What to say when someone repeatedly brings up something you are aware of

               The average family size in America is around 2.5, and families with children average 2 children each.   For parents with more children than that, it is common to hear comments and opinions from others about their family size.   Most people are just curious, outspoken, or bored when they make comments about how busy a woman must be or how ignorant she must be to where babies come from.   Sometimes they are trying to tease (although this is impossible to determine in a stranger) and other times they are being genuinely complimentary.   Then there are people, such as restaurant or retail staff with whom one interacts many times in a setting, who keep bringing up the family’s size over and over again.

               Recently when I took my family to a local restaurant, the hostess, whose only duty it is to walk patrons to a table and possibly fetch menus, crayons, or child seats, commented three times on how many children we have.   Each time she said it she made eye contact with my husband and me as if to try to engage us in conversation (though she made statements, not asked questions) and each time became a little louder and more incredulous sounding.   I am probably reading too much into it to say that I think she may have been trying to elicit some kind of reaction from us.   If she was, I have no idea what it could have been:   a discussion of why we felt the need to procreate so extensively? how we are paying for all of them? whether or not we feel guilty of contributing to overpopulation?   Who knows.   At any rate, I kept wishing I could respond in some way to let her know that I accepted and acknowledged her opinion, but that I did not feel it appropriate conversation between a restaurant hostess and her patrons.   After all, we had chosen to take our business to that establishment for our rather large, hungry brood;   in terms of dollars and cents, you would think a restaurant employee would appreciate that.   But what was it about her behavior that was really bothering me?

               I suppose it was merely the fact that she felt the need to comment on our family size at all;   she did not comment on the family size of any other patrons, who were mostly sitting in groups of one to four, only ours.   And later I thought of what I could have said:  “Do you comment on all of your customers’ family sizes, or just the large ones?”   I would have said it with a smile and wink, of course, so that she knew I took no offense.   But hopefully she would have realized that there was simply no need for her to make repeated statements, as if she were baiting us, about something that we were already quite aware of. 😉

               One of the biggest problems that comes from trying to live a well-mannered life is deciding how much of the impolite or just plain thoughtless society around us we ought to be influencing.   I do not believe that I am responsible for others, nor that I am their teacher, but sometimes I wonder if people know how their words and actions come across.   So my philosophy is that if something bothers me about someone else’s behavior, and if I can think of a polite, off-handed way to bring it to their attention without embarrassing anyone or judging them, I think it is appropriate.   That has been the basis of my new “What to say when” series.   I would love to hear any examples from my readers of reactions or responses they have had that they felt were more in line with how a well-behaved, proper woman would react, and also how you decide whether or not to react in a particular situation.   (So I can steal all your ideas for my own life!   Ha!   Just kidding.   However, iron does sharpen iron.)

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6 thoughts on “What to say when someone repeatedly brings up something you are aware of

  1. I acknowledge that the comment was spoken but I don’t say anything about what was said. A simple “how kind of you to notice” will usually shut such observations down.

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      • Perhaps she was trying to make small talk and didn’t know what else to say. In that case I usually acknowledge that the person has spoken, “how kind of you to notice” then gently prompt the other person into speaking, “are you fond of children?”

        The trick is to respond both politely but also not with your own forward questioning. I try to ask yes or no questions that are easily expanded on. When asked about a fondness for children a woman can elaborate about her own, any future career ambitions in a child related field, younger siblings or anything she pleases.

        That’s what I try to do, feel free to use my ideas and make them your own.

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      • Thank you, I appreciate your sharing your insights. My first reaction to everything tends to be rather “fight or flight”-ish and I need a lot of improvement in the department of being gracious and tactful. I will certainly keep your suggestions in mind for the future!

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  2. Hi Tabitha! I have never understood why people need to comment on family size, etc., but my guess is that in this case, the hostess may have just been trying to make conversation. Depending on her age and maturity, perhaps she just couldn’t think of anything else to say. It’s when people repeat the same thing over again during a short duration that really takes me aback. It’s important to be polite and gracious but l do sometimes feel that others need to become more aware of their words and actions and sometimes the only way is to give a polite reply that makes them think and will prevent them from doing/saying such things to someone else in future, but can be tricky to do as to not come across sarcastic or embarrass the other person. I’m a bit sarcastic by nature so I usually just tend to smile and say thank you and leave it at that unless someone is being really offensive.

    Sometimes just asking an open-ended question in return will take the focus off of you and instead put it on the other person. On the flip side, you could also make a bit of a joke to keep things light and not ruffle too many feathers, such as “Yes, our goal is to have our own basketball team! I’d say we’re well on our way”. It probably isn’t the first time someone has commented, it’s probably just more surprising for her as the majority of people in North America tend to have smaller families. I wouldn’t take it personally but I can see how that would get old if you’ve heard the same comment many times before from others.

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    • Good insights, Karla, and I see what you mean. I am rather young and immature myself, and constantly striving for a better way to interact with others so as to leave everyone feeling fulfilled and enriched. Sometimes it is best to say nothing, though. I appreciate the advice, and thanks for visiting my blog! 🙂

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