Moms of Multiples: “I Bet You Were as Big as a Beluga” and Other Verbiage to Avoid

Amber ShawverIf you think you’re seeing double, you’re probably right. According to the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, the rate of twin births rose 76 percent from 1980 to 2011. In 2011, the twin birth rate was 33.2/1,000 live births and the high order multiples (triplets or more) birth rate was 137/100,000 live births. Chances are you’ll spot multiples wherever you go, and multiples are often an object of fascination among the general public.

However, families with multiples are ordinary families just like yours, with the same needs and desires. Consequently, you’ll likely stumble upon families with multiples out in the community, perhaps at your neighborhood grocery store or doctor’s office. When you see a gaggle of same-age children, it can be hard to contain your commentary and curiosity, especially if they are downright adorable or behaving badly. If you feel compelled to say something to families with multiples, please remember your manners and NEVER, EVER say these things:

  1. You’ve got your hands full! You’d think this would be perfectly okay, but parents of multiples hear this EVERY single day MANY times (more times than can ever be counted). You are indeed correct; their hands are full. They know it. Raising multiples is no easy feat, and they would appreciate if they weren’t given constant reminders of how difficult it is from everyone they meet.
  2. Do twins run in your family? This seems totally harmless, right? Wrong. Parents of multiples know this is generally a sneaky way of asking whether or not they used assisted reproductive technology to conceive.
  3. Better you than me . . . Beware. Parents of multiples may just agree with you, and you may find that you insulted yourself by saying this one.
  4. I’d shoot myself/ jump off a bridge/ kill myself . . . Seriously??? The very sight of seeing someone else’s children brings thoughts of suicide? If so, please visit a mental health professional ASAP.
  5. I’m sorry. Parents of multiples do not want your pity; please don’t give sympathy to them. They may face challenges in raising multiples, but they are proud of their children and consider themselves lucky.
  6. I bet you were HUGE! If a woman carried multiples, chances are, she was huge during pregnancy. She knows that and would prefer you not sharing how you are currently imagining her roughly the size of a beluga whale.
  7. I bet MY tax dollars are paying for that. Um, that’s presumptuous. Families with multiples do not receive state assistance any more often than families without multiples, and it’s certainly not your business.
  8. Can I take a picture? (It’s an even worse offense to snap a picture without permission.) It was polite of you to ask permission, but you will likely be politely declined. It makes parents leery when perfect strangers want pictures of their children. For all they know, you are a child predator.
  9. So you’re done? Don’t assume that families with multiples feel that their family is complete. They may have a desire to add more children to their family after multiples. Besides, family building is a highly personal topic.
  10. Any question related to how the children were conceived or delivered is totally taboo (e.g. How did that happen? Did you take fertility drugs? Are they natural? Did you plan on this?). These questions are especially offensive when asked in front of children who are old enough to be listening. Seeing multiples may spark a natural curiosity, but these are very personal, invasive questions. Inquiring about the most intimate aspects of someone else’s life is not acceptable. Disclaimer: If you happened to be an infertility patient and have genuine questions, share your experience first. The family may be willing to open up to you if they know you aren’t simply satisfying a voyeur’s curiosity.

Parents of multiples are fully aware that they are a novelty, and generally won’t mind entertaining a few thoughtful questions or hearing kind remarks. Even if you are being extremely polite, please be mindful of how much time you are commanding. The family is likely out either trying to enjoy time together or to accomplish some errands. Unfortunately, they don’t have the luxury of time to spend 20-30 minutes with everyone they meet.

I good rule of thumb is: Would I ask that of someone with one baby? Is it okay for children to hear what I am asking? If you keep those things in mind, you’ll be just fine. A few pertinent questions or compliments (e.g. How old are they? They’re adorable!) may even flatter the proud parents of multiples. There’s also the general rule that, “If you don’t have something nice to say, it’s better to say nothing at all.” This includes what you say behind the family’s back because they can probably hear you.

