Size matters!

There is nothing that will draw more boundary-crushing commentary from friends, family, and even perfect strangers than the size of your family.  When my husband and I were first married (and by “first married”, I mean, like, at our reception), people started to ask… “When will you two have a baby?!”  We were able to dodge the uncomfortable questions for a bit.  “Well, I’d like to take the veil off first!” or “Oh, you know, we’re just getting used to married life!” or “We want to buy a house first!”.  Those answers seemed to appease people for about a year.  It was like we had satisfied some type of requirement on people‘s checklists by finally getting married after having lived together for three years, so we were allowed a brief reprieve from intense scrutiny.

Soon after we were married, my husband’s younger brother and his wife gave birth to their twins and the “You’re next!” comments began flooding in.  But then, the unthinkable happened—my husband’s youngest sister got pregnant, not once, not twice but three times before we did.  People’s gentle encouragement began to turn to panicky warnings.  “How old are you?  THIRTY SIX? TICK TOCK TICK TOCK! You’re not getting any younger!  YOU GUYS ARE PLANNING TO HAVE KIDS, AREN’T YOU?!  AREN’T YOU?!”  As intrusive as these comments seemed coming from family, friends and co-workers, they were downright inappropriate from perfect strangers.  I remember one day speaking to the cashier at the grocery store who was admiring my wedding ring.  She asked how long I’d been married, and when I told her it was two years, she asked how many children we had.  I told her none, and her smile faded, “well, what in the world are you waiting for, sweetie?”

What was I waiting for?  I didn’t know.  I knew I wanted children.  I knew my husband wanted children.  But I also knew the time wasn’t right.  We were dealing with a number of things in our life that made the possibility of children at that time seem like not such a great idea.  We were renting an apartment in a really sketchy neighborhood because it was affordable and close to both of our jobs (at which we were both tied down for 60-70 hours per week), I had a terminally ill father living 6 states away whose condition would turn on a dime, requiring me to hop in the car and drive 13 hours straight to be with him and my mom.  And, we were broke as a joke.  The time was just not right for us to have children, regardless of how much this was fucking up everyone else’s timelines.

So, time marched on.  After my father’s passing, my husband and I relocated down south, took on much less demanding jobs and found our first home.  And then, even though I’d reached the ripe old age of 37, the time seemed right.  And, it happened.  On our schedule.

So, that’s the happy ending, right?  “You guys popped out a kid, and no one ever bothered you with overly personal, intrusive questions ever again?”

Yeah, no.

My daughter was barely a week old before people started to ask when we planned on having #2.  And again, the same cycle ensued: for a bit, people were kind of accepting of our non-committal answers, and then came the urgent TICK TOCK comments and then when we finally, finally came out of the closet with “we’re done”, the reactions ranged from confusion to downright horror.  There’s something about the idea of WANTING an only child that confounds people.  After all, only children will be lonely, selfish, sad, maladjusted.  Only children will be saddled with the burden of your inevitable elder care.  And then when you croak, well, they will be ALL ALONE.  ALL ALONE.  ALLLLLLL ALONNNNEEEEEE.

“My own mother has said to me, ‘what is she going to do when you’re gone? It will be just her. That’s so sad.’
The reason that is so infuriating is because I had my daughter at 37, and we tried for a little bit to have a second but it hasn’t worked. Now that I’m 40, we have stopped trying. My mother knows this. And on top of it, I am an only child.”

“We are heartless assholes for only having one child and have no idea how we have fucked him up for the rest of his life by not selflessly giving him a sibling … And don’t we get that my sister can’t have children so the burden of grand children is in me and I’m being completely unreasonable…”

“One and done” isn’t an easy decision… at least it wasn’t for me.  I’d grown up as an only child and I didn’t love being an only child.  There were many times in my life that I’d pined for a brother or sister.  I was the only singleton among my classmates and cousins.  And of course, that led to plenty of teasing and assumptions about my character.  “Oh, she must get everything she wants.  She’s spoiled.  Selfish. Doesn’t share.  Thinks she’s the center of the universe.”  Truth be told, those comments hurt.  So, I was the only child who overcompensated for these assumptions by being too trusting, too generous, and too docile.  And as a result, I was often taken advantage of by others.  I’d vowed to myself from an early age that when I had children, I’d have at least two.  But, as it turns out, that just wasn’t in the cards for us.  My daughter is and will always be an only child, and I’m ok with that.  So, why isn’t everyone else?

