Knowing what to tell new parents to be supportive and helpful can be tricky. To start, here is a list of four things not to say, plus a helpful one-liner to say instead.
Our culture veils pregnancy and postpartum struggles—creating an abyss of assumptions, misinformation, and inconsiderate commentaries.
As a postpartum mom facing a 20% chance of inheriting postpartum depression or anxiety without a “village,” hearing unhelpful phrases shrouded in toxic positivity can be detrimental.
Let’s look at these “helpful” phrases that can cause more harm than good.
What not to say to a new parent
“Enjoy every minute.”
When I was in a bleeding diaper with chapped nipples and a screaming baby squirming in my arms, joy wasn’t so easy to pinpoint.
“It gets easier.”
When my baby reached the three-month mark that came with a singular, 30-minute cat nap per day and my hormonal body adjusting to the end of my breastfeeding journey, I couldn’t find the ease that I was promised would come once my baby wasn’t a newborn.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”
When I was waiting with bated breath for the moment I could use the bathroom, get something to eat, and organize the clutter plaguing each corner of our home, I couldn’t prioritize sleep in the five to 50-minute nap my baby was taking.
“You’ll miss these days.”
When I could hardly muster the strength to smile at my beautiful baby girl under the crushing weight of postpartum depression, I couldn’t imagine what I would “miss” that day.
Why do we toss these adages around even when we’ve had our children (and know better)?
It’s easy to look behind us and see only the highlights. They’re all we post about, after all. It’s like taking notes during a lecture—the bits we want to remember, we write down, and they stick with us. It’s the first smile, the shake of a rattle, the bite of a noodle, and the boisterous bows we snap shots off to bank into our memories.
That’s why the hysterical screams, overwhelming messes, depressive outbursts, and lost sense of self get stuffed deep down where we hope never to find them.
For the parents who are in it—in the thick of the daily roller coaster rides of their highest highs sinking to their lowest lows in a few hours, these comments hurt.
The parent or non-parent looking in the rearview gets the luxury of sifting through the sand to get to the gold. They might have truly loved every second and wanted to shout about their postpartum bliss from the rooftops. While we need to hear those stories, their delivery must be tailored to the postpartum parent on the receiving end.
Just like in pregnancy, parenthood is unique to each person. Everyone’s support system—or lack thereof—looks different. Financial situations vary.
Relationship dynamics change. Pregnancy, labor, and delivery experiences are all traumatic on some level, and none of them are the same. It’s natural to want to offer advice, but it can be more harmful than helpful without asking parents about their experiences first.
As a culture, we’re uncomfortable with the difficulties parenthood presents. Instead of genuinely asking parents how they’re doing and what their days look like, there’s a prescription for how to snap themselves out of whatever they’re feeling—unless it’s all rainbows and unicorns.
Perhaps we don’t want to relive the painful parts of parenthood—why would we? If parents have reached the coveted threshold where they’ve figured out how to run their day instead of feeling run down by it, then why revisit the times when life felt completely out of control? Why get in touch with negative feelings about this now infallible relationship with their child?
If it’s not reliving these times, it’s putting an unfair onus on people for “choosing” the demanding lifestyle of parenthood.
“You wanted this—what’s the problem? Didn’t you know it would be hard?”
In our society, seemingly no one is granted permission to openly admit to the challenges of becoming a parent. It leaves parents unprepared for the emotional rapids ahead of them and doesn’t allow people to navigate the tricky parts without immense feelings of guilt.
So, no—no one could know it would be this hard.
The best thing to say to new parents
It will take time, space, and countless conversations to see a shift in the unhelpful phrases hurled at parents. But here’s one we can all start saying more often now:
“Give yourself grace.”
When a parent doubts themselves, vent about the sharp shifts, and feel like they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, we don’t need to tell them how they’re in the midst of “the good days.”
How can anyone reconcile that thought? These days—the ones taking every mental and physical ounce of energy to get through—are somehow the best we can look forward to?
Instead, let’s allow people to hold on to as much as their arms can carry or let go of as much as they can leave behind while they move into the most tumultuous yet rewarding role of their lifetimes.
Let’s stop the constant dismissal of postpartum parents’ feelings and work on accepting them. Let’s extend a pat on the shoulder instead of a turned-back.
Even if we can’t access memories of the forgone infant era, were elated throughout our parenthood journeys, or can’t possibly understand why someone would become a parent in the first place—let’s remind new parents that they deserve grace.
The more of it they can offer themselves, the more they can extend to the tiny humans they’re raising.
They’re running on little to no sleep. Even when “resting,” their minds are on an endless loop of tasks and concerns.
There’s a formula shortage. We’re still in a pandemic. Social rules are ever-evolving. Childcare is astronomical. Heavy metals are in baby food. The economy is crashing. Villages are nonexistent. Generational curses are being broken.
New parents deserve to hold space for their valid, human emotions. The clouds of this challenging season will eventually lift and reveal a path to the “good old days.” They can only find their way there if asked and offered what they need.
They can only get there with grace.
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Kaitlin is a new mom, writer, and editor with eight years of professional writing experience. She has written about mental health, personal growth, and community among other humanitarian topics.