Amber and quadsAmber is the proud mother of girl-boy-girl-boy quadruplets who debuted in July 2012. She continues to practice school psychology in the public school system part time. When she’s not busy wrangling toddlers, Amber maintains a family blog at www.FourtoAdore.com where she shares her family’s shenanigans. You can also keep up with her musings on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

 

55 COMMENTS

  1. When my twin boys were just a few weeks old, an elderly woman stepped over to look at them. I was happy with my new babies and didn’t mind showing them off. But then she asked me, “Which one is the bad one?” I was angry to say the least. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

  2. Thank you! So glad to hear and see someone finally say that family building is a personal private issue! I have 5 singlets and I get asked first if any were twins, and then the highly offensive and intrusive follow up “so you are done right?” Maybe I am not, how does that affect you by chance? The next time someone asks that I will tell them no, I am aiming for 5 more! 😛 ask a silly question, get a silly answer.

    • I love how you call your littles “singlets”! That’s too cute. I’ve never understood why anyone asks about family building ever. It’s so intimate.

  3. With twins following 3 children in a total of 5 1/2 years, strangers often stopped to ask me, “Are these all YOURS?!” It always took me twice as long to get groceries, because of how often we were stopped in the aisles of people wanting to look and comment. I wanted to say, “Can you see I’m in a hurry to get done, before their naps or feeding times?!” But, I was always polite, understanding that my children were a novelty and totally adorable …. people just couldn’t help themselves. LOL.

  4. Why do parents of multiples seem to think they are somehow more special or interesting than other parents? They are just children. You aren’t unique, special, enviable, or any of that nonsense. This girl in my family likes to act as though we should be treating her like royalty because she is having twins. Not to mention she can’t afford the kids she has, she keeps posting “I’m so special” twins memes and pictures like she’s in some elite group. NO ONE CARES! Babies are cute and special because they are babies! That’s it!

    • I know it’s probably best to just ignore you, but wow, your comment is spectacularly rude. Obviously you have a specific problem with a specific person, and it has little to do with the article above. If you had twins, you’d know that twin families get many of the comments Amber mentioned. I don’t necessarily think we twin families like mine are more interesting, but random strangers sure seem to! Anyway, it’s always best to spread kindness if you can, rather than nastiness. Maybe next time?

      • I totally agree with you Lena. I have triplets and I know I am not any more important than a mother with 1 child, but others seem to think its amazing (I also think my babies are amazing, but what mom doesn’t?). If Faith has a problem with a specific person in her family, that seems to be something that you should address somewhere else, not on an article about mothers of multiples. That was incredibly rude. I actually appreciate what this article says and hope people read it and take the hint. Perhaps next time “no one cares about your multiples” should be on the list of things not to say 🙂

      • I see you thibk you are special too because you had an egg split or dropped 2 eggs at once. I can assure you that it’s not just about my family member. You are not special either, and neither are your multiples, not more special than any other children. Why don’t you concentrate on raising your children to be productive members of society instead of acting like they are special just for being multiples. You are clearly stuck up. I agree with Alisa below.

        • Faith, maybe YOU should concentrate on being a productive member of society and not sit behind a keyboard and tell a stranger that they are not special and neither are their children. Cyber bullying is ridiculous. If you don’t agree with the article, move on to another story.

          • Monique- thank you for taking time to support my message, and call out a cyber bully. I am a real person with feelings.

        • Wow! Obviously there is something special about us parents with multiples or everyone would be able to have them!! Also, every child is special in his or her own way. You have no right to call us or our children unspecial!

    • Honestly, I think our family is boring, but people in public really like asking many questions. I believe every baby IS special. My multiples are special, just like single babies. I’m sorry you have gotten a bad impression of parents of multiples, that’s a shame.

    • Wow, how hateful. I love my children as much as the next mother with or without multiples. This article isn’t doubting mothers abilities to love their children based on how many they carried in the womb. As a mother of two singletons and a set of twins, twins are hard, and come with their own “special” situations, and we come here to find support and comradery, because it is hard. So stop being rude and hateful, and find something else be be passionate about, besides insulting my amazing children that you don’t even know.

