I have been hurt many times in my life, and I will probably be hurt many times more, but those words pierced my heart.
I heard the two words you should never say to a new mother a few months ago. I was crying, doubting my ability to mother our toddler and 5-month-old twins. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right and that I was failing everyone. I needed someone to hold a baby (or both babies) and keep them quiet for a few moments so I could shower or eat or just think. Maybe I just needed some encouraging words of support. Instead, I got a dirty look. A look that says “You are not meeting my expectations.” That I was weak for crying. And then I heard those words. “Try harder.”
I have been hurt many times in my life, and I will probably be hurt many times more, but those words pierced my heart. I am still bruised and sore. I don’t know of anything else that could have made me feel worse or more of a failure. Those words confirmed my worst fears:I am not good enough. I am not doing enough. I am not strong enough. I am not capable. I am a failure.
I don’t know how to comfort two crying babies at the same time. I just don’t. I don’t know how to stay awake forever and never sleep again. I don’t know how to cook and clean and entertain my toddler and bathe all of the kids and myself, and write, and take pictures, and manage the house, and make doctor appointments, and get to the swimming lesson and, oh yeah, make sure my husband is cared for as well. I don’t know how to do it all. I just don’t.
I am nursing the twins and that takes up so much time and energy. I sometimes wonder if I should be nursing them at the same time in carriers with my toddler on my shoulders while I am cooking. Maybe if I can do all that while standing on one leg, I can train my other leg to fold laundry at the same time. With my voice-activated phone at the ready, I’m sure I could conference call as well while tweeting about my latest life hack.
I can hardly imagine anything more offensive to a mother who is doing her best. And for the few mothers out there who might actually need to improve their parenting skills, I doubt that saying “try harder” will have the desired effect. If you’re thinking about saying these two words to a new mother, think again… and try harder.
Cara Paiuk is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other publications. She is also an entrepreneur, photographer, future book author (stay tuned, folks!), and of course, proud mother to a gaggle of ragamuffin redheads. You can follow her on Twitter @carapaiuk