Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On not answering the question

I go to great lengths to avoid answering the question of how many children I have. I'm the queen of the smiling, noncommittal answer. Conversations usually go something like this.

I'm out with some of my children and a stranger notices that I have more than a couple of children with me. "Oh my. Are these are yours?" (Which, since it is usually a fraction of the real number, always feels a little amusing.) I look around me to be sure they really are mine, answer in the affirmative, and try to keep moving. 

Or another scenario. I have just one child with me and someone asks if I have other children at home. I usually mumble something like, "Yes, a few," and try to move along.

There was an online discussion I read about this very thing and some women were adamant that my mumble and move strategy was tantamount to lying. (I wasn't participating in the discussion, but I'm not the only one to employ this strategy.) Others were appalled that those of us with more than your typical number of children wouldn't want to proclaim that fact at every chance we got. 

It has made me think about my avoidance tendency. As you probably figured out if you've been reading here for any length of time, I really enjoy my large family and think that having a lot of children has many benefits. I am certainly not embarrassed by how many children I have. So why I am so hesitant to publicly proclaim it at every turn?

First, it has to do with boundaries. I just don't need to answer every single nosy question put to me when I'm out in public. (You don't either, by the way.) Even if you aren't a large, multi-ethnic, conspicuous family, it doesn't hurt to be armed with a couple of replies to nosy question. (My two favorites are: "Why do you ask?" for nosy, yet polite questions and "Oh my goodness? Did you know you said that out loud?" for the over-the-top rude variety.) We just get more practice because there is more to comment on and ask about. So, no, I don't think it's lying to not give a stranger your full life story; it's maintaining personal boundaries. 

Second, I have found that many people have certain preconceptions about large families and the parents who raise them. (Don't believe me? Go find yourself an article on the Dugger family. Whether you like the family or not, reading the comments will give you some idea about how many people perceive larger than average families.) By avoiding answering the question, I also avoid being pigeon-holed in a certain box before someone has gotten to know me. Plus, I don't always need to have people's jaws drop open when I say how many children I have. (Yes, they do. I sometimes feel like I need to reach over and close their mouths for them.) It always feels a little bit much because I am friends with people who have more children than I and when I'm with them, 10 doesn't feel that big.

I am human, though, and there are some times when I take a little perverse pleasure in the revelation. This is often when I've met someone for the first time and we have been chatting together for a while. I can pass for normal and it is the unsuspecting person who asks in the course of the conversation how many children I have. I know I don't fit the stereotype of the mother of a large family, so it is with just a little glee that say I have 10 children. 

7 comments:

Doug H said...

Another of my favorite responses to nosy questioners which I picked up from "Dear Abby", or perhaps it was "Miss Manners", many years ago: "I'll forgive you for asking that if you'll forgive me for not answering."

Angela said...

Very interesting. I love when asked the question! I say proudly, "God has blessed us with seven....so far." Just another opportunity to share what God has done.

Blessings~~angela

Jennifer P said...

Quite a few, a bunch, a gaggle, you wouldn't believe me, some more..... right there with you. Once in awhile it is fun to watch the jaw drop but a I agree with you, it often feels better to fly under the radar once in awhile. Nice honest post.

Tanya said...

I find that people have a lot of preconceived notions about homeschooling, too. When folks ask if my oldest (4.5 yrs) is in school now and I tell them we're trying homeschooling, they feel the need to share their opinions (which are usually misguided) or they do a poor job of hiding their lack of approval in their tone. Do you face that as well or do they see that your children are older and don't fit the stereotype they envisioned?

Tanya said...

I find that people have a lot of preconceived notions about homeschooling, too. When folks ask if my oldest (4.5 yrs) is in school now and I tell them we're trying homeschooling, they feel the need to share their opinions (which are usually misguided) or they do a poor job of hiding their lack of approval in their tone. Do you face that as well or do they see that your children are older and don't fit the stereotype they envisioned?

Carla said...

People are just as rude when you have only one. They keep asking when #2 is coming or commenting that it's time for a sibling. Sometimes I can easily get off with a "We'd love more. That's up to God." Most often it's absolutely none of their business that we've had 3 miscarriages and it's just rude and hurtful for them to assume it's our choice.

Ann said...

Another thing we have in common--for the same reasons! If I am honest people think I'm either crazy or a saint. I do sometimes love the jaw-drop with the long, dis-believing stare and then the "TEN kids?!!! . . No sh..!?" Sometimes I'll say, "I know, right? We can't figure out what's causing it! And several are adopted!!!" Humor helps. I do appreciate some of the suggestions for rude comments--we don't get many but it's great to have quick liners.

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