I do not exaggerate when I say that every time I go out, somebody remarks on the number and/or spacing of my children. I grew up as one of four and have always known families with more children than my own so I don’t really feel that the large label applies to our family yet, but the truth is I have more kids than most people are having. Also I think we get the large label because people make assumptions about the likelihood of future children based on our age and the close ages of the kids we already have. It’s a good bet more will turn up eventually. Anyhow, when I say large here I’m going to mean something a bit broader than sheer number I think.
The point is, we mothers of “large” families have a bit of a chip on our shoulders. We swap clever comebacks to the old “don’t you know what causes that?” line, or share a good snit over the audacity of someone asking “aren’t you done yet???” like our fertility was personally offensive to them. Let me tell you what, we’ve come up with some zingers in rebuttal. I started to list some here, but already that was taking my essay in a direction I didn’t want to go. This isn’t a complaint piece or a PSA for what not to say to moms of many. A general rule is to try and remember that whatever you say, they probably have heard before, and to ask yourself if it is something that might hurt if they’re having a bad day? Does it imply judgement or support?
The rest of this though is for those moms themselves. There are a few things we need to think about in these exchanges. If you’re offended ask yourself why. Sometimes a person really is way out of line. I do not need a speech on carbon footprints or overpopulation right now, thanks. I don’t need things said in front of my children that might put in their heads the idea that they are a burden to me or some sort of social faux pas either. I also don’t need to give them The Talk because of something a stranger said to their mom at the restaurant. On the other hand, about nine out of ten of the comments we get aren’t that outrageous. Why is it such a big deal that someone points out the dead obvious? “Wow you’ve got your hands full”? Nothing in those words actually said there was anything wrong with that, and nothing in those words requires some sort of secret passive aggressive comment on our children’s behavior. ”I don’t know how you manage”. Heck that’s practically a compliment!
Even the jokes, while maybe not in the best of taste, are usually good natured and maybe even something we would laugh at amongst friends. Granted a stranger or passing acquaintance should probably keep them to herself but this is just a gaffe not an attack. So here are some thoughts.
1) Are we feeling judged because we judge? Are we making assumptions about others based on how many kids they have? If it’s wrong when someone does it to us it’s just plain wrong. We don’t know why anybody has the family size they do and even if we are privy to personal information it’s none of our business to make judgements about it. So do unto others etc etc.
2) Are we suffering from Older Son Syndrome? This is what I call it when we are ticked off for not getting recognition for doing something “right”. It’s one of my besetting sins and comes from this part of the story of the prodigal son:
Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. The servant told him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the calf we had been fattening because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out and began to urge him to come in; but he retorted to his father, “All these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends.
I’m not comparing people with less children to the prodigal son here by the way! See thought 1 re: judge not lest ye be judged. I’m just saying sometimes we want some sort of kudos for following the rules of our system of belief. Problem with that is, we shouldn’t really be doing things just because them’s the rules and we certainly shouldn’t be doing them just to get some kind of medal. Kids aren’t just a duty, or something we can check off a list of requirements. They’re people! People we better have created because we love them each for themselves. Which ought to be its own reward. (Here are mine being all rewarding and utterly marvelous.
3) Are a stranger’s thoughts striking too close to home? Look, some days it’s really really REALLY hard to be a mother. Some days it is just about zero fun. On those days, hearing a tossed off remark can sting because of a guilty feeling that part of us agrees, this IS crazy. It’s also hard to hear these things and realize nobody is faulting you or your kids when you’re feeling exceptionally aware of all those faults. Try and remember the guy in the grocery store line isn’t in your head. Your thoughts are on you, not him.
4) Are we feeling desperate for a chance to explain ourselves? Look, you haven’t gotten to this point without being judged or at least misunderstood somewhere along the line. We all know somebody somewhere thinks we’re irrational, irresponsible, repressed, brainwashed, unhappy, you name it. It’s frustrating to feel pigeon-holed or stereotyped and to feel like if you could just sit down with this person and tell them why you do what you do they’d see things differently. But you don’t get to have that conversation. All you have is, oh about ten seconds of interaction. And that leaves just enough time to leave one brief impression. Given that fact there’s really only one thing you can do. Smile. Swallow whatever clever comeback you may have. Swallow whatever justification you’d like to blurt out. Smile.
“Wow you’ve got your hands full”
“Haha, I sure do. But it’s worth it”. Smile
“You must be crazy!”
“Must be! But we’re enjoying it!” Smile
“I don’t know how you manage”
“Thank you, it’s hard but I’m doing my best.” Smile
“Are you done yet??”
“Gosh I have no idea. We’ll see.” Smile
“Don’t you know what causes that?”
“Why do you think we have so many?” Smile
Let’s be real here, we are freaks these days. The worst thing we can do is scowl at people and leave them with the idea that being this kind of freak makes you a bitter angry person. Let’s make being freakish look awesome. Let’s leave people thinking, “they sure are crazy, but they really do seem to be enjoying it.”