Nestled in a new pram then swaddled in a darling plush bunny rug rests an angel. Her fresh face peeks out from the wraps to view the colours and excitement of the world. Friends and family coo over her sweet features and comment on her similarity to either parent.
It’s all sweetness and light until…
Inevitably, everyone has questions about a new baby. For some reason, people find it easy to stare into the eyes of an adorable newborn and at the same time ask the mother intrusive, awkward, or downright rude questions.
Let’s not be too hard on all these eager questioners. Often people don’t realise how touchy a topic can be or how close to a meltdown you are. Instead of criticising the enquirers, I want to share why these questions are so hard to answer and perhaps figure out a way to respond graciously.
“Don’t you just love being a mum?”
This is a much safer conversation starter now my daughter is almost walking. She doesn’t keep me up at night, she isn’t constantly latched on, and the tears can mostly be stopped with a cuddle. Nowadays I can respond with a huge grin and say “yes”.
But rewind ten months and a positive answer was far from my mind. A question phrased like this makes it impossible to admit that, no, in fact I hate the way my body has been ruined and is now being ransacked by a tiny screaming human. I know that sounds extreme, but it’s an honest assessment of my feelings as a sleep deprived new mother.
So what do you say when some well-meaning individual unwittingly lobs a guilt grenade in your path? I suspect this depends on who is asking. It isn’t always necessary to unload on the stranger in the street, and there were times I simply practiced the ol’ “smile and wave”.
Yet it is, I believe, healthy to say out loud “It’s hard” instead of “yes, I love it”. That way, the dirty little secret that you aren’t enjoying motherhood as you know it isn’t kept festering in your brain. It also gives whoever asked the question an opportunity to provide encouragement. Here’s to hoping they take it!
“You think it’s hard now?”
Before giving birth, I was discouraged by the overwhelmingly negative comments about having children. Dire predictions of no sleep, horrific tantrums, and colic til they’re eighteen flooded in.
People seem to revel in topping the charts in worst case scenario. Amongst this, one man I talked to stood out. He is in his seventies, yet his eyes sparkled like a child when he declared, “Having kids? Best time of your life. Children are wonderful.”
What a breath of fresh air to hear his enthusiasm. His example challenged me to watch my words when a conversation turns negative. When a new mum is feeling like I did, she doesn’t want to hear that toddlers are even worse.
Aside from being discouraging this question implies that whatever difficulties you face now, they are on the easy level compared to what’s up next. I have found this to be completely untrue. The first few weeks with a newborn are extremely challenging. Making out like they are the easiest part of parenting is rather unhelpful. I now seek to share with my friends as they have babies the well-guarded secret that “it gets better.”
“When are you going back to work?”
The prospect of going back to work can be daunting if you still haven’t managed to shower before noon. Trying to imagine sleepless nights and demanding feeding schedules as well as having the mental capacity to do your job is totally beyond the brain space of a hormonal, sleep-deprived mum. It’s just so overwhelming.
Alternatively, you are planning an indefinite stay-at-home role and the back to work question makes you feel guilty or worthless. It’s a reminder that you aren’t “contributing”. The idea of being at home 24/7 with such a demanding little creature might even be downright depressing.
A good way to handle this one if you don’t feel up to it is to give simple facts without entering in to pros and cons with someone. Maybe they are a stay-at-home mum and disapprove of your work choice, or perhaps they are offended by a “liberated” woman giving up a career to raise kids. Either way, don’t let your confidence be shattered by someone else’s opinion.
More likely, if you confide with your friends or family about the work issue, they are going to be eager to encourage and support. That’s really why people ask the questions they do, even if they aren’t phrased well, aren’t thought through, or seem a bit nosy. They will ask about everything from breastfeeding to birth stories, sleep habits to smiles. Be as gracious as you can and know this: you can get through the hazy months of having a tiny baby given to you to care for, nourish, and love.
Lucinda is a Girls’ Brigade leader, tutor, and mum to a rambunctious 11 month old. She loves baking, reading, and watching her baby girl grow up.
Lucinda Glover’s previous articles may be viewed at