And you said that in front of my daughters?!!

I think my daughters are wonderful. Even if I try to set aside my parental partiality, I still think they are great kids, spirited but well behaved, polite, kind to each other and to other children, engaged with the world, and rather beautiful.

Seriously, they are very beautiful, and when the three of them are together, the effect is, I think, stunning. I get random compliments from strangers about them. They’re common enough that I have had to develop a standard response – a big smile, and “Thank you. I’m very proud of them.”

So when an elderly lady tapped me on the arm in the supermarket the other day, I turned to her with a smile. And she said, “What a shame they didn’t give you one boy among that lot.”


In front of my girls, too. They were bewildered, and really a little upset about it.

Despite wanting to say something very rude in response, I simply replied, “Oh! I’m very happy with my lovely girls,” and left it at that. Later on, over lunch, the girls talked about it. I tried to explain that it was quite an old fashioned idea, that probably it was based in the idea that sons were important because they inherited the property / carried on the family name / would earn an income so could support elderly parents / whatever. And yes, I loved them all dearly and couldn’t do without them, and that of course, if I had sons I would have loved them dearly too. They were, I think, reassured.

But I’m still astonished by the sentiment, and by the fact that someone would say something like that to me, and that they would say it in front of my daughters for good measure.


32 responses to “And you said that in front of my daughters?!!

  1. How astounding. I have three beautiful daughters too and no one has said anythign like that to me (yet). My partner gets a lot of comments about not having boys though as if it is some bad reflection on him!

  2. People often say ‘Oh, how lucky!’ when I say I have a boy and a girl. I usually just ‘hmmm’ in response. I do feel lucky that I am getting the experience of raising both a boy and a girl because it’s interesting from a feminist perspective – but that’s about me. It is weird that any other configuration would be considered unlucky. That said, I think many people think at least one of each is good – you know, a boy for dad and a girl for mum (not relevant for us either!).

  3. Unbelievable. Has she no manners at all?

    I hoped for the “pigeon pair” i.e. one of each, just because I like both girls and boys and I only wanted two kids (and my hopes were realised), but I would have coped quite well with either two boys or two girls, I’m sure.

    Parents love the kids they have, simply because they’re our kids. If someone is really disappointed to not have had a child of a particular sex then they are overly attached to an abstraction of a child rather than the reality of the children they have. How sad that would be.

  4. Incredible he would say that in front of the kids. I wonder if he was just referring to the the “lack of balance” (my God what an awful phrase I am using) rather than boys being more desirable than girls.

    In other words would he have said the same thing if you had three boys? Who knows.

  5. I would have asked the elderly lady how she felt about taking up the space of one good boy herself.

  6. Some people are just ignorant Deborah. I remember a lady I used to go to playgroup with had 4 boys – they really wanted a girl but you are only going to try so many times.

    When people said the same to her she would reply “We are going to get one of them fixed up” – meaning sex change of course. That soon shut busybodies up!!

  7. urgh …. that’s terrible. I love hearing about your girls but then I am just as fascinated by little boys after teaching hundreds of the little blighters! But it does bother me that from day 1 we seem intent on gendering them instead of celebrating them.

  8. Ha, people used to say stuff like that to my parents ALL THE TIME (we is 3 girls too). Although I suspect old chinese relatives were probably more highly represented. I remember people also making jokes about things like ‘how my dad doesn’t know how to do it right’ and ‘maybe xyz could show him how’ and other highly inappropriate things. Luckily none of us really realised it was offensive at the time.

  9. Reading your post reminded me of something that took place when I was shopping with my sister in-law and their 5 children. (ages 3 to 11)

    Like your own children, my nieces & nephews are courteous and well behaved. A lady said to Barb, in front of the children, “You poor thing, having all those kids!” I felt like punching the woman…but my beautiful sister in-law, said “My children are a blessing from the Lord and each one special, and we are grateful.”

    I applaud you in the way you handled your situation. You sound like a GREAT Mom with some wonderful girls!


    I think sometimes people engage their mouths before their brains kick in.

  10. When our second son died, soneone said – not to us but it got back – what a pity it was the boys who died. The inference being that because we had a farm it would have been better, or at least not as bad, if our daughter had died.

    It obviously hadn’t occured to the woman who made the remark that we could have had any number of sons who didn’t want to farm and daughters who did.

    Quite apart from that, the deaths of children teach you the truth in the cliche propsective parents utter- it doesn’t matter whether we have a boy or a girl as long as the baby is happy and healthy.

  11. My cousin, a farmer (as many of my cousins are), and quite a conservative but also a very loving man and a good daddy, has two daughters. One is almost through medical school now, and the other is lining herself up to be a farmer. Both with their father’s full support.

