By Andrea Marlene of bumblebirdblog.com
Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in popularity in “What Not To Say” articles. I’m sure you’ve seen these. They have titles like, “Never Say THIS To A Mom Of Quintuplets” or “What Not To Say To Moms Of Curly Headed Kids” or “Don’t Ask A Mom With A Kid Who Looks Like An Alien Who His Father Is.”
When these types of articles first started appearing, I obsessed over them. I’m super sensitive to judgments from others, so the last thing I want to do is offend another mom. I was grateful for the insider information these articles provided me. They do a great job of describing how a woman feels when she has a child with a unique appearance, behavior, thought process, or experience, and the awareness that some well-intentioned words are hurtful is crucial.
But after reading several of these articles, I started to become paranoid in my conversations with other moms. I would repeatedly go over discussions in my head, analyzing my words for any potential offense. It wasn’t unusual for me to follow chance meetings with text messages that said things like, “Sorry I said such-and-such. I didn’t mean it that way!” Nearly every time the other mom replied with, “It’s okay. I wasn’t offended!”
When we focus exclusively on what we shouldn’t say to others, we lose the opportunity to connect with them. If your intention is to merely pass judgment then you should absolutely keep your mouth shut. But what about when you sincerely care about someone but are limited in your interactions by a fear of saying the wrong thing?
With a “What Not To Say” mentality, we’re creating a culture of people who are afraid to speak truthfully to each other. We’re ensuring that only shallow friendships can be forged. It’s great that we want to become more sensitive, but we can’t let all hope of connection be lost. Only when we speak truth to each other, listen and support each other, and bear each others burdens can meaningful relationships be created. Isn’t that what we all crave?
Of course, we should still be sensitive and phrase our questions and comments in thoughtful ways. A mom isn’t going to open up to you if you ask what’s wrong with her kid. But if you’re able to use your words to create a safe space and give her the opportunity to speak about herself, then she might just be relieved to have you there.
So I’m going to give you a list of things you can say to other moms. We need to know how to speak to each other, and from now on, I’ll eagerly read any list from another mom on what she wishes others would say. I’ll get us started:
What To Say To A Mom Of Any Kid, Anytime
Hey, I didn’t say this list would be groundbreaking. But honestly, too often we avoid the mom with the “issue.” Why is that? Say hello, invite her into the group. There’s no harm in this.
How Are You?
Again, think simple. This might not get you into a conversation, but it at least opens the door for her to give you a truthful answer.
Do You Need Any Help?
This is a good way of addressing the elephant in the room without passing any judgments. If it’s obvious that something is going on and she looks like she’s struggling, ditch the awkward smile and go over there. This also allows her to talk about the situation if she wants to.
Your Kid Is Great At __________
Sincere compliments are a great way to break down barriers and demonstrate to a mom that you aren’t going to bombard her with the same invasive questions she’s heard a hundred times.
You’re Doing A Great Job
My daughter once screamed for twenty minutes in the grocery store because she didn’t want to be there. I knew if I let her win, we would never be able to get groceries again, so I had to tough it out. It was incredibly embarrassing. But when she finally stopped, a woman walked over and said, “I have three kids, and I just want you to know I saw what happened and you handled it really well.” It turned my whole day around, and I left that store feeling grateful instead of ashamed.
The only caution I would give here is be careful not to imply the other mom is only doing a great job because her kid is so horrible. Your goal here is to lift her up by complimenting her parenting, not expressing awe at how amazingly she deals with an awful child.
I know many moms of young kids want desperately to connect with other moms. Being afraid of offending each other is killing our relationships. Sensitivity and awareness of others are important qualities to cultivate. But only when we let our focus be how to connect rather than how not to offend can we can move past superficiality and begin to build real community.
About the Author
Andrea Marlene is a mom of three who lives in Ontario, Canada. Her work has also been published on Scary Mommy and The Huffington Post. She blogs about finding meaning in the mundane aspects of life at bumblebirdblog.com and you can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.