What (not) to say to new mums
Baby banter ... is it all about the rugrat?
“Your baby is very… baby-like. It is a baby. Well done.” - Me, a childless person.
As someone whose only experience with children is occasionally dating comedians, I have no idea how to talk to my friends who have become new mothers. I’m aware of not making it all about the rugrat (after all, this is a woman whom a year ago could out-karaoke me and has done two degrees), but now, is it all about the rugrat? Can I ask about gross stuff like labour? What does she want me to ask?
To work it out, I rounded up some babymaking mamas to dish the dirt on what they actually want to talk about, what topics are no-nos, and whether or not discussing about my vicious hangover/crazy online date/plans to visit Paris in spring secretly drives them nuts.
The first thing I learned is (thankfully) new mums don’t like talking about the ‘boring bits’ any more than you do: feeding times, wrapping techniques, what nappies are best. That’s what parenting groups are for, and besides, “if you're not really interested in the answer, don't ask the question,” advises Eliza, 29.
But if you really want to instigate ‘baby talk‘ then Michele, 33, recommends being natural, normal and genuine. “Ask whatever the hell you want,” she shrugs. “That would be refreshing and fun. I find talking about labour fascinating, yet no one seems to discuss it.”
Also, don’t be afraid to get deep. Michele says she likes talking about the big picture challenges while Eliza digs discussing her relationship to being a new mum. “This whole thing has been an interesting environment to question my own beliefs and assumptions about parenting, feminism and the intersection of the two,” she says. “Conversations that explore how society views motherhood, and how that needs to change, I find really fulfilling, but they rarely happen.”
But conversely, your relationship shouldn’t be 100% baby focussed. Unsurprisingly, new mums are still women who like real conversations about real things. “Once at a dinner party, everyone was having a really interesting conversation about some new writers,” recalls Michele. “When they noticed me listening, they stopped and went, ‘Oh, Michele, why don’t you tell us something about motherhood?’ I hated that. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about my kid or motherhood, it’s just that I don’t want to be defined by it. I am still me.”
When it comes to what not to say, think twice before asking anything that’s seeking a negative answer, like how much sleep they’re getting or how they’re not able to go out. Eliza says people rarely ask about how great it is to be a parent, so stick to questions that allow your friend to talk about how awesome it is to have a tiny human in their life. Expect to be off the Chrissy card list by asking anything critiques parenting choices, like breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding or the baby’s diet. “Oh yeah, and don't call my baby fat,” Eliza adds.
What about the age-old, ‘Are they a good kid?’ query. Retract, retreat! “This one is a killer!” Eliza exclaims. “No kid is good or bad! Your kid is exactly who they need to be. The amount they cry, or sleep, or feed is related to what they need at that time, not if they're good or bad.”
Okay, let’s be real here. One of the reasons why I’m often turned into a less coherent person than the infant I’m discussing is because of our differences in life choices—it’s a fully-grown man-baby keeping me up at 2am. Turns out this unspoken tension is felt by both sides. As Lisa, 33, puts it, the misconception that “those with children thinking the childless lead shallow and meaningless lives while those without thinking those with children have sold out and lead boring lives." Lisa says to avoid letting animosity grow, use each other to get a taste of the other side. "Hearing about important meetings, glamorous travel and one night stands lets the new mother to live vicariously when her life is nothing like that anymore."
Eliza agrees, “Don't feel uncomfortable — share your experiences! We're still the same people, underneath all the baby vomit.”