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I'm 24 years old and I have a 4 year old son who was conceived by accident. I don't know about other countries but that's definitely not usual in mine (Spain).

My son's mother and I broke up about three years ago but we get on well and are respectful of each other. I'm happy in life and don't have the feeling my life was ruined when my son was born. On the contrary, I don't regret it. I have a good job I like, MSc-level studies, good friends, and a wonderful family. I believe I'm doing an excellent job raising my son.

However I still feel very unconfortable when some people ask me certain questions. This has become quite usual with people I don't have a close relationship with - some coworkers, business partners, some neighbors, etc.

I'm really happy talking about my son and don't mind answering questions about him, such as "How old is he?", "What school does he go to?", or "how does he behave with other children?". But I don't feel comfortable when the questions are about me having a son. Like: "How come you've got a son?". And once I was directly asked "Why do you have a son?".

Guess what? Turns out the second kind of questions are the most usual ones from people I don't have a close relationship with.

I don't think these people should be asking such questions in the first place. I firmly believe they wouldn't ask them if I was 30+ years old.

What's the best way to let them know those questions are inappropriate and make me feel uncomfortable, while at the same time not making them feel uncomfortable as well?

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    Is your main point to avoid to the questions and answering them, or rather handle the questions better? Those are two different things, because I believe, you can accept it and answer honestly making everyone feeling better. I think the question from title does not pair up with the final question. – luk32 Jun 6 '18 at 13:14
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    The problem is not clear here. "Why do you have a son?" is a very odd question, and the literal answer is an obvious one. What you have not said explicitly, but which I'm guessing might be the case, is that perhaps people in your area do not generally have children until they are much older; is that so? Otherwise, your question is confusing. In many places in the world, people are considered adults and start having children a few years after they are physically able. Where I'm at (U.S.), your situation is completely normal, so you should be explicit about what the actual problem is. – Aaron Jun 6 '18 at 15:32
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    Who is asking these questions? A coworker, a stranger on the bus, or a potential love interest might have three very different responses. – corsiKa Jun 6 '18 at 16:28
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. (cc @SSight3) – user58 Jun 7 '18 at 16:12
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    Could someone please explain why this question is intrinsically rude? This is an honest enquiry. I guess some people can see this as a conversation starter. I understand that you may not want to talk about it, but is it that you feel you are being judged or something else? Please notice that I am not telling you that you should talk about it against your will, I just don't understand why this kind of question causes strong feelings (to many people as it seems). – tst Jun 8 '18 at 14:47

12 Answers 12

175

Normally, the way to handle overly intrusive and rude questions is by staring a little and then saying

Excuse me?

Should they happen to repeat the question again, you can then ask

Are you seriously asking me why I have a child?

And then just stare until they apologize. You are not answering the question, in fact you are questioning the question, which in most cases will make the asker "withdraw" it. But even if they don't, you aren't answering and you "shut down" that avenue of the conversation.

However, you don't want to make them feel uncomfortable. So, try this:

I'm sure you know where babies come from. Ah, that was years ago, what matters now is that he's here and I love being his dad.

And then firmly change the subject. Did you see the game last night? Do you have children? Aren't these little tartlets delicious? I hope it doesn't rain tonight. Gosh, there's a lot of car traffic today isn't there? Do you know the name of that song that's playing right now? Where did you get those shoes?

Again, you're not answering the question (you don't want to, so you don't have to) and you're changing the subject so the person will not continue to ask you that sort of thing. The best way to handle a question you find rude and intrusive is not to answer it. Here, you've technically answered it by reminding the asker where babies come from (I mean really, how did you come to have a child? I think we can figure that out) but then a segue sentence that you are not going to discuss it further and then a firm subject change.

