The 1 Toxic Phrase Everyone Needs To Stop Saying To Parents

When a parent is struggling with one of the many challenges of caring for a child, this phrase is the last thing they need to hear.

When I was seven or eight months pregnant with my first child, I mentioned to a friend that I was headed to a prenatal yoga class.

Her response? “Enjoy that now. Because there won’t be any yoga once the baby is here.”

What a terrible thing to say, I thought. How did she know what my life would be like once the baby was born? I might very well find a way to get myself to a yoga class every week. Of course, I was scared that everything was about to change, but to counter this fear I reassured myself that I could select some parts of my old life to hang on to.

Did my friend, a mother of two, know more than me about the realities of caring for small children? Yes. Was she, in fact, correct that there would be a dearth of yoga in my life once the baby arrived? Indeed, she was. While I regularly brought the baby to mommy & me classes during my maternity leave, my excursions for solo exercise were few and far between during those breastfeeding years.

But was this something that truly needed to be said? Was it helpful to warn me about approaching challenges, or to take away the hope, however misguided, that I was hanging onto? If she’d simply kept that thought to herself, it would have spared me some anxiety.

I’m hardly alone in having this kind of exchange with a more veteran parent. These ominous tales from the trenches are offered up, almost braggingly, at pretty much every chapter of the parenting journey.

“When I was pregnant, I remember being told, ‘Just you wait for those sleepless nights.’ When I had an infant who was sleeping through the night, I remember being told, ‘Just you wait until they’re a toddler and come out of their bed.’ When I had a toddler who had minimal tantrums at 2, I was told, ‘Just you wait for when he turns 3,’” Dr. Mona Amin, a paediatrician who practices in Florida, told HuffPost.

“I definitely heard ‘wait until she’s (insert the next age)’ any time I was struggling with something at the current age. It was like people were saying, ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!’” Destini Davis, a parent coach, said.

And lest you think that these kind of remarks have an end date, Michelle Icard, author of Eight Setbacks That Can Make A Child A Success, and the parent of a 21 and a 23-year old, described the following recent exchange: “I posted a reel online about being ready for your kids to go back to school after a long holiday break. It has almost 500k views and 46 comments. Forty-five were enthusiastic. The one comment that sticks with me is the person who said, ‘Wait till they are gone to college. You will want them back.’”

While Icard’s kids are, in fact, in college, her point here was that “this comment made me feel bad. It implied that my feelings are wrong.”

The only thing a “just you wait” comment achieves is invalidating the other person’s feelings.

Davis told HuffPost that saying “just you wait...” is “disheartening.”

“It invalidates what the parent is currently experiencing,” she explained.

This kind of a comment doesn’t allow a parent much room for hope. It suggests “they don’t have all the information to know how to truly feel,” Icard said.

“And they won’t have that information until more time passes. So there’s nothing a parent can do with that comment, other than feel shortsighted. Parenting is hard enough without this pressure,” she continued.

Amin explained that the problem with such messages is that they are “fear-based” and only serve to “bring people down when they’re in a good spot.”

If a parent has managed to get into a groove and is feeling hopeful, a “just you wait” comment can crush that hope and bring them back down with the prediction that things will get hard again — perhaps even harder than before.

With a bit of forethought, you can say something more supportive and less pessimistic. Obviously, things will change as a child grows, but Amin suggested that you try something like, “I’m so happy you didn’t have much tantrums at 2. But, remember, if it changes at 3 and you see more tantrums, that’s very common, and if you ever need help I’m here for you.”

A more nuanced comment such as this one is true to the challenges of parenting yet “breeds more support and understanding,” she said.

It’s often best not to comment at all.

What a new parent, or anyone struggling, often needs most is not advice but simply someone who will listen.

Instead of focusing on telling it to new parents like it is, Icard suggested that people “ask questions that express a sincere desire to help or listen.”

Davis offered the following examples: “If a parent is nervous about the birth,” she said, you could say, “I totally get why you’re nervous. What part are you most afraid of?” To a parent struggling with infant sleep issues, you might say, “I bet that’s tough. How can I support you?”

You can also make concrete, specific offers of help. For example, Icard said, you might say something such as: “I’m at the store. Do you need bread and peanut butter?” “I’m home alone tonight! Can I watch the baby while you shower?” or “I’m dropping off a pizza later this week. Do you want pepperoni or veggies?”

If you do comment on their stage of parenting, maintain a positive outlook.

Amin tries to approach parenting and other issues as what she calls “an uplifting realist.”

She defines this as “someone who understands that life and parenting is not all rainbows and butterflies, but there is always hope and nothing is ever permanent.”

By offering words of support and encouragement, and letting fellow parents know that when they want to talk we are there to listen, Amin said, we can “help our fellow parents but at the same time not lead them down a path of fear and dread with the ‘just you wait’ mentality.”

Davis suggested honouring some of the contradictory emotions parents might be feeling by saying, “It’s completely normal to have a mix of emotions. And it’s okay that every moment isn’t joy and excitement.”

The fact that every challenge is just a phase and will be temporary can offer parents relief, but is also a bittersweet truth.

“Every single period in parenthood is a phase, and there is beauty and sadness in that. Beauty in knowing that you are developing and evolving as your child develops, but sadness in knowing that even the phases you love do not last forever,” Amin said. As a paediatrician who cares for children from birth through age 21, Amin has an up-close view of the ways that parenting “is a journey, not a destination.”

You’ll also find yourself influenced by who you’re spending time with, whether in person or online. “Anxiety is contagious but so is calm. So if you are
constantly around friends or social media groups that spike your anxiety, consider creating some boundaries. Surround yourself with people who keep you calm, collected, and are uplifting realists,” Amin said.