I was at the insurance info session for my new job a couple months ago, and one woman showed up with a tiny baby in a carrier.  I spent like half of the info session eyeballing them, trying to guess how old the baby was and planning what I was going to say to her.  As a self-appointed goodwill ambassador to all new moms, I knew I just had to say something.  So when we were done, I strutted over and asked her how old her baby was.

“He’s eight weeks,” she beamed.

“Oh, congratulations, he’s so cute!  And by the way, it gets so much more fun!” I replied, thinking I was being the most uber-supportive mom-stranger ever.

The woman’s eyes narrowed.  “Well I think THIS is fun.”

Crickets.  I had no idea what to say.  I think I just whipped around and slunk off with my tail between my legs.

There I was, trying to be that person to say that thing that really made someone’s day, meanwhile I seemed to completely offend her instead.  Why had my comment backfired?  Who knows – maybe she had heard it a million times before.  Maybe she really DOES love eight weeks (I guess someone must).  Maybe she was hating it and trying really hard to cover it up.  Whatever the reason, I had said the wrong thing.

Stressed Businesswoman

I think my desire to say just the right thing comes partly from the fact that I am a “helper” by nature (and a school psychologist by trade), but it’s also that I had a really rough go of it early on in motherhood.  I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about what I was feeling, and I felt really alone in it.  Plus, people say really stupid things to you when you’re a new mom.  A few examples:

“Are you loving it?”  

Stock response: Umm parts of it? 

Real response: Which part?  The zero sleep?  The cracked nipples?  The constant feeling that the world is crumbling around me?  NO!!!

“Sleep when the baby sleeps!”  

Stock response: I’ll try!  

Real response: WOW what a novel idea, I’ve never heard that one before!  THANK YOU for your endless wisdom.

“Enjoy every moment.”  

Stock response: Um thanks, will do.

Real response: If I think too much about what’s actually happening at every moment, I might run away and never come back.

“You look tired.”  

Stock response: I AM tired!  

Real response: NO SH*T, SHERLOCK!

Having talked with so many other moms about this, I know that my experience was not at all unique – but it was still pretty awful for a while.  Some of the really thoughtless, stinging comments really stuck with me, but also, I think a lot about a few of the comments that made a huge difference in the other direction.  For example, my father-in-law told me, “You are a strong woman.” And I remember this one conversation I had with my sister-in-law about how hard it is to be a new mom.  It was nothing earth-shattering, but it validated a lot of the things I was feeling.  I have not-quite-intentionally made it my mission to help other new moms feel not so alone.  Unfortunately, not everyone reacts in exactly the way I expect.

I think what I have learned is that pregnancy and motherhood are such sensitive topics – and such personal ones too.  It is really hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, even when you have been in a really similar situation.  Even a seemingly benign comment can strike a nerve for whatever reason.  So what to do?  Forge ahead, knowing full well that I might offend someone?  Say nothing at all?

I honestly don’t know what the right answer is.  I think it is better to say something than nothing (a smile and a held door are good too), but what to say?

What do you say to new moms?

7 thoughts on “Foot-in-Mouth

  1. Maybe we should start asking new mother’s “What’s been your favorite part so far?” We all know how hard it is, but there are some enjoyable moments thrown in there too, even if they’re different for everyone. Saying it like that acknowledges the difficulty but also allows a new mom to gush about her baby, which we all love to do.

  2. SO funny! Ugh. I’m SUCH a “helper” but always end up saying something stupid. My brain tells me not to say any of the dumb new mother things, but I’m quite sure that I say them all.

  3. I’m with Jess, I hated the enjoy every moment comment, but also the sleep when the baby is sleeping advice just did NOT work for me.

  4. I can definitely relate to this – also a “helper” by instinct 🙂 As uncomfortable as the situations are for me in the moment, they have really helped me embrace that everyone has unique experiences and feelings when it comes to motherhood. So now I stick to asking questions and biting my tongue on the advice. “How’s it going?” “Is this your first?” and, of course, the always safe, “S/he is beautiful!!”

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