Parenting can be a rocky road. Sure, there are moments of rapturous joy – the first time your kid rides a bike, or skis down a hill, or performs in a dance recital, or remembers to put her clothes in the hamper – but there are also painful, difficult, heartbreaking spells, too, when your children (and you) will struggle.
If you’re passing through one of the latter, you have my sympathy. But this post isn’t really for you, it’s for your friends. I was prompted to bash this out after witnessing a rather disturbing scene at – of all places – a raucous neighborhood happy hour.
Mom One asked about Mom Two’s school-aged daughter, who had been struggling with various problems. Making such a personal inquiry in a public place is highly questionable; much better to be in a quiet, private setting – but at that point, the toothpaste was out of the tube. Mom Two gave a brief, honest, and rather depressing account of their recent troubles.
Mom One said, “Where is she now?” Mom Two said, “She’s home with a sitter watching Dance Moms.” Mom One then said, “Well, that’s what all the kids are into. It sounds like she’s perfectly fine. I don’t understand what you are so worried about. If she can appreciate something that is so normal, I’m sure she’ll sort herself out.”
My assessment of whether the appreciation of Dance Moms is an indication that a person is “fine” aside, the abject dismissal of Mom Two’s challenges is downright horrid.
Notwithstanding my view of this, ahem, cultural phenom… if you are going to ask about a person’s troubles, you’d better be prepared to hear them and respond with something akin to sympathy or understanding. And no, I am not referring to people who respond to the general “How are you” with a detailed description of their intestines. I’m referring to people with a real, acute challenge about which you are specifically inquiring.
To simply disregard a legitimate crisis as “perfectly fine” is insulting, hurtful, and probably made Mom Two feel even more isolated and upset than she already was. Doubtless Mom One was trying to make Mom Two less worried by attempting to minimize her problems, but it backfired. You know what they say about the road to hell. Mom Two excused herself tactfully and left the event soon after this unfortunate conversation.
So how could this have played out differently?
If a friend is going through a rough time:
Do offer a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on at an appropriate time
“Appropriate” can be defined as a small, quiet setting where you will have some time to talk. It cannot be defined as during warmup at zumba class, a workplace meeting, or at a big party.
Do express your understanding in a supportive, non-judgmental way
“That must be so difficult.” “I am so sorry you are going through this.”
Do offer help
“I don’t know if there is anything I can do, but if there is, I’ll do it.” “Can I drive you to an appointment/pick up your kids/bring you some groceries/come by with a pint of ice cream and a large spoon?”
Don’t say dismissively that everything will be fine
Don’t ask for particulars in the middle of a large gathering or social occasion
If the person has made the effort to get out, s/he is probably eager to escape the trouble for a spell.
Don’t make ill-informed diagnostic statements
“He likes to watch football? Well, then I’m sure he’s over his school-phobia.” “I read an article about that in People; Kim Kardashian’s cousin was cured of anxiety with hypnosis and wheatgrass juice.”
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Keri White has been blogging about etiquette, parenting, food, and lots of other things since 2006. She has served as the Etiquette Correspondent for WTXF-TV in Philadelphia and has written advice and parenting columns for several newspapers and magazines. Prior to her career in writing and parenting, she was an award-winning seventh-grade teacher, which provided her with significant experience correcting other people’s children and telling people what to do. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. Keri lives in Philadelphia with her husband Matt, her two children, Cormick and Kelsey and their cat, Gershwin. Her book, The Mommy Code.