To Assume Makes an Ass out of (Yo)U and Me

 

meme1

Oh, I remember the days when everyone and their mother was writing articles about this blog without actually reading it. A total lack of understanding for the term “attachment parenting” caused very odd outbursts from journalists against my blog’s name. It was very creepy how they described it as some sort of weird mantra we “attachment parents” *must* have because *all* AP mothers “must stay home” and “refuse childcare”…

Except, the name behind my blog is meant to be a joke, but the reason it was named I Am Not the Babysitter is not funny at all. Actually, it has become a real issue lately. I was never mistaken for my child’s nanny or babysitter before we adopted Samuel. When Samuel came into our family, that instantly changed. No one ever thought I was either one of the boys’ mother. I have some other adoptive parents who have either been mistaken for their child’s nanny or grandparent. I have never been mistaken for a sister or aunt, but babysitter happens on a daily basis.

I understand that people get confused because the boys are clearly two different races. However, that, by no means, should be a green light for strangers to make assumptions and start addressing us like they understand the dynamic of our relationships.

This was less of a problem when the boys were younger, but now that they are older and extremely perceptive, they are constantly watching and absorbing information, even if they aren’t involved in the conversations around them, and therein lies the problem. When people start speaking to me like the babysitter of my children or ask about the boys’ parents, Samuel and Aram take note and start asking me why they don’t think I’m their mom. It hurts the boys. The issue I have is that it tries to diminish my role as their parent, and that is exactly how the boys have been receiving it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being the nanny or babysitter of children, but that role is different than a parent, and my children know their babysitters and love them, but they also know there is a huge difference between mom and dad and the people who watch them while we are not there.

I don’t mind when people ask if the boys are my children, especially if it is relevant to our conversation. However, that rarely happens. Here are some recent scenarios that have made the boys start asking a lot of questions about our relationship and why people don’t understand I’m their mom:

Shopping at a different Whole Foods than normal-

Grocery store clerk: “Do you also cook for the family you work for?”

Me: “Excuse me?”

GSC: (looking at the boys and back at me) “Your job, do you cook for the family, too?”

….

Lady at the park: “Do you work weekends? And how much do you charge per hour? I’d love for you to watch my kids.”

Lady at a different park: “You are so attentive, the families you work for are lucky to have found you.”

Lady at the beach (said half-joking- we were talking for a few minutes about the boys and she still had no clue I was their mom): “I mean this as a compliment, but I would never hire you, I make sure the women watching my kids are old and fat.”

…And because she said this in front of Samuel, he then asked me why the lady only wanted “old fat people” to work for her. *shaking my head*

Anyway, you get the idea.

The message I want to get across to people is that it is normal to try to categorize and compartmentalize what we see, including people and their relationships. However, it is wrong to make assumptions and then express them openly (especially in front of children) before verifying if your assumptions, are in fact, accurate.

Be considerate and go ahead and ask a question if it is will help you communicate better with the person you are speaking with. Building relationships does require an exchange of personal information and you shouldn’t be scared to ask questions in a manner that is not invasive or offensive.

….And always remember it is never okay to speak to someone like you understand their life or family situation prior to getting to know them.

 

“Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning.”

- Unknown



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25 comments

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  1. Laura aka Spank 25 March, 2013, 07:43

    Just last week an attorney in my office saw photos ALL over my desk (and computer screen) of Mimi and Max. He said “Who are the those kids?” I said “They are mine.” He stared at me as he attempted to process in his head HOW they are mine and then just said “Oh” and walked back into his office. Thankfully my kids did not hear THAT but they have unfortunately heard other remarks (from children and adults).

    Reply this comment
  2. Zoe - SlowMama 25 March, 2013, 09:30

    Ugh, so annoying!! It baffles me why so many people won’t examine their assumptions before opening their mouths. I guess thinking before speaking is not a strength of our culture. I’ve had this happen on a couple of occasions — and in one instance, the woman apologized when I told her, “no, I’m their mom.” But I’d probably get this more often if I looked younger (and more like what people think of when they think “babysitter”). You probably have that perfect storm of stuff going on: two kids of different race, youth, attractiveness, and the fact that you’re with the kids during times when many moms are doing paid work and not with their kids. Maybe it’s time for a t-shirt with big letters, “I AM NOT THE BABYSITTER” ??

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  3. Jeff in Texas 25 March, 2013, 10:50

    I have to say in this day and age it really is strange that people make those assumptions. I’m sorry both of you have had to deal with that.

