My perfectly lived-in black leather couch is seven years old and has seen more memorable moments than the big coffee shop couch on Friends: Late-night talks with confidantes when time mattered as little as it did; when we were kids and unapologetic Breaking Bad marathons were common scenes. That time my well-intentioned mother-in-law made me bite my tongue harder than I'd ever remembered? That was one couch occasion I feel in my gut today, two-and-a-half years and one more baby later.
There I sat, six weeks postpartum and slouched on that couch in striped pyjama pants and a stretched-out grey nursing tank top, eyes watering every time my baby girl latched as I fought through a breast infection while trying to nourish her. My body had grown life inside it and produced a healthy baby girl. Everything was incredible and incredibly hard.
My mother-in-law timed her visit so that my husband and I could begin to navigate our new lives before she travelled from another state to meet her first grandchild. She is a kind woman; a kind woman who is human and sometimes doesn't think before she speaks. Heavy with hormones and exhaustion, I sat in disbelief as she asked my infant: "Are you going to be a daddy's girl?"
Daddy's girl. Those two words enraged my soul, and the tiny baby in my arms was the lone reason I remained grounded. Combined to form a label that conveys a preference for one parent, they are the last words I wanted to hear after a long pregnancy, a vaginal delivery that made me feel like I'd been in a car accident, and a messy postpartum experience that no amount of information from my most candid friends could have prepared me to gracefully handle.
The timing of her comment and what she said wasn't meant to hurt me, but it was absolutely insensitive. I believe that would be true if spoken in a way that detaches either parent. "Daddy's girl," "mama's boy," or any combination of those words can cause even momentary doubt that the child will have a special bond with only one parent. New parents already do plenty of doubting: weighing each decision, wondering how they'll survive another sleepless night, and treading water in a terrifying unknown reality of caring for another human.
Instead of attempting to weakly connect with or indirectly compliment a parent by using one of these unexceptional labels, simply tell the parent or parents they're doing great. Fill their world with love and encouragement. Ask them about their experiences and listen to how you might be able to help with current challenges. New parents need support, and even labels that seem innocent can be damaging when struggling to learn how to care for a brand new life.