  5. If someone told me, “I bet you have your hands full,” when my non-twin children were little, I would say, “I sure do!” I don’t think that it is wrong for someone to say that. They are really saying, “this sure takes me back.” Also, “do twins run in your family?” very well may be a literal question not an assumption. That is like saying, do you have a lot of tall people in your family? As your child towers over theirs. Genetic curiousity.

    • Love that Alisa. I saw a sign once that said “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart”. My kids are less than two years apart (now 4 and 2 1/2) and when they were younger and I probably looked a bit overwhelmed at times out and about, I would get that comment and I always thought about that sign and responded with “yes and I do and my heart is even more full!”

    • Alisa, I polled a group of 250 moms of quadruplets before writing this, to determine what should go on the list, and these were very important items. When people tell me my hands are full, I smile and agree with them. They are saying it because they are taken aback, and shocked, which is the problem. Can you imagine going out and having the majority of the people you pass being taken aback? It doesn’t feel good.
      Some people are innocent in asking if twins run in the family, but many aren’t. The purpose of this piece is to help others understand how seemingly innocent remarks or questions are sometimes hurtful.
      I hope you have a few minutes to watch this video, http://youtu.be/1GE6zQ8FWok
      It was eye opening even for me.

      • My favorite response when someone tells me “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” is to smile and say “Better than empty!”

      • While it’s great that you took your items from what real mom’s of multiples said, I don’t think asking only moms of quads is really an accurate representation of the opinions of moms of all multiples. A large portion of the time parents of triplets or more did use alternative methods to get pregnant and would probably assume, moreso than twins moms, that the person has an alterior motive to their question. If you were to poll only twins moms, you would likely get an almost completely different list. I know because I’ve never heard most of these when out with my own twins.

        The most annoying thing I frequently heard was, “I always wanted twins.”

        • Yes! Like it is something you can just wish to happen! I just wanted children but felt like I won the lottery when I got two at once!

      • Twins run in my family… As in I’m a twin and I have a younger sister and brother who are twins also. So two sets of twins. 17 months apart in age. I ask other parents about their twins because I’m a twin and I love seeing twins out and about. And seriouslys my two children are 3 years old and 7 months old. That’s a handful in itself, I don’t know how patents of twins do it when they have two at the same age. I think parents of twins are amazing. 🙂 🙂

      • It’s not the your hands are full comment is necessarily rude; it’s that you hear it 50 times in one trip. Walk half an aisle hear the comment; walk another half an aisle hear the comment again. I usually smile and nod knowing they are generally just making conversation. I personally don’t really mind the questions, but I have to realize going anywhere is going to take longer because of them. People that don’t get it don’t seem to realize that we have to plan extra time into our day just for answering other peoples questions! I’ve also been asked NUMEROUS times if my twins are natural or if we’re done now. The only question that kind of bothers me though is “Are they all yours?” And that’s b/c technically they’re not. We had 2, then fostered (about to adopt) one, then a surprise set of twins, and then got our soon to be adopted foster daughter’s baby sister. So we have six children all w/in 4 years. No I didn’t give birth to two of them, which is what people are asking. That I don’t mind answering. What I don’t like answering is further questions about our foster daughters, and that’s mainly b/c as they get older it could be hurtful to them.
        That and the pointing, don’t much care for the pointing.
        Can’t believe people actually take pictures of your kids though; that’s just crazy!

      • I have found a great deal of “innocent” remarks are said without the person even thinking about what they are saying. Take for example those who have gone through a miscarriage or are going through infertility. The normal things people say to this are your baby is in a better place, at least you know you can get pregnant, maybe you just cannot carry a boy/girl, how can you do this to your body, don’t you think its time to stop trying, or why not just adopt. If you stop to think about it these comments are rude and hurtful even if they don’t seem to be from those who are saying them. It is the same with the comments in this article, even if they do not seem rude or hurtful to you they are to the women who were were polled. I know I have personally asked some of these questions out of curiosity I am really wanting to have twins because I am going through infertility issues and I am scared I will only be able to have one pregnancy and want at least two children (though I will take one child any day). Now that you have posted these no-no’s I will try my hardest to be more aware of others feelings no matter how excited I am to see babies (singletons or multiples).

