October 17, 2012

People at the grocery store think I have too many kids

This is the third post in my series of reflections on motherhood.  The first two are "Making mothering easier" and "Maybe this is why God let me have children".

Our local grocery store has shopping carts that are outfitted with a blue seated section at the back of the cart.  They are heavy and slightly hard to maneuver through the produce section but they fit my four kids perfectly.  Resa's carrier carseat lays snugly across the front of the cart.  JF sits in the traditional basket seat spot.  L and Ben perch in the blue seats.  That cart is actually a dream come true for me because I'm not sure I'd be able to grocery shop as effectively without it.

However, it is when we are loaded in that cart that I get the most comments. 
"You've got your hands full."
"You're reminding me of things that I'm glad are distant memories."
"You have no room for your groceries!"
"You must be busy."
"Are they all yours?"
"You have a lot of kids."
"You are so blessed."

Hardly anyone ever says that last line, though I have occasionally gotten it from kindly women who may actually be angels of the Lord. 

When people make comments about my children - how many and how close together in age they are - I always think about what they're really saying even if they are unaware of it: "You have too many children, or in the very least they are too closely spaced."

And then I wonder if they would say that if we didn't have Ben.  Take Ben out of the picture and I have a four year old, a two year old, and a baby.  Three children - that's an acceptable amount of kids - especially where I live.  And spaced every two years - what good planning!  Yes, Ben is the one who has got to go, who never should have been, who is too much.

This thought makes my heart incredibly sad.  My heart sinks with the thought of not having Ben in the world and I know that the people who make those comments just don't know what a treasure he is.  Ben, who taught himself to burp on command before he turned three, is silly and funny.  He loves to make people laugh and will make up nonsensical knock-knock jokes in an effort to do so.  Ben loves music and even more so he loves to sing.  He puts great effort into his renditions of "Old McDonald" and the Thomas and Friends theme.  Ben, who has a gentle and kind heart, will often sing to his baby sister in order to soothe her.  "Resa is so cute," goes the song he made up for her.  He is generous by nature and will gladly share his fruit snacks or popcorn or chocolate bar, smiling to see the recipient so happy to receive. 

Ben, who shamelessly rides his sister's Princess bike around the block, loves to dig in the dirt and play with his trains, and potty trained himself, is my little buddy boy.  I do not have a favorite child, but there's a special place in my heart for Ben*.  I am so glad and grateful for all four of my kids, even Ben - who came unplanned and too soon for some people's taste.

And so, to you commenters in the grocery store, I say:
"You've got your hands full."  Yes, I do and it's great.
"You're reminding me of things that I'm glad are distant memories."  I'm having fun.
"You have no room for your groceries!"  There's plenty of room!
"You must be busy."  Aren't we all?
"Are they all yours?"  Yes, fortunately!
"Wow."  I know!  They're so cute!
"You have a lot of kids."  I do.
"You are so blessed."  I am.  Thank you.

*Okay, there's a special place in my heart for all five of my kids.  Each has their own special traits that endear me to them and I tuck them into their own little territory in my heart.


  1. Love this beautiful perspective. I get those comments and I only have two!! It is so disheartening! I love your responses and I shall memorize them for when I'm in the same boat!!

    1. It took me a long time to form the responses. A lot of the time people look at me like I'm crazy when I speak back to them. It's almost like they didn't know they were speaking out loud.

  2. I get the comments and I have three (plus one in heaven). I try to think to myself that it is peoples' fears -- because they themselves couldn't handle that many children -- that cause them to say things like that, but it sure does make me mad sometimes.

    1. Yes, the lady who said she was glad it was a distant memory did make me mad and really hurt my feelings. My kids were even really well behaved that day! I think she could tell I was hurt when I told her "I'm having fun" because she spoke to me again in the parking lot - we were right next to each other.

      But I do wonder if she had ppd or no support or something else going on that made it so hard for her. She was probably speaking from a place of hurt, too.

    2. There might be people who make awkward comments because they wish they were you. I'm serious. I have 3 plus one in heaven. I wish I had more. I have regrets that we didn't embrace God's plan earlier. We were scared. I try to smile at large families, to say things like how beautiful the children are (iow, I hope to say something nice) but it's possible that in trying hard to be nice I said something awkward instead or that it came out wrong or something. Does that make any sense?

