It’s not unusual for strangers to approach us when we’re all out and about together and ask, “How many are there?!”
We assume they are referring to the children and not to the grey hairs that are growing forth and multiplying on my head. So we tell them, and prepare ourselves for the next questions that we know usually follow. We know that questions will follow and we normally know which questions they’ll be because almost everyone asks the same things.
Now this isn’t a post on the different questions and answers we get but about how we react to them. I know of other large families who complain about being asked the same questions, or indeed any questions about the size of their family and see if they can come up with the wittiest or rudest brush off. When I hear these stories I wonder, is that really the impression you want to give?
We don’t mind the questions as we realise a lot of the time they just stem from a natural curiosity. You don’t often see families with more than two or three children any more. When the numbers get higher and the family looks bigger you’re going to get noticed more. When you are aware that you’re noticed more and get more attention, either direct or indirect, you start to work on things a little more.
To begin with, make sure your kids know that people are watching how they behave. Once that’s been made clear you might also want to tell them that so help them they’d better be behaving well! And most of the time (thankfully) they do.
Another thing we try to do is to make sure they look presentable. Now we have lots of boys who are active and rough and like to slide around on the floors on their knees. It doesn’t matter to them if their trousers are new – all that means is that they can skid faster across the kitchen. Most trousers have holes in them. Unless we’re talking about Sid, who has holes in most of his clothes due to an uncontrollable urge to chew…. everything. When we go someplace though, I like to make sure they wear something at least half decent. And have their hair combed smartly. Sometimes it’s difficult but I really don’t want them to look like urchins when we’re out somewhere. Just don’t expect the same if you knock on my door unexpectedly.
What’s the point of making sure they’re well behaved and presentable if, when we, the parents, are asked a question out of curiosity but fail to answer politely?
I can’t think of a single time we’ve been spoken to rudely or had anyone be unkind to us due to our family size. If we have it obviously didn’t affect me too much to warrant remembering it. We certainly don’t get defensive when somebody asks if we’re having any more or if we know what causes it. Why would we take offense? Life is too short and it’s an ideal time to encourage children as a positive rather than a hindrance (although granted, it’s not always easy and they have a knack of driving you around the bend with the minimum effort).
So what if we’ve heard the same questions 1,342 times before. It’s the first time for that person, normally a stranger, to say it. We’re unlikely to see them again. Will it kill us to humour them or just politely answer them? No, it won’t. The bonus is that if you do happen to see you again they’ll almost always remember you and be happy to see you again. You might find you’ve been mentioned to a friend of theirs and it’s not unusual to hear the words “Here’s that family I was telling you about!”. I know I’d rather have my family remembered in a positive light than a bunch of loudmouths in holey clothes. (Again, if you knock on my door unexpectedly…).
If we are trying to show the world large families in a positive light it isn’t just how we look or how we act but also how we answer the questions. Sometimes a little courtesy goes further than you think.