The Thinking 

When Having a Child Elicits Sniping Comments

August 30, 2012


SUZANNE writes:

My husband and I are happy to be expecting our fourth child in seven years of marriage. Unfortunately, I rather dread telling most of my family members. We are Protestant, and the idea of “openness to life” has not been embraced for at least three generations, as far as I call tell. I wonder if you or any of your readers have clever answers to the questions I am sure to receive such as, “Oh no! What are you going to do?,” “You’re not having anymore after this, are you?!” and the ever popular, “You DO know how that happens, right?”

I would appreciate the suggestions.

Laura writes:


Please don’t respond to rudeness with a clever line.

Anyone who suggests, even jokingly, to a pregnant woman that her having another child is weird or excessive is not just rude and stupid, but cruel. Such comments are often motivated by envy, but you don’t need to feel sympathy toward someone who is envious.

I suggest you say, “A simple congratulations is all that is needed.”

Or if someone says, “Oh no, what are you going to do?” You might say, “What do you mean, ‘What am I going to do?’ I’m going to do exactly what I did with my first three children, and what I’ll do with any other children I am fortunate enough to have.”

If someone asks with horror if you’re going to have more, just say, “I’d love to. The greatest gift I can give my children is siblings. After all, it’s not just about me, you know.”

Or respond to insensitive comments with silence.

Needless to say, what you are experiencing could only happen in a culture bent on self-destruction.

—- Comments —-

Joe Long writes:

My wife, although refraining from unleashing retorts in those situations, saves up the unsaid replies for our amusement, later. She is particularly annoyed with the supercillious, “Your hands are certainly full!” – but hasn’t yet responded with, “Yes, and yours are sadly empty.” She has also, so far, kept herself from making remarks about “having enough to pay YOUR Social Security.”

We are a five-child family in a Southern Protestant millieu. Many of our friends are midsized homeschooling families like our own, but the default cultural setting among most others is quite evident. “You do know what causes that?!’ is the most prevalent tired pseudowitticism by far; frankly someone really OUGHT to reply with a smile and the accurate expletive, just once – I have a feeling a single such incident might shut down that meme nationwide.

A male may expect (I received!) jokes about vasectomy; quiet unsolicited endorsements of vasectomy; and female work acquaintances publicly recommending vasectomy. Feminists and surgically-altered males both seem to want apologies for your virility, at the very least. I was even cajoled by an acquaintance who reported that not only was the surgery painless, he was pampered and given ice cream by his wife for days – it sounded like a gradeschooler parroting a kindly pediatrician’s explanation of the upside of a tonsilectomy.

Mrs. H. writes:

My husband and I have four (five next April!) in six years of marriage. I’m sure many people think we are crazy, but we move in homeschooling circles where people start raising their eyebrows at seven kids, not three. For some reason, six is the respectable amount.

I don’t mind anymore being the brunt of jokes, as long as they are in good humor. Fourteen to twenty months between babies is pretty frequent, and I understand we have an unusual “lifestyle.” If the jokes are in good humor, sometimes I reply with a joke (once I used “we like sex” on a really good friend when she–in good humor–questioned our propriety, but I would never say something like that in mixed company or to an acquaintance). To rude folks I just smile and respond appropriately and politely. In my experience, most people who are rude do not mean to be. They are simply surprised at the amount of children surrounding me, and my young age, and can’t keep their mouths’ shut. I really do not think they mean to insult. Falling back on “do you know what causes that”, or “you’ve got your hands full” are just stock phrases to comment on my situation–small talk. Usually it leads to a pleasant conversation, such as a fond memory of some large family they knew, or the revelation that they themselves had 8 kids.

Two good family friends, with 8 and 9 kids each, joke that we will surpass them!

As for rude relatives (something I am happy not to have), they will forget their disapproval once the baby comes, and no one will ever remember life without baby Anastasia or baby Paul. Unfortunately, being pregnant AND having four other little ones is somehow more “shameful” and irresponsible than not being pregnant and having five.