    Reply this comment
  4. Karen Schanding 25 March, 2013, 11:12

    I had my first child at 21, my second at 36 and my third when I was 44 years old. The father of my oldest child is Asian and I looked like I was about 14 when I had her. I have heard every imaginable comment about her and me. When she was born we lived in Germany, so I actually heard all the rude and ignorant comments in German and English. Now that I am an older mom, my youngest is 2 years old, people often think I am the grandmother or the aunt or the nanny. Just wait until we adopt our next children…we are gonna confuse em even more! I can’t wait!

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  5. Kaara 25 March, 2013, 13:26

    I guess I’m just a little more aware or sensitive to this, but I can’t get why anyone would have the nerve to just assume something and blurt it out. Families come in all forms, they should be more respectful! It makes me very frustrated!

    Reply this comment
  6. Becky 25 March, 2013, 17:16

    Interesting. Only once I have been asked if I am my boys’ babysitter. Really, I rarely am asked inappropriate questions about my kids/family by strangers at all (my husband as well). We live in an area that is not what I would consider flush with multi-racial families. People do seem to believe they have the right to ask all kinds of inappropriate questions.

    Reply this comment
  7. Audrey 25 March, 2013, 20:55

    People usually assume I am my kid’s mom, until they find out I have a wife. Then they will ask me how old he was when I “got him”. It is annoying to think that no one would think that a straight couple would adopt a baby, but assume a queer couple would have to in order to have kids.

    Reply this comment
  8. Rebeca 26 March, 2013, 10:20

    I totally agree with this post!!! Thanks for writting it! Were adopting our daughter and she has blond hair blue eyes and looks more like my husband who is blond, and I have black hair. One lady looked at me one day and said, “oh, shes so blond and blue eyed” as if thats not supposed to happen. I told her were adopting and that shut her up lol

    Reply this comment
  9. Lara (australia) 26 March, 2013, 22:01

    If we entertain ignorance, then we give the ignorance power.
    People will say a lot of things…it’s only air with sound and the only it has is the meaning and value you give it.
    To know thyself is the only virtue we need.
    Nothing can touch you if you know your truth.
    That is how you have been able to stay so strong throughout the last whirlwind year you have had – but what a ride it has been!
    You’re the best Jaimie, “Pay No Mind”, which means pay it no value in your mind, and then it has none, zilch, zero, nothing but air and sound.
    Love your work xox

    Reply this comment
  10. Ashleigh Swerdfeger 31 March, 2013, 22:08

    People are frustating with their assumptions. I always get told “Oh your son has such gorgeous blue eyes. Where does he get them from? ” Um, me. They they look and nod. I have glasses and it is hard to tell sometimes but assumptions are still hurtful. We should try to focus less on our thoughts and ask people what they are.

    Reply this comment
  11. Allie 18 April, 2013, 07:56

    What a thought-provoking, wonderfully honest post. I stumbled upon your blog through another link and must admit that I am one of those people that didn’t understand attachment parenting and automatically jumped to judgment when I saw your feature story so many months ago.

    I am so happy that I stumbled on your blog and this post in particular. It’s easy to judge someone when you don’t both to hear their story. You seem like a wonderful mother and offer great support for other adoptive parents, which I hope to also be some day. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply this comment
    • Jamie Lynne 18 April, 2013, 10:42

      Thanks Allie! I think a lot of people didn’t understand attachment parenting (it was reported inaccurately and very extreme in the media). The photo they chose for the cover with the tagline didn’t seem to help matters, but it got people talking about child-led weaning, so I can’t really complain.

      Anyway, thank you so much. That was so kind of you to take the time to make such a lovely comment. It is nice to know people have open minds and are willing to be so candid. :-)

      Good luck with your adoption!

      Reply this comment
  12. Jan 26 June, 2013, 17:08

    Thanks

    Reply this comment
  13. Becky 17 July, 2013, 00:13

    Assumption is the mother all f**** ups, I’m pretty sure people just don’t think or in some cases don’t know how to, my kiddies are like peas in a pod look so similar but I still get asked so much “are they all yours?” I’m so tempted to one day say “no I just randomly kidnap children and take them shopping with me”

    Reply this comment
  14. Lia 17 July, 2013, 00:33

    My mom would totally understand your pain, though we were more a “mixed ethnicity” family than a mixed-by-adoption family. I only rarely get people presuming I (a rather tan and dark haired lady) am my (blonde, fair skinned) son’s babysitter, but I’m sure that will get more common when he’s no longer strapped to my chest and frequently nursing.

