I chortle along with everyone else when I read the lists that come out about once a month of things not to say to this mom or that mom (witness this popular post today on HuffPo: What Not to Say to a Working Mom). What bugs me is that the media tends to divvy up parents into segments: moms versus dads, bottle-feeders versus breast-feeders, stay-at-home moms versus working moms. I think there some universal truths that most people can agree on—moms and dads, please—whether you work 60 hours a week and pump in your conference room, or stay at home and want to climb up your walls, or don't have kids and don't plan to anytime soon.
10. Never tell a parent that a child seems to be delayed. "Oh, she isn't walking yet?" "Oh, she really should be talking by now!" "Oh, my little Hector knew his shapes by six months!" You don't sound helpful. You sound judgmental and braggy. Plus, if you're noticing a problem, chances are we've noticed it, too. We don't need a friendly reminder. We might be scared already.
9. Do not judge a family based on where they live. "OMG, you're in the suburbs? How do you survive? It must be so...quiet!" "Oh, we would've stayed in the city, but you know, the schools..." You have no idea why a family chose to live someplace. It could be finances. It could be that a certain town's school system caters better to special needs. It could be that Aunt Gertie left behind a fine trust fund, so your pals can live in the heart of the city and send little Hector to St. Grottlesex School for Small Geniuses. You just don't know. So keep geography talk neutral.
8. "Ooooh, when are you having another?" This is intrusive and rude. It's not your business! Maybe this poor person is trying to have another. Maybe she's having sex like a rabid rabbit and nothing is happening. She doesn't need the reminder. When her belly is bulging over her Pea in the Pod maternity jeggings, you'll know. Til then, keep your mouth shut.
7. "Are you guys thinking of starting a family soon?" This is even worse. And for some reason, people think that phrasing it as "starting a family" is somehow more PC than a simple, "Why aren't you knocked up yet?" which is really the question's intent. Again, it's not your business. Treat everyone you know as blissfully child-free until you know otherwise.
6. "I would have kids, but I just really love my freedom now." This makes perfect sense and is totally valid. The issue is that people often say this to imply that parents are somehow chained to a milk-splattered high chair. Yes; sometimes we're stir-crazy and surly. But we're not under house arrest. Parenthood is actually fulfilling and fun a lot of the time! No, people with kids can't jet off to Marbella at a moment's notice, but it's not the equivalent of a cell at Rikers, either. Don't pity us too much.
5. "I would've invited you to dinner/drinks/my birthday party, but I figured you're so busy now!" Same principle. Parents do not morph into hermits in the delivery room, nor do we turn into asocial mutants who prefer to speak in whistle-pitch monosyllables.
4. "I would've invited you to Hector's birthday party, but you don't have kids! It'd be so boring. I mean, even I didn't want to be there." Close friends without kids usually want to be included in your celebrations. They can still bow out if they're busy, or if the birthday party won't have any alcohol, or if they'd rather stab their eyes out with plastic knives than sit through a rousing rendition of "Baby Beluga." Totally legit. But inclusiveness is important. At least give them the option of saying yes (or no).
3. "OMG, I am so busy/tired/stressed!" as an excuse for blatantly rude, snippy, and insensitive behavior, especially when blamed on having a kid. This is 21st-century America. WE ARE ALL STRESSED. An occasional busy-stressed-tired rant is fine. We all deserve it. A once-a-day tantrum, or using your child as an excuse for ongoing self-absorption, is not. Some day your child will become a teenager and will want nothing to do with you. At this point, you will want your friends back. Do not alienate them now.
2. "Oh! Your baby looks just like [insert name of relative here]." You might think Great Aunt Lois has beautiful eyes, but the new parents might think Aunt Lois looks like Joan Rivers. "He/she is so cute!" will suffice.
1. "Oh, you'll understand, once you have kids." I'm sorry, but having kids doesn't turn you into some kind of omnipotent life wizard who suddenly has supersensory powers and the ability to judge all situations from a world-weary perch. You have learned some things along the way, yes. Some lessons can only be understood through experience. This is true. But that's no reason to talk to childless people as if they're pitiful, slow, naive sad-sacks who just don't understand how truly rigorous the world can be post-childbirth. A child does not make you a genius. It might make you happy. But it's not for everyone: So don't talk down to people who aren't there yet and might never be.
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