Monday, August 10, 2015
On Comments on Family Size
Over the years the types of comments and conversations I've had have changed. I think that a number of factors probably contribute to the things people are bold enough to say.
I do think that geography plays a large roll in that people in the region that we live in now don't seem quite as emboldened (so many less polite terms went through my head before I settled on that one) to voice their opinions about how many kids they see as they did when we lived on either coast.
The second factor that I think comes into play is Maggie's autism. As she gets older her language and little bird like chirps make it more apparent that she has some differences and in a way that gives us a degree of invisibility (in the most visible way you can imagine) in that most people don't want to be rude and so when they see something that could be termed a disability they immediately look away.
Many people may not feel that it's rude to comment on a family's size or question whether they have a TV or if they "know what causes that" but most people do still, for the most part, feel uncomfortable directing comments or questions towards a group with a member who appears to have any type of difference in ability.
I know that it still happens, and on occasion we've experienced it, but in a way as numb as society has become to the inappropriateness of questions that relate to matters of sexual reproduction, we're also (generally) rather oversensitive to all things related to differences in abilities.
I do know that that likely shades my experience.
Still, I have a fair amount of conversations about our family when we're out about in town. Maggie is often at her calmest in the stroller and the triple stroller inspires conversations.
I use the stroller to get around town and that means lots of trips to Mae's OT with it loaded with kids, where it inevitably leads to conversations with doctors who stop us to look it over and say that it's great. Other parents stop me and ask me where we got it, and it inspires plenty of "I wish we had those in my day" comments with wistful smiles from elderly people we encounter.
The stroller in undoubtedly conversation starting gold. And those conversations are almost always friendly and positive.
Then there are the non-stroller related comments. The most common is :
"You certainly have your hands full!"
Or some variation of that phrase, followed closely by:
"Are they all yours?"
"Are you a daycare provider?"
"Better you than me."
There are some others I hear now and then, like the woman who had to let me know that I can't have any more children because there's no more room for them in the stroller, and occasionally we get dramatic sighs, accompanied by glares and shaking heads, but for the most part the reactions (and there is nearly almost always a reaction or ten when I'm out with the super stroller) are happy.
Since I've been walking around with the stroller though, I've realized that the appropriateness of comments often has a great deal to do with the tone that it's delivered in.
The vast majority of the time when I hear "You've got your hands full!" it's said in a friendly way with a smile. And when I hear that I smile and agree. It's true, my hands are full, in the best possible way.
Other times "You've got your hands full!" is delivered in a tone one might use to tell someone they've stepped in dog droppings, with a look of disgust and a shake of the head. I try to respond in the same way, with a smile and a "Yes, I do!" but I've found that the exact same comment suddenly feels wildly inappropriate.
Inquiries that ask if they're all mine or if I'm babysitting tend to fall in the same category. Most people are truly just curious and that comes across in their tone. I'll happily field those comments.
Of course there are always the "You know what causes that?" line of questioning that some people feel is appropriate that just isn't. I have noticed since moving here that the occurrence of those has gone down basically to zero for us, but I remember how annoyed I was when someone I'd never spoken with inquired in the checkout line whether my husband would be "getting snipped" when we were pregnant with out third or if it was another girl we would "keep trying for a boy."
Maybe it's the realization that nearly everyone receives judgments and cruel comments of some sort, whether it's people making assumptions about smaller families or those without children (which have the potential to be far, far more crushing. Please don't do this. We never know who struggles under the cross of infertility and I cannot imagine how those sorts of comments sting...) or those directed at those with families that are larger than what's considered normal these days.
Maybe it's because the last few years have toughened me up (most days) in a general way, so that it's easier to sort through the kind and encouraging words and those that aren't so, and push the later aside, and take the former for the breath of kindness that it can be on those days when kind words are most needed.
Most of all I think it helps to remember that the comments that are of a less than kind nature are seldom about us at all. They usually have everything to do with the person saying them, who is either trying to be funny or, more rarely, cruel, in which case they are most in need of kindness and prayers.
Who knows, maybe some of our joy and gentleness, if we can manage it, will touch their hearts at a later time. And if nothing else it gives us someone to pray for, because anyone that says mean things about a child, in front of that child, most definitely needs our prayers.