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.
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?