Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Those Things You Should Never Say

Go ahead, ask me when I'm due. I dare you!
I find myself deeply indebted to social media for an education that would paralyze me into silence…if I were more empathetic and politically correct. This morning, I read yet another “10 Things You Should Never Say to…” article, and something snapped. I took a little Google tour, searching on “things never to say” (an enlightening journey). I stopped at 20 pages of articles but could have trolled the internet for hours to learn what not to say to your fishing partner, your co-workers, vegetarians, a grieving spouse, a gay person, an American, a Chicano, a dog owner, flight attendants, a redhead, someone you are breaking up with, a transgender person, people with curly hair (really?)…and my personal catch-all favorite: “Ten Things Never to Say to Other People. Period.” The overwhelming majority of the articles relate to moms of all shapes and sizes and stages: expectant moms, working moms, stay at home moms, single moms, parents of special needs children, parents of triplets, moms of boys, Filipino parents, new moms over 40, new moms under 25, stressed-out parents.

Having been a pregnant woman, a grieving spouse, a working mom, a stay at home mom, and a hundred other “someones,” I thought I should probably take a look at some of the utterances that any thinking person should have known never to say to me at that particular period of my life.

Apparently, I should have taken great offense as a working mother if anyone told me that I looked exhausted. Ooh, well. The fact of the matter is that I was exhausted. My one-year old seemed to catch every childhood illness that breathed its way through daycare. I travelled frequently. Management duties kept me up at night when the baby did not. Yep, I had days when my eyes wanted nothing more than to close for just a few seconds of quiet bliss. You would have been an idiot not to notice, and it’s OK that you mentioned it. I found myself even more exhausted as a stay at home mom, and it’s OK that you noticed then, as well. The working mother blogger supported her plea for inoffensive comments with her assertion that “I am no different than anyone else.” All right, sweetie, I’ll take you at your word and stop tip-toeing around you.

Hundreds of sites list terrible things never to say to a pregnant woman. Well yes, let’s walk right into that mine field. Give a woman an overload of hormones and a few inches around the tummy and thighs (and arms and cheeks and ankles) and there really is no way to be sure you will say the right thing. Most of us cry and huff and puff and eventually get over the questions and advice once the hormones have subsided. One blog author differentiated between the childless person who offends with the comment “get all the sleep you can now” and the new parent who appropriately commiserates with the very same comment. Hmm…what if that childless person deals with infertility and is simply trying her best to relate to you in a condition she will never have, no matter how much she wants a child? I am quite certain that one of those 10 Things You Should Never Say to a Person Who Can’t Conceive runs along the lines of “You wouldn’t understand because you have never had a child.”

As a 20-something widow, I appreciated the fact that a select group of people actually could empathize with my situation and knew instinctively what to say. At the same time, I appreciated all of the bumbling attempts to connect with me by friends and strangers who knew they could never say the right thing but wanted to open their mouth in support anyway. Thank you for not letting your fear of casting offense keep you from walking across the room to speak to me. I know how long that walk can be, how you rehearse in your mind what you will say to the wounded woman who feels a pain you may never experience.

One snarky blogger ended her post with a statement that brought her a little redemption in my eyes. “The questions and words should not be filled with judgment but with support.” Yes, yes! Exactly. If you want to be helpful, tell me what I should say in support instead of automatically assuming I mean to be judgmental. I don’t (well, most of the time, anyway). Generally, I genuinely want to connect with those around me who deal with addictions, depression, stress, illness and a host of other challenges that life throws at all of us. I try my best. I fail a lot. And I will continue to believe that freezing in silent fear of saying the wrong thing is generally much worse than reaching out my hand in love and trying my best to connect with another human being.


  1. Very nicely said. I hear people all the time say that someone said something offensive but from my point of view they were trying to be helpful and sometimes they are just bumbling idiots. I think of the tattooed mormon and how she could have been so offended but instead she engaged in a conversation that helped others learn. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love your blog... nicely said!

  3. I love this, Juliana. Too true.

  4. Really insightful and thought provoking. I loved it.

  5. You are the best. If I were a woman I would feel just like you.

  6. My sister-in-law didn't know what to say to me after I had a painful miscarriage. She sent me a note and said just that, "I don't know what to say, but I didn't want the moment to pass without saying anything." I've always treasured her acknowledgement of a tricky situation and her honesty in saying that she didn't know what to say. :) I do love your perspective, Juliana.

  7. Love this article, Juliana. We people types get so easily offended without reading lists to help us clarify more things to be bugged about. Navigating socially sometimes feels like walking on eggshells. I really appreciate your thoughts here. As usual!