“If you do that, you’ll ruin your kids for life.”
How would you feel if someone said that to you?
If you are a strong and confident parent, you’d hear it, think about it, maybe do some research, or file it away and decide for yourself what you think about that comment.
But what if…
you were really feeling insecure about your parenting?
you were just so exhausted and confused that you could hardly think?
you were making parenting choices that weren’t “mainstream” and were getting criticism from family or friends or your healthcare practitioner?
How would a comment like that feel to you?
This week, three moms came to me who were struggling with undermining comments or behaviour from people who were important to them.
Here’s what happened…
One of the moms was desperate to talk to me.
For quite an extended while, the mom had been having a very difficult, stressful time. Her health was genuinely suffering.
Her health practitioner had strongly recommended a week away at a healing facility.
The mom was conflicted. She had never been away for that long from her three children.
She had a heart to heart talk with her husband about the reality “on the ground” and realized that, if she didn’t take care of herself now, it would be detrimental to the whole family. They also figured out how it could work with the least amount of disruption.
But then the mom told her friend what she was doing and the friend said: “If you do that you will ruin your kids for life!”
It landed like a ton of bricks on her head and she panicked.
She was a very dedicated, loving mom but she was very emotionally vulnerable. On top of having serious health problems, she was totally exhausted, conflicted and unsure.
“Am I going to ruin my children for life? Am I being selfish and insensitive to my children’s needs. Maybe… maybe I really am a really bad mom!”
Fortunately, she was able to calm herself enough to know she needed to speak with someone who knew her and had some objective perspective. So we met and we talked.
Basically, I helped her to look realistically at what was happening to her, what she needed to do to recover, and all the things she could do to minimize the impact of her going away (and there were many!)
She needed to hear that she is a wonderful loving mom and that her family needed her to be well.
And after that talk, she felt good about her decision and had a host of ideas about how to make it work for her family.
But that one comment from her friend had thrown her into emotional chaos.
One sentence had tremendous power.
Here’s what happened with the second mom.
I received a call from a mother with a newborn who was having some breastfeeding difficulties and needed some information and support.
Shortly after leaving the hospital, the mom had received a call from her healthcare provider that her baby had lost more weight than they thought and that she needed to get to the hospital right away.
She went back and a protocol was quickly put in place for her to follow at home to get the baby gaining weight.
What a gift to have a health care system and health care providers who are on the ball and caring and conscientious enough to take action. No problem with that.
But how the situation was handled was a problem from her vulnerable new mom perspective.
Naturally, when she heard the news that her baby’s weight loss was too high, she panicked. She was terrified. She felt inadequate and that she might be harming her baby.
The protocol that was put in place for her was very rigorous and required a fair bit of work on her part.
Again – no problem with that.
However, from her vulnerable new mom perspective, she left the hospital feeling that there was something wrong with her.
She didn’t feel that she received any emotional support, any reassurance that they would work this out, or any acknowledgement of how hard this was to deal with or what her emotional experience was.
Of course, I wasn’t there and I don’t know what transpired. But when she was still having breastfeeding problems, she chose not to go back to her health care providers at that point for help because she didn’t feel emotionally supported.
She felt undermined.
Even though they cared enough to call her, bring her back in, and got her on an appropriate protocol, from her perspective, they didn’t address her emotional vulnerability around this issue.
The protocol was hard work and exhausting. The baby did gain weight, but other breastfeeding problems ensued. And she didn’t feel emotionally strong enough to go back to them right then for help. She was afraid of being undermined again.
I’m sure the health care providers wanted what was best for the baby and were just focused on getting the baby’s weight up. Perhaps they didn’t notice the mom’s emotional distress.
But maybe just one empathetic sentence to the mom, acknowledging her experience and how scary it is when everything isn’t right with your baby, would have made all the difference in the world.
Just one sentence.
The third mom has one of those wiry little super active babies who burns calories like there’s no tomorrow. Super lively, alert, smiley, friendly, curious, to me this baby seems to really be thriving. Obviously well loved, cherished with lots of great interaction with his parents.
This mom was talking to a friend who was in a health field and the conversation came around to night waking. Now this little guy, like many others of his age and temperament, wakes several times in the night and his parents have felt fine about it. Perfectly normal.
However, her friend said to her, with great authority “You had better sleep train your baby. If you don’t he will never reach his full growth potential.”
Pow! Instant undermine.
She was really scared by this statement given with such authority.
“Is this true? Am I harming my baby by feeding him at night? Am I stunting his growth? He is a wiry little guy…”
This comment about sleep training and child growth potential was a new one for me.
I know there is lots of research that shows that babies and children and adults all need sleep to thrive, but there is also lots of research on the importance of night feedings for most babies, and I can’t tell you how many night-waking babies I have seen grow into big strapping kids (and small, healthy kids – genes play a HUGE role in adult height).
The mom and I talked about it at length. We talked about the calorie needs of babies with a fast metabolism and high energy level, and what foods (he was old enough for solids) along with breastmilk could meet his calorie needs.
And while we talked, I kept smiling at her alert, highly interactive, busy little guy as he was moving as much as he could in his baby carrier. His bright eyes shining full of joy to be connecting with someone.
Seeing such life in this little body, I shook my head in disbelief at her friend’s comments.
Why did this person tell the mom that if she didn’t sleep train her baby, he wouldn’t reach his growth potential?
No scientific basis for that. Just an opinion and a skewering of what we do know about growth and development.
And a very unsupportive, undermining comment.
One sentence. And this very competent, loving mom felt suddenly unsure of herself. It takes so little.
Words are powerful. They can, indeed, “harm you” and most parents are very vulnerable to what others say to them.
I have seen it time and time and time again, that one unkind, critical, judgemental comment to a parent, especially one who is having a hard time, can instantly demolish the parents self-confidence.
It doesn’t even have to be from someone who theoretically “knows what they are talking about.” It can be a friend, a relative, a stranger in the grocery store, a mommy blog, a sleep training website.
Some comments land like arrows in your heart, and it’s hard to dislodge them.
On the other hand, some kind, understanding words or just one supportive sentence can warm your heart and make your or any parent’s day.
Like our children, we all respond well to kindness, encouragement, acknowledgement of our feelings and gentle approaches to dealing with problems.
And like our children, we do better at what we do when we feel confident and good about ourselves.
So let’s be kind to parents – and to our children -and to ourselves – and to our partners – and to everyone in our lives.
It’s so easy. We can all do it with just one sentence.