Stop Warning New and Expectant Parents to 'Just Wait'—There's a Better Way

Parents are often invalidated with comments like "You think this is hard? Just wait!" How do we hold space for the hard parts of parenting in a way that's both supportive and honest? An expert weighs in.

Brussels griffon laying on a bed upset with his owners looking lovingly at newborn kicking father's face
Photo: Irina Efremova / Stocksy

Bachelor star Vanessa Grimaldi, who is expecting her first child, recently shared an Instagram post on behalf of "all the mamas to be." In her post, she asks people to stop telling expectant parents to "just wait." Grimaldi references phrases like, "Of course pregnancy is so easy now, this is your first. Just wait till you have a second."

"STOP trying to discourage. STOP trying to compare your experiences. Why does it have to be so negative?" she writes.

New mom and actress Becca Tobin recently vented about this very same issue. "I cannot handle the doomsday parents out there who say [things like 'just wait till he's crawling! You think it's easy now].' I'm like, why are we doing this to each other? Just let us get there when we get there," says Tobin on a recent episode of The LadyGang podcast, of which she is a co-host.

Grimaldi and Tobin are not alone. If you've ever complained about the sheer exhaustion of having a newborn baby, chances are you've heard something like, "Just wait! The toddler stage is so much harder!" Those comments aren't merely annoying—they can feel terribly invalidating, patronizing, and scary. And, according to an expert, they may even increase the toll of mental health issues among new and expectant parents.

"So many people are struggle during pregnancy and in that postpartum period, and they're so reluctant to acknowledge it," says Emily Guarnotta, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and owner of The Mindful Mommy. "When someone says something like [just wait], it shuts people down more. We want [others to] acknowledge that things are hard and this too shall pass, and it'll be OK. But when you hear it put in those terms, it can make you not want to be honest about how you're feeling, and I think that exacerbates [symptoms] if you're already struggling with depression or anxiety. It just makes you feel more alone."

It's a tough balance to strike. On the one hand, being open about the difficult realities of parenthood is crucial. As harmful as the "just waits" of parenthood can be, the toxic positivity that has characterized conversations about parenthood (see: Phrases like "enjoy every minute!") can also make parents feel invalidated and alone. So when it comes to talking to new and expectant parents, what's the best way to do it? How do we speak to them in a way that isn't unnecessarily negative or patronizing, yet also doesn't veer into toxic positivity? How do we acknowledge the realities of parenting without terrifying those who are about to experience them? And how do we leave space for the diversity of experiences and make it clear that, no matter how many years any of us have under our belts, no one ever really has this whole parenting thing figured out?

Here's how, according to Dr. Guarnotta.

Don't Underestimate the Effect of Comments

Dr. Guarnotta acknowledges that in most cases, these invalidating comments come from a place of good intentions—but that doesn't take away from their effect. It's important to think beyond our intentions and consider how these comments will affect the recipient.

"I think often, but not always, [these comments] come from parents whose children are much older, so there's that distance from the hard times—you see the past through rose-colored glasses," says Dr. Guarnotta. "I think they're being nostalgic: They're seeing the baby or the cute kid and they're remembering that fun part of parenting and filtering out everything else the parent is experiencing."

"I remember sharing a post a few years ago when I was having a really hard weekend with my toddler teething," adds Dr. Guarnotta. "I remember comments on it saying [things like], 'just remember it's all worth it'. And it is all worth it, but hearing that, it made me feel like, 'I also have a right to feel this way, and to sit in the fact that it is hard right now.' It feels dismissive."

Stop Projecting Your Experiences on Anyone Else

Parenthood is experienced differently for everyone. When we make comments like, "You think having a newborn is hard? Just wait for the toddler phase!" or "the day you give birth will be the best day of your life," we impose this idea that the experience of being a parent has to look a certain way.

"I'm remembering a time when my firstborn was 2 weeks old. I was completely sleep-deprived and overwhelmed [and someone] said, 'Oh just wait till she's walking, then you're never going to get to rest and it's going to be exhausting.' I just remember thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I can't imagine it being any harder than it is right now,'" says Dr. Guarnotta. "As time went on, I realized [that for me], as I get a little more sleep, I'm a little bit more grounded. The walking stage was hard, but it was different for me personally than it was for this other person. Different parts can be hard for different people. We all struggle with different aspects."

Offer Support

"I always check in when I have a family member or friend going through postpartum," says Dr. Guarnotta, who likes to say something along the lines of: "How are things going? The baby looks great, but I just want to check in on you and see how you're feeling, because I know this can be a really great time, but it can also be a really difficult time."

Dr. Guarnotta says it's important to validate all experiences a parent may have. "Try to leave the door open for them to share more, but not to project too much or assume too much, and just let them share their experiences—and let them know I'm willing to share the hard stuff, too."

Avoid Giving Unsolicited Advice

Let's face it: New parents are typically already overwhelmed with all the information and advice coming their way.

"Just listening goes a long way during this stage. You can only really problem solve or solution help so much when a person is going through it. Sometimes imposing your own advice isn't always wanted or helpful. Just listening, normalizing, agreeing, validating—I think that goes a long way," says Dr. Guarnotta. "I think it's a lot more helpful to ask the person if they want your advice [before giving it]."

And if you do share advice, it's important to frame it in a way that honors the diversity of experiences. Dr. Guarnotta suggests prefacing it with something like: "Here is something that worked for me, I'm happy to share it, but this is your experience and your journey and I don't want to put my experience on you."

Break the Cycle

The consequences of leaning too far into negativity or veering into toxic positivity territory are, in many ways, the same.

"For people that are already struggling, they're less likely to share what they're feeling and [both toxic positivity and invalidating comments make] it more likely for them to shut down," says Dr. Guarnotta. "That creates a vicious cycle that exacerbates the depression or the anxiety, and they're still less likely to talk [about what they're experiencing], and they're not going to ask for the help that's available, or use their resources."

It's crucial that we get these conversations right—because if we do, we can normalize the hard stuff without terrifying other parents. If we don't, the mental health toll on new parents could increase, according to Dr. Guarnotta.

The Bottom Line

Dealing with comments like "Just wait!" can be hard and unhelpful for any new parent—even if they come from a good place. But know there is no right or wrong way to deal with these comments and it's important to focus on your own well-being. "Keep in mind that often—not always, but often—it does come from a place of a person not wanting to hurt you, [but] it's totally OK to let people know that you're not OK with these comments or that you don't agree with them," says Dr. Guarnotta. "Set that boundary—that works for some people. For other people, they're more comfortable trying to visualize these comments sort of rolling off their backs. Whatever you need to do to help yourself is totally OK."

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