What can you say to new parents without offending them or making them feel less than?
Last Friday I went into London to meet a friend to introduce our babies and catch up, and while on the bus I encountered a couple with their very tiny one month old baby.
As you do as a parent on public transport, we said hello and asked each other our children’s ages and I made a comment about how teeny tiny their baby was. A nice comment, but a comment nonetheless.
I sensed a grimace from the mother. Whoops.
Soon after, said tiny baby started to really wail. Like, screaming, desperate crying. As newborns do. We’ve all been there. It was fine. Babies do this and I ignored it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the parents getting visibly uncomfortable and doing what they could to calm the baby. Which wasn’t working.
As we were approaching a stop, a woman getting off the bus stopped nearby as she waited for the doors to open and made a comment:
“Oh, that’s a cry for mummy and daddy. That baby needs to be held by mummy and daddy. Once he has mummy or daddy he’ll be fine. I know, I’ve got two little ones of my own.”
She then turned to me and asked if I, with Freddy, remember those days.
I, rather stupidly said:
“Oh yeah, I don’t think I had even left the house by one month.”
Cue forced smile and nodding and more grimacing from the parents. They very quickly, as if rehearsed said:
“Yes, but we want to take advantage of his paternity leave.”
What I meant, never mind the other woman, was that I found these parents pretty courageous for braving London’s public transport system with a one month old to go sightseeing. I still find it hard to leave the house, and I have an eight month old and I live in the suburbs where I drive everywhere. I think that my comments about the baby’s size and age and the parents being out and about was interpreted as a judgement against them. As if I was implying they should be at home?
Within another couple of stops, the new parents and wailing newborn were off the bus.
I felt a little sheepish. I had bungled it up. Part of me thinks I should have said something more supportive. Actually, I should have just probably said nothing at all.
Because even with eight months behind me as a mother, I’m still so, so sensitive myself to anyone making any comments about my parenting abilities. Sure, there are a few things that are totally, 100% always ok.
“You are a fantastic and wonderful mother/father/parent.”
“Your baby is so lovely, you are doing such a great job.”
“You are amazing and your baby is super. Way to go!”
To be honest, I’m not even sure I like the “It will get easier” comments, because my slightly self-conscious brain interprets that as, “You don’t seem like you have a handle on it yet.“
So I’ve concluded that it’s best to just not say very much at all to strangers, or sometimes even close friends, unless it’s one of the above.
If you can believe it, on the way home during rush hour, there was again a set of new parents but this time with a two week old baby. I can only assume it was a life or death emergency that forced them onto a London bus on Friday night at rush hour. But then again, you know what, we are all just doing what we have to do. If they had to take the bus at that hour, for whatever reason, that ain’t my business or place to judge!
So, in sum, be careful. Be so, very careful with new parents with what you say. Offer no unsolicited advise. Be cautious with your compliments. Even with experienced parents. Raising babies and children isn’t for the faint of heart and words can so easily be taken the wrong way, even if it’s coming from a good place.