What irritates me more than thoughtless comments about my family are the thoughtless, completely inappropriate announcements about getting “fixed” or “tubes tied,” or how many kids an engaged couple “plan” to have.

And fertile folks should be cautious about always assuming the family with only two to three kids have contracepted. Barrenness is a cross made even more painful by our child-hating culture, and couples “open to life” should be very sensitive in how they judge their fellow Christians.

SJF, who is a man, writes:

We have six children under the age of 12 and often receive obnoxious comments when in public. Here are some of our responses, depending on the circumstances:

1. Are those all your kids? Answer: Yes, we have a great sex life! Alternatively, once, when taking one of my kids to the bathroom in a restaurant, some guy yelled, “Man, you’ve got a lot of kids!” And I said, “What do you expect, my wife can’t keep her hands off me!” And everyone in earshot laughed. He looked foolish, and shut up.

2. Are those all your kids? Answer: No, the other six are at home.

3. Are those all your kids? Answer: Yes, someone is going to have to work and pay taxes for your Obamacare.

4. Don’t you know what causes that? Answer: Yes, and we practice as often as possible.

5. Wow, you have your hands full! Answer: Better full than empty. (When we say that, the person initially is shocked, but then agrees.)(We actually heard this from an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister just before he administered Communion to my wife, which is reason #239033 that we now never receive from anyone other than a priest.)

6. Are you going to have more? Answer: We’re working on it as often as possible!

We find that responding with humor is the best approach, although we often fail. (Once, I just responded, “Because we love white people, and want more of them in the world.” Not my finest hour, but it did shut them up.) The comments and the looks can be really annoying, especially in Boulder or in Whole Foods. What is most distressing is that our oldest children have picked up on the comments and the looks. We also make a practice of dining out once a month, and whenever we go out in public, even to the store, the boys are in colored shirts and my daughter dresses nicely. We feel we are held to a higher standard, and the kids know it.

I will say that we often get compliments on the children and their behavior, so I try to keep that in mind.

Anyway, we win in the end – the other side is contracepting and aborting themselves out of existence.

Laura writes:

SJF’s quips are a riot.

By the way, when I said cleverness was not appropriate, I was thinking in terms of friends and relatives who are told the news. Jokes are fine with strangers, but I think with friends and relatives, one shouldn’t take disparaging comments lightly.

Laura adds:

SJF wrote:

We actually heard this from an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister just before he administered Communion to my wife…

Stunning. Even a consecrated Eucharistic minister of the Catholic Church, which prohibits artificial birth control, sees a large family as weird.

Karen I. writes:

A very smart person once told me about that an effective way to quickly deflect rude comments is to repeat back to the person whatever it was they said to you, in the form of a question. For example, when someone says to a woman who is expecting a baby, “You DO know how that happens, right?” she should look right back at him and say “Did you really just ask me if I know how babies are made?” This is a good approach for the woman who is expecting to take because she can plan ahead of time to use this manner of responding to all the rude comments that may come her way, rather than trying to come up with separate responses every time, which can be hard to do and which can drain her energy. It is also a good way for housewives to respond to a lot of rude questions. The way of responding that I suggested forces the idiots who make such comments to “own” them without stooping to their level and can even allow for a fast exit if the woman simply asks the question and walks away before they can answer.

I also think the good old-fashioned “none of your business” reply is very effective. It is so unexpected these days that it can stop rude people in their tracks, but it would have been a standard response to rude questions not long ago. Unfortunately, Oprah and our culture of over-sharing has made many people think they have to discuss or defend every aspect of their life with even the rudest people. Just because someone asks you a question, does not mean you owe them an answer. Once I realized that, life became much easier for me. I think women have a harder time with this than men, who are naturally more assertive. I also think younger people have more trouble with this than older ones, who still remember our grandparents being much more private and polite than what we see today.