  3. The "distant memory" one really makes me sad. Hannah is only 20 months old, but I already miss 19! How sad that they can't see the joy that little children bring.

  4. What great replies you have. I have four kids and whenever I need to give one of "them" responses I always remember my Dad responding to someone commenting on the eight kids in our family. He would always say something about how his kids are all so smart and wonderful that he would have two dozen of us if the good Lord would let him. I was always SO proud to be one of my Dad's(and Mom's) kids. Your children will remember your responses one day as well.

    1. I think it's especially powerful that your father said that. Dad's are so important - you are so blessed!

  5. I also found that four and over was the line in which people felt they had to inform me that I had a lot of children. :) One thing people say when I tell them I have seven is "God bless you!" To which I reply, "He has.: ") (In some cases, that God bless you sounds like "better you than me, but I pretend not to notice that. :) I think in many people's hearts, they actually do wonder at the love that can encompass more than one or two children and kind of wish for it.

    1. Kelly, I hope they do wonder about it. I would think that the more they ponder it the happier they will be for those who have many kids.

  6. I love that your answers aren't snarky. I know it's so tempting to respond to a thoughtless or deliberately cruel remark with something biting and witty, but it doesn't help.

    My first born is old enough now to notice that we never go anywhere that we don't get at least one comment on our family size. As a tween, she's starting to get embarrassed by this notice, so I think it's even more important to model a cheerful, gentle response, so she can learn how to let this stuff roll off her back.

  7. I have 4 kids, also--3 girls and 1 boy. I constantly get the "you finally got your boy. I guess you are finished now." I hate what that says to girl #2 & #3--like they were just mistakes b/c they weren't that boy. I now hope they asked if we are finished yet, so I can say "No! These kids are so awesome, I think we'll have a few more!"

  8. Love this. Gosh, people surprise me. One thing I can say honestly about myself is that when I see a big family in church or at the store, I never have negative thoughts. I even get feelings of desire for what I see! When people make stupid comments, it upsets me. I always think about the couples who aren't able to have children, or who have had children who have died. UGH! I always here comments about women who are newly pregnant after having a baby.. "She just had a baby! What is she thinking? That is going to be rough having two babies so close together." And I just think..um so what? Why do you care so much??? It just shows how the majority of society feel that too many children are a burden. They can't see them as beautiful precious gifts! God Bless you, Engstroms!

  9. well some people think 3 is too much too so you never know what they are really thinking. Plus I notice that i get more positive comments when I just have the girls with me versus the boys. So it could be that too.

    I have 7 right now but often I just have the 3 little girls with me and I do get a lot of comments and like I said most are positive since girls are "cute" with bows and dresses and such. But when I have my 3 boys with me instead in public I never get any positive comments just WOW or OH MY or worse.

    In general though, I either just smile or nod even when its rude comments. I know instinctually you might have a rude comment back but I do think its best to just show kindness back no matter what they say.

  10. Thank you for this! I have six with the seventh on the way (my oldest is nine) and while I don't go with them to the grocery store much, I get some pretty shocking comments. One woman told me that she can't believe I just keep having more. How do you explain to such a worldly person why you would sacrifice so much to accept God's blessings?

    One thought that I have, though, is that some people do not mean to sound so negative, they just say what comes to mind. Once I had only the baby with me and I got the comment, "You've got your hands full!" The man went on to explain that it had been so long since his son was little and how he missed it. It made me a little less hostile to comments, I may just be misinterpreting them!

    And you're right, those little old ladies who comment on how beautiful the kids are, well behaved, and such blessings; are definitely angels from heaven! :)

  11. Hi Bonnie, I am new to following your blog. I very much enjoy it. I had to comment on yesterday's post. I might by one of those women at the store who says one of these quotes, but I truly think I wouldn't mean it in the negetive judgemental way. Here is what I mean.

    "You must be busy." Oh, my it would be fun living in your house. I miss those busy days because my boys are grown up.
    "You're reminding me of things that I'm (glad) are distant memories." I wouldn't put glad in there though. But it would take me back to the time when I had my three and a friend's four children all living with my husband and I when she and her husband were deployed for the military. I loved those chaotic days. I still miss the kids.
    I might also say something like "There looks like a lot of trouble." I would do this just in jest. I have always teased my kids and their friends about being trouble. They always laughed with me and would respond "Yep."

