When Strangers Lose Their Filter

when strangers lose their filter

I was standing in line for our favorite pulled pork meal, and I overheard him. The boys were across the way, picking out a window seat, helping daddy fill up drinks and snacking on pickles. He had spotted my them and was putting together the fact that there were four of them sharing one birthday. And then he said it.  One of my most hated phrases to be described of the life you lead.

“I’d shoot myself.”

I’m right in front of him. And I sigh, and wait for him to go on, and say something else worthy of his foot being swallowed. But I don’t say anything. I look down at the floor and I breathe a sigh of relief that my boys didn’t hear him speak about them in such a way.

I know his intentions weren’t evil, and for the most part he is just shocked, but it still stings. I’ve heard it before, and I’m sure to hear it again, but my skin isn’t tough enough yet. The wound isn’t scabbed over, because it keeps getting broke open by remarks like this one.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if the roles were reversed. What if I said the same of the people they are with. 

“Is that your wife?  Are those YOUR kids?

“ I’d…”

No, that would be incredibly rude, uncalled for, disrespectful, judgmental, offensive, and careless. And after all, I don’t know you or them from Adam. I have no idea if they are difficult to live with, or how your world looks.

Yet for some reason, the standard changes when it comes to my family. The filter dissipates. They forget that I have ears.

They forget that THEY have ears.

And this is why I have to be ever more vigilant to preach to my boys that they are a BLESSING, not a curse. My life is better, not ruined because of them. Their lives are precious, not a mistake. 

I simply can’t imagine a life without them.

He chatted with me later, as I refilled my tea.  He asked me the typical questions, and said what a handful they must be with a friendly smile.  I took the opportunity to tell him that they are a blessing, and share my thankfulness for their lives. We parted ways, but his words didn’t leave me.

It’s a reminder to me that our words are powerful. They can’t be undone. They are heard. They are taken to heart. They linger. They have weight.

Let’s be careful with them, Friends. Let’s not be the stranger that forgets their filter.

25 thoughts on "When Strangers Lose Their Filter"

  1. Crystal says:

    Great post. Those words must have hurt. I think that most of us can’t imagine raising quadruplets (including me!), but to say such a hurtful thing is pretty extreme. Those are four little beating hearts, four personalities with feelings.

    Oftentimes our culture runs counter to what God’s word says – that children are a blessing, not a burden. I am so glad you handled the situation with grace, and that you were able to share the blessings you have with that man. I hope your answers make him think.

    Also, City Barbecue is amazing.

  2. Katy Mann says:

    Your life and your children fascinate me. You are my hero and I know that when I am in awe of your family it’s because I can’t imagine being you, I don’t think that it would be a curse, I KNOW it would be a blessings but you just amaze me — I know how exhausted I am with two children, how tired they make me, how crazy they make me sometimes. But then I also know the extreme amount of joy they bring me…I am jealous that you have that joy x 4!

    During our travels the past few months, strangers always had a comment about our TWO girls being somewhere with us — what a handful, how brave we are to fly with them, etc. Even today at a hardware store, the comments about the two girls, I almost always want to say, “If things were different, you would see us with THREE. A month ago you would have had a terrible time wrapping your imagination around my life, forget now.”

    I think in your case, they are trying to compliment you — that you ARE stronger than they could ever be. It does sound awful the way they are wording it, but really, they are making more of statement about who YOU are than who they are. You are kind, patient, loving, joyful, energetic, calm and a better mother than they could ever imagine being. They aren’t expressing the good parts because they know the good parts and they know you do, they are commiserating with the tireless, thankless, heartbreaking trials of being a parent. :) They are in awe of your amazingness!

  3. Heather says:

    As they get older, it is less obvious that they are quads, so the comments come less frequently. Your boys will be fine and will learn from you when you react with grace. The funny thing for us is that my boys are college freshmen, and one wrote his first English paper on What Not to Say When You Meet a Quadruplet – he made an A!

  4. Siob says:

    I shudder at that phrase too:(. You are amazing. And all four of your babies are miracles and blessings!! Im so so sorry at peoples thoughtless words.