Lynn from Topeka, Kansas writes:

This posting has been enlightening to me.

I thought I was the only person from a conservative, so-called “Christian” Protestant family who had to put up with these comments. I have four children.  When I had number three, and especially, number four, people in my family would ask me, “Do you know what causes that?”  My aunt and her son (my cousin) were the worst offenders in this area.  I don’t know why, but even back then I felt those comments would come back to haunt them.  This month, it has;  My aunt has two sons and only the male cousin I mentioned earlier has had any children at all. He only had two.  One month ago he found out one of his two children, his beloved son, had a very aggressive form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His son is only 20 years old.  The whole family is shattered.  I remember thinking years ago when he was making fun of me for having “so many kids”  what in the world would happen to him if he lost one of his kids.  I hope even now we don’t get the ominous answer to that question.  Pray for his son.

As far as the Social Security quip, I definitely say that to strangers who feel the need to comment on the number of children I have.  It stops them dead in their tracks.

John G. writes:

As the father of 11 children, I have found that my wife receives more unkind feedback while somehow people sense not to say things to me — not because I’m threatening or hostile, quite the opposite, I always eagerly await such comments as a way to initiate a discussion of life issues, but I’m generally disappointed.

St. Peter might have had such situations in mind when he wrote his first letter. Chapter Three starts off with the famous section about wives being subject to their husbands, and then seems to segue naturally into a discussion of what our response should be when unkind things are said about us because we are Christians:

[9] Not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing: for unto this are you called, that you may inherit a blessing.

[10] For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile.

[14] But if also you suffer any thing for justice’ sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled.

[15] But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.

So in real life, how are we to be always ready to give an answer as St. Peter tells us? Jesus tells us, “The words that come out of a man’s mouth are the overflowing of his heart.”

If our hearts are in the right place, then the words will come naturally. If we are joyful and grateful to God for the life with which he has blessed us, then our words, as well as our demeanor, will reflect that. But if we are angry, defensive and not really happy about the new life, then whatever snappy or sarcastic response we provide will reflect those sentiments in our hearts.

The scene of the “Visitation” gives us a good example of two expectant mothers — both of whom had plenty to suffer from the opinions of family members and acquaintances — and how they speak when their hearts are truly full of joy and gratitude:

[41] And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

[42] And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

[43] And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

[44] For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

[45] And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

[46] And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord.

[47] And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

[48] Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

[49] Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.

[50] And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.

Laura writes:

So true. Everything John G. has said is just right. This is worth repeating:

If our hearts are in the right place, then the words will come naturally. If we are joyful and grateful to God for the life with which he has blessed us, then our words, as well as our demeanor, will reflect that. But if we are angry, defensive and not really happy about the new life, then whatever snappy or sarcastic response we provide will reflect those sentiments in our hearts.

The scene of the “Visitation” gives us a good example of two expectant mothers — both of whom had plenty to suffer from the opinions of family members and acquaintances — and how they speak when their hearts are truly full of joy and gratitude.

One should not focus on clever statements, but on the inner reality. Our words will reflect our minds and hearts.

The most important thing is not how others view Suzanne, but how she views this great moment in her life.

Sheila C. writes:

It’s truly depressing to read of so many rude, thoughtless, nosy, brainwashed people bemoaning the fertility of white Christians (I guarantee they’d never make such comments to a black welfare mother of multiple offspring). I, on the other hand, go out of my way to compliment white mothers with young children – precisely because they are in the minority, and precisely because they get so little understanding and praise. I make it a point to smile at their little ones, or help keep them amused in the checkout line. I always commend the woman on her children’s behavior (unless it’s truly atrocious) and tell her how wonderful it is to see so many lovely, happy children. The mothers’ grateful smiles are such blessings to me – it’s obvious they’ve been criticized often enough in public that they never expect to hear compliments or praise of their large families. It’s far too easy to get impatient (which I often am), but I’ve found I reap a huge reward by making such a small but significant effort. As I said, I think it makes the mothers’ days, and it certainly makes mine as well.

