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The Two Meanest Words You Can Say to New Parents

Photograph by Twenty20

"Wow, your house is so clean," a friend said while meeting my first daughter just hours after we came home from the hospital.

"Thanks," I said. "I don't think I could handle a new baby and a messy house."

He smirked, "Just wait."

Despite others telling me I'd have to give up on a neat home (or something, anything) once welcoming the baby, tidiness was something on which I knew I was never willing to compromise. That meant hearing someone with two older kids imply that eventually I'd have no choice but to succumb to a tsunami of baby toys and clothes stung more than I needed in a moment when I was already spewing anxiety like a pissed-off volcano.

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He may have been right (except as it turns out, he was wrong, but only because I've worked 400 times as hard to keep law and order in every room while also keeping my children alive). But was it really necessary to get the dig in?

Those words—"Just wait"—are ones that have often been repeated to me in the seven years that I've been a mom. I can't recall a time, either, that they've been uttered in the context of anything good or kind, such as, "Just wait until parenthood gets even better." No, the innuendo is always, "Just wait until it gets worse."

Schadenfreude is clearly alive and well—thriving, even.

"Oh, you enjoy changing diapers because the baby coos at you on the changing table? When our daughter was born, she had a blowout in her diaper so horrific there was poop on the ceiling that dripped on my head. Just wait."

"You're looking forward to visiting your family for the holidays? When our son was six months old, he screamed for the entire five-hour plane ride. Just wait."

I'm not entirely convinced most people say it innocently enough, either. In fact, I think most people know exactly what they're saying, and their intention is to recruit company for their own misery. Schadenfreude is clearly alive and well—thriving, even—when it comes to more seasoned parents attempting to relate, and even endear themselves, to the ones newer than them. If they can't be happy, apparently we're all going down together.

The thing is that those who've been on the receiving end of a "Just wait" often can't help themselves from turning around and dumping it on the next, even newer parent. I often find myself biting my tongue when speaking to parents with less experience than me. Oh, your newborn slept through the night after just one week? I shut my mouth and smile. Or at least I try to. They'll find out soon enough no matter what I say.

New parents often survive the early days of parenthood by being blissfully unaware of what's ahead—they stumble through one diaper change and one hour of sleep at a time. Part of how some more-seasoned parents seem to think they need to survive is knowing there are those who will suffer as much, if not more than them. "Just wait" appears to part of their endurance plan.

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It would seem the kindest thing you can say to a new parent is nothing at all if "Just wait" is all you can muster. Then again, for those wretched enough to only say "Just wait," biting their tongue probably requires far more grace than they've ever been capable of, before or after kids.

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