What Not to Say to the New Mom
This post originally appeared on our old blog Born to be a Bride.
As a pregnant person, I wrote a few posts on what I wish people wouldn’t say (like, “look at how big you are!” or my all-time favorite — “SLEEP NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN.”) Now that I’ve spent three-plus months in the New Mom Camp, I find again that people feel comfortable giving me unsolicited advice and asking rude questions. These people are seemingly not bad people. They mean well. They just don’t know. So here you are — let me tell you what not to say to a mom with a small baby:
Are you breastfeeding? Are you kidding? This is absolutely NONE of your business. I was asked this question at the makeup counter at Dior in Bloomingdales at week 2. I was asked in line at Michael’s while picking up crafts and attempting to soothe a screaming 14-week-old. I have probably had upwards of 20 complete strangers ask me if I was breastfeeding and every time it hits, I just think — why? Before you ask someone (especially someone you don’t know personally) this question, you need to ask yourself why. Why are you asking? Why do you care? Why do you think you have any right to know? Are you asking because you’ve been there and you know the combination of joy and hell that nursing a child brings? Or are you asking (as I suspect is more common) because you’re hoping to spread the gospel and give some sort of lecture on why you feel it’s a better choice. I have absolutely no interest in what your child eats. Please don’t worry about what mine does.
No matter why you are tempted to ask, don’t. Swallow the words. Whether she’s breastfeeding or not, she’s doing the best that she can. And the baby will be fine. And you are not her doctor or her life partner, so you are not on the list of people whose concern it is how she’s nourishing her child. Breastfeeding is a really hard one for new moms to talk about, whether it’s working out or it isn’t. There are a million and one reasons she might not be, and there could be feelings of shame/loss/sadness/doubt surrounding that. Or, she might be breastfeeding and having a really hard day at it. Don’t ask about her breasts. If you want to say anything at all, “Cute baby!” totally works.
Shouldn’t that baby be wearing a [jacket/hat/socks]…? This one makes me nuts. I’m so neurotic about Willow being properly appareled, it takes us literally forever plus nine days to get out of the house. There are also all sorts of factors that go into what she’s wearing in, say, a mall vs. an older house. She has super-sensitive skin and needed to be without a cap for a couple of days because her little scalp was breaking out. When I dared to take her into a diner on a Tuesday at 11 in the morning, having been bundled completely on the ten-pace walk from the car to the restaurant, a hostess and a waitress gave me crap about her not wearing a hat. The waitress even clicked her tongue! Ugh. One of my Texas mamas was out in a stretch of gorgeous weather with her newbie and he wasn’t wearing socks. An angry man came storming over to her in Babies R Us to give her a lecture on appropriate infant footwear.
And don’t get me started on my own mother and mother-in-law (LOVE YOU GUYS!) who gave me crap ad nauseam about not putting Willow in those puffy one-piece jumpers in the car when she was a newbie. Those puffy things are awesome for going outside, taking long walks in the stroller, etc. But child safety experts say to never put the baby in one in her carseat — if there is an impact, her straps will be looser than her person to accommodate for the puff. The puff will flatten, increasing her risk of injury. Please don’t worry about my baby’s clothing — I’m doing the best I can there just like I am everywhere else, and your judgy comments aren’t needed. If you want to say anything at all, “Cute baby!” totally works.
That baby is awfully little to be out in public! Okay, y’all, this one I just CAN’T. I have finally, for the most part, stopped getting this. Though Willow is at this long and skinny stage where she appears to be younger than her three months so people still feel compelled sometimes. The same morning of the diner incident, I was accosted for having her out of the house. I wanted to scream, “It is a big f*cking deal that I am out of the house! She is totally going to survive the next 45 minutes that I spend around other humans. Leave me the f*ck alone!” Instead, I just smiled tersely and said, “She’s fine.”
In the first few months, I got this at Target, the supermarket, the coffee shop, and even a doctor’s appointment (for myself. Heaven forbid mothers get their teeth cleaned or allergies accounted for). It’s just disgusting to me. Most pediatricians agree that as long as Baby is in a stroller or sling, or otherwise protected, it’s totally fine — even encouraged — to go to public places at non-crowded times of day. Josh and I still like to do “linner” on Sundays and eat out around 4 pm when we know we’ll be in a booth away from the fray. And sure, I don’t tend to take Willow to malls on Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons, but you’ll see me there on a Tuesday at 2:30 if I’ve had a rough morning and need to get out of the house. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t have my kid out. I needed to get out and so here we are. I’m doing the best to judge when it’s safe and okay, and that’s all I’ve got for ya. If you want to say anything at all, “Cute baby!” totally works.
In conclusion… If you are not a parent and compelled to say something judgmental to a new mom, just walk away. Whatever you think you know from watching Dr. Phil or listening to your neighbors talk crap about the other moms at play group is irrelevant and hurtful. And if you are a parent and you’re compelled to say something judgmental to a new mom, please slip your feet into my mud-crusted moto boots for a second first. Please try and remember that learning the ropes at this whole parenting thing is difficult and crazy and terrifying enough. Please try and be gentle and kind in your approach. Please do not worry about my baby’s calorie intake, footwear, or status as a brunch goer.
I know what I’m doing. I don’t know everything. Not even close. And I will make mistakes. I will make so many mistakes that listing them will make my head spin. I will feel unsure. I will have questions and seek answers. I am not a perfect parent, and one doesn’t exist. But I’m doing it. I’m waking up every morning (or, ha!, multiple times every night) and doing for my baby. Doing, doing, doing. Everything I do until the day I die will be for her, because even when it’s for me, it’s done with the thought of her in my mind somewhere.
When you see a new mom, be gentle. Take in her appearance — the holes in the leggings, the oversized shirt that is either her husband’s or was taken from the maternity heap. Take note of the bags under her eyes that she tried desperately to conceal in the car on the way here (or didn’t try, because she’s given up). Watch her as she tries to soothe that screaming squirt, or rejoices in a ten-minute stroller nap that’s allowing her to buy a bra that actually fits her confusingly sized boobs.
You don’t have to say anything. You can just take her in, smile, and give her a knowing glance. But if you want to say anything at all, “Cute baby!” totally works.