As women we look for ways to connect with other women. We want to be able to understand each other and say “me too!” after we first meet each other. It so often that as a woman….as a person; we claim our identities by our lifestyles. What we do with our time every day…if we work…what our family looks like…if we are married…have kids or not. We can became emotional and very protective when a question is asked of us that points in us an area that we feel is lacking. I call this the dreaded question. It usually comes up when someone well meaning is trying to get to know us; someone like the dental hygienist the first time we meet; or the woman in the new life group at church. “So tell me about yourself…” “What do you do for a living?” “Are you married? How long” etc….I’ve noticed that thru the years the dreaded question for me has changed. Back in my late teens it started our with- what do you do for a living- I was working a McDonald’s and felt somehow when I turned nineteen that this was no longer an acceptable place to work, despite others who were much more older than I working there. I felt judged, not good enough. I would take a deep breath and say “I work at McDonalds” followed by a rush of “it’s a job you know…I’m going to school so..” hoping that they understood that I was better than the label of working at McDonalds…and that I was not stupid.
The question later changed. After I had my son, when someone found out I had a child, there were two dreaded questions. It often began like this…co-worker/new friend/mom at the practice seeing me with my son…. “so how old is your son?” followed by small chat then by the dreaded questions “How old are you?” I cringe. I would always debate whether to be a smart ass or one of those people that has a saying when asked about age. “Your only as old as you feel” or something like that. The problem is: I was…and I guess still am…Young. Young people can’t get away with those sayings…and they are already smart assy enough. I feel like if you asked me this question you wanted to figure out the math, so often I would just say- “yeah, I started young” or I would be truthful and tell them my age as I half smiled and waited for the what would come next. Here is the problem with this dreaded question- 95% of the time it would be some variation of “you look too young to have kids that old”.
Think about that for a minute, re-read if necessary. Clearly I am not too young to have kid(s) that old- I did so…. thank you very much judgy mcjudgy. I get it. I guess I may have said something similar- but what are you really trying to say to me at that moment? Are you saying that you are expecting me to be withered and disgusting when a kid is that old? are you saying I look good for my age? or are you saying that you feel I should not have had a kid when I did? Are you questioning my ability to raise a child? Those are all the thoughts that go through my head when I hear that comment. The only good one that I got out of that is you possibly may think I’m a hot momma, it’s more likely that you feel the need to remind me that I am a young momma. I might add that it is mostly women that say this to me. Guys are like- “Cool” I may be overly sensitive here, but oddly- as I have gotten older and married this response has declined significantly.
Which brings me to the second dreaded question. Like a firing squad this one was often asked in succession after being insulted for being young. It typically started with a serious of looks first to my ring finger…” so are you married?” Sometimes the question was followed up by more questions trying to figure out the status of my relationship with my son’s dad…if it might work out. Often a well meaning person would give me a pep talk about how awesome I was doing as a single mom and how I would make it thru this world. While I appreciate that well meaning thoughts; I am not lacking as a parent. You don’t need to be married, or even in a committed relationship to be awesome. There are plenty of woman (and men) that are killing it in the parenting department- married, single, divorced, pet-parents, step-parents, parents to adopted children and even mentors that are never officially “parents”. My parenting is more than a relationship status.
Most recently the question changed again…Most people assume by my age and my ring finger than I am married. The first question that I now get asked tends to not be about my occupation but about my “mom status”. ” So do you have any kids?” There is a brief moment where I decide how much I should disclose before answering. Some days the answer is a straight up “yes, 4 of them.” Other times the answer gets a little complicated and feels like a slight dump on the askee ” yes, I have one biological son, and then three step kids- but they live with me so I consider them my kids”. The dreaded question intensives and gets worse…”So you and your husband don’t have any kids together…are you planning on having any more?”
I know it’s well meaning. I know that they are not trying to be rude. I get that people what to identify with each other and I know that I am guilty of this too. These personal questions are alot more interesting that asking what someones favorite hobby is or if they heard what the weather was going to be like for that day. These personal questions are hugely telling and can be an area of massive sensitivity. I wish there was an easy way to answer without fumbling or becoming defensive. The answer to both of these questions for me, like the Facebook relationship status button…it’s complicated.
What I can’t adequately describe is the multiple layers of a non-traditional family. When you ask me if I identify as having kids….I think about if they identify with me as their mom. The answer would be no then. Some days my youngest step daughter calls me mom. Most days however she makes it clear that I am not her mom and there are even times she tells me that she would rather not know me at all. The other step kids accept me as a parent; but there is distance that cannot be fully described. It’s different. My experience as a step-mom is not that of a typical parent and not even as a typical step-mom. It’s unique, defined by circumstances distinctive to my family.
When you ask me about being a mom…I think about the moments I wasn’t a mom. This comes up in the weirdest of ways. Taking my step-kid to the doctor for instance….I don’t know the history of their birth, their first few years of life. Did they get their shots on time, or had on target milestones. I wasn’t there for that. Sometimes In recent events, I wasn’t a mom because their real mom was there and I felt like an intruder, or I let their mom take the lead on events when both of us were present. Those times- I was the outsider- the parent that is not the mom, but this weird ambiguously defined role.
When you ask me about being a mom….Emotions immediately start to flow I get angry sometimes about my status. I get jealous that I am not the bio-mom but the “evil stepmom”. I can’t measure up to this person that is equally as human as I am, and has made alot of mistakes where the kids are concerned. I think of the struggles that I deal with day in and day out…and how I don’t always want the responsibility of everything….I then feel guilty for being upset. I think about the responses I get when others find out that I am a step-parent and try to dismiss my role, I try to phrase my answer adequately so you can understand how very complex my life is at the moment. The dreaded question always has a dreaded answer, even when it’s answered in silence.
I guess its the dreaded question because of crazy amount of emotions associated with the answer. It’s not like- “hey, what’s your favorite color?” Or “When’s your birthday”….the dreaded question has expectations around it. I’m not sure how to best answer it, or how to even acknowledge the hurt that it can bring.
What has been helpful to me is knowing that others usually mean no harm with the dreaded question. People are curious and want to get to know you. Hopefully the conversations that are had because of the dreaded questions can bring about a relationship and mutual understanding instead of feelings of inadequacy. The other things to remember is that everyone has a dreaded question and I truly believe it’s not the same for everyone. Mine was as simple as “how old are you?”. Which may seem ridiculous to you, but hey it’s mine. When someone asks me that; I know someone is not calling me a dirty word- my reaction to it is reflective of inner insecurities. So when your dreaded question comes up recognize this and reflect- why are you getting so upset about this? What do you think you may change to make you feel better? I would even suggest praying for understanding and healing if necessary. If it was really judgy tell that person; they may not even know that is was judgy. I know we are in this together and I hope as woman we can accept each other regardless of our status and move on. Life is too short and too precious to be asking about the weather all the time. Relationships; family; feeling of belonging that is where it’s at.