Never Say That!


Linda Buxa shares why comments from well-meaning strangers don't always resonate with lonely or harried mothers and offers more-appreciated alternatives.

This week on Facebook, a friend posted about strangers’ reactions each time she takes her three boys out in public. The status update drew 50 comments, almost all of them sharing the things they’ve heard while out with little ones.

I get it. My oldest was 3½ when my third child was born. Occasionally I managed to get out of the house with an infant and two toddlers when it wasn’t nap time or feeding time or tantrum time. Thankful to see people taller than knee height, I was happy to talk to just about anybody. Inevitably, however, I’d hear, “Wow! Are they all yours?” or “You sure have your hands full!”

On my I’m-cool-as-a-cucumber days, I took their words in the kindest possible way, realizing they simply were trying to be conversational while at the same time acknowledging that little ones require lots of hands-on effort. On my barely-holding-it-all-together days what I heard was, “Hey lady, maybe you and your husband should have paced yourselves a bit. What were you thinking?”

Here are a few of the comments that on bad days get parents pretty defensive—and maybe some suggestions for comments that could build up and encourage those who are in the thick of parenting exhaustion.

To parents with all boys:

What is said: “Wow! It must be crazy in your house.” 

What we hear: “Can’t you control those boys?”

How about: “Those are some handsome boys. They sure are blessed to have you for a mom.”

To parents with all girls:

What is said: “You have all girls? Just wait.”

What we hear: “They look all cute and princessy now, but you are in trouble when they become teenagers.”

How about: “What beautiful girls. They take after their mom.”

To parents whose kids are a handful in the store:

What is said: “You sure have your hands full.”

What we hear: “Your kids are uncontrollable. You must be a bad parent.”

How about: Maybe a whispered, “Hang in there, dear. It’ll be okay.” Or maybe say nothing, unless you’re going to offer free babysitting while she gets a cup of coffee. She already knows the kids are causing a scene, and it’s all she can do to keep it together.

To parents with one child:

What is said: “So when are you going to have another?”

What we hear: “You aren’t really a parent until you’ve had at least two children.”

How about: “What a great kid you have.”

To a single mom:

What is said: “So, is her father around? Does he see her very much?”

What we hear: “You’re obviously not a good enough mother to do it on your own.”

How about: “Would you and your daughter like to join us for dinner on Sunday? We’d love to get to know you both better!”

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).

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