Terry Morris writes:

Annette and I have had eight children, seven still at home, during the course of twenty six years of marriage. Such as what Suzanne is dealing with began after our third child, so it’s certainly nothing new with us.

It’s important that Suzanne and her husband learn to deal appropriately with this now. In the not-too-distant future there’ll be a whole new set of “concerns” unleashed. For instance, Suzanne’s health. Trusting God is not very popular these days, if you catch my drift.

Not that I’d recommend it in every circumstance, but in our particular case simply keeping a pregnancy private (within a very exclusive circle) has been a very useful “preventative” tool. Think: “No news is good news.” But this approach takes an extraordinary amount of self-discipline to pull off – the kind of  discipline that only people like the contributors to this thread shall ever attain – for starters. And that’s just for starters.

I could add much more, but most of the best responses have already been covered. I will say that I almost always lay the primary blame at my wife’s feet – I’m so very irresistible, she simply cannot keep her hands off of me.

Congratulations to Suzanne’s family. I’m glad she didn’t say “We’re pregnant.”

Sunshine Mary writes:

I can relate to the comments following your post “When Having a Child Elicits Sniping Comments”; we have received criticism from both acquaintances and random strangers for not following the “one and done” or “two and through” model. It is interesting that criticism is launched at loving parents of large families, but praise and admiration is heaped on German father Nils Pickert, who encourages his five-year-old son to wear dresses and who wears skirts himself in order to “support” his son. I have written about this sad excuse for a father on my own site , but you can also read the original article on Gawker.

Laura C. writes:

My second child is now six months old, and when we announced we were expecting her to my husband’s mother and stepfather they had a most delightful response:

“Is this a good thing?”

Of course, the only other person in this family bearing children is a half-sister of my husband (he has no full siblings, only two steps and the half) who gets pregnant unintentionally with men that she spends a great deal of her time complaining about.–leaving, then getting back together. She just had her third (all girls, another point of complaint for her and her current baby-daddy) and had her “tubes” tied so she can’t have anymore “accidents.”

So we actually had to explain that yes, we had gotten pregnant intentionally. For baby #2.

It is times like these that, although I am not part of any particular religion, I am grateful I was raised by a loving LDS (Mormon) family that welcomes babies with open arms–except my atheist brothers, who think we are all insane. I ascribe this to the fact that they have no children of their own and haven’t experienced the joy of pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing. As for me? I enjoy all of those things and will miss it when my ability to become pregnant and bear beautiful babies comes to an end. Listening to my half-sister-in-law complain at every stage of pregnancy and parenthood can feel very difficult, but I have gained an incredible amount of patience and ability to hold my tongue. I also have the benefit of a loving husband who takes after his paternal family, rather than his maternal which –ironically, perhaps– is not very maternal at all.

Bill and Misty Henry write:

Thanks for your post on full quivers. My wife and I have four children. She is 39 and I am 50. Our youngest is two. People ask me when I plan on getting “fixed.” I just say, “Fixed”??? Obviously nothing is broken.”

And in response to the ubiquitous, “You do know what causes that dont you?,” my response has been, “Yes, I do… but my wife and I actually put it into play instead of wishing about it….” They usually get mad and leave me alone…

Since when has virility in men and fertility in women found so much scorn???

James P. writes:

Ironically enough, many of those who make “clever” remarks about other people having “too many” children suffer great heartache and expense trying to have even one child (or the “proper” second and final child) because they postponed the process until it was too late. Often they fail and are left with nothing but pain.

Buck writes:

This is new to me; a form of modern liberal bigotry that I have never noticed. Most of us will take our turn at being the idiot, but this never occurred to me. Which is it; do these anti-birthers feel threatened or offended?