  6. These questions and comments sound so familiar to me . . . You’d be AMAZED what random strangers ask and say in front of my adopted daughter. How often we speak before we think!

  7. I’m a mother of twin 2 year old girls and am in the minority in that I love to talk to people about my twins. The only thing that gets to me is the “have your hands full” comments since I’m usually trying to wrangle the twins at the time. some of the comments I get I realize later that they were rude but it flew over my head at the time.

  8. At the beach with 1 year old triplets and a woman asks ‘ are they twins and a friend’.. We are like, yeah yeah, we always pick up our friends 1 year old and bring him to the beach.. Hahah there’s a lot of idiots out there.. Good article.. It’s like reading about your average day up here in Hong Kong… Blond triplets almost 3.. At Disneyland Hong Kong…ahhhhhhhhhn..!!!!!

    • Why do you think it’s idiotic to babysit someone else’s child? Plenty of people do it, and go about their family business as usual. I doubt anyone would think, “Whoa, can’t go to the beach, I’ve got an extra kid with me today!”

  9. I have 4yo boy twins. I don’t like the hands full comments either, I don’t have my hands any more full than anyone else with kids, but I know it isn’t usually meant in a bad way. The question that sends me over the edge is the ‘do twins run in your family’ question. I always interpret that as a question of how I got pregnant, though I’m probably over sensitive. The question/comment I’d add to your list is “which one is older?” followed by comments on their sizes and body types. I don’t comment on how big/small your kid is, don’t comment on mine!

  10. I always get a lot of questions and comments, when people clue in that I have two daughters the same size at the playground. Not as many questions as they get older, but still some people are shocked when they see (nearly)identical faces on two people. My favourite types of comments are those from twins or other parents of twins. They always come up to me to tell their stories, and I love it! When my twins were 1, and my older son was in preschool, I had a mom come up to me in the parking lot as I was loading my babies into the car and tell me it would get easier. Her twins were 18 at that point. I really really appreciated hearing that at that point in my life!
    A few months ago, I had two different people ask me the same question on the same day..”how far apart are your daughters?” I thought that was a weird thing to ask. And they were so shocked when I said “2 minutes apart, why?” Yes, my daughters always dress differently, but they are the same height, and weight, and very very similar looking.

  11. I have 4 yr old identical twins, and anytime I get the “Do twins run in your family” ? I inform them that … Identical twins are not Hereditary anyone woman can have identical twins. I know others think twins are oh so cute and amazing but I wish people would just look from afar and not stop me when I’m trying to rush my way through the grocery store with a set of twins and my older son (who is 3 yrs older then the girls) …. The whole you got your hands full I wanna tell them yes I do and your not making it easier holding me up asking me a million unwanted ?s while my children are having a fit ready to get what I need and get out of the store.

  12. My children are all grown youngest being 19. However she is bi- racial, so many times growing up when we were out in public people were rude enough to ask is she adopted within ear shot. When I responded no it wasn’t uncommon to hear “oh! I’m sorry”. To this day she has to explain to all her friends that her brother and sisters are white. Her biological father was someone I went to dinner with a few times, who one night wouldn’t take know for an answer and forced himself on me, when I found out I was pregnant he decided he had a wife and 4 kids. Looking back I wish I had pressed charge, but then that would have opened up another issue she would have to deal with.

