So many of them float around these days…
10 Things Not To Say To A…New Mom, Working Mom, Mom of Multiples, Mom of Child with Special Needs, Stay-At-Home Mom, Homeschooling Mom, Mom of Many Children, Mom of Only Child, Single Mom, Mom Wearing a Surgical Mask, Mom Singing Milli Vanilli in The Grocery Line…
You get what I am saying?
I know many of these categories (and especially a few I have not listed), are sensitive areas. Fact is, unless we have walked in certain shoes, we have no idea what another mom is going through. Does that make it wrong to reach out in an attempt to connect?
Not many of my 20-something friends knew how to relate to me when I was a 26 year old, infertile stepmom of teenagers. And not many of my friends related to my experiences with a household of 2 teens, 2 in diapers, business owner, and frequent travel, on a bus. And hardly any of my friends can keep up with the schooling decisions I make and re-make or my seemingly-constantly-changing jobs or projects.
So sometimes, a well-meaning acquaintance, fellow mom, even close friend, might say something that rubs me the wrong way, annoys me, offends, makes me feel stupid, makes me feel inadequate, makes me feel indignant, or makes me cry. It happens.
I could nit-pick. (Hmm. And I could write a list of Things Not To Say To A Mom Whose Home Has Been Infested With Lice and She is FREAKING Out About It, but that’s another blog). I could say, “You know, since you don’t know anything about blended families, maybe you don’t have the wisdom to make an observation about our custody arrangements” or “Why yes, as a work-at-home mom, I do sometimes need a babysitter because whether I take a call in an office building or my dining room, the person on the other end can’t hear when my two toddlers are shouting the lyrics to ‘Elmo’s World.'” And quite honestly, I could have stared daggers through the years through people who made some sort of comment about my bonus daughter, 13 years older than Randa, being their mommy. But you know…
My concern comes in here: How many of these lists needs to be written, read, applauded, and shared, before we just… stop… saying… anything?
In a quest to be sensitive, I will only draw from my own experience. Probably the hardest thing I’ve had to walk through as a ‘mom-type-person’ is infertility. My journey was relatively short compared to others, and it inevitably had my fairy tale outcome. But in the mean time… there were 2.5 years of longing, of negative tests, of humiliating procedures, of bad news from a specialist, of 20+ women I knew getting pregnant (some multiple times in that period), and lots and lots and LOTS of unsolicited, well-meaning pep talks.
A random internet search brought me to this list of 10 things not to say to “your infertile friend.” At casual glance, at least 7 of those things were said to me multiple times, some even by my parents or my husband, who I know would not have hurt me for the world. Also, at the time I was walking through infertility, I was finishing my degree and student teaching, so I constantly heard, “It will happen when you are done with school,” as if that had anything to do with my adhesions, hormonal imbalances, and non-functioning ovary. And because I was an involved stepmom, I also heard “At least you have J & P,” as if their lives were my consolation prize. (PS: Their mom was absolutely awesome to me during this time and was one of the few people who usually did know what to say :)
I had people give me baby blankets and scripture verses. I had adoption agency referrals. I had several friends tell me only with fear and trembling that they were preggers with their 2nd or 3rd (those were the worst. It sucks to think your friends think you won’t be happy for them!) If I were going to make a top ten list, I suppose those things would be on it. But honestly… who the heck needs it?
Would I rather my friends and family ignore my pain? NO.
Would I rather those who cared about me not care about my feelings or try to console me? NO.
Did some of those difficult comments eventually help me grow stronger, consider other points of view, or even just get over myself for a few minutes? Did some of them even turn out to be, gasp, true? ABSOLUTELY!
I know that sometimes, well-meaning conversationalists end up saying all the wrong things. I am raising my hand here, folks. I was born to connect with everyone I meet, and so there are countless times I have said something and immediately wished that toothpaste could, in fact, be put back in the tube. I also subscribe to that Steel Magnolia theory that no one cries alone in my presence, so it is my tendency to want to comfort another person, whether she is dealing with a scary diagnosis for her child or a big career-and-childcare decision. I am also a Wordy Girl, but mostly as a writer, and that sometimes means that what I’ve concocted to say sounds way more sensible and helpful in my head than it does Out There.
So if I encounter a woman walking through Walmart, on a Myrtle Beach Saturday (tourists’ arrival. Steer clear!), with 5 kids holding the cart and 2 in it, and she isn’t screaming or shoving unpaid-for Goldfish in their mouths or possibility holding a wiffle bat in a threatening position, and I say, “I don’t know how you do it!,” I’m of course trying to say, “You rock, mama!” I certainly don’t mean to be saying The Wrong Thing.
Because really, what is the right thing? It is to be silent? I mean, even after going through infertility, I am usually at a loss for something helpful to say to someone else going through it. Is it better I ignore it? If it is, then forget this whole thing, because if the new cultural paradigm is to avoid eye contact and any hope of encouraging others, I’m just going to have to be a bigger weirdo than I thought I was. I want to connect, and as I grow older, my accrued wisdom is helping me know how to choose words, and on occasion, to swallow the words and just be there. That one is harder to figure out, because if not done well, it comes off like cold, uncaring nothing.
I know that there are moms in situations in which truly craptastic comments have been made to or around them by strangers. There are always rude, small-minded people to go around, and chances are, they are not going to be reading parenting articles on their best day. I suppose my hope is that when another mom, especially in a friendly tone, comments on our children or our circumstances with any modicum of sympathy or kindness, can’t we just accept it and move on?
I mean, if I had a dollar for every person who calls my KK a tomboy, or remarks that my girls are opposites – one girly, one not, I’d be buying both our dinners… in Greece (an eating fantasy). My daughters cannot be captured in a snapshot of what they happen to be wearing to church or the store or out to dinner. But at least if someone notices Randa’s princess dress or KK’s Buzz Lightyear shirt, they are paying attention to their fellow human beings. At least they are making human contact. Even if they say the wrong thing, at least they are reaching out.
Maybe some of this is pronounced for me because, even after almost 2 years, I often still feel like The New Girl. It is hard to make new friends as an adult in a smallish town, filled with people who have lived here forever and have all the friends they need or others who have just moved in from someplace else and are also unsure of how to do it. Sometimes I have found myself reaching out with no one to reach back (Currently, kids’ birthday parties are my 30-something equivalent of Prom Night With No Date). If I did not happen to have little children, I know it would be a lot harder. Kids are a common ground, a way to connect; that’s why so many of us know the parents of our kids’ friends as “Emmie’s mom” or “Aiden’s dad.”
The conclusion here, or the point that maybe I should have had you skip to at the beginning: Stop with the lists. Carry on the conversation. Presumptions and assumptions can be insensitive and rude, but someone not knowing you is not a crime, and someone trying to know you should be seen as a gift. Because, at least I believe with all my heart, as moms we are in this together, and I would rather be surrounded by caring voices than cold silence any day.