There is something else that I must say. I immediately felt uncomfortable with Lynn from Topeka’s sad story about her aunt’s son and twenty year old grandson. It doesn’t feel right that there is a thought of a link between the life-threatening cancer being suffered by the grandson and the history of ignorant and offensive comments by his father and his grandmother.

Laura writes:

I think it is fair to assume that some feel genuinely offended and repulsed by large families because their lives are built around completely different values.

As far as Lynn’s story, I don’t think she implied that her relatives were being punished for their remarks. She said she had a feeling that they would regret them, or be haunted by them, and now they probably are. I don’t think she was at all relishing the sad turn of events.

Buck writes:

I hope that I’m not being too tedious and making too fine a point about this, but, it’s stuck in my teeth.

I have to say importantly, that I never thought that Lynn relished any of this; just the opposite. I’ll speculate that she feared it, and that she believed that what the aunt and son thought and said would lead to no good, and that that is why she so lamented it. I believe that she believes that they are linked somehow; their words to a consequence, and that she may believe that the world may work that way. If, without any necessary proof, we simply considered that, by her own words, she has long considered it and has now uttered the thought: she writes:

“I don’t know why, but even back then I felt those comments would come back to haunt them. This month, it has; … “

To be haunted is to be repeatedly visited by thoughts or visions that you don’t like, don’t want and can’t avoid. For the aunt and son to be haunted by their offensive comments to her, if they are, it can only be a form of punishment or retribution brought as a direct result of their words, or by guilt, regret or remorse. What else could it be?

(I may be over-thinking this for a lame reason. Lately, I’m haunted by uncomfortable dreams that wake me in the morning. I’m sure that it’s partly because I can’t sleep deeply like I used to, since I’m less active.) Isn’t it guilt and regret and fear that cause bad dreams?

Lynn may believe in a some form of karma. If contraception is a sin, what would be the Catholic response to a Protestant’s thoughts about some form of Christian karma or punishment being visited against a sinner?

Is there any way that you could imagine God visiting a punishment on these people, even if it was just to haunt them with the thought that it could be God’s will that the grandson suffer, even though God did not put that cancer into their grandson?

 Laura writes:

I assume Lynn meant “haunted” in the sense that she sensed they would feel sorrow later in life for not having more children, not that they would be punished with the premature death of their son or some other grave calamity. Premature death of children was much more common before artificial contraception was common. People who have never used contraception and have welcomed children into their lives experience cancer and terrible suffering.

 It’s simply wrong to presume divine punishment. The point is, they took for granted their power to conceive. They would still be terribly grieved to lose that son even if they had many other children.

Lynn writes:

It is simply appalling to me that anyone could ever imagine that I would wish for my cousin’s son to have something bad happen to him over remarks his father made more than a decade ago. I love his son and have watched him grow up over the years. I am scared, saddened, and distraught by what has befallen him. I have been one of my cousin’s biggest supporters through all this. By saying that I was worried that those comments might come back to haunt him was simply a reflection of reality. His child could get cancer, get in a car accident, or suffer a debilitating illness of some sort leaving him with only one child. It does NOT in any sense mitigate the fact that even if you have four, eight, or twelve children that each one’s loss would be unique and incredibly painful. In essence, what it would mean is he only had one child left and that would be even sadder in my opinion; for him, for his son’s mother, for his sister, and the grandparents who would only have one grandchild remaining. I am pulling for my cousin and his beautiful, talented son. God is working as we speak and I trust and pray that his life will be spared. As I said in my earlier comments, our whole family is “shattered” by the news.

Laura writes:

Of course.

As Buck clarified, he did not mean to say that you were gloating over the news. He was wondering if such a thing would be viewed as divine punishment.

Buck writes:

I just saw Lynn’s response. I feel terrible. In no way did I ever think or realize that I could be seen as implying that Lynn “wished” for or intended that anything bad happen. The nature of my obviously clumsy and ambiguous commenting was in a spirit of inquiry; one that I should not have linked to Lynn and her family. I sincerely apologize to Lynn.

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