23 Worst Things You Can Say to a New Parent
New moms and dads need your compassion, not your criticism.
Being a parent is an undeniably tough job—the toughest, some might say. Overnight, you go from being responsible for only yourself to having a squirming, screaming person who can't even hold their head up to look after 24 hours a day. And while the added expenses, the lack of sleep, and the mountain of new responsibilities can be tough enough, in many cases, it's the well-intentioned advice of others that makes the job of parenting one of the hardest on the planet.
"So many people say things that are meant to be well-meaning statements or pieces of advice, but [they] can be harmful to a new parent's ability to cope," says certified clinical psychologist Tracy Dalgleish, based in Ottawa, Ontario. If you want to stay on the right side of the new parents in your life, it's imperative to steer clear of these phrases.
"Don't worry, you'll lose the weight."
As a general rule, most people don't love hearing things that could be construed as negative about their bodies—especially when they're feeling particularly vulnerable after having a baby. "We don't just bounce right back to pre-baby body," says licensed clinical psychologist Angela Kenzslowe, Psy.D., founder of Purple Heart Behavioral Health, LLC in Phoenix, Arizona. She says it's a "no-brainer" to avoid using this kind of language around new moms.
Maybe they will go back to looking the way they did before they had the baby. Maybe they won't. There's only one thing for sure: The way their body looks shouldn't be up for discussion.
"Your baby sure cries a lot."
As a general rule, virtually every baby cries—and in many cases, that wailing never seems to cease, even if they're fed, held, and doted on. And while noting the amount a baby cries may seem like a factual statement to you, to many new parents, it can feel like a criticism. "This is something that is outside of one's control, yet it becomes internalized for new parents," explains Dalgleish.
"You don't have postpartum depression."
The effects of postpartum depression can run the gamut, from being mild to truly debilitating. No matter the severity though, you should never downplay a person's experience if they tell you that they think they might be dealing with the condition, says Dalgleish. Considering that a 2012 study published in the Journal of Women's Health suggests that up to 10 percent of women will experience major depression at some point in their lives, it's best to support rather than trying to dismiss how a new mom feels.
"You look exhuasted."
The average newborn will wake up every couple of hours every single night. So, it's more than likely that new parents don't just look exhausted, they are exhausted. And if you feel like tossing a, "Well, I only got a few hours last night, too" into the conversation, consider this: A 2015 study published in the journal Sleep revealed that interrupted sleep has an even more negative effect on mood than short sleep. So consider keeping those comments to yourself for the time being.
"Sleep when the baby sleeps."
It may be the sentence new parents are most likely to hear from well-intentioned friends and family members, but "sleep when the baby sleeps" is a recommendation that's not so easy to put into practice. "Sleeping when baby sleeps is not [the] best bet," says Kenzslowe, who notes that sleeping in shifts rarely works well for adults. And considering that many parents use the time their baby spends sleeping to do other important things, like showering, eating, or working, it's unlikely this advice is as helpful as you think.
"Make sure you enjoy every minute."
No matter how much a parent loves their baby, there are bound to be times when the struggle of parenting seems to outweigh the limitless joy everyone insists you should be feeling. "If the parent realizes they are not enjoying every minute, then guilt, shame, and depression can begin to set it," says Kenzslowe. Since there's already so much pressure on parents as is, you needn't add this unhelpful mandate to the pile.
"If you think this is bad, just wait."
So many parents love to remind people with new babies that it's all downhill from here. However, it's unlikely that throwing this kind of comparison into a conversation with a new parent is going to make them feel better about anything they're going through. Instead, this kind of statement only "minimizes and dismisses the difficulty one is having in the moment," says Dalgleish.
"You're going to spoil them with all that affection."
There are many ways parents can spoil their children—never giving them responsibilities around the house, gifting them with a Bugatti as a Sweet 16 present—but being physically affectionate with them as infants isn't one of them.
"To encounter people that insinuate that holding their own baby will somehow ruin the kid(s) for life can be very detrimental to the fragile and emotional state a new mom may be in," says D'Wan Carpenter, DO, chief medical officer of DJC Physical Medicine Consultants in Louisiana. She says there's no harm in holding a baby as much as the parents see fit. After all, she notes, "sooner than later, they won't want to be held!"
"You're so lucky you get to stay at home."
Sure, to some working parents, staying at home with the kids seems like a dream. However, for many, it's more of a financial necessity than it is a luxury. In fact, according to a 2018 report by ChildCare Aware of America, childcare costs more than public college tuition in more than half of the United States. And considering it's a 24-hour job that earns no paycheck and requires dealing with tons of screaming and bodily fluids, you might just want to keep your opinions about how "lucky" those stay-at-home parents are to yourself.
"Wow! Going back to work so soon?"
In many cases, new parents simply don't have the option to stay at home for any significant period of time after having a child. According to the Congressional Research Service's 2019 Paid Family Leave in the United States report, just six states and the District of Columbia offer paid family leave. So, instead of questioning a parent's "quick" return to work, maybe direct that shock and awe toward employers, not a new parent who can't wait to see their baby after pulling a 12-hour shift.
