10 Ridiculous Things Child-Free People Say About My Large Family

The author's kids, whom she gets comments about while out in public.

It was a lazy Sunday morning at brunch with our child-free friends who usually tolerate our rambunctious group of five kids under age 10. At least, it felt lazy-ish to us.

As the noise ramped up and the syrup was passed a little too aggressively across the table, my friend’s husband shook his head and said, “Welp, I haven’t seen a Sunday morning brunch like this before. Thank God ours is mostly reading the paper and listening to chill music with mimosas. I don’t know how you do it.”

I retorted back, “Sounds pretty boring,” half-jokingly — but mostly not. Deep down, I was offended.

It wasn’t the first time child-free friends, as well as acquaintances and strangers, have commented on our large brood. In fact, we seem to be comparable to a circus spectacle walking through the grocery store, based on the sheer amount of feedback we’ve heard on our life decisions, including but not limited to:

  • Haven’t you figured out how that happens yet?
  • Did you mean to have that many kids?
  • Did you know you wanted a big family?
  • Was your fifth an accident?
  • Wow, good luck paying for [insert expensive things, like college or milk]
  • How do you keep track of them all?
  • How do you do it?
  • You are done, aren’t you?
  • Are you getting a vasectomy?
  • Are they all yours?

A 2023 Gallup poll found that 45% of Americans thought having a large family (defined as three or more children) was ideal — the highest approval rate for such families since 1973. But according to a 2021 Pew Research Center report, there has also been an increase in the percentage of people who don’t want kids — 44%, up from 37% in 2018.

There has to be a way for these two large groups to coexist, snarky commentary be damned.

The author’s kids, whom she gets comments about while out in public.

Why do people feel free to comment?

According to Dakota Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, it comes down to a value judgment.

“Some seem to judge big families as meaning the parents are ‘irresponsible’ or ‘unintelligent,’” she said. “A person making that value judgment may have grown up as a single child in a wealthy family and believe this is [the way] families should be. They might not have the cultural perspective or understanding that some families are big as a way to support each other and navigate the challenges in low-income neighborhoods.”

In the workplace, conflict among people with and without children arises when workloads are distributed unequally.

“People without children feel like they have to make a sacrifice to dedicate their commitment and time to work and it might appear to them as those with us with kids have an excuse to leave or take the day off,” Jenny Yip, a board-certified clinical psychologist and the author of “Hello Baby, Goodbye Intrusive Thoughts,” told Huffpost. “They believe [parents’] excuse for not meeting deadlines or expectations is that we have children.”

We also live in a society where people feel the need to comment on anyone, at any time. Parents are no exception.

“There’s this idea where we can comment on other people’s parenting styles and children’s behavior,” said Alexandra Phillips, a New York-based therapist specializing in perinatal clients. “Like ohhhh, when your kid does that, why don’t you reprimand them ‘X’ way? Or why are you letting your baby sleep right now?”

How To Respond To Judgmental Comments

I’ve always felt particularly defensive when on the receiving end of judgmental commentary from people without kids for a few reasons — they haven’t been in the parenting trenches to understand the whole situation, for one.

Phillips says this can be difficult for parents who are stretched thin when their “emotional tolerance is already so low,” such as if a newborn parent is sleep-deprived.

It has been helpful to have a few go-to phrases in my back pocket so I’m not stuck stammering about how magical parenting is when a hurtful comment comes my way.

Parents can also choose not to respond at all. Just because someone says something “doesn’t mean we need to internalize [it],” Brown said.

She recommends a simple, “Thanks for the feedback, and I will take it into consideration.”

But if you are a bit less regulated when someone comes at your family decisions, here are a few go-to’s that have turned tense moments into jokes, taking the edge off but also getting my point across quickly:

  • No, I don’t know how babies are made. Care to explain it?
  • Not sure on the vasectomy yet. How about you?
  • Wait, I have five kids? I thought there were only four (starts counting)…
  • Nah, not done yet. Just getting started. But probably won’t go past five more.

According to Yip, unwanted comments really tend to sting when they’re about something you yourself are unsure of. Knowing your own truth and standing by it will help bolster you against bothersome commentary.

“If you are authentic about who you are, what you need, and what you’re committed to, then there will be no feeling of guilt behind it. We only feel guilt and the need to be validated by other people when we are uncertain or anxious about our behaviors and choices,” Yip said. “There is no need to second guess yourself or feel anxious or guilty about what you’re committed to.”

If a comment is still bothering you, as it does for some of Phillips’ clients, she says to use this mantra: “I chose this, I love it, and I don’t care what that person thinks.”

Phillips added that parents can also try taking a deep breath and responding with a positive comment. In my example with Sunday brunch, she said I could have responded, “That sounds like you have really nice mornings together.” And that’s it.

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