Dealing with (Rude) Questions Gracefully

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?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Alisha May 17, 2010, 4:53 pm

    I’m not a M.O.M., lol, although 3 seems like 30 some days, but I think it’s rude! I have asked, just out of curiosity because I wonder how ya’ll do it and seem to have everything together (I bow to you!!). I don’t think it’s any of their business, honestly. And it’s almost like asking about your privates in public! And the bag boy being so awful to your husband just makes me want to go bop him one myself. Good grief.

    I thought your replies were fine. It was enough to make them hush, and you didn’t lower yourself to a bad level in front of your kids. I commend you. 🙂 Lol, I was asked one time since mine were a little bit closer than people would like to have them *psh* “why we hadn’t figured out where they came from.” I told them “Well, we know where they came from and we like it!” See, you need commendation! 😀

    You could also tell them that you’re going to be well prepared with caretakers in your old age and ask what they’re going to do. I can be so snarky sometimes. Thank goodness you’re not!

    OK… gonna stop this comment now. I’ve already tried to about 3 times now.

  • Cindy May 17, 2010, 8:49 pm

    I don’t mind so much when people ask nicely, or say things like “you’ve got your hands full.” It’s the people who have to be smarty-pants about it that drive me nuts!

  • Vikki May 21, 2010, 10:01 pm

    I wholeheartedly sympathize, although I am in the opposite predicament. After being married 9 years with no children it becomes a challenge sometimes deflecting all of the intensely personal questions people so flippantly ask. The easiest way I have found to deflect unwanted personal questions is to use some kind of humor and then quickly change the subject. I had an exchange that went like this earlier in the week-

    Nosy person: “So howcome you don’t have any kids yet?”

    Me: “Well, see our yard isn’t big enough to have goats… Oh hey- did that person over there just wave at you?”

    I don’t think she was very keen on her animal nomenclature, though, so the whole thing was lost on her, but it gave me a great opportunity to get away. 🙂

  • carol May 25, 2010, 10:22 pm

    I realize that this is now several weeks old, but try as I might to let it go, I wanted to comment. First, sorry that people are asking you this. I usually just silently smile, but I think all the things that you wrote.

    The good news is that I have discovered a few things:
    1- these questions decrease as the kids get older. I have no idea why, but I have found that to be true.
    2- these questions are at their peak May-October and drop of dramatically for the remainder of the year (read:wealthy tourists think that this whole place is some kind of living muesum and that it is perfectly fine to ask questions with the goal of “understanding” local people)

  • Muthering Heights
    Twitter: MutheringHeight
    August 15, 2010, 10:28 pm

    Ha! Insulting me is one thing, but I may have to go before the Lord for a while if someone tries to insult my husband like that! 😛

  • Emily August 16, 2010, 5:34 am

    When responding to things like that I try to give them a light glance into my point of view without starting on an essay. I like to educate people, to make them wonder about their own convictions, without going all out into uninvited comments. For example if I were asked ‘dont you know how expensive they are’ I’d respond with something like ‘only as expensive as you make them’. If it’s a genuinly interested person, who asks for more infomation, I might list off cloth diapering and homemade baby food and hand me downs and all those other things, and if they dont care, I came up with a confident answer to satisfy both needs.

  • Lisa Joy April 1, 2012, 7:36 pm

    I also don’t see why so many people think that 4 is such a ridiculous number of kids! 🙂 We have received SO MANY comments, and sadly many of them from family, about our “overly large” family and our need to stop reproducing. When we announced that I was expecting our fourth (now 9 months old), my parents gave my husband condoms for Christmas. Subtle? Not so much. (They are also COMPLETELY against our decision to homeschool, so that makes things extra fun.) My husband and I are both very non-confrontational, and usually just try to quickly change the subject, but it really makes me angry! I just find it so refreshing to know that there are others out there that share our convictions, and that gives me the courage and encouragement to continue in God’s calling on our lives. 🙂 Thank you and God bless!

    • Cindy April 1, 2012, 9:06 pm

      Your comments, encourage me, Lisa Joy. Thank you! I have one family member who keeps telling me to stop having kids. I have no idea why. She seems to like them pretty well when they get here. 😉 I don’t get angry at people much anymore, but it does hurt very much to have people treat my younger kids as less necessary or less “worth it”, just because they go beyond the culturally normal number of kids. My number five is as fearfully and wonderfully made as my number one!

      Congratulations on your ridiculous number of children, Mama!

  • Chris May 20, 2013, 4:57 pm

    The only thing that would make it worse is if you had the spread in ages like we do. We have 4 that now range in age from 22 to 9.

    So the comments we got were nasty comments and looks about our oldest by people that assumed the youngest was HER child and not ours.

    And why is 4 such a large number? We have a family at church with 8 and had another family with 6, I believe.

  • Emily K May 21, 2013, 8:59 am

    I kind of like being asked-though sometimes when I only have one or two kids with me I will soften my answer and not give out any information that I actually have 5. I like to pretend I am normal as well.

    BUT, when I am out and about with all the kids, I like it when people ask me “are those all yours” or something like that, because I am proud that I am unusual I guess.

    The rude comments.. well.. whatever. An uncle of mine told my parents I needed a chastity belt and a friend of my husbands told him he needed to “keep it in his pants” and I do not get personally insulted when things like this are said. I just think that it is really sad that our society thinks there is something wrong with big families or babies in particular. So, I sometimes feel defensive about the importance of motherhood and my job and how awesome I think it is, but I rarely find myself personally offended.. just sad that this is the way it is. Babies are awesome! And they grow up. They don’t say little leeches (or whatever it is that people think they are) for very long. You were a baby once afterall. Do you see yourself as just another mouth to feed? Probably not.

    rant over.

    • Cindy May 21, 2013, 9:07 am

      Exactly. I did a Twitter search one time for Michelle Duggar for research, and one of the tweets I came up with was a lady (I use the term loosely), single, boobs hanging out in her profile pic, obviously not a chaste individual by her tweets. She says “That woman needs to close her legs and her husband needs to keep it in his pants.” Something tells me that that lady is not, herself, keeping her legs closed. What a sorry state we’re in where married people are told to stop having normal sex and fornication is nobody’s business but that of the fornicator! Ugh.

      I do find myself being offended for you, about the chastity belt thing, because married sex IS chaste, and holy, and they need to shut their pieholes and stop maligning your virtue. 😉