  5. Mandy says:

    That phrase, while seems to be directed at your children, is not. It is not about them. It’s about the person that says it and their inability to deal with the very special and frustrating world of having children. It can be hard when one child is being a normal 2 year old, but 4 of them at once??? I seriously breathe a little faster at the thought because it absolutely scares me to death. I am not cut out for it. I had two children. And there are days I don’t feel like they get the one on one they want with me. Two more pulling at my pants and saying WATCH ME WATCH ME might make me, well, unpleasant. But that is my defect not the children’s. He was not saying there was anything wrong with the children. He was saying you are far stronger than he feels like he would ever be. If you decide to look at it differently, it could take the sting out. :)

    1. Mandy, I understand where you’re coming from. Before I had my kids (and still a little bit every morning) the thought of have having multiples is frightening! My biggest problem with the phrase is not how it makes me feel, but how it could make my kids feel. It can’t be easy for a child hear from a perfect stranger that he/she would have killed him/herself had they been their mother/father.

      There are so many other ways to express a similar thought without all the….violence.

  6. Crystal says:

    Oh goodness, what an awful thing to say! I would have glared heavily in his direction, or maybe more, if I were there with you. :-) Children are a blessing; you already know this, and thank you for living it!

  7. Angi says:

    I’m so sorry that people don’t realize just how painful their comments can be, even when they don’t mean them to be hurtful. I agree with Heather, you’ll get less comments as they get older. I had 5 children in 8 years – 4 boys, 1 girl. I had many, many comments about what a handful they were, or how happy I must be to finally have a girl, I didn’t always respond so nicely. 7 years after my 5th child was born, I had another girl. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked if she was “an accident” or if she has the same father. It’s crazy. Thanks for the reminder to watch what we say.

  8. Dawn says:

    great post! I feel the same way EVERYtime someone says something like this. As you said they are a blessing and even on the hardest days I never forget what a blessing they are and how empty my like was before.

  9. Amber says:

    That’s one of the most annoying comments, I agree. I’m still developing a thick skin for when I’m out in public with my own little quadlings and I try to remind myself that most people spurt something out because they just don’t know what else to say. But sometimes, I just wish folks would pause for a second to think about it! It’s our job to reinforce the fact that our fab fours are blessings, like you said, and to relay that to those around us as well. Especially those who want to comment otherwise. It’s easy to say that these people commenting have good intentions, but it’s much more difficult when you’re constantly on the receiving end and are worried about protecting your innocent children’s ears. Way to take the high road, Jen! You are an inspiration to many.

  10. christa says:

    so sorry, dear. there are so many things in life that people speak of that shouldn’t ever be said. i like the word filter…wish more people would use it. being in the infertility world now…i see so many more things i wish i had never said and so much more i wish people wouldn’t say to me. other places in my life are like this as well…people should not speak of things they don’t know, but we too often think we do know and make a judgement. if we ever have to go through it our filter changes.

  11. Cheri says:

    I’m sorry to hear you have to deal with these type of situations, I want you to know that I took a great message with me today.

    “It’s a reminder to me that our words are powerful. They can’t be undone. They are heard. They are taken to heart. They linger. They have weight.”

    This is an important reminder to all of us as we are all imperfectly perfect, and to be cautious about the power of our words.

    Thank you and take care.

    1. Angie says:

      It is so very sad that people don’t realize the nastiness of their words. Unfortunately, so many of these people actually do mean what they say. It is a true sign of a society that doesn’t value children.

      Thankfully, you do know what a blessing your children are. That’s why God chose YOU to be their mom!

      I know from my own experience that there are comments that just make me want to scream, but that wouldn’t be polite. 😉 With my four girls, we have been told countless times (right in front of them) how someone “would HATE to be us when they are teenagers!” Well, guess what? They are and it is JOY unspeakable!! I thank God that he chose us for their parents because we cannot imagine life without them.

      I personally look forward to each Monday when I get to teach your boys. They are wonderful. There is not a Monday that goes by that I don’t reflect on how truly blessed you are!! :)

  12. Covington Grandma says:

    As grandparents to these wonderful boys we have had the most joyful experiences and feel so blessed I am so sorry that people make such rude remarks and hurt you. They have no idea of the amount of love you receive from the four boys who are gifts from the Lord. Because you are such great parents and are teaching them well, they are outstanding in their behavior and character. I am glad that you wrote this blog to help all of us be careful with our words to family, friends, and strangers.

