Dear Carolyn: My cousin had a stillborn baby at 35 weeks about nine months ago. In our family, there are a few people with kids under 5, myself included. Sometimes when we get together, the talk turns to difficulties around parenting.
Every time, my cousin will say something like, “I wish I had that problem.” I understand where she is coming from, but I’m sure once she has children she will see how difficult parenting can be. She is just accusing us of being ungrateful, which we are not.
Her response typically stops all conversation about parenthood, and people feel guilty for bringing it up around her at all. I think this is unfair; it is possible to love your children deeply but still have issues you want to discuss. I also think it’s easy for my cousin to say we have good problems because she doesn’t have these problems at all. I’m sure she will have a healthy baby in the future, and might want a place to discuss any problems.
How do I explain to her that one day she will be grateful to have a family that discusses parenthood? My husband thinks we should cool it with the parenthood talk around her, but I think it’s just as easy for her to leave the room when it comes up.
Cousin: “Leave the room”? Are you for real? Your insensitivity is staggering.
And you are so smug in your belief that she will know exactly how you feel as soon as she, what — has a child who doesn’t die!? That’s what you’re saying. Sweet holy crap.
Imagine if I suggested that when you lose a newborn, you will grasp how hard it is when people kvetch about their babies around you — that’s offensive, right? Well, that’s the moral low ground you’ve staked out.
So you don’t “explain to her” anything, because that just lays out your expectation that she be sensitive to your needs while showing absolutely ZERO interest in being sensitive to hers. When hers are just hands-down a higher priority than yours, for reasons no one should have to explain.
“[S]he is just accusing us of being ungrateful,” you say. I say, she’s just asking you to notice she’s in the room before you discuss teething as if it’s the biggest bad thing ever.
I advise you to heed your husband instead of falling all over yourself to defend your right to air every little feeling you feel without regard for anyone else.
To: Cousin: Do you ever mention your cousin’s stillborn baby? By name? Give her opportunities to talk about him/her? Ask if she is having a good day or a bad day? Acknowledge her as a mother? She may simply be asking for that grace — to be seen as the mother of a baby.
Anonymous: Yes, grace. Thank you.
Re: Baby: So are you advising that Cousin just not ever talk about being a parent? The topic can’t ever be brought up? You’re placating the wrong person here.
Anonymous 2: No, you are. Could the bereaved mother phrase things better, yes, but to read “shelve baby talk around grieving cousin” as “never talk about babies everty-ever” is self-serving beyond any words within my reach.