Words that hurt: Five things moms of older kids shouldn’t say to moms of younger kids

Let me begin with a cliche – each child, each parent and each parenting journey is unique. No parent truly knows what another one is going through. 

That said, moms of older children have a wealth of experience and can help and support other moms. However, sometimes their well-intentioned comments can unintentionally add to the stress and frustration of moms with younger children. I know because I’ve been on both sides.

Here are some things moms of older kids should avoid saying to moms of younger kids.

Yeah, well, she knows that. It’s more than obvious that her child will not keep biting or eating chalk or throwing up on her or whatever other current savagery her infant/toddler is in the midst of bestowing upon her. She knows that. And she still has to get through it. Telling a struggling mom ‘it’s just a phase’ is unkind and dismissive.

What she would appreciate is advice on how to get through it — a tip or a trick that worked for you — and lots of understanding and sympathy.

‘If only they could talk,’ I remember thinking desperately many many times, when the twins were infants and I was struggling to understand why they wouldn’t stop crying. Had anyone at that point said, ‘Wait till they start talking, you’ll pray for some quiet,’ It would have made no sense to me. Worse, it would have made me even more anxious about the tough times ahead. A simple ‘I get it, it’s the hardest,’ would have worked better.

I dropped in on a friend once who was nebulising her son and I couldn’t help but remember H’s struggles with cough and congestion. Believe me when I say, I needed super-human strength to shut up and listen to her rather than recount my own tales of sleepless nights and endless doctor visits.

Children’s (or even adults’) illnesses are never a competition. It’s tempting, I know, to begin to recount your own experiences with that cough or that rash that was ‘so much worse’ but unless you know of a good doctor or a great home remedy, it’s best to keep quiet.

When the twins were toddlers they were all over the place – crawling, climbing, stumbling and falling. Once H got a nasty cut on his chin and needed stitches. As we were coming back from the hospital, shaken but relieved, a neighbour accosted us, sympathised for a bit then went on to say, ‘I never had this problem with my toddler. Somehow I was always there to catch him when he fell.’ I cannot begin to explain how terrible it made me feel, how inadequate, how very guilty.

Even as adults one should stay away from the absolutes. Rather than offering blanket advice one can simply share one’s experiences while acknowledging that things are different for different people.

What moms need is for someone to listen and empathise without judgement. They need gentle assurance that they’re doing well and that things will get better, which they always do.

2 Replies to “Words that hurt: Five things moms of older kids shouldn’t say to moms of younger kids”

  1. Absolutely 100 percent agree. Parenting doesn’t get easier as they grow. New phases throw new challenges into the twist. It is a good reminder for me too to check myself from saying anything that could hurt someone. It may not be the intention but words tend to form their own shape and meaning once they are out of the mouth.

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