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.