  13. Lafayette Grandma says:

    This is when you remember, he doesn’t know the joy these four boys bring to your life and to mine. Good thing this grandma wasn’t there or shremight have embarrassed you. You have for of the best behaved little boys there will ever be. They are so joyful and truly blessings from God. This man will have to answer to the same God. I forgive him because I am so sorry he has no idea what he is missing. These boys could bring joy even to his life.

  14. Theresa says:

    Wow. The ignorance. I don’t know you personally, but kind of feel like I do simply because of this space. I have no idea what it’d be like to have four at a time…I only have two at a time. :) But either way…blessing is right! It is very incredible what people say when they don’t know any of your life’s circumstances. What a great way you responded (unfortunately, I have not responded so kindly to people who make comments about my twins like that…my response is usually “I’d much rather have my two than some peoples’ one.”) Not sure if that is the right thing to say or not, but wow! Some people just think your world is topsy-tervy simply because you had multiples. (*Something else that is often said to me is this: “Wow, you’re lucky you got your family done and overwith with one pregnancy!”–we have one boy and one girl twin…the “perfect family”. Little do they know, I’d love to have more than one pregnancy! Comments like that do hurt and people just don’t know…)

    Sorry for my little rant there…. This was a great article to even remind me that I need to be sensitive when talking to/by others. What grace you show Jen….you are amazing!

  15. Charity says:

    Great post friend! Great post!

  16. Oh Jen. How did you not say something to him??? But…as much as my heart breaks and blood boils for you and that thoughtless man…I also have to confess that my heart breaks for the times I’ve said thoughtless things. :(

  17. Megan says:

    Whenever I see your family, I usually smile and say they are the cutest things ever…though looking back, I wonder if I ever said anything like “how do they do it” or “not sure I could handle them” or something that probably did sound offensive. I hope not because your family rocks! Whether or not I have, I definitely will think about the impact of my words from now on. Thanks for sharing.

  18. I’m usually too shocked when I hear such comments to even reply. Surely if I ever get to that point, I’d say something equally as rude and offensive back. I think for now, it’s easier to just stand there like a deer in headlights.

    I promise you, that if we ever bump into each other (the chances of which are pretty slim, granted), I wouldn’t make such a comment. But I can’t promise I wouldn’t respond for you. :-/

    In the meantime, I’m checking out this BBQ. Because since moving here, BBQ and pizza, I’ve found, are horrible here. I just hope it’s not W of BB.

  19. Kerry says:

    I have been following your blog for a long time (since my struggles with infertility) but I have never commented before. But this particular post especially touched me. My husband and I have four children as well (13,10,3 & 1). We’ve experienced multiple losses as well as years of being able to conceive. We know each and every one of our children are a blessing that only the Lord above could bless us with. And, like you, we are very diligent in raising our children so that they will be well behaved, polite, God fearing people and yet we are faced with the same criticism solely based on quantity. My pet peeve comment is “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” As if to say that the Lord has given me/us more than we can handle. I used to cringe when someone would say that to me. But one day, I just looked the lady in the eye and said “No, my hands are not full, but my heart is” I just want to encourage you in your walk. Your boys will honor you and your husband when they are older because you have shown them what it means to honor The Lord.

  20. Lindley says:

    Not at all the same, but I have 4 boys–different ages and one with Down syndrome. I get this a lot too. Often in the form of 4 BOYS? And many people who just go on to say how they wanted girls and are glad they have them, etc—in front of our boys! It breaks my heart for my it’s, who must wonder why people say that! I do let people know we feel so blessed and love our boys–wouldn’t want it any other way! I am sorry you had to experience that! I also agree with someone up above in the comments that surely most people are trying to compliment you in a way–or that you might take it that way! You are doing a great job, Mama!

  21. Just found your blog, and I am so glad I did. I have had the same thing happen to me, a long time ago… my children were so close in age and reading this brought me back to the time when I felt tremendous anxiety going out with them alone… for fear of running into people like that. Thanks for sharing your story!
    Erin Gonzales
    http://www.handstampedstyle.com

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