Children are often terrors and babies are essentially selfish jerks, but those aren't the only reasons being a mom is the hardest job on the planet. So many well-meaning people misinterpret the expression "it takes a village." Maybe it's your mother-in-law or that guy walking his dog past you on the street—it's amazing how often people feel the need to offer unsolicited advice to mothers. Or backhanded compliments. Or just plain shameful looks at a mother nursing her hungry, clawing, wailing child in public. How about instead you offer some understanding and compassion?
We spoke to mothers who have been through it all—the first smiles, the stomach viruses, the unimaginably stinky diapers. They shared tips on how they would like to be treated, the things that helped and the things that absolutely didn't.
One Is Not the Loneliest Number
I think probably the common offensive thing to me is when people look at my belly and ask me when I'm going to have another. I'm a nurse and my patients saw me when I was pregnant. They ask me about my child all the time, but they also ask me about having another kid all the time—as though somehow I'm being a bad parent to my daughter because I'm not providing her with a sibling. Like, poor her. I know people that are singletons that are well and capable. Their parents didn't have to go into bankruptcy to put them through college. They're stable individuals. I tell them it's not that easy. If I don't tell them, they keep asking, so I end up saying I've had five miscarriages and explain how hard it was for me to get pregnant. Between health insurance and daycare, having a just one kid is very expensive. If I had another, I'd probably have to quit my job and stay home to take care of them. - Leah
You Are Not Alone
Let us know that it's OK when our kids act up, that you've been there too. My son was having a total meltdown in the checkout area, where the candy and trinkets are posted for impulse shoppers. He wanted to buy a magnifying glass for old people. It had all these LED lights all around it. I mean, it was kind of cool, but it was $8.99, and I told him, "No, you can't have it." He started screaming and throwing stuff out of the cart. I was so embarrassed, and I was whispering, "Stop it!" under my breath.
I was all sweating because there was this older couple behind us, and I thought they were thinking that I'm a bad mother who can't control her child. But then they said understandingly, "Oh, we've got four of our own. We've been there." And it was great and so helpful, because then I could really let it all out and tell him to cut it out. I could be stern. There's a fear of being a disciplinarian in public. I went apple-picking and saw a grandfather wail on a kid, and I have an internalized fear of being seen like I saw him. But this couple gave me a bit of relief in a moment of kid-related stress. - Nicolette
Save the Compliments for Someone Else
Stop giving awkward compliments about moms' bodies. It is a universally acknowledged truth that moms feel weird about the way they look after they have kids, because things get all stretched out and rearranged. It's this awful kind of adult puberty situation. I understand that well-meaning friends and family think offering compliments about moms' bodies might make them feel better. But for me, it always lands wrong. My body didn't tend to inspire tons of surprise and awe before I became a mom, so for it to come from people now feels fake and condescending.
"You look great for someone who's had two kids," to me, sounds like a backhanded compliment: "Maybe not by youthful 20-year-old standards, but for a mom, you're doing OK!" Besides, feeling awkward and gross about my body doesn't make me want to talk about it more! It makes me want to talk about literally anything else. So let's not do this performative thing of "My, how you've changed!" because duh, I've seen myself naked lately. - Ciara
This Is How It Takes a Village
New moms are all different. They all react differently to their babies. New moms are basically in shock. Good shock, but shock. Because it is impossible for anyone to imagine the reality of a baby. We all need to be treated with respect and offered support. And that can come from many different sources. The most important thing is that you need female support because other women have a better physiological understanding of what's happening. And social programs, when available, are so important in their impact.
My first child was born in White Plains, New York. As soon as she was born, the White Plains Public Library came to the hospital and gave me a free copy of the book Goodnight Moon. They directed me to show it to her everyday before bedtime to establish a nighttime routine. It was great and it worked in getting her to sleep and we both fell in love with the book. That was a program that was critical for me. It was positive and encouraging—two things new moms need.
Also, the City of White Plains sent out a visiting nurse to new mothers once a week for a month—that is such a critical time. I was inexperienced and basically had never changed a diaper. Not only did they teach me a few skills for comforting the baby and meeting her needs, but they also asked me how I felt physically. People often forget that moms went through a huge physical change and focus only on the baby. These were the two most comforting and positive things that kept me going during that lonely time. - Mary Ellen
More Than Just a Mom
I am a different person than I was before my son came along, so please treat me with respect and don't judge me. Life gets very complicated once you have a child. I am exhausted, and my toddler's hugs and kisses are interspersed by kicking and hair-pulling. I can use a little compassion. After moving halfway across the country to be closer to family, I became a stay-at-home mom (SAH). It wasn't a difficult decision at the time, but I struggled with my new mom identity. I often feel shame when I have to write on forms that I am 'unemployed' or feel judged when I share that I can afford to stay home with my son. I wasn't always a mom. I was a friend, a colleague, a restaurant-goer. Oh, and a well-rested, engaging, sometimes flirty and high-functioning member of society. I may be different now, but I'm still a feeling individual, just more evolved and less employed. - Ryann
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