If you’re a mother, chances are you’ve been pregnant at some point in your life. Possibly more than once.
And if that is indeed the case, it means that you are painfully familiar with the irritability that often comes with the third trimester of pregnancy. Your body is irritated with you for your increasingly ridiculous ineptitude at controlling your urine output (you are an ADULT, for goodness’ sake!). Your unborn child is apparently irritated with you for not providing more spacious living quarters judging by the way he/she keeps kneeing your bladder. And you are irritated with your husband that he put you in this state to begin with.
I was warned about all of this by women who had “been there, done that”. What I was not prepared for was the utter lack of craps I gave about other people’s opinions. And let me tell ya, EVERYONE had opinions to give pregnant women. Not just other women. Men. MEN. I’m sorry, but- to quote Rachel Green a la Friends- “no uterus, no opinion!” Unless you are the father of my child, you do not have the right to approach me in public, unsolicited, and ask me personal questions about my unborn child whilst ogling my ginormous-painfully-swollen-about-to-explode-breasts.
That completely crazed, fire-breathing, lightning-spewing kind of furious is how I felt postpartum whenever I was talking to another person about problems we were facing with Little Man and heard the phrase “Have you tried _______?”
Hell hath no fury like a hormone-crazed, sleep-deprived woman who has recently ejected a tiny human from her vagina. That’s Shakespeare, right?
Why did this irritate me so much? Sure, I could easily blame the hormones. Or the lack of sleep. Or the fact that I hadn’t showered in three days and my hair had spit-up in it. Honestly, though, I think it was the pure lack of sensitivity and general thoughtlessness that seemed to prompt this particular response “Have you tried ______?” Because yes, I have. Whatever you’re about to suggest, I’ve tried. Yes, I’ve tried burping him. Yes, he’s eaten. Yes, I tried to feed him again anyway. Yes, he has a clean diaper. Yes, I’ve asked my doctor. Yes, I’ve asked the pediatrician. Yes, I’ve seen a lactation consultant. Yes, yes, yes, yes……
And you know what the worst part is? I totally caught myself doing it.
A dear friend of mine has a boy that is around the same age as Little Man who (early on) had problems sleeping. Now, between 6 and 12 months our Little Man was no picnic when it came to bedtime- but this was altogether different. K’s little Scoob flat out had ISSUES with sleep.
One day K and I were out for coffee and she was venting about Scoob boycotting bedtime yet again, and I did it. Without thinking, I uttered the dreaded phrase, “Have you tried _____?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I cringed. It didn’t matter that I sincerely wanted to help by offering my personal experience up for grabs. By asking K if she had tried ______, I was implying that she couldn’t possibly have tried EVERYTHING out there, which in turn implies that she wasn’t looking hard enough, which then insinuates that she isn’t trying to be the best possible parent…..you get the gist. That question opens up a world of insecurity for new mothers/parents. And now I was prying that door open in front of one of my closest friends.
Luckily, I caught myself in time, K and I shared an ironic chuckle, and the conversation moved forward. However, the moment stuck with me. How many times have I been so caught up in remembering my similar experiences that I miss an opportunity to genuinely listen while others share their own experiences? How many times have I missed a chance to empathize because I was trying to problem-solve?
So, how can you avoid this full of good intentions, well-meaning friend trap?
Well, here’s what I try to do:
- Stay present. Sounds simple, but this takes practice, time, and intention. I’ve started reading about mindfulness and learning how to redirect my thoughts and energy to help stay focused in the moment I am living in. Honestly, it’s a great practice overall, particularly when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships.
- Just listen. This goes hand in hand with staying present. If I’m too busy deciding what to say next to my friend/spouse/relative/coworker, I’m not actually paying attention to their words- I’m thinking about my own. I’m focused on myself, the future, and talking instead of the other person, the present, and listening. And 9 times out of 10, whoever is talking just needed someone to really hear them.
- Be honest. As a nurturer by nature, I want to help people with their problems. I immediately start thinking of a way to comfort and a way to fix it. Unfortunately, that’s not always what is needed. Sometimes you need someone to listen, hold your hand, and say “That really sucks”. But sometimes you need someone to be 100% honest even when it isn’t pretty. Honesty is the foundation of good communication which is itself the cornerstone of a solid, healthy relationship.
Or better yet, just say “That sucks” and don’t ask what they haven’t tried. Because it does suck.
And yes, they have tried that.