"How old are you? Twelve?" I hear it so often that I can’t even get mad anymore. I've been hearing "you look twelve" since I was, in fact, twelve, and now that I'm inching closer to 30, it's beyond annoying.
Sure, people tell me to be grateful and to enjoy looking young, but here's something people seem to forget: When you look like a teen, people try to treat you like a teen. So when I'm out with my kids, people often assume I'm the babysitter, no matter what I'm wearing. If I have on make-up or not, heels or flat, hair up or hair down, I will inevitably get at least one inquiry into whether I'm even old enough to drive. Some of the rude questions I've encountered: "Wow, how do you support your kids?" Um, the same way you do? I work.
"Were they surprise babies?" How is that your business? Please get out of my uterus.
"Are you married?" Again, how is that your business?
"Do they have the same dad?" I don't want to get violent, but you're pushing me there. Sigh.
These inquiries don't really even bother me that much anymore, but now my kids are older and are able to sense what's going on. I do get riled up when someone approaches my kids. Recently, a woman at my daughter's school approached my daughter during a school function and asked her if I was her sister. My daughter looked puzzled and said, "No, that's my mom." The woman looked shocked and asked her, "Well, how old is your mom?" I overheard the tail end of this conversation and shushed my daughter away from the woman quickly before she could continue her interrogation.
Now, someone please enlighten me—is that an appropriate conversation to have with a five-year-old? I don't think so.
As a young mother (I had my kids when I was 20 and 22, respectively), I've worked hard to be taken seriously. At the doctor's office. At daycare. At the grocery store. At the bank. At work. It is hard and unrelenting. I know my baby face doesn't help, but at the same time, there's nothing much I can do about it (short of starting a pack-a-day cigarette habit).
So I don't appreciate strangers talking reckless in front of my kids, making them question why people keep saying things to their mom. I want them to feel secure in knowing that their mom can handle anything, that I'm "fit" to be their mom. But since I can't control what other people say to me, I can control what I say in response. I can ignore the ignorant statements or chose to enlighten people who come at me disrespectfully. I can show my children that it is not what people call us, but what we answer to that matters.
Do you have a baby face? Have you had to deal with some of the same smart comments I've dealt with?
Words: Tara Pringle Jefferson
Tara Pringle Jefferson is the founder of TheYoungMommyLife.com and the author of Make It Happen: The Young Mommy Guide To Creating The Career You Crave. Follow her on Twitter or check out her blog for her insights on what it means to be a mom, wife, student, writer, and about three other labels she’s too tired to remember.