Dear strangers, please stop telling my three kids they’re hard work

Family life

Dear lady in the coffee shop,

I was touched when you told my children how lovely they were. What mother doesn’t like it when a kind stranger tells her how gorgeous and charming her offspring are? I think they are too, but then I’m definitely biased. I was happy to tell you how old they were and what we’d been up to earlier in the day. I was happy to hear about your own children, who are now all grown up, and your desire one day for grandchildren. I hope it happens soon for you as I’m sure you’d be a wonderful granny.

You seemed like such a friendly, genuine lady and I enjoyed chatting to you. But then the next thing you said upset me. “I bet it’s hard work having three so close together,” you said with a knowing look. “You must have your hands full and your work cut out.”

My daughter looked confused. “Oh, we’re very lucky,” I smiled, holding her hand and giving my youngest baby a kiss. I changed the subject. I’m sure it wasn’t your intention to hurt me. I couldn’t say all this to you at the time in front f my children, but I hope it will help you to understand.

What I wanted to tell you was how upsetting I find comments like yours. You’re not the first, and you certainly won’t be the last. It happens a few times a week, in fact, and it has been happening ever since I announced my third pregnancy about a year ago. Almost every “congratulations” – other than from those who already had, or who hope to have, three or more – was followed by a “you’re mad” or a horrified “oh god, there’s absolutely no way I could have a third”, even from those close to us who knew we’d always hoped to have three children. At first I laughed it off. I know most people stop at one or two and bigger families are less common these days. But the more I heard it, the more it got to me. Why is having three such a bad thing? Fine if you don’t want any more, but I don’t tell you what a shame I think it is that you don’t want to expand your family because I accept your decision as being the right one for your family and your circumstances.

I found such comments hurtful enough when they were said just to me. But that was nothing compared to the metaphorical punch in the guts when people started saying such things in front of my children – my beautiful four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son who were beyond excited when they discovered they were going to have a new sibling.

A simple supermarket trip stands out in my mind. I was left with a tear in my eye when we bumped into an old acquaintance. She introduced us to her partner, who we had not met before, and told him our children’s names before adding with a shriek, “And this crazy lady is having a third.” It kept happening throughout my pregnancy. And then when our beautiful baby boy was born five months ago, it started happening more and more.

And so dear lady in the coffee shop, and the countless others who have said such things in my children’s presence. I know you probably don’t mean it maliciously and I know you probably think it’s said tongue-in-cheek, that you’re just making small talk, or that perhaps I am being sensitive.

But how do you think such remarks make my children feel? What do you think goes through their young impressionable minds when they hear someone tell their mummy – who they think is the best mummy in the world (not that they have much experience of life with any other mummy!) – that she is mad, or crazy, or out of her mind?

What do you think goes through their little heads when they hear someone saying that having three children is too much hard work? That they, and their baby brother, are too much of a handful? Do you worry, like I do, if it will shatter their innocence or leave them growing up with a complex that they have made their mummy crazy or are causing her too much work? What do you think they feel when they hear these comments every couple of days?

Yes, there are days that are hard work. Like yesterday when my teething baby cried every time I put him down so I could try to calm down his siblings who were fighting over some toy or other. Yes, there are days when I am counting down the minutes until my husband gets home from work and I can close my eyes for a moment and take a few deep breaths in pure and utter silence. But, judging by what my parent friends tell me, and from my own previous experiences as a mum of one and a mum of two, there are days like that no matter how many children you have.

I wish you could see my daughter and my son perched on the settee playing pirate ships together, or her helping him to put on his shoes, or the two of them bouncing around together on the trampoline, waving to their baby brother. I wish you could hear them singing to their baby brother and his whole body smiling with happiness, or his infectious laugh when they tickle his tummy. I wish that’s what people would comment on when they see our little gang. “Oh, how wonderful it must be to have a big family,” I want them to say. Or, “How lovely for them to have siblings so close in age and for them all to grow up together”. Because that’s how I see it. I’m not mad and I’m not crazy. I’m lucky and I’m blessed. I hope, dear lady in the coffee shop, you can see that now too.

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26 Comments to Dear strangers, please stop telling my three kids they’re hard work

  1. I have exactly the same when I take my 5yr old & my 14 month old twins out. “You’ve got your hands full” is the standard line everyone uses & asks how I cope. The worst is when someone told me they’d shoot themselves if they had twins – I don’t know why people think it’s acceptable to be so rude! x

    • Oh that’s an awful thing to say! Another friend with twins told me someone said something similarly hurtful to her. If people want to think it, that’s up to them, but you can’t say something like that to someone! It’s so rude! I always look at twin mummies and think wow, how special, what a lovely bond those children will have. X

  2. People don’t seem to realise how deeply a comment can affect someone, especially if you are receiving them regularly. Being a ‘young’ parents I often get little comments regarding my age, but after quite a few comments it starts to build up inside and get to me a bit.