  13. I don’t have twins but I am one. People are so insensitive. While my friends and I that don’t have twins hear some of these, people tend to find so many more things to say about things they don’t understand. I’m still asked if twins run in my family. I was born in 1970 so the people that ask me aren’t asking about fertility but I guess twins run in my family as much as any family. Anyway, I would love to see the list of what twins are asked because I could add a few. No, it is not acceptable to treat twins as one person just because they share a birthday…I still get called “one of the twins” even though I have a name and I’m in my 40’s. No, my twin brother and I are not identical…we are boy/girl twins! Yes, it was confusing having similar names. Yes, it was difficult being compared constantly. No, our personalities are not alike any more than singlet siblings. ESP with each other, really? There are also some really cool things about being a twin. You have someone that has mostly the same experiences as you for the first part of your life. You get made a big deal of and get to be in a lot of weddings. I think there are good and bad but some of those will be universal and some will be very different. Maybe in time, we’ll see another list! I would love to see what is similar and different in what the children have experienced.

  14. I am a mom of twin boys (1.5 yrs) and a singleton girl (4 yrs), and I’ve gotten many of these… the “do twins run in your family” question rarely bothers me, because they do, but I am always a little ‘wtf’ when people ask me if I’m done having kids! (I am, in all likelihood, but that question is never ok, whether you have 1 child or 10!)
    Mostly just wanted to comment and say I salute all you parents of higher order multiples. I’ve found twins to be tough enough; I can only imagine trying to get four toddlers dressed and out the door! You are all rock stars. 🙂

  15. My triplets (2 girls, 1 boy) are all grown up now, but ~30 years ago I heard all these questions/comments and more. You forgot the one about “How do you tell them apart!?” Reply, “Well, one is a boy…and the girls are not identical…” People often don’t look past the sensation of multiple similar-sized children (mine were never dressed alike), to notice that their faces are completely different! But I found you just sort of have to grin and bear it.

  16. I realize that people don’t think about the fact that others may have just told you the SAME THING countless times just a few minutes beforehand, and it is a good reminder for people to bite their tongue when they see you and other mothers in the store. The first three comments though or things that roll off the tongue when one sees parents of multiples…they don’t mean anything by it. The first comment is just to let you know that the commenter may understand what you go through on a daily basis and is actually trying to give you a “way to go” someone notices you and your tough job. The second comment is another way to make conversation because twins or other multiples are not that common and it’s just a question to see if you had twins in the family line…I think it is more of conversation. My nieces are twins and me and my brother (their daddy) thought about our family history and who else may have been twins. This isn’t what you are making it out to be. “Better you than me” is a compliment to you and they are intentionally cutting themselves down. They know they couldn’t handle this. lol…Why else would they say it. They admire that you are doing it. I would agree the rest is crazy and I can’t imagine anyone saying those things. Asking about fertility drugs is personal and I don’t think people realize it. I think they are asking because it is so uncommon to have multiples. Again, it is conversation…I realize this is a blog and you want readers and maybe you are just being funny, but I see daily these rants and the only thing I am learning is that we should never have conversations with people and just nod and smile but never really engage people. I think it’s sad really.

  17. Amber, thank you for putting this list together! I have 5 children = 8 yr old, 6 yr old twins, 2 yr old twins. The comments I get when we are all put together, sometimes are unbelievable.

    More times than I can count, people have asked my oldest in some form, if he is sad he doesn’t have a twin.

    When the little twins were born and the older set had just turned 4, my daughter learned to count to 20 because she was counting the Hands Full comment every time we’d go to Target or the grocery store.

    I have had people come up to me in the store and point out my vehicle in the parking lot. (Creepy!)

    Do twins run in my family? Yes, they do. Now.

    I promise boy/girl twins can NOT be identical. One has an innie… And one has an outie…. (Light bulb sparked on then)

    I have had people take our picture with out asking because I was pushing and pulling 2 shopping carts with children in them. They just do not understand the logistics of moving that many children at one time!

    If you see a mom pushing/pulling 2 carts loaded with groceries and children, if you are not going to help with a cart, then you need to stop and get out the way. Grocery carts do not come with brakes and I promise my carts are probably heavier (I joke as I pass people, it’s like a freight train)

    Oh, please, please do not ask/comment about my “Dunlap” either. I know it’s there, I really do. I don’t want to hear what your friend’s sister did to tighten her lose skin after a twin pregnancy. My doctor told me, the MY body will never get rid of that extra fold of skin unless I go in for a tummy tuck. So if I can live with the extra skin, then so can you.

