How Should We Talk to Young Parents?

IMG_4373 This past week I have had several conversations with people that have made me really think about how we should talk to each other as parents. As a young mother, I have experienced two prevailing attitudes from older parents. There are the “just-you-wait” people, who can unintentionally rob you of the joy you may feel in one stage of parenting by telling you all about the hard stage that is coming up. “Just wait until he starts teething. Just wait until he drops his nap. Just wait until he’s a teenager.” And then there are the “rose colored glasses” people, who can unintentionally make you feel like you are being ungrateful or even weak if you acknowledge the struggles (and there are real struggles) of parenthood.

As more and more of my friends start getting married and having babies, I realize that I’m moving to a place of being a little bit of an older parent, even though my oldest is only three. Recently a friend was telling my husband and I about plans to start a family, and I caught myself being a “just-you-waiter.” That kind of attitude not only robs people of joy, but it also can make them feel that they are somehow foolish or naive to be excited or happy about whatever stage they are in. I don’t want to be that kind of person to someone else. I want to acknowledge the good and fun things — the value of pressing your cheek against your infant’s fuzzy head, the sweet smell of babies’ milky breath, the joy of seeing your kids delighting in finding beetles outside, the challenging theological conversations that a thoughtful preschooler can bring up. I want to be the kind of parent who listens to someone else and says, “Yes! I remember that. Isn’t it fun?” instead of saying, “That’s nice, but it doesn’t last. Just wait until…”

But I also see the value in acknowledging the difficulties. A friend this week was telling me that she doesn’t feel like anybody ever talks about how hard it really is — the day to day business of raising little people and nurturing little hearts and bodies. And I feel like this is also true. When I had my first baby, Marshall, I struggled with post-partum depression for a couple months after he was born. I think it was mainly due to a traumatic experience immediately after labor, which made me unable to hold him and bond with him right away. But I remember thinking, while the doctors were trying to stop me from bleeding, “I’m not supposed to care about this pain anymore. I’m supposed to feel a huge wave of love and joy, but I don’t. I don’t know this baby. What is wrong with me?” People would ask me questions like, “Aren’t you just so in love?” or “Do you love nursing? I just loved nursing my babies.” For the first few months for me, I didn’t feel any special connection while nursing. I didn’t feel like I loved my baby the way other mothers talked about loving their newborns. Later, when I was open about my experience, other mothers admitted they had felt the same way, and it was so freeing. It took away the shame and false guilt to know that other women had experienced the same struggle, and that it was okay. And now, as I find myself having days in which I feel like I literally can not do it another minute — days in which I’m sure I’ve already ruined my children, and I will never know how to fix it — I want to tell other mothers that I feel this way, and I’m sure they do to. I want to let them know that they are not alone in feeling alone and inadequate, and that part of being in the Body of Christ is sharing the burden and praying for one another.

What would happen if we admitted to each other that it is lonely to be surrounded by little people all day? What would happen if we admitted to each other that we don’t always love being mothers? What if there was no shame in saying, “This is really, really hard, and I have no idea how to do it?” What kind of freedom might be released? I think that if we allowed this kind of honesty, we would be able to more effectively bear one another’s burdens. It reminds me of a quote from The Yearling, one of my favorite books. In a scene where Penny, the main character’s father, is comforting a neighboring family in great grief, he shares his own experiences. There is healing in the knowledge that “what all have borne, each can bear.”

I know it sounds like I am saying opposite things, but I believe there is a balance that we can and must find. I think the secret lies in looking to what the other person needs in the particular situation, and not having our own agenda when talking to other parents, especially when they are “newer” parents. The Bible says to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. So that means that if someone is rejoicing, we don’t dampen their joy. And when someone is struggling, we recognize the pain and difficulty of their situation. We say, “I know. It’s hard. I’ve been there, too. And I don’t really know what to do, but let’s pray about it.”

When we genuinely listen to what people are saying and think about how real their feelings are, when we pray for each other and encourage each other and say, “I hear you, and I realize that your pain or frustration or excitement or joy are real, and I want to weep or rejoice with you,” it changes not only our impact, but also our own attitudes about our struggles and triumphs.

  • proudgrits11

    Whole-heartedly agree! Striking that balance is incredibly difficult, and mistakes will be made….but the effort is sooo worth it! Motherhood is wonderful and exhilarating…and frustrating and unnerving. You are so right….we just have to meet people where they are, whether they are high or low. I remember back to my miscarriage and my surprise when so many people had been through it, too. Same for my anxiety issues during pregnancy and postpartum. There is power in sharing with each other, and supporting each other. We all just have to be willing to be authentic, and thoughtful. Again–hard, but so worth it! Thanks for sharing!

  • newatthis

    Thank you! I am still a few months away from welcoming my 1st little one. Sometimes I find all of the “realistic expectation talk” (among people but also in parenting books, blogs, etc) overwhelming. I appreciate when people are honest about how there are struggles but sometimes I’m left wanting to ask “is there ANYTHING positive about baby’s arrival???” I appreciate you acknowledging both sides of things…not being discouraging while also sharing struggles honestly. Well done.

  • Tracy Steel

    Hi Megan! My beautiful blessings are 4 and 2, and some days just bring out the “just-you-wait” in me. So, thank you for this beautiful reminder. BTW- I also live in ABQ and am a writer, so it’s nice to connect with you! God bless 🙂