What Not to Say to an Expectant Parent

What Not to Say to an Expectant Parent

Parents always look into the future.

My husband and I raised three amazing offspring who are now all adults. And we shared all of it, the raising, the teaching, the loving. But just four days ago while we were walking, my husband told me the most amazing story. One I had never heard.

It happened four years into our marriage. We had just discovered that I was pregnant for the first time and things were going well. We could share our news. And so my husband did–at his office, in a group of people who worked for him and with him. There were hugs and congrats. Until one woman came up at the end and spoke to him (almost like the Bad Fairy in Sleeping Beauty.) This woman might have had ten years on my husband, but she was not another mythic figure, not the aging fortune teller with a not so subtle warning.

But this is what she said to him: “How can you bring a child into this world?”

He was stunned. Maybe the question had some merit, but this woman was not a close friend, not an economic adviser or priest or psychologist–you know what I’m getting at–someone who knew us intimately and might have some specific concerns.

But no–this was just a statement from a woman working in the next department. Take it or leave it. John rejected her question. Absolutely. You do so when you are on Cloud Nine. This is your first child!! You are more than thrilled.

And as we walked, he said that maybe there had been a response at that time, but “my consciousness wasn’t raised enough to know what that response would be.” So honest.

Right this moment we live in times where deciding to bring a child into the world could be problematic. In my work in progress, my novel, I consider exactly that problem. My main character, Ella, a nurse and a mother, reflects on discussions with her mother, Cecile. This scene had its origins in conversations with my own mother–when she would lament the “state of the world” after reading the newspaper or watching a newscast and I had to REJECT her words. After all, I was raising children in that world, I had to embrace it.

She would always defend her practice of medicine, because she was a part of it—medicine was what she was. It was not unlike when she had defended certain aspects of current culture to her mother, something she had done often. Cecile ripped apart the changing mores of society. But Ella defended change, because the result was Ella’s society, Ella’s culture. She lived in it and dealt with it and so she had defended it. She couldn’t condemn what was a part of her, what she had embraced and brought Sarah into. If she had condemned culture and society, then she would be condemning herself.

As my husband and I finished our walk, we reflected on the ups and downs of our family life–mostly ups– and how the reality of our parenting, our family life helped bring all three of our adult children to where they are now–having good lives, good careers. That they are GOOD PEOPLE.

We concluded that is the key: you cannot run away from society and culture–but you can be instruments of change by upholding values and teaching your children those same values. I am not saying that we were perfect. We are STILL LEARNING how to be the best that we can be. And in our society today, everyone of us might think about devoting ten minutes a day to examine how we treat others, how we contribute to society, how we can do better in those regards–and then if we are lacking, to go and do something about it.

What NOT to say to an expectant father or mother?  Hey, wow, what a mistake.

Because life is full of promise and possibility. I love to think about Abraham Lincoln’s mother–a woman that Lincoln prized and honored with these words: All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. 

And certainly, she didn’t bring him into a cushy world, but one of hard work and struggle. I have always been saddened that Barack Obama’s grandmother died the Saturday before he won the 2008 election. Certainly she must know that her love carried him far.

Wishing all mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers reading this a special blessing–especially if a child is on the way. After all, in any age, we cannot see the future, but we can pledge to make it better.

 Photo thanks to NPR  Frida Kahlo art.

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