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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Say Something.

2013 is the year of the list.  The internet is filled with lists like, What You Should Never Say to a Working Mom or What You Should Never Say to a Stay at Home Mom, or what never to say to a single dad, mom, grandparent, or your spouse, partner, son, daughter or dog.

I recently read a list about what you should never say to a working mother.  The problem is this, yes I am a working mother, but at one point I was a stay at home mother.  I went back to work for several reasons, but one of which was that my husband is a teacher and we have four boys who have enormous appetites.  Maybe there is a list on what to say to a woman whose husband doesn't make six figures, but I have yet to see that one. What category do I fit in?  If everyone read those lists,  I don't think anyone would be able to say anything to me…ever.

I have openly shared my struggle with postpartum depression.  The one thing that got me out of bed was the knowledge that my neighbors and friends would probably be stopping by to drop off dinner and visit.   I don't think they could or would have said anything wrong because they have common sense. . If they did, they would have been able to see the expression on my face that it hurt me. Thank goodness they didn't follow a list,  I would have been very lonely.

Sometimes finding the right thing to say is hard, but always worrying about saying the wrong thing, or offending someone will result in you looking like a mime.

When my grandfather was on his death-bed my father went to be with him out of state.  I wanted to call him but was so afraid of saying the wrong thing. I finally got the courage to pick up the phone.  I thought my dad would answer but my Grandpa did instead. His crackling familiar voice said "Hello?" and I hung up the phone.  I freaked.  He died.  I never said goodbye because I was afraid of saying the wrong thing to my 95-year-old Grandpa.  There is nothing I could have said that would have been wrong.  The guilt of not saying anything is worse than saying something unfitting.

A friend of mine lost her toddler in an accident.  I went to the funeral and then I stopped speaking to her for over a year.  I avoided her because I didn't know what to say.  One day when I was in Target we ran into each other.  I was frozen because I felt that no words were adequate for the death of a child.  Before I could say anything I just started crying and told her that I didn't know what to say.  She gave me a hug and said, "that is the best thing you could have said." Again, guilt for not saying anything for fear of it being inadequate, hurt more than any words could have.

If we go around worrying so much that we are going to offend someone, then we will never speak to each other. Its alarming enough that I communicate virtually with my friends more than I speak face to face.  But that is truely the only form of communication where you can read someones expressions.   I have found that I have offended more people by email than I have in person.  They interpreted my words the wrong way, or I used bold when I shouldn't have.

The worst case scenario would be that you did offend someone.  Is that really that bad?  There isn't a one-size fits all aptitude test of offense.  If a stay at home mom said to me, " I bet you really miss your kids while you are at work" I wouldn't  crawl in a hole and die. I would be honest, and say "sometimes".  I doubt her intention would be to inflict pain or guilt, and if it were, then we shouldn't be friends or acquaintances.

I think a really useful list would be something like "Things to Never Say to a TSA agent" that makes sense.  What doesn't make sense is making a one size fits all list that will inhibit conversation and instill the fear of saying the wrong thing.

I have said my share of embarrassing things, I once told a one armed man with a child in an elevator that he must have is hands full.  That was a long ride, but honestly I was the one embarrassed and can laugh about it now.

It is better to say something that is honest and heartfelt with good intuitions than nothing at all. Maybe we should focus on what to say to someone rather than what not to say.

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