Popular Cliches Translated


Say What?!

Sometimes the really nice thing you meant to say, isn’t what I heard at all.  If you just used a cliché, that’s probably especially true.  It, in all honesty, is a two-part problem.

First there’s me. I’m what Ellen over at Love that Max, calls a warrior mom.  Nearly all mom’s battle for their kids; special need moms battle for their kids almost every day.  That makes me a little defensive.  Then throw in that the reason my son has special needs is because my body failed him.  (That’s not guilt speaking.  That’s truth.  Owen was born more than 15 weeks early because my body failed at being pregnant.)  This truth adds some fragility to my mindset.  Whether I know clichés are intended as good or not, there is always this part of my mind that also sees the negative in them.

The other part of the problem is that clichés have become…well… very cliché.  They are used when people don’t know what else to say.  So, they pull out something they’ve heard before and hope it fits.  At best they are empty words.  At worst, if you really think about the words that are in clichés, they often say exactly the opposite of what is truly meant.

So here it is, my really honest breakdown of some of the most frequently used clichés and my positive and negative interpretations of them.

Cliché:  “He just wanted to come early, didn’t he?”

What I am pretty sure you meant:  “Wow, he was incredibly early.  It’s really hard to wrap my head around a baby this small.  This is scary but I’m going to keep up my hope for you.”

What I couldn’t help but hear:  “This is all his fault.”

Cliché:  “This kid has really put you guys through the wringer, hasn’t he?”

What I am pretty sure you meant:  “Your family has been going through an unbelievably difficult time.  I don’t understand why these things happen, but I hope it gets better for you soon.”

What I couldn’t help but hear:  “He is bad”

Cliché:  “When I’m having a tough day, I just think about you guys and know I have a lot to be thankful for.”

What I’m pretty sure you meant:  “I really admire your strength and positive attitude through this difficult time.  You’re a great example of finding the good, even during the hard times.”

What I couldn’t help but hear:  “Your life sucks.  I wouldn’t want to be you.”

Cliché:  “This has been a real roller coaster ride, hasn’t it?”

What I’m pretty sure you meant:  “Your family has been through a lot of ups and downs.  I hope it’s more ups than downs soon.”

What I couldn’t help but hear:  “Wahoo, let’s go to Six Flags!”

Cliché:  “These things happen for a reason.”

What I’m pretty sure you meant:  “I don’t know why these things happen, but I do believe you have the power to make the best out of a difficult situation.”

What I couldn’t help but hear:  “Your son is the sacrificial lamb of a lesson you needed to learn”

I’m sorry if I just rained on anybody’s parade of best lines to use when someone is going through a difficult time.  It’s important to emphasize that I have zero ill feelings towards anyone that has said any of these phrases to me.  I do understand it’s hard to know what to say and I can interpret the positive intentions.  To make it even trickier, this is MY list.  We all have our own list.  Here is one Jessi wrote over at Life with Jack (I agree with many of hers, by the way).

You’re probably reading this and thinking, “but what should I say?”  Here’s my advice 1) say something and 2) make it come from your heart.  What comes from your heart may be, “I have no words.”  And that’s okay.  I’m 21 months in and just at the beginning of finding some words on this specific subject.  It’s hard to know what to say.  However, I know I couldn’t have done it without so many wonderful family, friends and strangers with supportive words and actions that came from their heart.  The heart is always wiser than a cliché.


© Copyright Tatum, All rights Reserved. Written For: Ain't No Roller Coaster

26 thoughts on “Popular Cliches Translated

  1. Thank you for helping the rest of us find our words and stop using empty ones. And I am impressed at your wisdom and ability to see through the cliches and understand the intentions.

    I, for one, will think before I speak in the future and make sure it comes from the heart.
    As always, I am amazed by your strength, humility and power of articulation.

    • Thank you, Lynn. I’m really honored that you follow my blog. I believe we talked once, many years ago. Social media is pretty amazing, isn’t it?

  2. When Rayven was born, anytime anyone said anything about a roller coaster, those old six flags commercial music would play in my head. While she was in the NICU the first night, and the doctor told us “This will be a roller coaster ride.” I actually had a dream of the bald six flags guy dancing. Strangest dream ever!

    Glad to know someone else atleast things six flags when that phrase is used :D.

  3. I love this! I often hear “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” Plus, from the people who read one Web MD article on prematurity… “Don’t worry, preemies catch up by the age of two.” When we came home from the NICU, “Isn’t it great that your life is back to normal?” After all the medical professionals have taught me about caring for my baby, there are people who give me really obvious baby care advice like they are privy to the information.

  4. Great post Tatum! You know what other phrase I hate: “hang in there”. Not sure why but it drives me nuts. I always think when people are saying that, “what the hell do you think I am doing.”

  5. I translate it to them thinking my life sucks too! And I am 4 years into this roller coaster. I am snarky though recently some one said I don’t know if I could handle a Boo and I told them they couldn’t be so lucky. If they had a child like Boo it would be much worse and probably be an alien baby

    • Isn’t it funny how people say they don’t know what they would do? We didn’t know what we would do either…still, at least for me, I often don’t know what I AM doing. But I do it and so do you.

  6. i LOVE this!! so true and i relate so much… especially to the “things happen for a reason” analysis you did. I especially love and agree with your closing sentiment of 1. say something and 2. make it come from the heart. no truer words could be spoken. we can’t be TOO hard on people when they say something if we know its coming from the right place… even if it’s hitting us the ‘wrong’ way… the worst thing is when they don’t say anything at all and pretend your situation doesn’t even exist.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Alicia and for the comments. I agree that we can’t be too hard on people, I held onto this post for a while for that exact reason. I wanted to make sure I expressed why cliches aren’t helpful without damning anyone for using them. I never want to get so self involved in the emotions of this stuff that I can’t accept support when it’s given.

  7. yet again, thanks for this. just the other day someone wrote on my fb wall: “I thought my week was boarder line crappy and stressful with school and having a sore throat. Then I thought about you and I told myself to shut up.”

    REALLY?! comparing your sore throat to my life?? (husband on dialysis & twin girls in the nicu).. some people really have no clue.

  8. My micropreemie is getting ready to turn 13 and these STILL get to me at times, among others. But it DOES get better…yeah, another “saying”, but this time from a veteran BTDT mom…who has really, really tough skin…and without what I went through with my daughter, could not have gone through my nearly 3-year cancer journey like I have!

    {{{ HUGS }}}

    • Thank you for the note, Julie. I appreciate the confirmation and the glimpse into the future. I’m sorry to read that you’ve had a 3 year cancer journey and I can imagine that you were an emotionally and medically savvy patient after having been through the micro preemie journey with your daughter. I’m glad you left a note. BTDT is always a good place to hear from.

  9. Really nice post! My son has Down syndrome and there are many cliches used when others talk about him and his diagnosis. I love the way you wrote what the person probably meant and what it sometimes feels like they meant. I try to focus on what they probably meant as much as possible, but it can’t be hard sometimes!

    • Thank you for stopping by! Also, thanks for the comment on not being too hard on people. I agree, it’s a delicate balance between being hard on people but also sharing that sometimes cliches aren’t the best things to say. I’m glad your feeling is that I was gentle in my approach, it was definitely my goal.

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