Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Caught Stereotyping

This is our version of the stick people seen
on the rear windshields of cars.

I’m at the mall with my daughters, Kelly and Mallory. We’re in Justice, a store that is very popular with girls that are my daughter’s ages – eleven and nine.

After some ooos and ahhhs, they choose a few items to try on. It’s a weekday, which means there is homework waiting and dinner to be figured out and eaten, but I’m feeling pretty good, so I’m giving them about twenty minutes in the store, instead of my usual ten. (See my post titled, “Was I Born Without the Shopping Gene?” May 29, 2009)

Kelly gets earrings and a shirt, and Mallory gets a knitted shirt that will be good for cooler weather. We go to the register desk with the clothes and our forty percent off coupon, where we get in line behind a woman with several children. (My definition for several children is at least four, because it’s one more than what I have.)

The oldest child could be the boy who appears to be about eleven; or maybe it’s the tallest girl. And then there are all these other little people. Two are standing beside the stroller, one is in the stroller, and the mom is carrying one that looks about eight months old. The picture is completed with mounds of merchandise bags on top of the stroller near the handle.

I look around the store and do not see another adult, so I figure they are all hers. She is young - thirtyish, maybe older - average height, and thin. My eyes take a quick peek at her mid-section - flat. So now I’m impressed and decide that she must be breastfeeding and that the others must have been breastfed too, because that’s supposed to help the uterus return to pre-pregnancy size and to also burn extra calories.

My initial assessment is done. It’s time to open my mouth to start a conversation.

“I was just telling my kids…”

The mom finishes my sentence and says, “…that I need a lot of hands.”

I continued with a friendly smile, “Well I guess you do, but I was thinking of how you all remind me of the Smith family. I almost thought you were them. They have one boy too, but they have six girls. My kids had piano lessons at the same studio as them.”

The boy proudly says, “Oh, they have one more than we do. We only have six kids.”

I stop talking so that she can finish her purchase, while thinking, “That’s a lot of kids to be shopping in Justice; not that it’s a very expensive store, but you can get better deals at the larger discount stores. (Stereotype # 1 – Can she afford brand name clothes?)

“She’s probably a stay-at-home mom.” (Stereotype # 2 – With six young kids, how can she be employed?)

“I’ll bet they’re home-schooled.” (Stereotype # 3 – Young woman, six well mannered kids – gotta be home-schooled kids!)

“I wonder if she makes and bakes bread.” (Stereotype # 4 – I know five or six home-schooling moms that make bread.)

She’s now ready to leave, but I quickly get in a question, “Do you home school?”

With a slight smile, she answers, “No, but everybody asks me that.”

I smile and she walks away so that I can buy my things; or, is it because she wants to hurry and get away from me before the barrage of questions come.

“Maybe I should not have asked her that. Hmmmm.”

The whole incident was harmless, but it made me realize that I was stereotyping. I frequently talk to people when I’m waiting in a line, but next time I’ll….....no, I’ll probably be a little too nosey again!

What do you think when you see a mom with “several” kids? Be honest. :)

Ps. I think there are many women and men that are born to have large families, and in that case, why not!


Abby said...

When I see large families, I think "conservative Christian". Maybe that's just because of where I live. Yes, I also think "home-schooled".

I've pondered having a large family like that - 6 or more kids - could be fun. Maybe not?

I'm almost jealous your outings to the mall with your girls. If I go to the mall with my kids, I'm usually stuck waiting outside the video game store.

Anita said...

ABBY, at one time I thought of having just one more child, too. I thought it would be a good thing for my kids to have lots of siblings to grow old with. But they'll probably do that with their spouses and children, same as what I'm doing.

I'm glad you mentioned the girls and the mall. I'm not big on shopping, so the next time we're shopping, I'll focus more on togetherness, and on being a "girl!" :)

I don't know how I would have handled the video game craze...Hang in there!

Unknown said...

I appreciate your visits and dialogue. Have fun with your girls!

Julie Magers Soulen Photography
Blog of Note

Annie Z said...

It's all too easy to automatically stereotype isn't it? I always try to catch myself out from thinking like or that or the automatic judging we tend to. Easy said than done of course.

My partner comes from a catholic background. All his family have large families. One Auntie has just had her 8th child!!!! I believe they all attend school and she works part-time.

I'm really looking forward to meeting her. Apparently she is the most laid back and relaxed woman and her kids have inherited that. I want that!!!

K said...

Very interesting post. I think I do stereotype often, more than I realize. When I see large families I usually first assess the mother's age: did she start young, are they all hers with one father (that is so bad of me isn't it), how is she managing to look so great with so many kids while I feel so frumpy with only two, can she give enough time and attention to each child? These thoughts all occur within a few seconds, but my actions are usually different than my thoughts: I smile and talk to the children, eager to just simply meet another child!

Anita said...

You're welcome JULIE!
Your life is probably quite different from mine, and even though I frequent the mommy blogs, I especially enjoy your photography blog with your added point of view.
See'ya :)

Anita said...

NEWMUM and KIMBERLY, thank you for an interesting discussion and for your candor.

And KIMBERLY, thank goodness for the ability to not always say what we think - on any topic! :)

andrea said...

Thanks for leaving the comment on my blog! I don't think you're stereotyping in a negative way. Believe me, I have come across the negative looks and even comments. The comments bother me when they are made within hearing of my children. I do know a number of larger families that homeschool (we do not, by the way), and many larger families where the mom is SAHM at least until day-care costs are not a consideration.

Anita said...

ANDREA, thanks for your comment. I wanted to hear from at least one person that has six children!

I've heard people say things about large families within earshot of the family. Sometimes a comment is even made to me. It's very awkward, or even rude. If it's said to me, I try to turn it around to make something positive out of it.

The number of children decided upon is such a personal choice, and in most cases, I don't think it's a big deal...unless you're OctoMom...God bless her!

AMIT said...

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Anita said...

AMIT, I'm glad you found the post interesting.

the mom said...

Well, around here you normally don't see large families, or young parents. So, me with (only) three kids, and being around thirty, can make a great stir in public. People point at us, and discuss whether this or that. But never ask me anything directly...

Anita said...

THE MOM, Is it in all of Italy that families are not large? Or is it only is some parts of Italy?
As you know, the U.S. is so large, that we have all sorts of family sizes and combinations. You would be considered very normal here, as a woman that had children in her early twenties.

the mom said...

I think I read somewhere people "make" 1,2 children in Italy, whereas in Sweden we make 2,3. It's very expensive to bring up a child here in Italy, and nowdays I don't think it changes where you live. In the past I think large families were very common in the south though.

Anita said...

THE MOM, You're right, there are certain parts of the country where there has been a history of people having a lot of children. Rural southern areas was one of those areas, but now, the reasons have changed, especially now that contraception allows us to limit the number. Still as Abby, the first commentor said, some conservative Christians have more children, along with some Catholics, and some families with stay-at-home moms. Here in the states, fortunately, you can have more kids and choose to live very modestly or frugally if that suits you.

Nakamuras on Saipan said...

It is completely normal here in the islands for families to be large...so I guess I think "normal family". When I go to the states and see families with one or two kids I think "oh, work must be a priority so they have kept their family small".

Anita said...

NAKAMURAS-Your world travels have allowed you to see all kinds of families. I think that's an advantage because maybe you're not as judgemental knowing that people can be very different, yet we're all the same.
Thanks for continuing this conversation.