Here is something special that everyone can do for mothers – all mothers:
Stop telling them disaster stories.
How it came to be believed that Things Gone Hideously Wrong is the favorite genre of mothers, Miss Manners cannot say. But any lady who is so much as eligible for motherhood will find herself treated to this form of entertainment.
Potential mothers are a new target. Any lady without children is considered a suitable audience for stories about those who “waited too long” and underwent dreadful procedures.
In some of these tales, the lady never succeeds in becoming pregnant and, after using up all her money, energy and hope, faces a bitter and lonely old age. In others, she produces an abnormal child and uses up all her money, energy and hope in the unsuccessful effort to give that child a happy life.
Those who are already pregnant also get to hear deformed-child stories. Other topics considered of interest to expectant mothers are horrific labor, stillbirths, weight that never comes off and fathers who go off.
“Your life will never be the same again” is the usual refrain.
True enough, but why is it said in a doleful, rather than congratulatory, tone?
When the baby is born, the mother is thought ready to hear stories about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and common household arrangements that have taken on the ability to snuff out young lives. That serious birth defects may be imperceptible at this time is another favorite theme.
As the child develops, the mother will be asked if he or she has reached this or that stage of development – here comes the ominous word – “yet.” It seems that everyone keeps a calendar of achievement.
Later, the focus of disaster stories moves to the outside world. Preschools are said to put vulnerable children through a selection process that leaves them and their parents psychological wrecks. Failure means that the child will never have enough skills to earn a living. Success means that his family will no longer have enough to live on. Using public schools means that between the drugs and the guns, he may not live anyway.
It gets even more exciting for the mothers of teenagers, who are told about car fatalities and sexually transmitted diseases and the impossibility of getting into college without already having a Nobel Prize and an Olympic trophy.
Miss Manners realizes that people say these things to mothers because they don’t know what else to say. She recommends dropping the category of potential mother, saying “Congratulations” to expectant mothers, “How adorable!” to new mothers and, to the rest, “So – how are the kids?”
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