The 3 Least Helpful Things People Say to Parents

'Just wait till they're teenagers'? Seriously?

Posted Oct 05, 2015

Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock
Source: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

As if parents don't already have enough to deal with in meeting their children's endless needs, they face the additional frustration of having to listen to nonsense feedback from other parents. As a therapist and parent, I live it firsthand and also hear my clients complain about the same circumstances. When parents vent to other parents about how challenging things are with their kids at a given moment, the parents they're venting to often reply with a statement that lacks empathy and adds to the pressures they already have.

"Enjoy every minute of it."

Hands down, this supposed nugget of wisdom is perhaps the most ludicrous of them all. Of course, people who make this comment might say in their defense, "I don't mean every minute; I just mean to try to enjoy it overall." But the more important point is that nothing about this is reassuring or comforting to parents. What the parent is looking for in the moment is empathy, so it would be more helpful to say, "I know sometimes it's so hard, but it will get better." In other words, if you're a parent who vents to another parent about how hard parenting is, you're not actually asking for psychoeducation—you simply need to vent, and you're motivated by the need to get a little reassurance because you feel overwhelmed.

Parents who tell other parents to enjoy "every minute" are often older parents whose children are grown. As these parents have moved on in life, they have reflected on how they were as parents and they sometimes feel guilty or remorseful for getting upset and losing their patience over small things. This type of learned insight is great, but they should save it for someone who isn't going through a tough period. All those frustrated parents need is reassurance and support.

"It goes so fast."

At best, this statement reflects the wisdom that parents have accumulated after having raised their children and gotten through the hard times. But this statement should be reserved for discussions with other parents whose children are grown, not those who still have young kids, or kids who are going through a tough time. If you're venting about the parenting experience or your own kids' challenging behavior, you need someone to say something reassuring. You don't need someone giving you feedback which makes no sense to your life at this point in time. When you have a crying baby or a defiant toddler, the time doesn't fly by; when you have a school-aged teen with ADHD or other challenges, time doesn't go fast. Simply put, time only goes fast in retrospect. It simply doesn't go fast for parents who are struggling.

"Just wait until they're teenagers."

Any parent who is venting will hear this statement from another parent and have the following frustrated, sarcastic thought: Thanks for that very comforting comment. First, it is a myth that the teenage stage is universally awful for parents. A recent client of mine in her fifties with grown children had this to say about her parenting experience: "My favorite time was when my kids were teenagers. That's when they begin to think for themselves and really come into their personalities." What's interesting is that my client has a personality that led her to enjoy this phase, while another parent's personality may cause them to enjoy the toddler or school-age phase more. Yet regardless of a parent's personality, no parent is going to benefit from being told that a future parenting stage is going to be as bad or worse than the stage the parent is dealing with now.

Why do parents make frustrating statements to other parents?

Parents who make these kinds of comments would say they do so to lend a hand to struggling new parents, so that they can learn to slow down and enjoy the experience before their kids move on and create separate lives of their own. This motivation may ring true for some, but I also find that a memory lapse tends to be at work, too: Many parents of grown children haven't had two screaming kids in the back seat in years, and may have lost touch with just how hard that phase of parenting can be.

What to say instead

Overwhelmed parents need positivity and support more than anything else. The next time a parent vents to you, try to offer any of the following supportive statements, and you'll be providing much-appreciated support and validation:

  • "Parenting can be really hard, so try to get some sleep or a little R & R soon."
  • "It seems like you are doing an amazing job."
  • "You're going to be fine. Just try to push through the hard times."
  • "It will get better."

Feel free to check out my book on relationships, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve, or follow me on Twitter for mental health updates.

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