  18. Wow! Obviously there is something special about us parents with multiples or everyone would be able to have them!! Also, every child is special in his or her own way. You have no right to call us or our children unspecial!

  19. Thank you for posting this. This isn’t about a singletons vs. multiples thing, so I’m not sure why some people tried turning it into one. I had a co-worker straight out ask me if we conceived twins “the old fashioned way” or “with help”. I answered, but later realized I should have asked her “Does it matter?” I love that within the MOM community that “the old fashioned way” multiples are called “spontaneous”. It adds some levity to the conversation.

  20. As soon as we saw the two flickering lights (and after we got over the shock), I told my husband, “Someone will ask if we were using fertility treatments” when we conceived our identical twins. I went to work. He went to a meeting with a local minister to review a bid for some work on their facilities. My phone rang an hour later. He recounted the conversation with the minister.

    Hubby: So we are expecting twins.
    T: Did you have help from a doctor
    Hubby: No… I’m just that good.
    T: *laughing* Well, I won’t be asking that question for a while…

  21. My friend and I met because she was in the supermarket with her twins, in the queue behind me and my little boy. I said the “hands full” thing and she responded extremely positively – so much so that we swapped numbers and subsequently became friends. I can see how it must be annoying to hear the same thing all the time, but I’m glad I didn’t read these rules first – I wouldn’t have made a friend and my son wouldn’t have two new playmates.

  22. People people! Lighten up!! Parents of multiples leave your children at home with grandma or daddy if you can’t stand the comments…..just saying…people are NOT disrespecting you..they’re just having friendly conversation…..but after reading this I will look the other way and try not to offend you….

  23. Lighten up people! Parents of multiples, I don’t think people mean to be disrespectful….it’s just friendly conversation……try not to be overly sensitive….. you sorta know what they’re gonna say right?? you could dress your children differently instead of all alike (less conspicuous) …… or leave them with their Grandma or Daddy if you can’t handle the comments…..I will definitely look the other way next time and try hard not to offend you!

  24. I am all to familiar with the prying questions that sometimes put me on the offensive. With 6 1/2 year old triplets I often get the question if my 2 boys are twins, to which my kids will usually pipe up “we are triplets”. Then comes the inevitable pause…. “do triplets run in your family?” I usually respond with yes, just to bring the questioning to a stop so as to avoid the very personal questions about invitro that follow far more than the majority of the time.The question I love the most is “are these your only children?” (Yes) and often “is it harder to raise triplets than 3 different aged children?” I wouldn’t know because as I just told you I only have the 3. I have started interrupting the super nosy with a question of my own. “Do you know what the hardest part about raising multiples is,…. teaching them manners.”

  25. As a mom of 3 singlets (as the lady earlier put it…so cute, had to steal the term) I get the hands full thing all the time…my kids are super well behaved in public, and never cause a scene (they are 7,9 and 10). What do these people see that I don’t? Are my kids offending you with their presence? The most rude comment I’ve received was in regards to my youngest two children. My 9 and 7 year olds are exactly the same size and resemble each other a lot. I’m used to being asked if they were twins..I always politely say no and I had a lady say “oh…oops, I bet he was a surprise!!” I’m like…they are 2 years and 2 months apart. He actually was a surprise but a welcome one. I actually got in a verbal altercation with a rude lady at walmart until my husband pulled me away…my son was singing as we walked and turned in an aisle and this lady looked at her big mean looking husband and said “god another “f’ing” kid…” I flipped my lid at her!!!

  26. Hi! I’m sharing this on my site, http://www.Facebook.nl/vierkeerzoveelgeluk . I hope everybody will learn from it. The sentences should I ask it to the mom of one, and if its okay for a child to year are great!
    Maybe I have to make a Dutch version (whats reminds me to excuse me for my translationmistakes).

    BTW ‘vier keer zoveel geluk’ means fout times the jou/happines!

    Greatings Anne

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