The Nicest Thing You Can Say to a Mom

A few weeks ago, my sister (one of my son Owen’s awesome aunts) returned from a weekend visit with her friend and her friend’s four-month-old and wrote me an email that made my day. Here is an excerpt:

“It’s amazing how some babies are so much easier than Owen. We literally just passed the baby around and she smiled/laughed as long as someone paid the littlest bit of attention to her. We took her out to dinner and she was awake but didn’t make a peep. She goes to bed at 9 PM and wakes up around 10 AM with only one or two feedings at night! And when she woke up, she just happily rolled around in her crib until someone went to get her. You seriously deserve a medal.”

Owen & Jill
Owen and his Aunt Jill

Now, being the incredible aunt that she is, my sister has spent a considerable amount of time around my son, despite living a plane ride away. Because her visits involve extended overnight stays at our house, she’s seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Her email might seem like no big deal, but it meant so much for her to acknowledge what I’ve been thinking (and yes, sometimes complaining about) since Owen was born: he was a really difficult baby.

It seems wrong to complain about a healthy child because I know families are out there dealing with much bigger challenges every day, but man, he was tough. For one thing, he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 18 months old. I don’t mean he didn’t do it consistently. I mean not at all. During his waking hours, he was grumpy. You know when you see a baby just calmly lying on a blanket or sitting in a bouncy seat, looking around, smiling and cooing? That almost never happened at our house.

As a baby, he was hard to even hold. I remember my 91-year-old grandmother, who prides herself on her kid prowess, saying “you just can’t hold this kid!” And she was right. Unlike the typical image of a soft, cuddly baby lying or sitting in your arms, holding Owen was like tussling with a twisting, flailing and surprisingly strong ball of muscle. Even at only a few months old, there were times he would practically launch himself out of your arms by sheer force. He seemed perpetually frustrated, alert to the point that he was unable to relax. Intense.

grumpy baby
A typical grumpy baby shot from the early days

From the time he was around six months and could sit and crawl, he never wanted to stay in a stroller, even if it was moving. From about eight months through 20 months, he flipped and writhed around so intensely during diaper changes that we lived in constant fear of poop being smeared somewhere it shouldn’t be. And it was. From the time he could stand, baths were a two-person job. He refused to sit down, so one person would shampoo and wash while the other would desperately try to keep him from slamming his head into the wall as he seemed likely to do at any moment. When we took him out, strangers would make comments usually reserved for parents of multiples or large broods. Things like “wow, you’ve really got your hands full.” Random old ladies would remark on how “busy” he was.

Then there were the wake ups. Oh the wake ups. There was no “open eyes and stare at mobile or babble until mom comes in.” Well into toddler-hood, he would wake up in a fussy, agitated, almost angry state and stay that way for a long time. And he was always up before the sun.

I’m not saying all of this to complain or to make anyone feel sorry for me (okay, maybe a little) but to point out that when you’re going through a difficult time with a baby or child, sometimes the nicest thing someone can do is just acknowledge that yes, what you’re going through is difficult. Hearing that “it’s no big deal” just feels like an insult – another sign that maybe it’s you, maybe you just can’t handle it.

When I read my sister’s “you deserve a medal” email, I told her it was one of the nicest things anyone had ever said to me. And I meant it. The best part is, I feel like I do have a medal, because I have a funny, loving, fascinating two and a half-year-old whose energy and interests are now more appropriate to his age and abilities. It’s almost as if he was a preschooler trapped in the body of an infant and toddler all along. He now channels his intensity into building elaborate structures for his cars and animals, voraciously consuming information about his many interests. He tells me “Mommy, know what? I love you” on a regular basis. He says thank you, bless you, and you’re welcome. He amazes us daily. And the best part is, he’s turned into a really happy kid. Sure, he has his moments like any two-year-old, but you’ll never hear me saying “my kid really has a mind of his own now that he’s two” because we’ve been saying that since he was born. Now that he can tell us what’s going on in that mind, it’s only gotten easier.

Owen bristle blocks
Channeling his intensity

So the next time you hear another mom complaining about a tough day or week or year of parenting, even if it seems like no big deal to you, tell her that what she just described sounds horrible. Tell her she has the patience of a saint just for getting through the day. Tell her she deserves a medal. Then tell her the babysitter is on her way, and you’re taking her out for drinks.

