"Are They All Twins" and Other Things You Shouldn't Say to Multiples Moms


Have you ever met a mother of multiples in a public setting like a grocery store, restaurant, or crowded mall? If you're not a parent of multiples and you don't personally know someone with multiples, chances are you might have inadvertently said something that overstepped your boundaries. As a mother to quadruplets, one of the biggest adjustments and source of greatest frustration has been going in public with my children. While in my heart I know that no one intends to offend me or my children, sometimes the novelty of meeting multiples families is overwhelming and causes individuals to forget that some of their statements/questions could be offensive. 

As you can likely imagine, even though I have multiples, I still have some of the same needs that families with one child or even no children have. There's a good chance you will run into us in places like the grocery store or the doctor's office. For obvious reasons, leaving the house can also be a stressful experience for us. Add to the fact that as I'm trying to do whatever it is we felt the need to leave our house for, I'm also constantly making sure I have eyesight on four children at once, making sure they're well behaved, often trying to navigate a shopping cart in a crowded store with four kids hanging on to the sides of it, and likely any other combination of about five other things all at once. I've likely been interrupted at least a dozen or more times to tie a shoe, take a bathroom break, buy someone some ridiculously priced toy that will break the moment we get it home, answer questions of strangers or a plethora of other reasons. And then it happens, you spot us.

I've likely already seen you and tried to avoid eye contact. I get approached with the same questions over and over so I already know how the conversation is going to go. You think you're clever but I've likely heard the same comment half a dozen or more times since I entered the public space we are sharing.  "Are they all twins" you ask pointing at my children like they're a display in a department store window. "No; they're quadruplets", I hesitatingly respond. I already know where this conversation is going. You'll tell me "wow, I've never seen quadruplets in real life before" and how you're surprised I don't have my own television show. Then you'll likely point out the obvious about how full my hands are and the conversation usually ends with some invasive line of questioning regarding my children's conception.  

Have no fear! I'm here to guide you through proper etiquette when meeting parents of multiples so that you're able to maintain your filter and get through the experience without securing yourself a place in that parent's Facebook feed. 

Let's take a look at some of the worst things you can say to a mother of multiples:

"Are they all twins"? - Twins are defined as "two offspring from the same pregnancy". Twins means two. Triplets means three. Quadruplets means four. Quintuplets means five. Sextuplets mean six. I could go further but if you meet septuplets or more, please just let that mother go about her own business and DO NOT SAY A WORD unless you're buying her dinner, hot coffee, a massage or you're hiring someone to help her. I assure you, she doesn't have time for you. 

"Your hands are full".  - While the comment itself isn't necessarily rude and we know you're trying to be cute, we hear it so often that when it's said, what we really feel is "thank you, Captain Obvious".  We know our hands are full. We're trying our best. So this comment is best reserved for individuals who feel compelled to help. If you must use this comment, please be sure to include some sort of action to accompany the statement otherwise, you truly are just stating the obvious for no apparent reason. A few examples of recommended actions include "holding a door open, yielding right of way in a crowded store, or letting the Mom have some grace and allowing her to cut in line in front of you". 

"Are they natural"? - We know this is what you consider a polite way of inquiring about the manner in which our babies were conceived. The simple fact of the matter is, whether someone has one baby or twenty-five, it is always considered rude to inquire regarding any matters related to the conception of a child. 

"Did you use fertility drugs/Did you do in vitro"? - Again, all questions regarding conception should be considered personal and off limits. You wouldn't ask any other Mom what position her child was conceived in, thus, it is rude to ask how multiples are conceived.  When considering asking this question, please consider how you would feel if your Mom was asked in your presence what position she conceived you in. That's how our children feel. Your lack of consideration is rude and while we may or may not call you out on it, you're invading our privacy.  You're also exposing our children to the birds and the bees when perhaps we are not ready to explain anatomy and/or sexuality to them. It's quite a well known fact that four year olds like to ask a lot of questions. When they hear Mommy talking about something, chances are good they're going to have more questions once our conversation is finished. Please don't force me to have a conversation with my child before it's time for the simple sake of your curiosity. 

"Did you have a c-section"?  - Again, this falls into the highly personal category.  You wouldn't walk up to every mother you see walking around with a young child and inquire about her birth story, why would you think it's okay to discuss just because I have more than one. When you feel the urge to ask a question such as this, please picture yourself trying to explain a c-section versus natural birth to the children you're inquiring about because this is quite likely exactly what I will be doing when you walk away. 

"I'm sorry/I'd shoot/kill myself/Better you than me". - Anyone who allows these words to fall from there mouth should be ashamed of themselves. You should seek professional counseling. I've had three year olds question me regarding why on Earth someone would say that to me. When I hear statements such as these, I'm forced to ask myself whether there is any reasons why an individual would be led to believe that my children cannot hear or do not understand the English language. Would you walk up to a parent of a child with a physical handicap and tell them "you're sorry"? What would possess you to walk up to any parent and imply pity for their situation in front of their children? It's rude and completely inappropriate no matter how cute you think it is. And while we're at it, any phrase that would lead my children to feel as though I have too many children is also considered rude. When you've had to look into your child's eyes as they as you "Mama, do we have too many kids", you'll understand why this is hurtful. 

"Can I take a picture"?- While we're flattered that you'd like to have our picture in your phone to post to your social media, show your grandma, or hang on your wall, we're also rather creeped out. We have no idea what you're going to do with a picture of our children and for all we know, you could be a child predator. Imagine walking up to a mother of one baby and asking to take her baby's picture. If it would be weird in that situation, it's weird to a mother of multiples.  Even worse, are people who snap pictures without asking.

"At least you're done"!- It's impolite to assume that a family with multiples is complete. Family planning is highly personal and should be left up to the parents.  It's presumptuous of you to make any statements regarding a mother's future decisions to have more children.

With all of that said, I realize that multiples are a novelty and that my daily life is completely unique to most people. I never mind entertaining a few non-invasive questions and comments. Some general guidelines of items to consider are:

  • Is it okay for children to hear what I'm about to ask?
  • Does that Mom look stressed and will my questions/statements make it even more difficult for her?
  • Would I ask this of a mother of one baby?
  • How much time am I taking from a busy mom?
Most Moms of Multiples generally are extremely proud of their children and won't mind entertaining one or two non-invasive questions or a kind phase such as:
  • Do they all share the same birthday?
  • How old are they?
  • You have beautiful/well-behaved children.
  • They're adorable. 
Just be sure to be mindful of the family's time. With quadruplets, everything usually takes four times as long and when we're stopped multiple times to hear the same questions and comments over and over again, it adds to the stress of a family outing. Ultimately, while we know it's novel to see multiples, we really long for as much normalcy as possible. We're raising children and just like everyone else, we want them to grow up to be smart, grounded individuals and sometimes the excess attention in public can be overwhelming. Just as we try to put ourselves in your shoes of seeing multiples in public, please try to do the same for and respect our privacy. I promise it makes for a much better exchange in the long-run.

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