    I think it’s lovely you have a family that you are happy with the size of, and that’s all that matters :)(

    • Thanks for taking the time to post a message. The odd comment is fine, it’s just when you hear it all the time, and they are said to your children too, that it becomes upsetting. Sorry to hear you experience it too. People shouldn’t judge. X

  3. Cathryn,
    I think you are brilliant for having 3 adorable, clever and receptive children! They are a joy to be around and I, as a mother of one, have great admiration for the wonderful job you are doing. Ignore the comments if you can and tell your lovely three that it’s just that the people saying things like that wouldn’t do such a great job as you are doing!
    Mel Xxx

  4. The best gift you can give a child is a sibling! I can imagine the laughter 3 bring as my two go crazy for each other. Friends with three say it’s no different to having two

  5. People really do say stuff without thinking. When we said we were expecting a 3rd people were downright rude, because ‘you already have one of each’!!!

    I have 4 – and someone asked recently how I coped with 4 kids and running a construction business – to which the 11 year old piped up ‘We have a nanny’…………………..

    • Ha ha! Yes, people really are quite rude about things that aren’t really any of their business. People said that to me too, about already having one of each. I think having a big family is wonderful x

  6. Cath Maddaford

    I completely agree. Having 4 children, 7 year old twins, a nearly 4 year old and a 2 year old, the number of people who told me I was crazy to have more after my twins was astounding. Do they not think we’ve thought through this decision? Yes, I appreciate having 4 children within 5 years of each other can seem incomprehensible to some, to me it was the perfect age gap. I am unfortunately waiting for the day my patience finally runs out with people who make the kind of comments you have stated and feel sorry for the person who gets to hear how I feel about their words!!

    • Well, I think having four children so close in age must be absolutely wonderful! People can be so rude though and don’t always think before they speak. I’m sorry to hear you have had to put up with so many comments. I would love to see the day you do lose your patience. I have to really bite my tongue some times!

  7. Great post. This is certainly something you hear A LOT as a mum of three. I’ve never actually been upset by it (and I don’t think my kids have either), but I can totally see why you would be. And, as you rightly say, we’re not allowed to comment on people only having one – because we know how rude and insensitive it is and we would never dream of doing that.

    • It’s funny how we all hear this all the time. As you say, I would never dream of questioning the number of children someone else has. I try to bite my tongue as much as I can though! X

  8. I am currently pregnant with my third and actually had a woman at the post office today tell me I need to stop having kids, how terrible it is for my health, and then proceeded to tell me in great detail about the birth control pill. She was literally pleading with me telling me how I “can’t do that anymore.” I was so shocked I couldn’t even defend myself. All of this was in front of my almost 4 year old son.

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Oh that’s awful! I can’t believe she was so rude and inappropriate to you – and in front of your little boy too! I hope you are okay now xx

      • Thanks for the response! I’ve had almost 24 hours to simmer down now and I’m still so bothered. I am happy to know that I am not alone in this though and there are plenty of other mommies that understand and have similar experiences! We all love our kids and know their value and that’s what matters 🙂

        • Cardiff Mummy Says

          It’s difficult not to let it upset you, but sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and put it out of your mind, and as you say, know how wonderful your children are. x

  9. Very good post. How true. Just read this today and I never thought how destructive these comments are (although I realise how much they annoyed me) We live in a little village so I get these types of comments all the time. Your right though, its all about the good times.

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      I don’t mind people asking about what life is like with three children, but it’s so upsetting when they tell me I’m crazy in front of my children. Glad you liked the post and thanks for your comment.

  10. Oh my goodness thank you so much for writing this. When I had my second child the first month was so difficult with her brother before he got used to things that I actually said this to people with big families and had never thought what offence it could cause. I genuinely was saying it because I was so impressed by anyone who had the strength and patience to raise more than two children was incredible! But you have made me realise what they were probably hearing! I’m sure that a lot of people who said it to you it was out of admiration for what you do in a strange way. I hope that helps and rest assured I won’t ever say it again!

  11. I have 4 children, eldest is 9 & youngest is 2. I have received comments like this for years now. The “you’ve got your hands full” & “Oh it must be hard work” doesn’t bothered me (I think because it is made with a good intention). I just smile & reply “Yes, it’s busy, my kids are great – wouldn’t change it for the world”. What bothers me are the “why so many kids” & “Are you insane” & “I hope you aren’t planning anymore”. These are the comments that trigger me. Also, the stares I get when getting on the bus/train or walk into a cafe etc with all my kids, the look on their faces say it all. I do think that people need to think first of how their comment may affect the recipient. Also, I think people should try & focus on the positives.

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Yes, it’s the rude comments that I find so difficult. As I said in the post, when people say I’m all kinds of crazy in front of my children who can hear exactly what is being said. It’s so thoughtless. I agree – focus on the positives! x

  12. Hammy2310

    I have the same age gaps with my kids and do get things said on a daily basis but to be honest, it doesn’t bother me at all! It’s not like it’s a lie, it is bloody hard work and sometimes I think we are dolally tap but I still love it!! 🙂

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