Sometimes I think people who choose to have more than one have it so easy in the judgment department.  But, as I have come to find out, that’s not entirely true:

“The best reaction was from my own mom when I told her I was pregnant with the [fourth] baby…she said “are you fucking kidding me?” Thanks Mom.”

“Everyone has a god damn opinion on the size of my family. I have 4 kids, I myself have 6 siblings. 4 seems to be quite large these days. I get, ‘haven’t you figured it out by now?’ ‘Don’t ya think ya have enough?’ ‘Did you plan all of them?’ And equally as rude comments, my absolute favorite comments are the ones inquiring about the state of my vagina after birthing all these babies. I have a thick skin and a sense of humor so I usually have some witty, sarcastic comeback. Sometimes I get a little tired of answering the same ridiculous questions and it really isn’t anyone’s business. But for the record, yes we do know how it happens, 4 is more than enough, no they were not all planned but they were all wanted and loved and I do my kegels all day everyday so my vag is just fine.”

“Now that #4 is out of my body and running around I still get God Bless You a lot, I get lots of stares when I take them out by myself anywhere, and once I had someone loudly count them when they opened the door for me. Then roll their eyes.”

Ok, so we know four is generally considered to be “too many” and one is not enough, so then two or three should be perfectly acceptable, right?  Well, yes, but only if the gender distribution is acceptable.

“I have one boy and one girl. So I get the “perfect, you’re done!” comment. The thing is I would have really liked to have had a big family and the only reason we are done is financial. It makes me a little sad when people say that, honestly.”

“Now that we have children, people’s comments have been rather mild, usually along the lines of ‘Oh, a boy and a girl! That’s just right!’

“I didn’t find out the sex of my second child while I was pregnant because I didn’t want to listen to the comments. The day my oldest was born I was being told that I had to had to try again for a girl.”

So, there you have it.  As with all things parenting, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.  I’ve fielded my share of awkward questions from people and I’ve actually created a mental arsenal of answers.  When a perfect stranger chatting me up in line at Gymboree asked me if I’m planning to have more, I said, “No,” and then I whispered… “fertility problems”.  She looked horrified that I would share something so intimate, which is so downright ironic I could choke.  When my mom brings it up I remind her that I’m an only child, and I turned out perfectly fine, other than a little pyromania.  And when a coworker mentioned how ALONE ALONE ALONE ALONE my daughter will be after my husband and I die, I told that I plan to live forever, thanks to my ItWorks! wraps… can I interest her in joining my team….?

“I like to respond with uncomfortable answers. Like when people ask me if I know how children are made, I say yes, and my husbands pull out game is weak as fuck. Or, you know there’s some stuff you just don’t come back from, you’ve had 4 babies that must be a mess. Well, I do my kegels regularly to keep my vagina tight and springy but now that you mention it, one of the labias does hang kinda funny, would you like to see?”

“On the rare occasion someone asks me if I’m going to have another, I just look at them disapprovingly and say, ‘Why would I have more kids when there are so many kids to adopt who need good homes?'”

We all have a mental image of the “right” family.  I mean, when I was a kid, daydreaming about the day I’d finally marry Joey McIntyre, I totally imagined having one boy, and then one girl, and a Golden Retriever named Sam who loved to play with our Tuxedo cat, Oliver.  Once in a while when I see a family that resembles that (minus the Joey McIntyre, of course), I do get a little pang of jealousy.  And I admit, every now and then, the thought of having X number of kids makes my ovaries cringe a bit. But I’ve learned that everyone has their own ideal and it’s just not my place to ask why it doesn’t resemble mine.

So, the next time you want to sigh when your sister-in-law sheepishly announces her fourth pregnancy, or you wonder why your neighbor isn’t “trying” for a boy when she already has two girls, or your coworker doesn’t seem in a major hurry to have any children despite the fact that she’s married, and a homeowner, and getting a little long in the tooth, remember… it’s none of your business and your casual critique might be super hurtful and intrusive.

Have you ever felt judged for your family size?  How do you respond to the critiques?

 

17 thoughts on “Size matters!

  1. I have one and we done! I get judged all the time. From “she will resent you when she’s older” to “she will be a selfish spoilt brat” to “children need siblings to learn social skills” to “it’s terribly selfish to only have one child”. Absolute strangers look at me in horror when I say I only have one child by choice.