    I’m lucky that I saw my mother handle this. I think it makes it less irritating to me, because I already know to expect it. To be honest, when I was young and people presumed my mom was my babysitter, it never clicked that they meant she didn’t match in color. I always just figured they thought my (rather short) mother looked very young, and thought hey, awesome, TV says women are supposed to want to look young. :P So…it’s not necessarily a hugely damaging thing to your mother/child relationship? It never made the tribe of siblings respect my mother less, for sure! We knew she was our mom, and just figured other people got confused too easily.

    I, by no means, mean that you shouldn’t be irked by people opening their mouths and letting silly fall out. *laugh* As the big sister in that tribe of brown kids with the white mom, I both got to see her get presumed babysitter, and got to get dirty looks by 14 when handling a baby sibling because it was easier for folks to presume I was a teen mother than to get that my adorable mom was matron of the flock. I just point out my experience to say that hopefully, your boys know full well that you love them, and that it’s just that. Silly falling out. ;)

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  15. Stephanie V. 17 July, 2013, 03:42

    It is amazing what people say to parents, especially in front of their children. Although I did birth my two girls, my youngest had a large hemangioma on her hand. Strangers in stores would come up and appallingly ask me “What happened to her hand?” This came from men and women that I knew and did not know. I was even asked if I burned her, as though I did it on purpose. I was asked if I colored her hand with a marker. By the time she was two months old, I was giving up on society and the ability of people to think before they speak.

    One small child came up to her and asked me why her hand was so red. I told her that it was a birthmark. She leaned in and told my tiny baby how beautiful her hand and birthmark were.

    My faith in humanity was restored by a young child. Isn’t that always the case? If we had the ability to view the world through the lens of a child… the world would be a much better place sometimes.

    Reply this comment
  16. Nicole 17 July, 2013, 04:51

    both of my children are biologically mine (with the same father), but they look VERY different. one blonde with blue eyes the other with dark hair eyes and skin. its the wonders of genetics.

    i am constantly asked if they have the same father! i am extremely offended and i know its causing confusion for my oldest. people have actually had the nerve to ask him about it!!!!!

    Reply this comment
  17. Lana 17 July, 2013, 05:29

    im sad to say ive something similar happen to me a lot.I live in ontario (canada) and had my first baby shortly after turning 18. I was very petite, being only 5′ tall and barely over 100lb, and for over two years was constantly called ‘aunt, babysitter, nanny, sister’ by complete strangers. it infuriated me. I had my second daughter 2 and a half years later, and things have only slightly improved. I couldnt believe the audacity of some people who think its ‘sweet’ that my ‘charges’ call me ‘mama’. the last time it happened I whipped around (baby in a meitai on my back) and exclaimed “Excuse me?! I AM their mother.” and walked away before i said something equally as ignorant. I am saddened at the state of humanity these days, and sincerely wish your kiddos didnt have to deal with the repercusions of ignorant people’s comments. On the bright side, its a great teaching opportunity for them! (nderstanding subliminal messages, letting things roll of their back, proper ways to respond to disrespect, staying kind and polite in the face of ignorance…)
    thank you for a very poignant post :)

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  18. Michelle McCoy 17 July, 2013, 05:57

    It is crazy to me how some people think. I always thought “I am not the babysitter” meant the way you parent your children. Literally that you are not the babysitter. This brings a whole new light to the real meaning. Like my husband says “people suck”. I’m sorry you have to deal with that. On another note I had a lady at the grocery store tell me when my child was a baby, “no offence but he looks nothing like you”. Thanks, I needed to hear that! He did not look like me but did she really need to say it out loud. Some people *smh*

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  19. kris 17 July, 2013, 11:02

    I think I assume in the other direction…when I see a family with children and one or more of them are a different race, I just assume they must be adopted. Maybe it’s because a good friend of mine adopted an adorable little boy from China just over a year ago and I got to see the long adoption process from start to finish, but that is what pops into my head first.
    I’m sorry you have to deal with those kinds of stereotypes. My friend is assumed to be the little boy’s mother, but instead she gets asked ‘how much he cost’ :( .

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  20. Jesse 17 July, 2013, 12:10

    I’m so glad you wrote this! I’ve worked at a church nursery and have several families who are mixed race and I’m never sure what to say. The first time I was really confused and had to double check before I let their kids go with them, but I did it discreetly. The next time I told the little boy “there’s your mommy!”…then one of the other workers told me that she thinks they’re foster parents. Why oh why it never dawned on me to just ask? I guess I’m still in the dark on what’s considered polite when it comes to mixed race families, even though my dad and stepmother adopted my little brother (mixed race) 13 years ago.

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