What’s the nicest (or least nice) thing anyone’s ever said to you about your parenting?

Beach addict, magazine lover, beer geek, political junkie, runner, design snob, tree hugger, amateur travel agent, and rabid HGTV devotee. A native of Delaware, Erin’s advertising career took her from New York City to Detroit to Charlotte before bringing her to the Jacksonville area in 2006 where she promptly met her husband Shawn. They married in 2009 and their wild and wonderful son Owen was born in 2010. Since then, Erin has continued her advertising career as a self-employed writer and consultant working on a part time basis. Some days, she longs to be a full-time stay-at-home mom; on really hard mom days, she daydreams about being a full-time professional. But most days, she feels fortunate to have a balance of both. Although she’s spent her career in advertising primarily as writer, working with so many talented artists, designers and photographers has led to her keen interest in all things aesthetically pleasing – including great style, which will be her main focus as a Jacksonville Moms Blog contributor.

10 COMMENTS

  1. My oldest was like Owen, too. Some people don’t understand. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong until I had a second child and realized I wasn’t doing a thing wrong- all babies are different 🙂

  2. Love this, Erin! As you know, I completely relate. It was so disconcerting to have other mom friends look at me like I was crazy or insinuate it was my fault she didn’t sleep through the night because I didn’t try this or that hard enough. Always felt better when I talked to you because at least we could relate to each other and not seem so crazy. You do deserve a medal 😉

  3. This reminds me so much of Addy! Everyone would always say how “busy” Addy was and once my grandmother was holding her and said “this baby’s got the colic.” You did a great job dealing with it bc Owen is one of the sweetest 2 1/2 year olds I know!

  4. Oh Erin, I hear you! JT was such a fussy, hard baby! What made it worse was my sister in law had the “perfect” baby two months before: quiet, smiley, great sleeper, content is the word I’m looking for. After a visit at Christmas (when our babies were 4 and 6 months), I came home and just cried my eyes out!! Why couldn’t my baby be happy too???? It wasn’t a long struggle, just about 9 months, but even after that he never was truly happy or content! He’s now 4, smart as a whip, kind and sweet, but still raring to go ALL DAY LONG!!! When I look back, I realized I stayed home a lot, almost embarrassed that he was who he was. He cried constantly. I think he was also an older soul trapped in a baby’s body. When people have easy babies, they don’t realize how truly TOUGH it is!! Kudos to you!!!

    • Thank you so much for your story, Jena! Did school help for JT? Owen started in January and it has been life-changing. He seems to really enjoy having a purpose and a place where he can channel all of that energy. His teachers say he is intense at school but in a good way…intensely focused. I think he sees school as his place of business! : )

      • JT has been in preschool since he turned 2. He has always done amazingly well and they compliment me on his behavior…..to which I used to reply, “MY Jt???”. He loves to learn and as long as he is engaged and stimulated, he is the best! When he turned four, we really turned a corner but he is always more precocious then others his age. He’s always the kid with the extra energy!! But it’s good energy now!!!

  5. This spoke to me in ways you cannot imagine. My son turns 3 next month. Growing up I’ve always been a kid person. Babysitting was my job growing up. And I loved every minute of it. However, when I had my son I remember on almost a daily basis thinking to myself that maybe I only liked other peoples kids. My son stole every ounce of my energy. Many times I’d wake up and think I couldn’t play mom that day. I just didn’t have it in me. Then he got to the walking stage and many nights I’d cry. Mostly because he grew too fast and I didn’t cherish it like everyone says to, but Also because I still had my doubts. It had to be me because no one but my boyfriend and I had problems with him. I had even sworn off more kids because of it and I had always wanted two kids at least. Then by some miracle we made it to the talking stage. We made it. It felt like the biggest accomplishment of my life, as silly as that may be. He began to form whole sentences. We could have s normal conversation with him. Then it hit us. Like a big concrete wall blocking our path. It had nothing to do with us or our parenting. It was him who was afraid. It’s a big world out there full of new things he didn’t understand. Now that he’s talking, he tells us. And we work together to fix it. I’m finally loving being a mom. I want another now because nothing melts my heart more than when he looks at me and says he loves me or that he missed me. It was one hell of s rough ride, but so worth it.

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