The road to annoyance is paved with good intentions. I think the original saying has something to do with hell, but prophesying damnation has never been my jam and peanut butter. I do, though, know how annoying and frustrating it is to have someone supplant social tact with “good intentions.”
No place have I seen this more than as a parent of a difficult child.
I’ve written before about how emotionally, physically, and intellectually challenging it has been to have a child who is inconsolable for hours. Our experience is no secret to our friends, colleagues, and the general passerby who sees our downtrodden faces coupled with a screaming baby.
Therefore, we have heard a LOT of commentary from people. No one has ever spoken to us with ill intentions – they never mean to offend, frustrate, or annoy. And, my wife and I listen with a patient understanding that people really are trying to help.
But, in our minds we are screaming, “THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE SAYING.” So, dear stranger, when you are talking to a parent with a difficult child (or any child for that matter), please consider these “do’s” and “don’t’s,” no matter how good your intentions:
What not to say
1. Have you tried . . .?
The answer is probably yes. Doesn’t matter what you suggest: We’ve tried it. Within the 1,457 hours of our son crying, there was never a moment when we said, “Welp, we’ve tried everything. Nothing more we can do. Want to go to Olive Garden and let other people bask in his ambient screaming?” Parents of difficult children have read more blogs, consulted more parents, and met with more medical staff than they care to admit.
But what if you have this golden nugget of knowledge, this cure the world has never known? Then do this: Ask what we’ve already tried. Ask what has worked. Ask what hasn’t. By hearing our efforts, you’ll find out if we’ve tried your miracle solution (yes, we have). Advice is best heard when it is requested.
2. Oh, you think it’s bad now? Wait until . . .
You’ve heard this “gem” of a saying, “Little kid; little problems. Big kid; big problems.” A mutated cousin of this saying is when people actually go on to list all the terrible things you’ll face as your child ages. Do we believe there will be moments of greater challenge and stress than what we’ve gone through? Quite possibly.
But, I’m shocked that people think, “Hey, I know what will make them feel better right now: Making them feel like this moment is nothing and that the future will be way worse.” Imagine this in a different scenario:
“Oh Billy, your leg hurts because you broke it falling off that slide? Well, just wait until you have to pass a kidney stone or comprehend compounding interest rates. Life gets so much worse. You should feel blessed that all you have to worry about is your tibia protruding from your skin.”
3. Enjoy these moments
You can spot this one coming your way by recognizing which of your friends say things like, “Have a blessed day,” or “My heart.” There are people who believe every moment is a blessing. I am not one of those people. I think some moments are dreadful, their dreadfulness should be acknowledged, and the ending of said dread should be celebrated.
This isn’t to say we don’t enjoy good moments. But, seeing my son’s face turn sweaty and scarlet with screams reaching unique octaves is not my definition of good times. We’ll have plenty of enjoyable moments that we will cherish. Please don’t make us feel guilty for not finding the silver-lining in moments that I would never wish on another soul (even Donald Trump).
What to say
Enough griping, right? These are the things that people have said to us that made us instantly feel connected, hopeful, and reassured.
1. What can I do to help?
Music to a stressed parents ears. When we hear this question, we know that people get it: What we need more than pollyanna guilt trips and unsolicited advice is emotional (or life) support.
More often than not, we will say, “Nothing,” out of guilt. You can ignore this response, because we need a lot. An invitation to vent about how challenging it is (free of judgment, of course). Someone to hold our child so we can actually clean something other than our kid’s butt crack. A caffeine IV. Warm food. Bourbon. These are things we need. And, the fact that you are asking shows that you care more about what we need than hearing your opinions bounce about the room and out the door.
2. It will get better
It seems like a no-brainer that it will get better. But, in the thick of baby battle, it doesn’t feel like we’ll survive. I once said to my wife, “I mean, he won’t scream and cry for 12 hours straight when he’s 16 . . . will he? Oh god . . . what have we done!?”
So, we need someone – especially if you’ve had a difficult child – to remind us that it will get better, even when it feels like it won’t. We may say, “There’s no way it will get better.” Share your war stories. Explain how you thought you ruined your life, so we don’t feel crazy (unless you did ruin your life. Keep that crap to yourself for now, please). Sometimes we just need some logic and facts to silence our emotionally hijacked brains.
It’s your turn: What are the best and worst things you’ve heard as a parent? Post a comment below. And try white noise. Have you tried using white noise yet to calm your child?