Let me start by clarifying that I am a non-parent. I have yet to experience that joyful/sheer nights of exhaustion turned to hell (depending on the day)/complicated side of life that is parenthood. And so I have managed to put my foot in it many times in front of new parents I know because children have not entered my bubble and I’m less emphatic to their struggles as a result. I didn’t really realise how unsympathetic I was generally being this particular day until a friend detailed her night of sleepless terror because her eldest refused to go asleep. I then did the sound thing by saying that, well, it really was their (both parents) fault for pandering to their offspring and not just well, forcing the poor child into a slumber evidently against his will. “Spoken like a true non-parent, Jen,” was the dry I’m-smirking-but-I-hate-you-right-now-underneath response.
What the heck was the matter with me? I felt guilty for ages after for not being kinder because as everyone that’s ever tried to work with the Parenting Gods knows, sometimes it is their sole duty to test you and ensure you (or any member of your family) don’t sleep weeks on end. And so a life lesson was reinforced to me that day: Thou shalt never speak vocally about what thou doesn’t fully understand. So I don’t understand the ins-and-outs of parenting but what I do understand is to be more considerate, nicer and avoid saying the following as a non-parent to my new-parent friends (all of which I’ve heard and/or said in some form over the years) until I’ve walked the walk*:
“What do you mean you haven’t seen that movie/heard that song/checked out that new TV series yet? It’s weeks old! What have you been doing?!”
This is not a cool thing to say. They’ve been busy keeping a mini-human alive, the most time-consuming act there is. And that movie/song/TV series was dire anyway.
“There’s this deadly event on that you’ll LOVE but it’s a child-free zone and on tomorrow. Can you come with me?!”
Unless you are offering to forgo your own place at said deadly event and mind their children for them, do avoid saying the words “child-free” and “tomorrow” to your new-parent friends because this is real life, not a magical film and they won’t appreciate the guilt-trip of refusing.
“God, you’ve no idea how exhausted I am.”
You may be exhausted, but are you ‘new parent’ exhausted? It is a new realm of tiredness you have only imagined in your nightmares. No? Then sorry, you’re not really tired (well, you are of course, but you get the gist). Telling a new mam how tired you are when sleep is likely all but a distant, bittersweet memory to her is walking into shaky territory.
“I know. Sure my friend has a puppy and she’s always saying it’s just like minding a baby!”
Just no. Dogs are not, tiny dependent humans. They are needy and demand your care, this is true. But if you think a puppy is work, just wait to see what twins/a baby who refuses to sleep for more than an hour a month in is like. It’s hell minus a puppy to sob into for comfort.
“It must be so great/relaxing to be home all day with the kids.”
It’s likely wonderful (in some ways only), but it’s probably not fun in the way you think it’s all staying-in-pajamas-and-sleeping-when-the-baby-sleeps (a parenting myth) fun. Twelve hours solid of Dora The Explorer, seemingly endless nappy changes and feeds with general “is this right?” through-the-roof anxiety – none of that says relax/fun right off the bat. (Wine, however, does).
“Where have you been? I never hear from you anymore!”
The ultimate guilt-inducing phrase to say to your new-parent friends as they likely haven’t had time to blink while adjusting to their new bundle. You mean well (obviously) but before you utter the words again, bring them chocolate and wine.
What questions have I left out? Tell all in the comments!