    I know people judge you negetively. I have been judged too because my daughter is 8 years and 10 years younger then her brothers. I get, "Oh, you must have made a mistake." I always smile and say, "No, she is my unexpected blessing." But other people, say the same type of comment and don't mean it negetively. Thus, I tend to always take what people say as if they are just surprised or teasing me. Well except the ones with the "voice" them I pray for a day or two later after my ittitation for them has left. Blessings to you Bonnie and your beautiful family!

  12. As another family with 3 daughters and then a son, we've gotten the "finally got the boy" comment. I usually think "well it didn't take too long to get him, the oldest was only 5 when he was born!" I can't wait to hear what people might say when my pregnant belly is really showing with this new baby.
    Where we live, Bonnie, it seems there are more big families than in other areas. It is when we have traveled (not even far away) that we usually get more looks from strangers. I guess our family is just noticeable.
    Whenever I get comments about our family, I just smile and respond like you have, but sometimes I think something less charitable. Mostly though, I feel sad for people who have bought into the prevalent idea that children are only burdens or are only blessings in small numbers. Our family has been blessed and I am proud of each our children.

    1. We have four boys and then we "finally" got our girl. I used to hate that and actually couldn't wait for the next baby to prove that we weren't trying for a girl :) We now have two girls and I'm expecting a boy. I hardly ever hear the comment about the girls anymore!

  13. Love this post. Sometimes, I get the same comments - we only have four. each one is special and loved in his own way and I cannot think of a world without any one of them.

    Those who have few children or none will never know nor understand the joy of having a house full of kids.


  14. Thank you for this post. My wife and I have 3 boys (3 1/2, 1 1/2 and 5 mos.) and she was strapping them into their carseats at the grocery store, smiling at something our 3 1/2 yo had said, when a total stranger walked by and said, "How can you be smiling with all you have to do?" To which my wife promptly replied, "How could I *not* be smiling with these little guys?!"

  15. I really do think the "you have your hands full" is more of an automatic response. Sort of like commenting on the weather. I haven't actually had too many negative comments in public with my five. The remarks that hurt way more are friends who have become acquaintances. I used to hang with a very progressive bunch until my conversion to Catholicism and my choice to homeschool lead us in different directions. But when I run into them, there is often some remark (said in a totally joking way, of course) about how many kids we have or my reproductive abilities or something. I would have hoped they would try to understand simply because of our friendship but it doesn't always work out that way...

  16. Bonnie, this is a great post. I don't often see large families at the grocery around here, but at our parish there are so many! I always make a kind remark if they are nearby, particularly if one (or more) is acting up.

    I'm really glad that you don't make snarky remarks back to the people who say those things, because many of them are speaking without thinking and probably don't even realize how their words sound.

    I said one time to a woman with four little ones, "You have your hands full" and before I could get out the "They are so beautiful" that I was going to add to that statement, she cut me off saying very meanly, "Better full than empty." That was when we had been trying for a baby for almost a year. I left the store in tears and that comment stayed with me for more than a week. Of course she didn't know my motives, and maybe I should have said "they are beautiful" first, but we never know how our mean words (and I have said so very many myself!) can cut others to the core.

    Thanks for sharing!

  17. "You're reminding me of things that I'm glad are distant memories" ......I remember saying that many years ago to a stranger (before conversion) I was hurt, bitter and angry....now when I am lucky to be in a grocery line up with a little one I LUV playing silly little games with them while their mom unloads the cart, or praise and older one for helping mom or dad.

  18. I have three right now: 2 year old twins and a 19 month old (yes 13 months apart) and I get some nice comments, some incredulous comments, and some nasty comments. The latter are rare though. I try to just smile but I know it's hard when certain comments get under the skin.

  19. After Meghan, Joshua, Nathan and Zachary I sank into a deep depression. "No more!" I told everyone who would listen. My husband, praise God, loved me thru it. I was able to climb out eventually. Then came Mathias, Rachel, Esther, Noah and two babies in heaven. Seriously, it was easier the more I had. Now my dh and I have a son-in-law who loves my oldest daughter very much. 2 grandkids with another on the way. And last Sunday, another son became engaged to a beautiful young lady. It just keeps getting better!! I was snarky once too about comments from people and then I learned humility and compassion. I also learned what a great treasure that I had. God bless you! He sure has me!