To those who talk about the number of other people’s children or grandchildren with the word just or only in front of that number: don’t do that. Perhaps without meaning to, you’re inferiorizing them. They’re not below people who have more kids. And the folks with no kids (“no, it’s just us”) are no worse than those with children. Nobody’s worth or value is not tied to the number of children or grandchildren they have. Or don’t have.
[I’m aware of the single people who struggle and say, “It’s just me (for now).” I hear you, and I believe you when you tell me about your experiences listening to how people talk of marriage. You have my support, and I promise I’m not ignoring you; this post focuses on my annoyance with conversations revolving around how many children people have.]
I’ve always flinched a little when people flaunt the high numbers of their progeny. Yes, the numbers are impressive, and it must be something to be surrounded by all that youthful energy and innocence. There probably is a bond within really big families I admit I don’t understand. And honestly, I celebrate your happiness; I rejoice in your joy. But then the conversation turns, and then you’re saying to me, “Oh, just one?” or about someone else, “They have only two grandkids.” Without outright saying it, the subtext to these statements is, “How sad for them.”
And it might be they are having a sad experience, but the context of our conversation compares the number of your kids/grandkids to the number of my kids/others’ grandkids, and that actual difference in those numbers defines sadness to you. That single aspect convinces me that you do not feel empathy, but pity.
We do not need your pity.
Pity allows you to go right back to bragging about how blessed your life is, implying how much more blessed you are, because you have more children/grandchildren. Pity helps you dismiss our situation with platitudes: “Oh, you’ll have more someday.” “You deserve more children!” “Trust in the Lord’s timeline.” And other similar, general statements.
Perhaps well-intended, but really not helpful. Actually judgmental, and dismissive of individual situations. Ultimately hurtful to people like me who may not have toughened up to this kind of talk. As challenging as it is to give birth, it can be just as challenging to conceive. Or to find a good way to adopt or foster. Or stand by a decision not to have children. Any of these, without feeling guilt or shame.
On the other hand, I have had good experiences where people have used sensitive language, specifically at the doctor’s office. It’s possible to use better words, and it really does make a difference to me in how relationships form. The effort tells me you understand the value of my child.
Then again, maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe I’ve put too many eggshells around me. Maybe I should learn to brush it off and be ok that people aren’t always going to understand my situation. But I want to be sure that my child understands she’s more than just one child, more than an only child.
Her understanding has to be a priority, so please disregard all the whining I did above.
Instead of complaining, feeling offended, and doing nothing, perhaps I can be a turning point to a heightened perspective in our culture/society, the presence my daughter needs me to be. For her. To help her understand her worth. To know she doesn’t have to listen to comparisons of others to her.
What I need to do more: When people ask how many children we have, or if we have children, I answer, “We have a daughter.” And if they say, “Just one?” I say, “Not ‘just.’ She’s really great.” She needs to hear that.
And I smile.
She needs to see that.
To feel it.
To know deep in her soul how much we love her.