    I’m so sorry about the deaths of your boys, Homepaddock. And yes, I spend my time rejoicing in the children I have, not angsting over some mythical son I don’t have.

    Thinking about it, as DPF said, the elderly lady may have had some notion of balance in mind. Nevertheless, I also got a subtext of ‘girls are inferior’. Which is why my girls were puzzled, and a little upset.

  12. unrealochousewife

    As one of three girls in a five-kid household, we were repeatedly told that there were so many of us because my parents wanted two boys (underlying message: girls are so second rate). As teens, the girls were told we didn’t need cars-we were supposed to get boyfriends for that. I applaud you for being sensitive about gender comments.

  13. Wow, I really admire your composure under the circumstances. I can just see myself in the same situations popping out a line like “in my experience penises are a bit overrated.” I think that probably would give equal shock value back! But then she brought the subject up….

  14. I never can work out why people are so quick to stick their noses in to other people’s parenting. I suppose if you’d had three boys she’d have said “You must have your hands full with that lot” or something else reinforcing the inevitability of boisterous boyishness. Why she felt the need to say anything to a total stranger about the composition of her family is still beyond me though.

  15. Yes, I totally agree, Kate, and with you, Deborah, as well. I have one child – a darling 9 year old boy. People can be very quick to pass judgment about only children, and I get the occasional snide comments about how easy my life must be. In fact .. I had a major health scare that prevented me having any more children, so the comments are hurtful as well as being ill-informed.

  16. After reading the comments after the one I’d left, I wanted to comment again.

    I cannot imagine the heartbreak of the death of a child, although, I know well the physical struggles of trying to have a child. (I’m well past childbearing years now)

    The one thing I do know, and agree with the “Word” of God is that “life is like a vapor…” Yes, the doctors can tell you how the eyes work and how the ears work…BUT…it’s only the Lord that puts the “seeing” in the eyes and the “hearing” in the ears.

    Just as there are (and never will be) two snowflakes or grains of sand exactly alike…gives you a glimpse into the absolute uniqueness of EACH child. When I consider this…it takes my breath away.

    God bless all you Mommy’s & Daddy’s and I trust the Lord fill you with His wisdom as you raise to adulthood your precious little ones.


  17. Like Kate I do wonder why people feel they can make these comments that can be hurtful

    We have three boys who were or rather are like your daughters (I blame their mother as I was a far from perfect child) but I always have had a slight hankering for a daughter
    Certainly before our first son we were so sure that we would have a daughter that we had her named but thats not how it worked out

    So when we had a french exchange student for a year, suddenly I had my daughter without all the angst of the teenage years
    She comes back to NZ most years even though she is a student living in Paris and then has to endure another winter
    She is here now, well actually down in Dunedin right now so we seem to have all the benifits of both sons and daughter

  18. I heard that so often when I was a child. Some middle-aged lady saying to my mom, “you have two daughters? no sons?” Funny, it took me many years to realize what that meant – at the time I only thought they were confirming the fact.

  19. My mother had three boys in three years, and was constantly comiserated with by strangers that she didn’t have a daughter. I’m very glad I have one of each, and I felt terribly guilty when I was pregnant with my second about how much I wanted a girl.

    But for someone to go out of their way to make a comment like that to you, rather than have it just come up in conversation or something? Wow that’s offensive.

  20. I wanna know who this ‘they’ is the old lady is talking about. It’s like she’s referencing some blue collars in the delivery bay that mixed up your order, so you ended up with all girls (and there’s a no return policy).

    And how was she to know that you don’t have a son (or five) elsewhere anyway?!

    Jeesh, people like her make all this talk of embryo gender selection even more scary.

  21. I have been reading this post and subsequent comments with interest. My girlfriend who has three boys gets the same types of comments, with people saying to her in public in front of all her sons (10, 8 and 3), “Oh, what a shame you were trying for a girl and you had ANOTHER boy.”

    Firstly where do people get off with such a rude attitude ? And secondly, are we not blessed to have healthy lovely children regardless of sex?

    I too have suffered from the ‘aren’t you lucky you have a boy and a girl’, and ‘I guess you can stop now’, when in reality, I would have loved more children but was unable to conceive any more. Not a subject I wish to share with a stranger in a supermarket.
    I am truly blessed to have the two healthy lovely children I do-that is the real luck of the draw.

  22. Kezza, it must be so tempting sometimes to actually say that to a stranger, just to see them blush, fumble and stumble, and wish that they had never opened their silly mouths in the first place.

