You have only to turn on your computer or smartphone to encounter a barrage of “What Not to Say” articles on your favorite social media sites. Mothers seem particularly fond of using this style of writing to reveal the unkind and thoughtless things people have said to them about a particular reality of their motherhood.
What not to say to mothers of sick kids…
What not to say to mothers of all boys…
What not to say to expectant mothers who deliver after their due dates…
What not to say to mothers raising kids with allergies…
What not to say to mothers who homeschool their kids….
What not to say to mothers who like to dress their kids in white after Labor Day…
I made that last one up. I’m not trying to be insensitive. I care about all the topics listed above—except maybe the last one. But I do care, and some of the issues above are near and dear to my heart.
I honestly do want to know how to be kind to and thoughtful of people in difficult or unusual situations. But I cannot live in fear of every word that I say potentially offending a fellow mother.
After all, I’m trying my best; aren’t we all?
Posting “What Not to Say” articles serves only to make well-intentioned people second-guess everything they say. These articles don’t unify us or teach us how to have friendly and empowering conversations. They alienate us from each other even more than the unkind words they describe might.
I am an extrovert, and my favorite thing in the entire world is meeting somebody new. I love small talk and engaging in those early conversations that help me get to know a new soul on a deeper level. Equally, I value the closer relationships I have with acquaintances, coworkers, friends, and family.
I don’t want to live in fear of every word that comes out of my mouth offending people.
I cannot possibly remember all of the no-no things to say on all the various lists I have read over the years. And if I spend too much time trying to access the things I’m not supposed to say, I will end up saying nothing at all.
I don’t want to say nothing at all.
I could, with confidence based on my life experience, write a post about what not to say to mothers whose kids have cancer. Truthfully, a few people said things to my husband and I when our son was sick that still make me cringe.
However, during that same time, hundreds of people gave generously to provide for our family’s financial needs. They made meals for my family, cleaned our house, mowed our lawn, prayed over our son’s health, and supplied me with my daily fountain Diet Coke.
That is what I want to remember from our horrific experience, not some ill-advised words. Instead, I want to remember the outpouring of love and generosity we experienced, because that was amazing. Positive intent was evident in every interaction I had with friends, family, and the new people I encountered through our journey.
What if instead of taking to social media in outrage when we are offended, we worked harder to assume positive intent in our conversations with each other?
Let’s assume when I say, “Wow, your hands must be full!” when you are ahead of me in line with your three young sons at Target, I am not implying your kids are unruly, but that I noticed your beautiful family and like meeting new people in my community.
Let’s assume when I say, “Oh, your little guy is just a peanut!” I am not accusing you of underfeeding your son but instead think he is adorable.
Conversely, when I go 11 days past my due date (which would not be surprising given my past experience), and you say, “You’re STILL pregnant?” I’ll assume you are not saying I look exhausted and uncomfortable, but that you care about me and are as excited as I am to meet my new baby.
When and if I really say something that truly offends you, I hope you’ll let me know right away, and I will apologize in person, not in the comments section of an online post.
Motherhood is hard enough. Life is hard enough. Maybe we would feel more connected and be happier if we all tried harder to find positive intent in the words and actions of those around us.