Sunday, December 22, 2013

Answering intrusive questions

Too often people ask questions that are so intrusive. For example, they might ask "you have so few children, when you plan to have more" or "why don't you have more children" or "that is quite a gap between your children, care to explain?" -- especially if they have no grip on social nicety. 

Miss Manners notes you can always respond with "Why do you ask?"  A friend suggested that you just ignore the question and ask "What about you, when are you planning to have children?" followed by "tell me about yourself."

The "why do you ask" and "what about you, when are you planning to have children" responses are both good deflections.

However, remember that so very often the questions are harmless and mindless chatter.

I know in my own case, where we buried three children and went through a number of miscarriages, we got and still get a fair amount of questions like that.

I'm a lawyer. My wife is a CRNA. We have only two living children. With a large gap. At one time when she had finished her BSRN we had only one child.  People would ask whatever popped into their heads that were otherwise empty at the time, without really thinking.  Empty social chatter sometimes, probing or judgmental at other times.

Sometimes I deflect gently. 
I tell people the truth sometimes.

I remember that they are just people. It is part of the normal chatter and social milieu.

That doesn't make it easier. I've a friend whose wife almost died trying exploratory surgery and trying to have children. The story spread far and wide in his social and church setting.  People quit asking why a lawyer and an m.d. had no children and implying that they were self centered and worthless.

But it took her heart stopping and the rest before they started telling people how heartbreaking the question was and the social pressure eased off.

It can be mindless social chatter for some.  But terribly hard for others.

If you need to vent, share your tale of woe when people ask. Stop before all the details, catch yourself, and say "I just can't bear it sometimes, if I only had time I'd share the rest if it. But it is heartbreaking for us. I'm sure you asked because you want to help, but I'm so overwhelmed I don't know what to ask you to do."  

You've just told them part of how bad it is, but not all (leaving some to their imagination) and then segued to the social construct that anyone who invites a tale of woe has done so for the good purpose of trying to figure out how to help.  You might even suggest how they might help.  You are really saying "thank you for letting me vent and offering to help."

That gives three responses.  Use the three responses "why do you ask" "what about you" and "thank you for letting me vent and offering to help" as you need them.

It is so hard, but having a response or two or three prepared can make it easier.

But remember that most of it is just mindless social chatter by people who are not thinking.

And also remember that there are people who sympathize and wish you well.

The world is filled with good people.  You would be surprised how many Kathy Warnocks or Linda Grays -- people who were so kind to us in times of need -- or similar people are out there.  Remember that too.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the reminder Stephen. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Loved this. I now have answers and know how to handle questions like these.

I am truly sorry for your losses. I buried one child. Had two miscarriages.

I am careful to whom I reveal any of this information to.

Sometimes when people exclaim how far apart in age my kids are I say "Yep, I have two 'only' children". That gets them thinking.

Thanks again. People need to read about these things.