  23. My partner gets a lot of comments about not having boys though as if it is some bad reflection on him!

    Ugh… I guess it’s some kind of advance that guilt-tripping parents about inappropriate reproduction is going gender-blind. Instead of “what’s wrong with your cursed womb” it’s “you must have really done something really bad to make God kill all your boy-juice”.

    Been Babysitting Uncle Craig today, and you know something? I love ’em to bits and pieces, but I’m trying to figure out a way to turn ’em into a Matrix-style power source.

  24. Carol said: “People can be very quick to pass judgment about only children, ”

    It’s not necessarily judgement, people ask about your family to make conversation and although only children are much more common now, there’s an expectation that if you have a child you’ll have more than one.

    When I answer we have a daughter and get the look that says why didn’t you have any more I’m left wondering if I leave it at that or explain we had two sons who died – which usually embarrasses the other person.

    However, it is surprising the number of times I mention the boys that I find I’m tlaking to someone who has lost a child too.

    But there is a big difference between having a conversation with someone you’ve met and a total stranger making comments on your fmaily as happened with Deborah.

  25. Craig – interestingly its usually his rugby mates that say this kind of thing. Apparently it is much more manly to have boys when physiologically its more about timing :-). And if you manage to harness the power of children – let me know so i can get it to run my vacuum cleaner

  26. I have ‘a pigeon pair’ as the older folk love to remind me when I’m shopping with the kids, they then (invariably) tell me how lucky I am. Which is true on one level because I have two happy healthy kids, but it doesn’t matter to mix about the gender mix. I secretly wanted a second girl when I was pregnant with my son as I have two sisters and two brothers. My brothers are a lot younger than me and I wanted my daughter to grow up with the close sister relationship that I had. I had about 1/2 a second of disappointment when my son was born but as soon as I looked into his eyes I knew that my hopes were irrelevant, life gives you what it does. I would not change a thing.
    My grandmother had four boys, the last quite late in life and 50 years later she would tell me how angry she was when people said “oh what a shame he wasn’t a girl” after her last son’s birth.

  27. Wow, what an outrageous comment for that woman to make! And it’s a bit depressing that so many other people in this thread have had similar experiences.

    I admit I have too – when I was heavily pregnant the guy taking my money at the petrol station asked me what I was having and when I responded that we didn’t know he said “oh I’m sure you want a boy, everyone wants a boy.” (Words to that effect) Then he went on to tell me he was really disappointed that his wife had “given” him a daughter but they’d since had a son so that was ok. Zoiks!

    Having had a boy (when I was so sure Wriggly would be a girl) I initially did want to have a daughter next (if there is a next), but since my father died I am more than happy to have another boy, in fact I’d almost prefer it to a girl.

    The reality is that I don’t get a choice, and even if I could choose I think I’d rather leave it to chance. I’m just hoping that we do get another child, if/when we want one, and that not only that baby, but also the one we already have, are able to have happy and healthy lives. And that they don’t lose their parents at a relatively young age, I’m a bit paranoid about that at the moment.

    homepaddock, big virtual hugs. Losing Wriggly is my worst nightmare, and I mean that literally, I have bad dreams about it all the time. Thank you for sharing.

  28. I’m going to store up snappy comebacks for such situations:

    “all those As, poor you”
    “we had a B, but we had to send it back, it didn’t match the carpet.”
    “I’m sorry?”
    ” They gave us a full refund, but we had to pay the postage and packaging.”

  29. I knew a woman whose mother had 4 girls and an abortion before having a son. I think she made the girls feel like they weren’t good enough, when she kept “trying.”

  30. Sigh. I’m in my third trimester and although we’re not telling anyone close to us, perfect strangers tend to react to the announcement that we’re expecting a boy with a wink and a nudge to Beau and an “Oh, I bet you’re excited about that, eh?”

    Frankly we had been hoping for a girl – had a name picked out and everything – but having a boy is just as good. Only I’m not so sure about all this winking and nudging going on, it makes me feel like there’s some plot afoot that’s going to drive a wedge between my son and I before he’s even born.

  31. I’m so happy about my soon to be born son but I’m getting so sick and tired of all the comments about how wonderful it is to have a son. I wouldn’t give up my boy but part of me is still wishing for a daughter so I can say, “In your face!” to all the idiots who think boy babies are better. My mom’s next door neighbour was so happy to hear we’re expecting a boy, he said a new grandson needs to have a big party. My mom said, we’d have a big party for the baby regardless of the gender. Of course he said, “No, big parties for boys!!” Or something to that effect.

  32. I have three boys, and was shocked that people would say to me (in front of the boys) THREE boys?! Oh you POOR THING!

    I got very quick at interrupting after they’d said ‘three boys’, and beaming hugely would say Yes, aren’t I LUCKY?! before they could continue.