I recently wrote a piece about the random commentary I receive from strangers regarding my family dynamic which is three girls, a set of twins and my bonus baby that arrived unexpectedly just 16 months later. The post (you can read it here) discussed some of the comments people have said to me, most of it on the negative side (such as, wow the teenage years are going to suck in your house or how are you going to afford all the clothes?) I definitely struck a chord with parents out there, and a few of my readers chimed in with some doozies that people have said to them as well, and it got me thinking…
Why do we care so much about the make up of everyone else’s family? And why is the number we have never right?
In my mind, the magic number was always three. A boy, a girl, then another boy, each about two years apart. Yes, I got my three kids, but not exactly in the way we thought. After the twins, we thought we were done. Then, after having the “wanted, but totally surprising” third girl, I wanted to adopt a boy, but I think it would have been marriage-ending. As my husband always likes to tell people, our agreement was we would take one kid out for a test drive, yet somehow he ended up with three before he could even come up for air (like he ever had a say anyway!)
Polling my readers, it seemed like a lot of factors determined the composition of their families: cost of living; spouse’s travel schedule; health/pregnancy concerns; desire for a certain sex (although we are all happy for healthy babies); and the worst, the one I can relate to the most, the inability to conceive even when the desire is there.
When you hear the stories of what people go through to have kids sometimes, it makes you wonder why any of us decide to start a family. Take my amazing friend Gina. She had a terrifying experience that included a fear of losing her baby throughout her entire pregnancy due to a rare health complication. Even her perinatologist told her that she shouldn’t have any more after she delivered a healthy little girl. And why should she? Her family is perfect with two gorgeous daughters and they live a very full life, but of course people always ask her if she’s going to try for a boy (and I would love to hear her snarky come-backs!)
Or another good friend who faced extremely difficult obstacles just to get pregnant and then lost a baby in the late second trimester — an unfathomable tragedy. She and her husband had to decide if they wanted to weigh the risk of losing another child versus having another baby — and sibling for their daughter. Luckily, it worked out for them, and their family is complete with one girl and one boy.
And we all have a story like some friends of mine who after having two beautiful girls, decided to try for the boy (at the husband’s prompting.) They decided to go for it, and almost nine months later they added twin daughters to their brood.
You would think with all the differences in families out there, it would be easy for people just to accept that your family is just that — your family; but instead anyone with a child gets endless commentary, such as:
- Three girls, huh? When are you trying for that boy? (um, never.)
- Is that your daughter from your first marriage? (said to my friend whose kids are seven years apart.)
- Your daughter is how old? Isn’t it about time to give her a sibling? (said to a couple who are unable to get pregnant.)
- You have a boy and a girl, so you can stop trying (said to the couple who had lost a little one at birth.)
- Are your kids adopted? (said to my friend whose husband is Jamaican and she is Caucasian)
- Don’t you want a girl? (said to my friend with two boys, who is currently separated from her abusive husband.)
- Don’t you know about contraceptives? (said to my friend who has six kids.)
- Maybe you shouldn’t try for a third, since you had to use fertility treatments for the first two and you’re probably pushing your luck (yeah, there’s no explanation for this one.)
You seriously can’t make this stuff up. And the ridiculousness goes on and on to the point of hilarity, such as when people ask my friend Alyssa if her daughter’s beautiful curly hair is natural. I would pay good money if she said what she wants to say deep-down inside: “No, she sits patiently each morning while I spiral curl it end to end.”
While I think many, especially from prior generations, believe conversations about a personal issue such as having another child, etc. is perfectly acceptable, we all should know that nothing, and I mean nothing, is as personal as our kids. When we ask strangers point-blank questions about their family dynamic, we are knowingly going into dangerous territory, potentially forcing someone to face some pretty dark issues. And while sometimes we do this accidentally, shouldn’t we all know better by now?
One day — during what I call my Dark Ages when I was facing fertility issues (and it seemed like every woman at my company was reproductively gifted) — an incredibly kind male client said to me something like this: “Whatever is in the water over there in your office, please make sure you’re not drinking it!”
It was a crushing blow to what had already been an extremely challenging quest for a baby. And it took all my professional skills to be able to continue a positive client relationship, although I lived in fear of him saying something else. Although I harbored no ill-will and knew his comment was not meant maliciously, it rocked my world. Am I too sensitive? Perhaps. But you never know what the person on the other end of the conversation is going through, or faced in the past.
From that day forward, I never asked questions about family plans to anyone…sometimes not even my closest friends. I never ask a child-less couple whether or not they are trying to have a baby, as you just don’t know if they even have a choice. I don’t ask if someone is going to have a third child, as you never know if it is a source of marital strife. And I never ask if someone will try for a girl or boy, as you never know what they may have lost previously.
But rest assured I will mock that dad of four girls, and rejoice for my cousin, who just had her fifth son to form her own basketball team. And I’ll admit to some jealousy when someone with just one child talks about jet setting all over the world with their family while I can barely get an affordable hotel room at Disney for my family of five.
And it’s even okay when people make snarky comments to me about my life with three girls. Because one day, they’re going to start speaking up all on their own, and I believe in paybacks.
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