Any given Monday you often will find me with my four kids doing our thing at the grocery store. I usually have my one-year-old strapped to me in a babycarrier, my three-year-old riding in the cart, and my older two walking beside me if they aren't in school. You'll find me with my phone calculator and list out (we've got to stay on budget, ya know!), studying the rows before me, determining the best price and reading labels. As I'm struggling between the delicate multitasking balance of shopping with the toddler trying to climb her way out of the straps or my son attempting to roll the cart away ... it happens. A stranger walks by and notices my crew. Not just my crew, but me, this petite woman with four kids surrounding her.
I understand the comments, I do. If you glance behind this screen you will see a short four foot ten and half inches 20-something woman whose face still looks like a teenager. Maybe they are just in awe that my tiny frame created these four beings. I love to blow people's minds with that fact. Just think if I told them I actually have 5 if you include my birth daughter. Maybe they truly find joy in seeing kids with their momma and them behaving (as much as they can). Maybe they are just curious, but either way I often feel judged. I was only 18 when I had my first daughter that I parented and at times the comments would sting as I felt judged by my unplanned pregnancy.
There was one time I was browsing my choice in whole chickens when an older lady approached me. One of my littles was clearly done with this shopping trip and voicing their opinion from the cart when the lady said, “Where is your Mom?” Ha! I told her I am the mom. She apologized, of course, and I smiled trying to ease her embarrassment. I get this all the time. But no, I am not the babysitter or the big sister. I am their mother. All four of them are proudly mine!
If I could get even a penny for every comment we get while we are out, I would be rich by now. Every single trip out of the house equates with at least one, “My, you have your hands full!” or “You sure have a lot of helpers!” and I especially love, “Are they all yours?” Eventually I bought a bag that says just that, “Yes, They Are All Mine.” Maybe it will answer their question without having to comment. Probably not, but I'm hoping it will at least lessen the remarks.
It isn't just me — I know. I asked some fellow mommas what comments they hear often or the craziest thing someone has said. It made me feel blessed I haven't had super negative comments (so far), just annoying ones. Friends with 3, 4, even 8 kids receive comments like, “You know where they come from, right?” or, “So you don't have cable?” and even, “You need a hobby,” as if we have too much time on our hands (oh, how laughable that is!). One family with four girls and expecting their fifth any day received the comment, “That one better be a boy!” as he passed by and pointed to her pregnant belly. Do people ever think about how the comments make the parents feel, or even the kids who are listening nearby? Negative comments like this devalue the gift that they are and, if they don't have thick skin, may even place shame upon them. We don't get to pick whether we have boys or girls, we accept each one with what they bring to the family table in life.
It doesn't matter how many kids you have, every parent gets these remarks. When we had just two — a boy and a girl — people said we could stop now that we had one of both. A friend I know has one child, and not by choice. People are constantly asking her when they will try for another, but what they don't know is their words bring a sting of the reminder of infertility. We don't know what other people are facing, so let's not assume we do.
Fellow shoppers — I beg you to please think before you speak. Just don't comment. We've heard it all before, and quite frankly we don't want to hear your opinion on the size of our family or the genders that make it up. Each child is a gift and, truly, it is none of your business if we have only one or eighteen. It isn't your say on when we should try for more or stop!
If you really can't keep a comment to yourself and want to make a friendly conversation, let it be just that — friendly. Let it be a kind encouragement. Being a mom is the hardest work we've ever done. It is rewarding, but challenging. Let us lift each other up instead of making idle comments or judging us. The best comment I ever had in my nine years of parenting was when my then-two-year-old was throwing yet another fit in the cart. I'm pretty sure goldfish were being flung everywhere. I was nearing the edge of my patience meter going off the charts when a sweet lady walked by and simply said, “You are doing a great job” with a genuine smile. That is what we need to hear! Even when our kids are clearly not behaving as we hope, we need that encouragement. It was just enough to help me take a breath, keep my cool, and be strong in my parenting battle of the moment.
If you must comment, try these instead:
- You are doing a great job.
- You have a beautiful family.
- Hang in there, momma. You are doing good.
- I grew up in a big family and loved it!
- You must be a good mom, you're managing everything quite well!
- Watching you love on them is beautiful to see.
Be that kind of stranger. Speak life and build people up instead of tearing down.