If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

By Melissa Stefanec

It happens at grocery stores, schools, department stores, restaurants, the workplace and just about any place parents frequent.

It starts out as small talk and then quickly devolves into something bigger. It may seem (or even be) well-meaning, but the people on the receiving end find it anything but.

I’m referring to unwanted observations regarding children.

All too often I see a parent doing something mundane such as shopping or eating when these observations about children strike. A bystander starts asking questions. Are there more of them? Are they girls or boys? What are their names? That’s often when the conversation takes a darker turn. Based on the responses people get to their seemingly benign questions, they digress into unwanted feedback.

“You have five kids! Four just wasn’t enough?” “All girls, huh? Those teenage years are going to be nightmare!” “All boys? Bet your house smells like a gym! At least boys always love their mothers. You can’t count on that with girls.” “You have all boys/girls? Don’t you wish you had a girl/boy?” “Duke? That’s usually a dog’s name.”

The list of unwanted, unsolicited and hurtful observations goes on. Some people try to pass these comments off as small talk or adages, but they don’t seem small or cliché to the parents and children on the receiving end of this banter. Chances are, the parents standing in line at the grocery store just want to buy juice boxes and snack crackers. They didn’t go shopping to have their reproductive choices heckled by the person ahead of them in line.

The next time you want to make an observation about someone’s winnings or losses in the genetic lottery, the number of times they procreated, what they chose to name those procreations or anything else related to their kids, please consider the following things before letting your remarks fly.

The golden rule

If you were dragging four young children through the grocery store and each of them were pulling at shelves from different angles, would you really want someone to remark on how full your hands were? When you have four children each begging for a different cereal, of course four seems like too much. You don’t need a stranger to rub that in your face. Parenting isn’t about the tough times, it’s about the beautiful ones, like when you get home and snuggle up for movie night with all four of those cereal-grubbing children.

Question your motives

When you want to remark on someone’s reproductive choices, what is your motive? If your motive is small talk, talk about the weather, the adorable shirt a child is wearing, how delicious the chips they are purchasing are or about the youthful energy the children bring to the atmosphere. Small talk shouldn’t make others feel small.

Never underestimate what you don’t know

What if that dad you are chatting with has all boys but wanted a little girl more than anything in this world? Asking him if he wanted a girl or telling him boys are easier and girls are troublesome as they age isn’t going to make things easier. Maybe the mom with a single child in tow wants nothing more than a second and a third. Is telling her that these people who have three or more kids are crazy going to help? That name you want to pick on or have a snarky reaction to might be the name of that parent’s beloved and deceased grandmother. Do you see where I am going with this? The list of things you don’t know about a stranger is near infinite, so don’t gamble with someone else’s emotions.

Who is winning?

When you make snarky or backhanded statements to total strangers, no one is winning, even if that stranger commiserates with you because he or she doesn’t have the energy to do anything else. When you put more negativity into the world and bring down a parent who is likely tired already, both of you lose.

Why not be positive?

The next time you find yourself wanting to make comments about someone’s reproductive choices, pump out some positivity. Tell that tired mom with four loud children how beautiful her family is. When you ask what that baby’s name is, tell the parent the name is perfect. When someone tells you they have four girls, tell them you always wished you had more sisters or daughters (even if that’s not really true). Because, if you are asking questions for any other reason than to react positively to a stranger, the least you can do is catch yourself and redirect. There’s enough negativity in the world; be a small talk trailblazer. That mom or dad that you are kind to might just walk out of that store and feel good.

In fact, they might just climb back in the car, look at their beautiful family, smile and enjoy the rest of their day.

It’s time to start recognizing that our acts, even those like small talk, set off chain reactions.