How Do You Respond to this Uncomfortable Comment?

 This was in my inbox last week:

From: Emily Subject: The Age Old Question

Message Body: Hi, Michelle!

I became a mother when I was 20 years old. My husband and I got married shortly before our first daughter was born. We were lucky that we knew we wanted this prior to our surprising pregnancy news. Now I have two daughters, ages 4 and 2, at the age of 25. At first, I was so self conscious of my age. I felt like anywhere I went I had to be a "perfect" mother, or else the judgement would be twice as harsh as that of a mother a decade older. Now I rarely think about my age. I'm so proud of everything I have accomplished so early and even with a few extra challenges along the way.

However, there are times when I will be merrily strolling along and someone will ask the natural question of my daughters' ages, and then, occasionally, my age — for whatever reason that makes them think it's their business. I respond without much thought, then their comment comes: "Wow, you're so young!" Sometimes, I receive this comment even before they ask my age.

I have never, ever had a decent response for this. I think the most creative I've gotten is, "Yes, I am." Smile politely and then change the subject.

You may have already written a post about this, but what on earth is your response? Have you heard from any other readers on this subject? I would love some ideas on a more creative or graceful approach to this conversation, or even just confirmation that my experience in this area is pretty typical.

Emily

***

Well, Emily, here's my response. First off, I've certainly been confronted with that situation in all its varied forms. When I was pregnant, I heard "You look too young to be pregnant!" — part surprise, part accusation from a complete stranger.

When I was was about six months postpartum, I had this conversation upon meeting a 30-something woman for the first time:

Her: "YOU have a baby? What?! Wow you look so young to have a baby!"

Me: "Yeah, I'm, um, 23."

Her: "[noticeable hesitation] Oh. Yeah...well...you are young to have a baby."

But you know what? I was young to have a kid. It was an honest observation — probably an innocent conversation starter — without real mean-spiritied intentions. But back then — back in the beginning — it felt like an interrogation. So much that I eventually started lying about my age — specifically to avoid this conversation.

I think the most basic reason it annoys us is because we have to talk about the age thing again, when really we just want to be accepted as "moms" — no explanations needed. But why was I so deeply bothered? Why did I rehearse snappy comebacks the entire drive home?

Fast-forward to 2012, when I was having my chair pulled out for me on a Disney cruise across from my 3-year-old dining partner. Our server — with a classic Disney smile and the sweetest accent — looked from me to him, to me.

"Is he yours?" she sang in the happiest tune. "You look like a baby yourself!"

[four years ago I would have choked down my embarrassment/anger]

"Well, I'm 26," I honestly replied.

"Wow!!! You look 18," she said — still smiling, still sing-speaking.

"Thank you!" I chirped back.

Now what's the difference between 2009 and 2012? Why did I feel shame and hurt at 23 years old, and then felt pride and amusement at 26 years old — TO THE SAME EXACT QUESTION? I find it funny to see people's surprised reactions now, only because I'm proud of the life we've built at — yes — a young age.

Confidence. 100% confidence. The more comfortable you are with yourself as a mom — the more time passes, the more compliments you accumulate — the less it'll irk you. Pinky promise.

I had a feeling you guys had similar experiences, so I posed the question on the Early Mama Facebook page: What's your best response? Here are some of my favorites:

If you're feeling sassy:

"...and I feel even younger." -Karen

"Thanks, I must have good genes!" -Sue

"Thanks!! I am so surprised I look this good at 50!" -Jana

 

If you're feeling moody:

[Long tired look over the top of my glasses and a slowly heaved sigh.] -Angie

"Depending on my mood it's a tight lipped smile, a glare, or thank you, I'm 30. How old are you?" -Gloria

 

But here's what you should really say:

"Thank you, it's a problem I like having." -Jane

"Whether they're being rude or genuine, I just say 'Thank you'." -Krystal

"I am." -Kelly

 

How do YOU respond to that (usually well-intentioned) comment?

5 Comments