• “One thing I love is when people say: ‘Oh you’re a good mum’,” she says. “That’s all any parent needs.”
Starting a family is hard. Some people face particular challenges we can’t personally understand. Say something supportive instead.
Louise Wedgwood

11 Feb 2016 - 9:36 AM  UPDATED 11 Feb 2016 - 2:10 PM

There's an Australian born every 2 minutes, so sometimes it seems everyone is expecting. It's a high-stakes game, and particularly tough for some.

We've all unwittingly said the wrong thing, while trying to be helpful. 

Here's a cheat sheet of what to say in these surprisingly common situations.


Struggling to have their first (or second or third) child

Of all your friends keen to start (or grow) their families, one in six have trouble.

Well-meaning advice, such as "just relax and stop trying, it'll happen" or "jat least you already have one child to be grateful for", adds to their burden.

So what could friends say to help?

Cath Corcoran, a Melbourne conception psychologist, says, “They have to meet their friends or family members where they are currently at on the journey to parenthood.”

Withhold your advice and judgment and amp up the compassion and understanding.

Show extra sensitivity on tough days like baby showers and pregnancy announcements. A simple “thinking of you” text can mean the world.

Corcoran suggests saying things like, "I'm really sorry you're having to go through this," and "if there is anything I can do to make things easier, please let me know".


Lost a baby during pregnancy

It’s devastatingly common – one in four women experience miscarriage or stillbirth.

Nicole Ireland is the Queensland president of Sands, a charity for these women and their partners. She says well-intentioned comments, such as: "at least you know you can get pregnant", "it wasn’t meant to be" or "when will you try again?" are hurtful to bereaved parents, who can’t replace their lost baby with another.

When they’re trying again, Ireland says, “it’s also really important not to dismiss people’s concerns during subsequent pregnancies, which can be a really anxious time.” Simply acknowledging their grief is helpful.

Ireland suggests saying: "I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I am thinking of you."


Mixed-race couple

With 28 per cent of Australians originating from overseas, the chances of a mixed-race relationship are growing. 

Despite the growing number of mixed-race families, Naomi Kissiedu-Green became a children’s author because she couldn’t find books showing mixed families like hers.

Naomi, of Ghanaian heritage, has three children with her white Australian husband. When pregnant, people would say: “I wonder if they'll be black like you? Or white!” She would rather hear: “Your child will have a beautiful mix of both parents!”

When people are curious enough to ask where she or her kids are from, they’re not expecting Naomi to answer, “I’m from London,” because they’re really wondering about her skin.

So Naomi says to simply ask: "What is your heritage?"

Play our interactive to find out your cultural background
Australians: we’re a mixed bunch. The last Census revealed we’re made up of over 300 different cultural ancestries, with thousands of hybrid mixes. What’s your cultural background? Find out how unique your tribe is with our ancestry mixer.


Parents with a disability

Leonie Hazelton is an advocate at People With Disability Australia and a mum. She and her husband both have vision impairments. When they started talking babies, “There was a lot of negative comment,” says Hazelton, especially from people worrying whether their child would be blind.

Hazelton says, “all we wanted was a child and for people to say, ‘have fun practising’ or ‘good luck’ like they would say to anybody without disability.”

After their daughter arrived, some people asked, “how do you do it?” or tried to arrange support services.

Hazelton says they’ve muddled through and there are plenty of people needing help with parenting “a hell of a lot more” than they do.

“One thing I love is when people say: ‘oh, you’re a good mum’,” she says. “That’s all any parent needs.”

The failure of one
Australia's educational system has a long way to go to successfully cater for the learning needs of children with disabilities you can’t see, writes a mother whose son lives with autism.

Same sex couples

One in eight same-sex couples are parents but it still makes us nosy.

Rebecca Madsen, CEO of Gay Parents Australia, says inquisitive people often ask things like: "so did you have to use a donor?" and "how many rounds of IVF did it take you to get pregnant?".

Her response to that is: "How many times did you have sex before you got pregnant?"

As a dad, Rodney Chiang-Cruise from Gay Dads Australia also gets curious questions, like “who is the real father?” He says, “they will be the first to know when they are old enough.”

If in doubt, Madsen says, “a simple 'congratulations on your pregnancy!' or 'do you have any other children?' will get a polite response.”

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Single parents

Even today single parenthood attracts well-meaning but offensive remarks. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says one in three babies are born outside registered marriage.

Barbara Bryan manages Single Parent Australia and says pregnant single mums complain about being asked: "do you think you are going to keep the baby?" and "does the baby have the same father as your other children?"

She reminds us the parents may have been in a stable relationship when they fell pregnant, and not to assume the child isn’t wanted and eagerly anticipated.

Instead, we can tell the expecting mum how excited we are for her.

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Child-free by choice

Perth-based childlessness researcher Dr Bronwyn Harman says couples who are child-free by choice are tired of advice. They’re told: "you'll regret it," and "you'll change your mind when you meet the right person."

What to say instead? “nothing,” says Dr Harmon. “Don't ask if someone has kids. The child-free are tired of justifying it. The childless [due to circumstance or infertility] are tired of the pity that comes with it. Child-free individuals are tired of being defined by it. Can we talk about something other than our reproductive systems now?”


Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter@louisewedgwood.

Image by Kristina Alexanderson (Flickr).