Smack In The Middle:
Do Your Words Hurt Or Heal?
Fellow GEM contributor Julixa Newman wrote a spot-on post last month for her Tales From A Twin Mom blog in which she addressed five questions that mothers of multiples often hear from strangers and what could be said instead. As a mother of twin boys, I’ve heard my share of these questions ad nauseam.
Of all the questions, the one that I think is the worst is “Are they natural?” I’m shocked at the number of people who ask this question and think nothing of it. They really stand there with an expectant look on their faces waiting for an answer. Like I’m going to say, “Yes, perfect stranger, let’s sit down in the middle of Target and chat about how my children came to be.”
I’ve found that the best way to answer that question is with one of my own: “What do you mean by ‘natural’?” There’s lots of backtracking and embarrassment when you force people to explain that they’re either asking you what happened in the bedroom or if you needed reproductive assistance. At best, neither is anybody’s business. At worst, the questioner could be opening painful wounds if the mother spent lots of time, tears, and money trying to make her dream of having a family come true.
You don’t have to be a twin mom to be on the receiving end of harmful or invasive questions and comments. I’m sure we all have stories of strangers or friends and family who went just a little too far. When you call them out, the offender will invariably tell you, “I didn’t mean anything by it,” “I wasn’t trying to hurt you,” or “It wasn’t my intent to be insensitive.” Followed by the infamous non-apology, “I’m sorry if you’re offended.”
What I really dislike about this sort of apology is that it’s not about the impact of the thoughtless comments (which matters a great deal); it’s about the offender’s intent (which doesn’t matter much). If you say something that hurts your spouse, do you think he really cares what you intended when he’s wounded? Is he focused on your intent or the pain you caused?
We should watch out for anything we do or say that seems innocuous, but makes other people feel badly. This is a huge task because of the sheer number of diverse people we come in contact with in a day. Between family, friends, coworkers, and the cashier at the grocery store, who has the time to weigh and measure every word before they say it? And it’s possible to say something to one person and everything is fine, but say it to someone else and it’s off with your head.
Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own feelings and we shouldn’t allow anyone to throw us off our game. Yet, we’re all trying to live happy lives and it isn’t a human right to cause suffering for others.
So, what do we do? How can we make sure that the impact of our words isn’t harmful? In my opinion, we can start by asking ourselves what our motives are in our conversations with other people. I’m not saying that our motives can or should be pure all the time, but if we can stop and ask ourselves that question, then we might realize that everything we think doesn’t have to be spoken, especially if it won’t create value.
Think of it this way: We all use different approaches depending on our audience. Surely, you don’t talk to your elderly grandmother the same way you would to your college buddies. Most of us adapt to whomever we’re speaking. It’s important to consider the individuality of each person. And we should tread carefully when it comes to perfect strangers. We have no idea about their interior lives, their back stories, or what their current troubles might be.
We should all think before we speak. As small and insignificant as it seems, our tongues have the power to hurt and hinder or help and heal. We’re all human and sometimes our mouths move a little faster than our brains. Still, that’s not a good reason not to be compassionate and empathetic whenever we can. After all, the things we say reveal what’s in our hearts.
How do you handle it when others say hurtful things? Do you recognize it when your words cause pain? Share your thoughts below.
Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is managing editor of Good Enough Mother. Read more about Alexis on her blog www.lilliebelle.org or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5.