What NOT to Say

You said what?!

You said what?!

I’ve been seeing a lot of parenting and pregnancy related lists showing up in my Facebook newsfeed lately. Most center on what NOT to say.

Top ten things NOT to say to a pregnant woman. Top ten things NOT to say to adoptive parents. To a woman with multiple kids. To the parents of an autistic child. To someone dealing with infertility. To the woman who pushes her Chihuahua around in a baby carrier pretending he is a human baby.

Okay, so that last one I made up. I’ve yet to see that list, but I’m sure if I search the internet hard enough, it’s out there, lurking in some obscure corner along with all the other articles that let me know just how easy it is to royally tick someone off.

After reading through many of them, I’m convinced that a master list needs to be made for those who don’t have the time to read hundreds of Dos and Don’ts. If I made that list it would look something like this.

Number One Thing Never to Say to Anyone

1. Hello

Reading all these lists, I’m starting to feel like the only way I can avoid saying something that someone won’t like, is to say nothing at all.  It’s a spin on the old advice “If you can’t say anything nice.” Now it’s, “You can’t say anything nice, so don’t bother trying to say anything at all.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about trying to be sensitive to another person’s feelings. If someone expresses to me that something I say or do makes them uncomfortable, I will stop, even if I don’t understand the discomfort. If you are one of the pregnant women who, according to the Top Ten list, hates for people to ask her how she is feeling, I will not ask you how you are feeling next time I see you, whether you look like you’re about to keel over from third trimester exhaustion or not. Or let’s say you’re one of the women with multiple kids who hates to be told “I could never do that,” I will politely pick my jaw off the ground and keep my opinions about your super-human status to myself.

But what I fear will happen, the more I see these popping up in my newsfeed, is that eventually people will be so worried about saying something offensive that they won’t bother trying to say anything at all. They’ll stop trying to make new connections with people.

As a stay-at-home mom who spends 75% of her time with a toddler, I often feel isolated from the adult world. Many days the only conversation I have with another adult before my husband gets home is the casual conversation I have with the pregnant woman in line behind me at the grocery store or the dad pushing his daughter on the swing next to me at the park. Those small connections are meaningful, even if they never move beyond small talk, beyond me asking that mom-to-be how she is feeling, when she’s due, or if she knows the sex of the baby—all of which are considered insensitive according to one list or another.

When dealing with Oliver, who is well into his terrible-two stage of tantrums , I always ask myself something before rushing to anger or frustration over a tantrum. Why is he upset? If I can uncover the source of the distress, it’s much easier to address and then accept it. I would ask you to do the same thing the next time someone says something to you about your parenting or your pregnancy that you find offensive.

Ask yourself what is the intention behind the question. Is the asker just trying to be friendly? To show she cares? Is the question stem from an experience she had herself? My guess is that 9/10 the asker does not mean to offend. If that’s the case you have two options. If it’s someone whom you don’t know very well I suggest you shrug it off and move on with your day. If it’s someone whom you care about and are close to, a friend or relative, then tell them their comment is hurtful and explain why. Those people want to know and will likely alter what they say in the future.

Better yet, why not create lists of things TO SAY? Tell people what you would like to hear. Something like this—

Top Five Things to Say to Parents

1. You’re doing a great job.

2. Your kids are such a joy to have around.

3. You should do whatever works for you and your family.

4. How can I help?

5. Your kids are so lucky to have you as a parent.

Because if you only tell me what NOT to say, I might not say anything at all. And I hope it’s not just me who thinks that’s a shame.

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7 thoughts on “What NOT to Say

  1. I often feel overwhelmed by those lists too. I don’t want to sound insensitive but sometimes people have to realize that they brought children into this world, not so tht the world could change for them.

  2. Great post. And yes to your number one thing to say, “You’re doing a great job.” I agree there is something completely seductive about hearing that. I can’t hear it enough. It’s as if I’m a bottomless pit of insecurity. Or maybe it’s because we hear over and over in countless articles all about the things we should be doing but aren’t. It feels rare to get affirmation.

    • Agree! It’s much easier to feel insecure in our parenting than secure. I think always thinking we can do better might just be the mark of a parent who cares though.

  3. i actually don’t mind anyone asking me how i am , or if i know the sex of my baby , ect i must say though the only question that half bugs me is ” oh wow your pregnant , was it planned”? i actually do feel a little discomfort in the question, as for me, my partner and i were planning children in the next year or two , but much to our lovely surprise , we were blessed this year instead. which we couldn’t be happier. But i do think its such an odd thing for someone to ask , is it just me or are there others that feel the same

    • Totally get that. They might as well be questioning you about your favorite brand of condom or your birth control habits. There are definitely things I would rather not here, but I guess my point was that, for me, it’s better to just shrug it off than let it truly bother me. My personal pet peeve is “are you excited?” because I feel like they expect me to say “yes” when really I want to say “sometimes, but I am more freaked out than anything.”

      • yes i have to agree ! when they ask me if I’m excited my reply of yes , is lacking terribly in excited tones , not convincing at all . i am excited but I’m more freaked out and have no idea on what its going to be like and how I’m going to feel. its quite a scary time more realistically. i swear some people are convinced that I’m not happy about having a baby haha even though they are completely wrong. But all you can do is shrug it off , and move on. no point dwelling on it .

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