We truly are an entitlement-driven culture.
I’m not talking about welfare or tax breaks–I’m talking about people feeling entitled to KNOW things they have no business knowing. I recently wrote about politicians’ infidelity (and how it is or isn’t relevant) in this post at The Broad Side. I could blame it on the internet, or too much information, or Facebook for encouraging over-sharing. Truthfully, though, this sort of butting in happened waaaay before the internet age made everyone experts on any number of things, including medicine, politics, and entertainment. My favorite examples, though, involve knowing (and judging) someone else’s childbearing decisions.
I have friends (in real life and online) who share stories of intrusiveness that give me a facial tic. A friend who has one child is routinely told her child needs a sibling. Another friend who is single and childless is reminded by well-meaning friends that thanks to science, dontchyaknow, she doesn’t actually need to be married or in a relationship to have a baby. What’s the hold-up?
That people feel entitled to comment on, let alone challenge, someone else’s child rearing (or any other personal) choices makes me seethe. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of such intrusiveness. I was absolutely floored by the first person who asked me if we were trying when I revealed I was pregnant. I’m sure many regard this as a benign question, and mean no harm. Still, I remained floored, embarrassed, speechless that someone I barely knew felt free to ask me what amounted to questions about the most private aspects of my married life.
My husband and I continued to be amazed through each of my three pregnancies how many people would ask us if we had been “trying.” I had pretty quickly developed a response that involved a cock of my head to the side, furrowed eyebrows, and a, “That’s kind of a personal question, don’t you think???” My husband, normally gentle and patient to a fault, had even less ability to tolerate this question than I did. When some poor, clueless, unfortunate soul asked him this at work about our third pregnancy, he finally lost it. “WHAT makes people THINK they have the RIGHT to ASK that question????” To which his clueless co-worker responded, “Well, how am I going to find out if I don’t ASK?” Head, meet desk.
Then there was the colleague who “caught” me eating saltines. Oh, she was a regular Columbo, that one. It was VERY early in my first pregnancy, and she happened upon me while I was alone in my classroom marking papers. “I knew it! I knew it! I knew you were pregnant!” she accused, pointing her finger at me. I hadn’t told anyone yet because we’d wanted to wait for the first trimester to pass uneventfully before coming out with the news. But no–she adopted a very haughty, “You can’t fool ME,” attitude and berated me for keeping the info to myself. The nerve of me! In fact, I had so much nerve, that I told her I was pretty sure it was MY decision when and to whom I revealed my being pregnant and that she needed to mind her own business and keep her mouth shut.
Maybe I’m alone in this, but I was raised to NEVER ask a person if he or she had children (or its corollary, if a woman was pregnant) let alone question their reasoning and decisions. This may seem a little extreme to some, but my parents’ reasoning was this:
You never know if the question is going to cause someone pain. You don’t know if the issue is a source of contention between the spouses. Perhaps the person you’re asking has just had a miscarriage. Maybe the woman was raised in a violent household, and has vowed to never have kids of her own. What if a couple has been desperately trying to conceive, and have suffered countless heartbreaks and disappointment in their attempts?
Or maybe you might find yourself in the situation I did. (I am guilty of sometimes not following my own rules.) An old friend found me through Facebook and my writing. He had frequently half-joked in college that he wanted to be a stay-at-home dad and have six kids. I would completely-joke back, “I wish your future wife a lot of luck.” As we were re-acquainting ourselves after 20+ years, he told me he and his lovely wife have five children. “Five? I thought the magic number was six!” I teased light-heartedly.
His response? “We did have six.”
This post appeared in its original form at Kveller.com in November 2012.