  2. I have 3 girls. The youngest is 4 months old. You will not believe the amount of comments we receive from strangers about how we need to try for a boy. One time, I had an old man wearing suspenders give me “lessons” on how to try for a boy. Loudly. In a restaurant. While I thank you for your input, random stranger, I do not believe that “doing it” with, or without, your shoes on will ensure a boy or a girl. Regardless, we are happy with our 3 girls, and are quite done having children. It was hard not to laugh at the time. I’m sure people have good intentions, so it doesn’t bother me THAT much. But I can occasionally become irritated by it.

  3. When somebody asks me, “don’t you have enough?” (#6 just turned 1), I like to agree and offer one up right away. This usually gets the response of, “you wanted them, now you have to take care of them!” Damnit. I really figured they would hold their resale value, but I had no idea the wear and tear they would suffer in such a short time.

  4. I can deal with the comments that are just said to me but when someone is thoughtless enough to make their stupid comments in front of my kids, the I get pretty pissed.

    My seventh was five months old and we were at a 50th anniversary reception for my parents. All of my kids were around me and a cousin I didn’t often see “jokingly” (I presume since he was laughing as he spoke) says, “You know, they’ve come up with ways to prevent that.” I don’t know how I was able to reply so quickly but I just blurted out, “Oh really? Which ones should I have prevented?”

    I was particularly sensitive at that time because my 5 month old was born with Down syndrome and I was never sure inside if he was “joking” about the number of children in general or my newborn son in particular. Either way, it fell under “Thoughtless Shit You Don’t Say.”

  5. I respond with horror. I have 3 boys that I birthed and a bonus nephew that I raised. I know boys. But even at 39 people are like aren’t you going to try for a girl? I respond with Hell no! My parts only make boys. I’ll end up with another one and I’m too old as it is!

  6. When I got pregnant with our fifth child in 5 years (first three adopted as a sibling group), I invariably heard a version of this response: Congrats! What are you going to be doing for birth control from now on?
    I began to take great pleasure in smiling sweetly and responding, “we’ll just have to see how many we end up with!” and watching eyes grow wide as they pictured us with a Duggar-like reality show.

  7. ok first of all….. You are going to live forever thanks to it works wraps. Would you like to join?!?! That’s THE best response hahahaha. But I don’t think there should be a number. I have two boys and yes I’d like a third. But my husband doesn’t. But if it’s not a girl I am not going to be devastated. Then the fact that I do and my husband doesn’t, people don’t understand. Then just stop taking your birth control and pretend it was an accident. SERIOUSLY? the idea of doing that and not having it be a joint decision. Is not ok with me. So I will wait until he decides. If he doesn’t….. Then guess what? Our relationship will still stay strong.
    Ps my oldest is 8 and my youngest is 5

  8. I have 4 boys. Honestly, it’s our perfect family. My boys bring each other and their parents a lot of joy. As you can imagine, I get lots of comments about “trying for our girl,” as if my 3 youngest sons are failed attempts at ‘gender balance.’ It’s sad to me that people can’t see how *blessed* we are with our family.

  9. I don’t get a lot, even with 4 kids (girls bookending boys). It’s amusing though when we’re somewhere with a family of friends, who have 5 but soon to be 6 kids, and people register a double-take and sort out who belongs to which parents. (Which is glaringly obvious because we parents look very, very different.) Even that has usually been fairly pleasant. People count and smile, pretty much.

  10. Mom of FIVE boys here. I’m so tired of the old…”Trying for a girl, huh? Aww…I’m sorry.” This comment when the lady found out baby #5 (I was pregnant still) was also a boy. I always say: “Don’t feel sorry for me. Feel sorry for my husband because he has to share me with five little men.” #nottryingforagirl #Dowhatyou’regoodat

  11. We had 2 boys, 2.5 years apart, then waited 7 years to have a third. We had another boy. Which I was thrilled about, frankly. But I have been asked: Were you trying? (yes.) Was he an accident? (What?!) Oh, were you trying for a girl? (Nope, just a healthy baby.) My grandmother told me I’d need to just go ahead have a 4th because the 3rd would basically an only child, owing to how much older his brothers were. (Uh, no – I was 37 when he was born.) And I’ve had a whole lot of, What were you thinking?! It’s fascinating how anyone thinks it’s their business.

