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The Worst Thing Anyone Could Say to Another Parent

Photograph by Twenty20

I know that at one point or another I’ve been guilty of saying it, but it's become a phrase I dread hearing. In fact, it's so profoundly unhelpful that I propose we all just forget it’s a part of the English language. Just two little words loaded with condescension, dismissal, and unnecessary foreboding: “Just wait.”

It's never followed by something helpful, it's always something like "You think it's hard now, just wait until they are teenagers." Or "You think you're tired today, just wait until the baby comes."

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Life isn't a competition to see who has it hardest and there are much nicer ways to warn others of difficulties ahead. I think it's time that we lend a kind ear to someone who may be expressing a challenge such as “My toddler is nuts” or “The pregnancy hormones are making me exhausted”, without piling on future worries. You might be right, but you're not being helpful.

“Just wait” seems to be designed to make the other person feel defeated.

Another problem with “just wait” is that when you say it, you're assuming that your experience is universal. Of course many people are exhausted when they have a newborn and most teenagers give their parents grief, but like everything in life, everyone has a different experience. Maybe their baby will sleep better than yours did, or they'll have more help. Perhaps their teenager will be too busy studying to give them a bunch of attitude or get into trouble. None of us are fortune tellers so we should keep the prophecies to ourselves.

There's nothing wrong with sharing your own struggles or wanting to prepare a friend for future challenges, but there are better ways to go about it. “Just wait” seems to be designed to make the other person feel defeated.

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When your friend brags that her baby is sleeping through the night don’t say “Just wait, any night now she’ll be crying every two hours.” Instead try, “Wow, you’re so lucky, enjoy it!” When your sister is at her wits end with her threenager don’t say “Just wait until he moves out and never calls you.” Try saying, “I remember those days, hang in there.” When your pal without kids tells you that she’s tired from meeting a huge work deadline don’t say “Just wait until you have kids and then talk to me about exhaustion” unless you don’t want her as a friend or you hope she never has babies.

Let’s all do the world a favor and stop encouraging each other to wait for the other shoe to drop. I propose that unless we plan to say “Just wait… it gets easier” we all simply pretend those two rude little words don’t exist.

Now who's with me?

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