Two women were sitting on a Little League field. Both were mothers of large families. The first had only one daughter and many sons. The daughter was second in line. The second was expecting her fifth, and the first four were all girls.

Both were complaining about the negative messages their children were receiving from friends and acquaintances. The children were hearing the messages loudly and clearly, but the adults sending those messages had no idea of the negativity they were transmitting.

The messages were also couched as questions.

In the first mother’s case, the message transmission sounded like this:

Mother: I have 6 children, 5 boys and a girl.

Message (usually said with a smile, and in the hearing of the children): I bet the girl was the youngest.

In the second case, the message sounded a bit different:

Message, Part One: Congratulations! How many will this make?

Mother: This will be number five.

Message, Part Two (said while looking at the four little girls): I bet you are hoping for a boy this time.

The mothers compared notes, and wondered if the messengers knew what they were telling the listening children.

In both cases, the little ones who were not the oldest had asked their mothers if they were “mistakes”.

Because this is what the children heard.

“When my mother had me, she was really trying to have someone of the other sex, so I was a mistake.”

In the case of the first mother, the error and hurt in the message were easy to fix. Obviously, the 4 younger sons weren’t attempts to have a daughter since the daughter already existed. So she began to answer the messengers by re-affirming the value that each of her children had. When asked if the daughter was the youngest, she smiled back and said that she had not had a son, 4 mistakes and a daughter. She had a son, a daughter, and 4 more precious sons.

For the second mother, the message’s hurt was more direct, since there were no sons. So she began to answer that she was hoping for another daughter, since the ones she had had brought her so much joy and happiness. And she confided to her closest friends that if she were to have a son, she intended to have at least one more child so her middle daughters did not think they were errors in an attempt by their mother to have a boy.

The messengers were not evil people. They did not intend to hurt a child. But, intention or not, they did.

Our society no longer looks at children as gifts from a loving God. They are now commodities. Parents are entitled to one of each, and if one of each does not arrive in the correct order, societal permission is given to “try again” for a matched set.

But no one has stopped to listen to the message that this mentality sends to the children — children who hear that they were nothing more than failed attempts to reach that “matched set” goal. No one, except the mothers who see the hurt in the eyes of their little ones as the message, “You are a mistake”, hits home in their minds and hearts, has stopped to think of the children at all.

It’s time that we did.

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  • Warren Jewell

    One such foul ball supposed adult made reference that my daughter had a daughter and a son – they were qwith us – and inquired why was she pregant again? My daughter smiled her beatific smile (NOT a good message to get, because she’s about to lower the boom) and said “And we’re thinking of having at least one more. Then, with a look that could crisp bacon in ten seconds, she continued, “And, it is no one’s business but my husband and I how many kids we plan on loving.”

    With a turn away as if to dismiss her bond-servant shoepolisher, my daughter continued on in beatific beauty of motherhood into our shopping. I was so proud . . .

  • KMc

    LOVE the crisp bacon comment….I may steal it! I have two older boys and 6 years later had our daughter…i cannot count how many people said, “Well, you got your girl. At least your done.” as if they pitited me for having to have 3 kids to get that girl! All i would say is, “For now…” three years later we had another son. And all anyone said in front my kids was, “Ooops.” and laugh at me….I would ask them what they meant (though i well knew what they meant), making them explain my unborn child was an “accident” usually shut them up. But have battle field expereince here….I am the youngest of nine…and my mom was the 1st president of Right to Life in our city, we kids learned comebacks as we grew up, personal favorites: 1. Someone says, “Didn’t your parents ever hear of Planned Parenthood?” and I say, “Yes, they got married and said ‘Hey, let’s have 9 kids’…and then they did. I call that pretty good planning.” 2. Kid would say, “Don’t your parents know what causes THAT?” and I would say, “Oh Yes, they LOVE that part! I am sorry your parents don’t get to do that.”
    As we discern #5 we are more than ready for the comments that will once again come our way…it is beyond said to hear mothers say, in front of their kids: 1. I won’t EVER do THAT again, it was awful! (have you ever watched the face of a child hearing his mother say this? I have, it was the saddest thing ever – as a woman who has 9 months of ‘morning sickness’ even i cannot believe moms could not see the damage done with this attitude). Yikes I could go on and on but I am sure you all have heard it before.
    Thanks for the article, as the youngest of a large family I am deeply grateful EVERY day of my life for the gift of life my parents so generously gave me…..I have one child in Heaven and 4 on Earth who are thankful they did not listen to the “experts” who said I should be aborted because mom had too many and I would certainly have Downs and be a burden to my mom, family, and society all the days of my miserable life. If I had been born with Downs my life would be one of unending joy with my 8 siblings….and now I must leave, as I hear my 12 year old son asking his dad why we haven’t produced another sibling for him since it is so painful for him to see others having babies and we don’t have one that is brand new! And so we build a Culture of Life, one little life at a time:)

  • steve p

    Well at least they didn’t ask if the ladies had heard of birth control. My mother got that one once as a young woman. She was too charitable and shocked to ask if the questioning woman if she had ever heard of speech control. In later years, still the 1950’s, when at the grocery store with a few of us, more than once she was asked, “Are they all yours?” “No,” she responded, “I have more at home.” But her favored response to inappropraiate questions was, “I can’t imagine that you would have any interest in such a personal aspect of my life.”

  • steve p

    In the same vein, from another corner. A subject on a lot of minds.


  • KMc

    I’m back…love the topic. My mom and dad read Cheaper by the Dozen while engaged…so my mom’s favorite comeback went like this: when someone, usually AT CHURCH would come to her and, looking at all us kids, say, “Oh, you poor dear” or something along that line, she would respond, very sadly as if she and the person commenting were speaking of the very same sadness, “Yes, I know….we wanted 12 and only got to have 9. It is a heavy cross but I will bear it best I can, thank you for sharing in our sorrow. we just have to be happy with the nine.” As if nine were not NEAR enough….oh, how happy that made my 5 yeard old heart!!

  • Terri Kimmel

    I have had the inverse experience. I have a daughter and then 6 sons following her. More than once I’ve been at the store with several of the boys (daughter at home) and someone will say, “You must’ve been trying for a girl. Then I get to smile and tell them my oldest is a girl! I love the reaction I get. 🙂

    We’re expecting again now. I am hoping for a girl, but only because I would love to do ponytails and frilly dresses at least one more time.

    My dad told me once that when I’m pregnant and people ask if the baby was planned (a SUPREMELY rude question) I should say, “Yes, on high through all eternity by God Almighty Himself.”

  • Les

    Back to the article: the kids do not judge themselves on the basis of an offhand comment like those cited here. They judge themselve on the basis of the love and attention they receive all the other hours of the day. Everyone says things that could be construed differently depending on context. If children based their self-worth strictly on sound bites then we are in trouble. But fortunately they do not – they are much more generous and intelligent than that.