  12. I am a mum of 6 beautiful boys and no, we weren’t trying for a girl. In fact, if we were graced with another baby (I’m a bit old now), I would be happy with either. My husband and I have received both good and bad reactions from people when we are all out together and sometimes it is really hard to smile and say nothing. I remember at lady next to me at the deli counter at woollies looked at my 4 little ones with me one day and said “how ridiculous”. I turned to her and said the older 2 are at school. She nearly had a heart attack! Also the amount of times people have said “don’t you own a tv?” Is astronomical. My husband came up with a great reply “yeah but we’ve just got to stop watching so much porn.” It shut people up pretty quickly.
    I feel extremely blessed to have the family I’ve been given. Do do my friends who have decided not to have children, or who chose to have even one. No one should judge the situation of others. I especially feel deeply for my friends who are trying to have children and it is not happening for them. I see their suffering and pain. Let us just love and respect each other and the world will be a better place.
    And I reckon “boys rule!”

  13. I have 5 kids (3 girls and 2 boys) and have heard all sorts of idiotic things, mostly from family. One of the rudest, though, was when #4 was about 1 and we were out shopping together. The older kids were around 7, 6 and 5. Some woman came up and commented on how cute the kids were then she asked, “are they all your husband’s?” I was like WTF? She was really kind of shocked to find out that I had been married to the same man for seven years, they were all his and that I was offended by her question. Who says shit like that to strangers? I’m pretty sure she sputtered something stupid about birth control or handling my kids since the oldest was throwing a tantrum (she has behavior issues/mental illness) which we were handling.

  14. I have two girls and I’m pregnant with a boy. I’ve always wanted three, so I should be thrilled, and I am. Except I’m poor. My husband, children, and I live with my parents. This is of course the norm nearly everywhere else in the world, but a clear mark of failure in our society. We’re poor, even though we work. My children were unplanned, right through different types of birth control, and PCOS, but they happened- something I often feel obliged to explain. My successful older sisters haven’t been able to have children. There is so much judgement about my having kids, in public and within my family. The looks when I take out my WIC checks, the not-subtle glances and raised eyebrows at my belly, my two girls. The turned shoulders of the affluent parents at preschool drop off. I wonder what it’s like for couples who get to choose to have kids, who feel they have a right to procreate. Have they met some kind of invisible standard in our society? Does their microculture of neighborhood, family, religion, etc empower them to feel innately deserving of children? I’m blessed with two bright, beautiful, challenging daughters and the mystery of a son on the way. How the fuck is this any of your business?

  15. I had one son. I got the typical comments described in the article from relatives and strangers alike. In November of 2015 he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died in my arms in November of 2016- he was three years old.

    As if that wasn’t traumatizing enough, I now get the “Do you and your husband have kids?” from people we don’t know. If I answer yes, that I had a son, it goes one of two ways. The first way: “Had? You ‘had’ a son?” and then I feel obligated to tell them what happened. They then ask if we plan on having another child. The second way: They ask where he is or how old he is. Again, I’m left there reliving my worst goddamn nightmare to a stranger who can’t mind their own business. If I answer no, I don’t have kids, I get “Do you want kids?” and I have to stop myself from screaming “Yes I want kids! I want my son back!” but then I’d be hauled off to the psych ward for losing my shit because a stranger cannot mind their own business.

    A few months before he died, we took him to Wal-Mart to pick out toys- whatever he wanted. The cashier asked if he was an only child and then pressed on with “oh, it must be your birthday”. I said it wasn’t and she replied “Well you’re certainly spoiled, aren’t you? It looks like you get whatever you want” in a disgusted tone. I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to tell her my son was dying. But he was there, and I couldn’t do that in front of him. I couldn’t say those words in front of him. So I held it together until I got home and my son took at nap. Then I lost my shit.

    The road to he’ll is paved with ‘good intentions’ and frankly I don’t care if the people asking these questions have good intentions or are “just trying to be polite” (don’t ask). I. Don’t. Care. There are too many people in this world that have burried their children. There are too many that can’t have children. And there are too many out there whose children are fighting terrible, deadly diseases.

    People need to mind their own business because your intrusive questions could very well be ripping the insides out of the person you’re being inappropriate to.

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