"I can't imagine putting my baby in daycare."
We've all heard horror stories about daycare from time to time in the news. But, overwhelmingly, licensed daycare workers provide compassionate, loving, and, quite frankly, necessary childcare for the kids of those parents who have to return to work. If you want to help a new parent whose kid is entering daycare, get them in touch with friends who've used local centers instead of passing judgment on the fact that they're returning to work.
"Breast is best."
Breastfeeding may be a time-honored practice, but telling someone who's not breastfeeding that "breast is best" is only going to make them feel bad. And though you may think you have an inkling as to why they're not breastfeeding, there are countless physical and emotional reasons a person might choose not to nurse their baby, though just not wanting to is a completely valid reason, too. "Whatever the reason, they should not be shamed," says Kenzslowe.
"Why aren't you co-sleeping or cloth diapering?"
There are so many basic things new parents can't do, including sleeping and showering sometimes. And that means your comments about the parenting practices they choose not to engage in, be it breastfeeding, co-sleeping, or cloth diapering, aren't likely welcome, according to Katy Liebling, LCSW, who specializes in maternal mental health at her New York practice. If you need one cardinal rule to follow when speaking to new parents, Liebling suggests this: "No judgmental questions."
Anything that starts with "You should…"
The idea that a new parent is just aching for your input on how they're bathing, holding, or feeding their baby—especially when those offerings begin with "you should"—is misguided, to say the least. "Don't give advice unless [the parent] asks for it," says Liebling. Unless what they're doing presents an immediate danger, you're best keeping that advice to yourself.
"My baby was already doing that at their age!"
So, your baby knew how to walk, talk, and make chicken stock by the time they were 10 months old. That's awesome for them, but Liebling suggests avoiding telling new parents about all the things your baby was capable of that theirs, in your eyes, seems not to be. In addition to coming across as judgmental, for parents of children with special needs who may not be capable of hitting those milestones, the discussion can be a painful one.
"The baby doesn't really look like you!"
Can it be great to hear that the new baby has mom's smile or grandpa's eyes? Sure! However, Liebling cautions against telling people that their baby doesn't look like them. Not only does it come across as rude, but, for non-biological parents, it can also open a can of worms that they may not be eager to discuss with you.
"You're just like your parents."
Even if the new parents in your life have great relationships with their parents, it doesn't necessarily mean they want to feel like they're inevitably falling into the same patterns their folks did.
"Any version of this kind of comment can stir up dread and hopelessness," says licensed marriage and family therapist Steven Reigns, MA, founder of Therapy for Adults in Los Angeles. He also notes that, even if other people see similarities between a set of new parents and the generations that preceded them, "their story doesn't have to be your story."
"We didn't do that in my day and you turned out fine."
Well-meaning older friends and family members may tell you that newborns were essentially feral until the last 20 years, but that doesn't mean any new parent needs to hear it repeated. There are many things parents did in the past—letting children ride without car seats or rubbing whiskey on teething gums, for instance—that actually turned out to be dangerous. So, if you see someone parenting their new baby differently than you did, try to keep that to yourself.
"Isn't having a baby the best?"
Having a baby can be amazing for some people. But for those who find the experience more anxiety-inducing, hearing that they're falling short on the feelings scale can make their already harsh self-judgment worse. "To expect a parent to be elated 24/7 for their newborn is unrealistic," says Reigns. He notes that even the most enthusiastic parents "can experience a mixture of feelings" about the hard work of parenting.
Has anyone ever actually had an immediate change of mood just because someone else suggested it? "When a new parent expresses sadness, exhaustion, or concern, let them know you heard them and feel for the position they are in," says Reigns. "Comments made to cheer them up can have the opposite effect," as well as increasing their feelings of worry and isolation.
"All of this stuff is a waste of money."
Sure, you might think that fancy stroller, carrier, or activity center is a waste of money. But does that mean you should share those thoughts with the new parents who own (at great expense, mind you) them? Definitely not. Not only are many of those pricey accessories likely to be gifts—people do love buying baby stuff, after all—anything that makes those long days and sleepless nights a little easier is a net positive, right?
"Let me know if you need anything."
While it may seem like an innocuous offer, saying this to a new parent is unlikely to be as helpful as you think. Many new parents "don't even know what they need, and probably are too exhausted to articulate it," says Liebling. Instead, offer specific ways you're willing to help, as well as specific times you can provide said help, whether that means watching the baby while the new parents get some rest or ordering dinner so they don't have to cook.
"When will you start planning for another baby?"
Ignore those impulses to ask a new parent when their baby's sibling is coming along. It's hard enough for many parents to conceptualize how they'll keep their one new addition safe, happy, and healthy, much less additional children. And considering that many families think that one child is ideal—or they may have had a hard time conceiving or adopting the child they do have—it's best to steer clear of this question altogether. And for more phrases to nix from your lexicon, check out these 17 Things Polite People Never Say.
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