On behalf of all families who are “different”

My family ate lunch at Wendy’s today, but we almost didn’t.  We almost left before we even sat down or ordered.  It wasn’t because of a problem with the restaurant, or one of our kids throwing a fit, or even that we forgot our money, although all of those things have happened in the past.  Today it was because of the other customers.

As soon as we walked in, we could feel eyes on us.  A quick glance around the room told me that at least three of the six or so occupied tables were actively staring at us.  I don’t mean they looked up at us as we walked in then went on eating.  I mean they stared at us, going so far as to put their food down and turn around in their chairs to continue watching us as we made our way to the only table in the restaurant big enough for our family of eight.  By the time we finally sat down, I felt so self-conscious and awkward that I seriously contemplated asking Clay if we could leave.  He had noticed it too, but we were hungry, and quite frankly, getting everyone out of the van and into a table at a restaurant is too big of a feat to not eat while we’re in there!  So we began asking the kids what they wanted, and as I finally braved another glance around the restaurant, I realized that they were still staring!!!  It was to the point that we were whispering to our children because we felt so “in the spotlight” and we didn’t want everyone hearing every word we were saying.  It was extremely awkward, to say the least.

Over the course of the meal, even our children noticed the people staring at us.  The ones who watched us come in finally left, but a couple of new tables were doing the same thing.  Adding to that, we were interrupted three different times by people stopping to talk to and touch Lydia.  One employee, who had stopped us twice, really got personal, asking us if we had wanted a big family (what if we hadn’t?  how would I have answered that while my children were listening?), if our kids did chores, how they liked school, and yes, made the always-present Duggar comparison.

Now, if this had been a one-time occurance, I probably would have chalked it up to a weird experience and moved on.  But sadly, it wasn’t a one-time occurance.  This happens to us all the time.  We were at Pizza Hut the other day, and were being stared at by the next table.  The lady finally stopped at our table and complimented our children’s behavior, which is always nice to hear, but then went on to ask if they were all mine and what were their ages, then gave the usual gasps and exclamations of disbelief that usually make me feel like an exhibit in a freak show.

So, I have finally reached the point of making a public plea, on behalf of all families who are “different.” I’m sure that parents of multiples, or parents who have adopted children of a different race or nationality can probably relate to everything I’m saying.  If you fit into this category of “different” and don’t resonate with what I’m saying, realize that you are probably an exception to the norm.  I’ve heard stories just like these from several friends and acquaintances.  Here are some things that we would like you to know:

*  It makes us very uncomfortable when people stare at us.  I’m sure everyone has had the sensation of feeling eyes on them even when they couldn’t see who was staring.  Imagine trying to enjoy a family meal, or finish a shopping trip or do anything out in public while knowing someone is watching your every move.  Maybe they are watching from amazement, maybe they’re appalled, maybe they’re critical or maybe they’re thinking complimentary thoughts toward us, but all we feel is the stares.  Please refrain from staring.  We know we stick out like a sore thumb, and you can’t help but notice us.  But please allow us the courtesy of not being on a stage when we just want to eat lunch with our kids.

*  Whatever you think of to ask or say regarding our family size (or whatever else makes a family “different”), we have heard it all before.  We usually try to answer you politely, but please realize that we are the protectors of this family that has amazed you or offended you or whatever, and we cringe when strangers make jokes or ask personal questions in front of our children.  Please stop to think about what you are saying before you say it, and allow us to keep the private logistics of family planning (“are you done or are you going to have more?”) from becoming public conversation.

*  Please remember that our children are people and deserve to be treated with respect.  Just because they are children doesn’t make it okay to say things like “that one sure is blonde” or “are those two twins” or “look at that one’s eyes.”  They are children, not zoo exhibits.  Our children feel uncomfortable when being assessed in such a way.  They have been known to ask us why someone is so rude after being subjected to such treatment.  Please show them some respect.

*  When you stop us to chat about our family, you are keeping us from accomplishing what we are trying to accomplish.  We appreciate when someone makes the effort to stop us and compliment us on our children’s behavior, and then leaves us alone.  This is usually a huge encouragement for us, and to be totally fair about today’s lunch, one lady who stopped did exactly that.  She stopped on her way out the door, mentioned that our children were very well-behaved, and then went on her way.  We were left encouraged and not irritated.  But when people stop to chat, ask intrusive questions, make joky comments and stay more than just a moment or two–even if they are being complimentary–it makes an already difficult task more difficult.  It is no small feat to do anything out in public with a family our size, even when the children are on their best behavior.  Anything we do is accompanied by chaos and complications, and this is multiplied when we are interrupted by strangers.  Again, the occasional kind word from someone who has enjoyed seeing a happy family is always appreciated.  But please realize that if you keep us occupied in your conversation for more than just a few moments, our children will eventually find a creative way to occupy themselves in the meantime, and this usually does not end well.  So help us out by keeping your comments encouraging and brief.

*  We really really don’t like it when you touch our children, or when you make comments about our babies crying or our toddlers misbehaving.  This one is actually on behalf of parents everywhere, whether they have one child or twenty.  Every person who stopped to look at Lydia today also touched her.  Now, she is my sixth child and I have mellowed out tremendously over the years, but I still don’t want strangers to touch my baby.  I don’t know you, I don’t know when you last had a cold or threw up or washed your hands.  I don’t know what you were doing right before you touched my baby.  And when you pet my older children, I don’t know if you have innocent motives or not.  That sounds harsh, but there it is.  Not to mention it’s another issue of respect–my children don’t like when strangers touch them.    And when our baby is crying or our 2-yr-old is whining, it is so hard to stay polite and kind when strangers insert themselves into the situation.  Even hearing “someone sure is mad” or “must be naptime” is enough to set our teeth on edge.  Please put yourself in our shoes and realize that we need to focus on our children without comments from the peanut gallery and give us some distance.

 

I have tried to keep from sounding snotty as I wrote this.  Public reaction is just part of having a family that is “different,” and for the most part we take it in stride.  All of us are tempted to do these things when a family catches our eye for whatever reason.  But, as I’ve said, my family is not alone in our plea.  I’ve heard from other moms of large families (“don’t you know what causes that?”) and adoptive moms (“where did you get your daughter from?”) in particular, who have expressed agreement with every one of these frustrations.  We probably have a sarcastic comeback that goes through our mind in answer to every comment we hear, but we will continue to do our best to be polite every time we go out in public and deal with these situations.  We would simply ask  you to stop and consider some of these issues the next time you come into contact with a family who is “different.”

 

 

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