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I am always surprised by what strangers are willing to say, especially in front of my children. Most people mean well, but Miss Manners could have a field day with what I have encountered.
01/06/2013 02:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An inevitable part of being a parent never enumerated in What to Expect When You're Expecting is learning how to take a comment. For some reason, the possession of offspring in a public place makes parents an open, unfortunately slow-moving target to whom strangers may give advice, chastise, praise and judge. While I have honed my parenting skills over the course of four children, I have also fine-tuned my social techniques so I can more gracefully handle the comments -- the nice, the mean and the particularly grating "bless your heart" kind of veiled zingers -- thrown my way on almost a daily basis.

Being the mother of three boys has made me the recipient of a whole special subset of additional comments over the years as well. The comments started when I only had two little boys close in age and just grew in number and in scope as I added a third and then a daughter to the mix. Honestly, I never, ever get used to it. I am always surprised by what strangers are willing to say, especially in front of my children. Most people mean well, but Miss Manners could have a field day with what I have encountered. Some of the greatest hits over the years:

You sure do have your hands full!

This comment doesn't bother everyone, and it doesn't faze me anymore. However, when I had a gaggle of young boys spinning around my knees and I felt like I was always herding cats, this one stung. It made me feel like I looked exactly as out of control as I felt. Now I just say, "Yes, I do!" with a big smile on my face. My hands are full, and so is my heart. It's a fair trade-off. Most days.

Was this one planned?

I know that I am always curious about new pregnancies and babies, and I understand the impulse to ask. But there is something that is just plain not at all anyone's business about whether or not a pregnancy was planned, especially when the question is the first response to the pregnancy announcement itself. If that is information the mother-to-be wants to share, she will.

Don't you know what causes this?

No, I don't. Please explain it to me.

You're so lucky you'll never have a teenage girl!

Before I had my baby girl, I heard this "reassurance" more times than I can count, and I take a lot of issue with it. Yes, teenage girls have a reputation for being dramatic, emotionally exhausting and sometimes mean. However, I happen to think that along with all those qualities, teenage girls are pretty dang awesome. With all the drama and all the heightened emotions comes an exquisite, complex emotional beauty too, along with creativity, industry and poetry. I love the vulnerability and the passion that comes with teenage girls. When people gave me this line about how I should be grateful I'd never have one of my own to raise, I kind of wanted to punch them. Now that I actually have a daughter, I feel even more strongly about the subject. To raise a daughter is a privilege. To bear witness to the process of that daughter becoming a woman is a gift. All teenagers are hard -- but they are worth it.

Boys are so much easier than girls!

For once and for all: if I had wanted things "easy," I wouldn't have chosen to have one child, much less four of them. Furthermore, watch me stumble through my days as I try to avoid the ER, feed three ravenous young boys and elicit more than one-syllable responses from them about various topics, and then tell me how much easier boys are than girls. In any case, it doesn't matter. This isn't a competition. It's condescending and it's just plain wrong to try and claim that one gender is a cakewalk. My three boys are different in size, shape and personality. There isn't an "easy" one among them. Parenting human beings is hard, and, again, worth it.

You finally got your girl.

Now that I have a baby girl, I see strangers mentally taking inventory of our family as we move around in the world -- at Disney, at Target, at the movie theater. Their eyes bounce from boy to boy to boy and then they crane their necks to lay eyes on what is in my arms or my stroller. They don't just want to see a sweet baby, but to see if she is yet another boy. Many, many (many) times, the words come out before I can dodge them: "You finally got your girl! Now you can stop." I understand the impulse to say it, but my boys hear it, and I do see something flash across their face. Maybe it is the thought that they aren't worth as much because there are more of them, or that their gender is the most important thing about them to me or others. My children are much more than their genders to me; they are distinct individuals. I respond with the truth: "I just wanted one more baby, but of course I am thrilled to have a daughter." Every time it happens, though, I wince with a little pang of hurt on behalf of my boys and even on behalf of my baby girl, who is also much more than just a girl to me.

The truth is that strangers are going to comment; that is never going to change. Take my advice, though. When you learn that your friend is going to have a baby of any gender, whether it is the first, the second or the seventh, the proper first response is always and only this: Congratulations!