to the crying and just chooses to ignore it. Her response to you, "He is fine," is a clue.
Help offered by a stranger is often perceived as criticism and a challenge to the parent. There is a fine line between helping and offending. Parents are sensitive and your offer of help may actually have spurred the mother to continue to ignore the situation. Her actions are telling you she is the person in charge of her child.
As annoying as it is to other customers there is not a law against a screaming baby being in a store. You did what you thought was helpful, and you were rebuffed. Fortunately the situation you encountered is the exception and not the rule. Tune out the noise. The 3-year-old in the front of the shopping cart has already done so.
DEAR MARY ANN: For a happily married couple, is having children a necessary ingredient for long-term happiness and a fulfilling life?
-- HAPPILY MARRIED AND CHILDLESS
DEAR HAPPILY MARRIED: Having children is not a necessary ingredient for a satisfying and contented marriage. The cultural belief that children are the key to happiness is flawed. Marital satisfaction is often diminished when you have children. The happiness each spouse brings to the marriage is what sustains them as they grow together and move forward in their shared lives.
Social and cultural changes have made having children more complicated and expensive than in pre-industrial America when the family benefited from being large. Previously children worked on the farm and contributed to the value of the household. That is not the case today as children remain dependent on parents for financial and emotional support well into their 20s. Friction and disruption often ensue in this unbalanced setting.
While a parent's relationship with his/her progeny can be extremely rewarding it should not be confused with or permitted to compete with the husband-wife relationship. Intertwined in the family unit, these two relationships should be valued as separate entities. The primary covenant for a fulfilling marriage is between the husband and the wife. A marriage can become a train wreck if one of the spouses seeks fulfillment in the parent-child relationship rather than with his/her partner.
Need some Steel Advice? Email questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Mary Ann Wellener, Steel Advice Column, c/o Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Follow Mary Ann on Twitter at @PGSteelAdvice.