Proven methods and advice to cope with nosy questions
When you’ve just become a Solo Mom, whether it is when you first become pregnant or adopt, or a year down the road after the end of a relationship . . . it feels as if there is a sign on your forehead saying, “Bring on the personal questions!” Personally, I’ve been dumbfounded by the nature of questions coming at me since my baby was born (well, actually, as soon as my pregnancy started to become visible).
I was shocked the first few dozen times people asked such personal questions that put me on the spot. I quickly realized that whether I was ready to tell my son our story or not, he was going to hear about it because of the sheer number of inquiring minds. So I decided to talk about his origins early and often with him, and I made a list of the ways in which I could respond to nosy people—and I practiced them. I’m sharing my list with you in hopes that you find at least one useful response to put in your toolbox for those times when someone asks any of the following questions that total strangers have actually asked me:
- Who is the father?
- Where is the dad?
- What’s going on with baby daddy?
- Do you get child support?
- How much child support do you get?
- Are you the nanny?
- Was he an accident?
- Did you use protection?
- Are you on welfare?
- What is he?
- What’s his “mix”?
Here’s how you can reply . . .
- “Why do you ask?” This response has been very productive and even deepened a new friendship. People are usually self-aware enough to realize maybe they have crossed a line when you say this. And if you are lucky, you will get a thoughtful answer that helps both you and the other person grow and understand each other. True story. (And this is the response I use the most.)
- “You are being really rude right now.” I’ve walked away after saying this, and I’ve had people react defensively, apologetically, and/or really wanting to share their own personal story to try to relate to me.
- If they ask in front of my child, I’ve said, “Little pitchers have big ears” or something similar that reminds them that your child is a living, breathing, feeling human being. If that doesn’t work, a good, old-fashioned “He can hear you!” works.
- “Can you imagine being a little kid and hearing your parent being asked that?” I use this one over and over again.
- Just give a calm, quiet sympathetic smile. Some people can take a hint.
- “With all due respect, I’d rather not discuss it.” You can add “. . . with you,” or “ . . . since we don’t know each other that well yet,” etc.
- “That’s not up for discussion.” Who can argue with that?!
- “I don’t know how to respond to that.” Then change the subject.
- “Pardon me. That’s a personal question.” This is a very Miss Manners response.
- “Well, I’m so tired of talking about myself. Let’s talk about you instead!” Or something else! Or cookie recipes! Or those clouds! Or horrific world news! Or how we are going to change this world!
- “I could answer that, but I’d so much rather enjoy being in the moment right now.” I’m really feeling this one, five years into my “fielding personal questions” career.
- “That’s my child’s story, and I respect [his/her] privacy.” And that is really what it all boils down to for me.
More often than not, these people mean well. They are curious or concerned, or they have something in common with you and they don’t quite know how to broach the topic. One real bonus to responding in an empowered way is my child hears me set boundaries with people.
I also talk with close friends about our story because I think my child benefits from the people in our life continuing to grow into understanding and being sensitive to what the whole Solo Mom experience is like—especially since he may ask them for information someday. I want them to feel comfortable with our story and the language I use. At the same time, I continue to seek out other single moms and amazing grown children of single moms for us to be around. That way, if someone were to ever make some kind of stigmatizing “test tube-” or “accident-” or “welfare mom–” type comment, he will have a rich list of examples that defy those simple stereotypes and illustrate the beauty of all possible lives.
What annoyingly nosy questions have you been asked?
Beck List is an environmental scientist and writer living with her five-year-old future comedian in California. She has lived through plenty of her own trials and tribulations—and you can read more tips on her blog, BeckList.
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