Years ago, when my oldest son was only two years old and I was pregnant with my second baby, a former coworker asked me “what” I was having.
“A surprise,” I responded, assuming she meant the gender. “We don’t know yet.”
She smiled knowingly at me and responded, “Well, hopefully it’s a girl and then you can be done.”
Caught off guard by her comment and not one to ruffle feathers, I smiled in agreement with her and walked out of her office. But her comment stuck with me and I was perplexed. Is that how it’s supposed to work? I wondered. Is that how I am supposed to feel about having another baby?
Years later and now pregnant with my fifth baby, the commentary hasn’t stopped. At first I was taken aback by the comments–some loving and others, not-so-loving—flippantly made about our big, expanding family.
But the more I thought about it: the more it made sense. Despite the fact that my husband and I had organized our family planning along the lines of “wait and see,” as a society, we have become more used to organizing things into nice, neat boxes. So when someone wanders outside that realm, we become curious, mystified, and can often find it incomprehensible. Even something as tiny, unimportant, and totally not-your-business like someone else’s family size. My husband and I know we’re lucky. We know there are many couples out there that are aching for just one child. But just as one would never critique someone on their dearth of children, one should equally avoid criticizing another’s abundance. Because while I have mostly kept my mouth closed in response to the comments I’ve received, you never know when I just might actually say what I’m really thinking, such as…
You Know How That Happens, Right?
What I actually say: Every time (yes, there has been more than one occasion) I get asked this lame joke of a question, my knee-jerk response is to uncomfortably laugh and walk quickly away.
What I wish I could say: “Golly, no! Can you please enlighten me? My husband and I have been wondering what is happening. Do you have a chart? A diagram? Can you explain it to us?”
You Sure Have Your Hands Full There!
What I actually say: As long as you are saying this one while trying to hold the door open for the me pushing my kids in a double stroller, probably nothing but a nod and smile, because I literally do have my hands full.
What I wish I could say: “Technically, you’re right, but you should also know that phrase is old and cliché and I am internally rolling my eyes at you because I’ve honestly heard it a thousand times before.”
Are You Going to Move to a Bigger House?
What I actually say: Probably something along the lines of how much our kids love sharing a room.
What I wish I could say: Um, why should we? We’re also not only okay with the space we have but love the idea that our kids have to share rooms. Personally, we think it promotes sibling bonding and conflict resolution skills. (Even if that “conflict resolution” skill building can be loud and sometimes end in tears.) But we know that’s not for everyone. We’ll never be the family with the big house, new car, and yearly trips to Disney World and we’re okay with that, even if society isn’t.
Was This Planned?
What I actually say: Yes. And no. And yes again. I know people who have planned each of their pregnancies down to the tiniest detail and many, many more whose “plans” didn’t go their way. With our “let’s see what happens” non-plan, our 5th baby was planned just as much as our first, which means each one caught us by surprise and we went with it
What I wish I could say: “Hey, guess what? You don’t have to have everything planned out. You don’t have to have a ‘number’ set in your mind. And more so, babies can’t always be planned anyways, so this question needs to go.”
Are You Finally Done?
What I actually say: I stumble with this one every time, because I feel like there is a boldness and rudeness allowed in this question that isn’t given to other areas. I would never dare go up to a person eating in a restaurant and ask them if they were “finally done” with their meal. That’s just plain rude. And so is the same question directed at big families.
What I wish I could say: Done what? Looking at you funny?
What I actually say: It’s amazing how many times I have received this comment during this pregnancy, especially with the limited social interaction we’ve had since COVID. And even though it’s usually meant as a “joke” that I can easily shrug off, it’s still the comment that stings the most.
What I wish I could say: I’m sorry YOU feel that way. Yes, my life is hectic, and exhausting, and full of loud, noisy, and demanding little people whose laundry never ends and whose messes never cease. No, my life is not nearly as glamorous or exotic or organized as I imagined. But I’ve never been sorry about any of that and I never will be. Yes, there will be opportunities our family will be giving up due to our large brood. But there is also so much we are gaining because of it.
So if your first feeling is pity when you see a large family, you can take that sentiment elsewhere. We don’t need it. But I wouldn’t mind if you held the door open for my double stroller.
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