It’s hard to talk to someone when you don’t have a common experience. In these moments when you are trying to connect and say something comforting, people say things that are unintentionally hurtful. To help you avoid looking like a jack ass, I present to you a list of things not to say to a mother when her child is in the hospital.
- Do not tell her about someone who made sure her child had a family member bedside the entire stay. Every hospital stay is different. Different families have different resources and different needs. What works for one family is not necessarily going to work for another family. And God help you if you have said this to someone who is not able to be bedside at all times. It feels like an attack on her parenting.Instead, tell her you would be happy to come to the hospital if she ever needs a break, or that you would be happy to watch her other children so she can spend time at the hospital with her child.
I have been both the mother who was there all the time, and I’ve been the mother who was doing her best to be in all the places at once, knowing she was disappointing all of her children.
- Do not tell her she will sleep better if she goes home and sleeps in her own bed. Will her own bed be more comfortable that whatever she is sleeping on in the hospital? Yes! Sleep couches and sleep chairs are not ideal. Hospital furniture is made for function, not comfort. Will this mother sleep more than a few hours at home if she has left her child at the hospital? Probably not. If she goes home, her mind will still be at the hospital. She will wonder what is happening. She will wonder if her child is feeling alone and scared. She will wonder how soon her child will get help if something happens while she isn’t there.Bottom line, while her child is hospitalized, she will not sleep well regardless of where this sleep takes place. Please don’t presume to know what is best for her.
If you really want to help her sleep better, bring her an air mattress or a foam roll. You can always offer to cover an evening shift at the hospital so she can go home. But leave it entirely up to her whether she takes you up on that offer. Likely her decision to stay or go will be based on her child’s current health and her child’s age.
I would likely take you up on this offer if my 10-year-old were in the hospital. But if it’s my 3-year-old, it’s pretty safe to assume I’m not leaving. If my child is in critical condition, regardless of age, I also will not leave.
- Do not tell her she needs to take care of her self. She doesn’t want to hear that she can’t fill others’ cups unless she fills her own. She doesn’t want to hear that self care is important. She knows this is important in the grand scheme of things, but leaving the hospital isn’t like skipping a PTA meeting for a bubble bath and a glass of wine. She is running on fumes, and lets face facts, she isn’t going to take a time out unless she absolutely needs it.You can offer to be there for her. You can offer to bring her some self care (nail polish, a good book, real coffee, etc). And you can always offer to be there if she wants to leave for some self care. Just let it be her decision.
For me, hospital self care has been a bottle of nail polish for a post bedtime mani-pedi. It has been walking a few blocks for real coffee while my child naps and doesn’t know I’ve been gone.
- Do not give her any advice about her situation unless she asked for it. Advice from people, especially those who haven’t walked in your shoes will always come off wrong. Advice from people who have been in your shoes may or may not be helpful, but in the very least it doesn’t feel dismissive of your experience.Basically, it’s OK not to have anything to contribute to a conversation. It’s OK to admit that you don’t know what to say or how to react, and that you have no idea what you’d do in her situation.If you have gone through a similar experience with one of your children, you may offer up some insight, but you really are going to need to exercise your best judgement on whether what you are about to offer will actually help her. Probably the best approach is to offer a nugget of information to let her know you had a similar experience, but then let her come to you.
The very best thing you can do for a mother whose child has been hospitalized is to just be there, with no agenda, no expectations, and let her feel what she is feeling in the moment.