Refusing to live life on the defensive.
When you choose an unusual, even counter-cultural lifestyle, you become wearily accustomed to answering difficult questions posed by total strangers. It’s almost a weekly occurrence for me. I am, of course, talking about questions like “You’re finished having babies now, right? Don’t you know how expensive they are?”.
In the 15 seconds or so that a stranger is likely to give me to explain myself to her, I need to somehow find a way to:
- show that I am not too offended by her prying
- make it clear that she is prying
- explain my actual thoughts on the subject
- plant a seed of doubt in her mind about her assumptions.
I don’t often accomplish these goals, but they’re worthy ones, if I can manage it!
What I want to say is: Well, there’s no set price-tag on a baby, but I have a pretty good idea what you paid for those platinum highlights. Priorities, dear. All you need is right priorities.
Of course, this is not the kind of thing I say (usually). This happens often enough that I have a standard reply: “Oh, we’re very blessed. My husband is a good provider.“
I hope that sets just the right tone of “My, aren’t we nosy today? But thanks for asking!” without my actually having to ask just why that person thinks my finances are her business. The money question isn’t the only question I get, but it’s a good example.
My goal when this sort of thing happens is to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible without making too much of an ass of myself or hurting the other person (who is often unaware that he is making an ass of himself). I absolutely won’t spend my precious time trying to convert random people to my way of seeing things. Minds aren’t changed in the aisles of Wal-Mart, and I know it.
No matter what I say, I’m not going to get this person to open up to a whole new way of seeing the world in the short amount of time we have, so it’s easy to lose sight of my convictions and go for the cheap shot. I’ve got a rather short fuse, unfortunately, especially when I’m in a hurry.
While it is momentarily satisfying to come up with the perfect cutting remark, a defensive posture is almost never the best way to answer the questions and objections that fly around my head like so many gnats. So what if I can’t change that person’s mind? I can at least hope not to cement the stereotypes even further!
“Well, if I could just figure out how they get IN there, I’d be happy to stop them. How do you baby-proof your uterus, anyway?” sounds great in my head, but if actually say that, what have I accomplished? I’ve made myself look like a tired old nag, confirmed the other person’s opinion of my choices, and hurt a person’s feelings just to assuage my poor wittle hurt feewings.
Every Mother of Many (M.O.M) in the blogosphere has written about it before, so I really don’t need to do yet another blog post about why we prefer to grow our families naturally. There are so many diverse reasons that I wouldn’t dream of speaking for other families, anyway. But I do think that each one of us, regardless of our reasons for not limiting our happiness to the standard 2.1 kids, need to think carefully about the way we answer challenges, especially from strangers. If our choices are good for us, we ought to have confidence that they will be good for others, too. In spite of my snarky impulses, I prefer to try to change minds in whatever small way I can, rather than confirm prejudices.
It’s not always easy to remember that the person I’m talking to isn’t really trying to offend. I’m still smarting from the last time someone asked my husband, right in front of me and our kids, if he was a slow learner. While it is a little humorous to hear some random guy off the street ask my truly brilliant husband if he’s an idiot (picture a chihuahua nipping at the heels of a rottweiler), it is natural to be offended at these comments. For some reason, people feel free to say things like this to us over a mere four kids, when they’d never dream of being so rude to the bag-boy with 17 piercings in his face. Now that guy is a slow learner!
As usual, I digress. What I want to know is: Do you think we M.O.M.’s have a right to be offended when people are so startled by our children that they become rude? If we are right to be offended, are we right to show it? What should we do instead?