A lesson in a neighbor's kindness

While some people were quick to judge a teen couple and their baby, a friendly face made them feel welcome.

J. Pat Carter/AP
Parenting skills: Teens participate in a Girl Scouts program to learn how to care for babies.

I looked out my living room window and sighed.

A very young couple with a baby was walking up the street. The father carried the baby in a front pack and was giving it a bottle as he walked. The mother walked behind several paces, smoking a cigarette. Great. Teen parents and at least one of them is a smoker. Don't they know how dangerous secondhand smoke is, especially for babies? I sighed again.

My friend and neighbor, Alice, who was outside doing yardwork, raced after them.

"Wait! Wait!" I heard her calling.

It bothered her, too, I thought, but she's actually going to do something about it. Impressive. She seemed so determined that I thought maybe the father was even holding the bottle wrong. I figured whatever the concerns, Alice would set them straight. She is a nurse so she could offer advice from her professional perspective.

I could tell that the couple was startled when they realized she was following them, but they did stop and turn around as she approached them. I decided to keep watch in case they took offense and started arguing with her. Besides, I wanted to know what she was going to say. Maybe I'd learn how to handle this kind of situation.

"May I see your baby?" Alice said, smiling.

The young couple, having clearly braced themselves for yet another adult's disapproval, was probably just as surprised as I was. It wasn't what they'd expected. It wasn't what I had expected.

Alice smiled and cooed at the baby – friendly, approving sounds. I couldn't hear most of what she said, but she was obviously not being critical. She was talking and smiling at the parents and the baby. I saw the couple relax and ease into the circle of warmth Alice had created. Then, another neighbor came out of her yard and stepped into that circle, contributing her own smiles, friendliness, and approval.

The young family went on their way, uplifted by this totally positive encounter, nurtured by a stranger's kind interest. It seemed like the parents even walked a little taller and I am sure they felt better about themselves and the world.

Alice, generous and nonjudgmental, sent that baby home with parents, who felt welcomed, warmed, and part of the community. It was a sharp contrast to the criticism, judgment, and isolation teen parents so often experience.

Through her genuine warmth, I believe Alice sent that baby home with better parents. Don't we all bloom a little better in the sunlight?

My first instinct wasn't to behave as generously as my friend did. And that was embarrassing to realize.

By looking beyond the stereotypes, by seeing these teens just as parents with a beautiful new baby, Alice gave to them – and to me.

Thanks, Alice. I needed that.

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