3 Things You Shouldn’t Say to a New Parent (And 2 Things You Should)

 

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 . . .?

Advice

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 . . .

Downer

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

Ross

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?

Tired

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

Crying

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?

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Julie Allen says:

    You are not crazy. Colic is the slow, not-so-silent sanity killer. It does get better. In the moment it can feel like an eternity. Driving across Texas with a screaming infant who couldn’t be taken out of the car seat was a seemingly unending hell that I would never want to repeat. So I had another baby four years later. Until you have crouched in a moving vehicle to nurse a crying baby that is still strapped in the car seat, these people have no room to talk or offer advice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Taylor Wolthuis says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more especially with the “Enjoy these moments”! Like do you really think I enjoy my child writing all over the walls, stomping playdoh into the carpet, tearing a brand new book apart?! But when I hear those words “enjoy these moments” I litteraly cringe. These are usually the people who have grown kids and forget how frustrated they were when they had kids. Id have to say between that and after giving your child a time out or something while someone else is around, they will cater to your child as if they shouldn’t have got in trouble. It’s hard to explain but it bothers me so much! This was a great read, and I couldn’t agree more with you on all of these!

    Like

  3. Erika says:

    This is my favorite blog of yours, because as a new parent, we’ve heard everything. Especially when our daughter was in the nicu, I couldn’t believe how insensitive people were with their comments. We got “at least you’ll be able to sleep.” We are leaving our premature daughter every night, and you think we are going to sleep? HA! We also got the “when will”…..Your baby come home?” or “your baby walk?” or “your baby be ‘caught up?'” Every baby is different, and just because mine was premature doesn’t mean she won’t hit her milestones. Probably the most heartbreaking one we heard was “at least she’s alive.”
    I have no comment for the last one.

    I think you guys are doing great! Seeing you both with him a few weeks ago proves that. Every thing is a learning curve and we are all in this crazy parenting world together! Can’t wait to catch up soon!

    Like

  4. Joan Manners says:

    Ahhhhh, Chase! This blog post should be required reading for all citizens of the world!!

    Like

  5. Mary Louise says:

    As a grandmother who lives far from her grandchildren, I am not close enough to be a big help. However, when I am finally visiting, I find the best thing I can do is say “This too shall pass”, then take the baby and walk away. I insist that the parents (MY children), take a long shower, have a nap, make and drink an actual hot cup of tea/coffee – you know, those things we all took for granted before the wee ones came along.

    Babies don’t come with users’ manuals. Hardly anything “works” twice. It will get so much better that you will forget this time; it will fade away in a sleep-deprived haze. Call your mom.

    Like

  6. Hmmm, shared some thought, enjoyable..

    Like

  7. Amanda Howes says:

    I love your blog so much!
    I had extreme postpartum depression so The comment that always got me was “don’t you just LOVE being a mom? Isn’t it just the best thing you’ve ever done?” Truthful answer: “no, I don’t. I know I should though so I REALLY appreciate you bringing up something that I already punish myself with every moment of every day”.
    Answer used to placate the masses: “you know, everyone says being a new mom is hard and it really can be.” 😊

    Like

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