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    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution. Also, do you have personal experience or references to back up your answer? – Kaspar Scherrer Jun 6 '18 at 6:57
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    I agree with the answer when it comes to anglo-saxon culture, but Spain is completely different, and this won't work. – OldPadawan Jun 6 '18 at 7:38
  • @OldPadawan I think the southern part of Europe (the warm parts) are all alike (more or less) on this matter. They will pursue the matter relentlessly and won't think they're being rude. – John Hamilton Jun 6 '18 at 10:36
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    Following the procedure outlined here, I've added a post notice to this post. I know it leaves something to be desired, but it's all we have right now. Please note that a reference on IPS can also be personal experience, and feel free to flag us to remove the notice once you've added some back-up to your answer. – Tinkeringbell Jun 6 '18 at 11:07
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    I've deleted a side conversation; folks, please use the comment section to suggest improvements, not talk about why you do or don't like the answer. To address another user's concerns, yes, meta is a valid source to reference for policy. – HDE 226868 Jun 11 '18 at 19:36
82

I used to get that a lot when I was out with my kids... People are kinda rude sometimes, but when it comes to your kids they really ought to know better. My eldest step son is 16, I'm 33. People had a hard time wrapping their head around that. Some still do, but turning grey at an early age seems to have helped.

I usually just let them be uncomfortable about it. They'd say the stupid thing, and I'd look at them like they were stupid, until they realized that they just said something incredibly rude and moved on. I know that's probably more confrontational than you want to be, but when it comes to your relationship with your kid you have every right to be.

It's nice to be nice, obviously, but not all situations require being nice. Sometimes you're well within your rights to make people a little uncomfortable when they've crossed a line.

If it's a situation where you really have to be nice, like dealing with your kid's new school teacher, sometimes deflecting with humor works just as well:

Why do you have a son?
Ya'know I've been asking myself the same thing...

Why do you have a son?
The stork has an unforgiving return policy.

Why do you have a son?
Dunno? He just followed me home one day.

Why do you have a son?
Aww I know I'm pretty, but do I really look that young?

The bottom line is, that is a very rude question, and you're entitled to push back a little. Make them feel a little stupid for asking, you're allowed.

40

First and foremost, their questions are presented in a thoroughly rude manner and are probably rhetorical. Those are very loaded questions and it seems like they want to illicit an emotion. People that ask these kinds of questions are usually out to make someone feel bad rather than get an honest answer but here goes nothing...

When asked "How come you've got a son?" or "Why do you have a son?" I would very politely say something like:

What do you mean?

It is very important to say this in a very polite and receiving tone of voice so that the asker is allowed to actually tell you what's on their mind or change their course of action.

By asking this you are forcing them to take a step back and evaluate if they really wish to elaborate on their petty remark and expose their bigoted predisposition.

How this conversation continues is dependent on the etiquette and awareness of the asker.

The person will either choose to explain their incomprehension or they will take the hint and steer the conversation into a more positive direction.

  • Unfortunately, I think "I was just curious" is a pretty easy out for the asker; regardless of how politely the question is asked. – John T Jun 6 '18 at 20:58
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    @JohnT true but it still ends the conversation and so long as it was asked politely, it can still end on friendly if slightly awkward terms. If they continue to push then you can just repeat the 'Why do you ask' or at that point choose to be more direct in shutting them down and it puts the burden of rudeness entirely on the other person. – Meelah Jun 7 '18 at 9:20
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    I like this answer because it helps to discern the intent of the asker and respond appropriately. Some people will just ask it to be judgemental, but some people are just curious/interested and don't have ill intent even if the question comes across as being rude. Also some people are socially inept and wouldn't understand why such a question is rude without it being explained to them. If the question didn't have any ill-intent then getting defensive is counter-productive. – Pharap Jun 9 '18 at 19:45
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It's a rude thing to ask but I don't think the solution is to reciprocate with rudeness. Especially if it's as common as you say, you don't want to get a reputation for being irritable.

I think most of them are probably just genuinely curious. They're not asking the question in a tactful way (if that's even possible) but never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

I'd respond with a joke. It "answers" the question while hopefully making it clear that you don't actually want to answer the question. It doesn't shame them or make them feel bad for asking something rude, nor does it make you look rude in your response.

Something like:

Ahhh, don't worry. When you're older your parents will tell you all about the birds and the bees

It may be prudent to then change the subject ("He's great though, such a clever kid. The other day he...") so that you don't give them the opportunity to ask the question in a different way. You'd have to be pretty inept to not take the hint the first time but people can be pretty clueless sometimes.

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    While comedy is good, it's rather passive-aggressive. With an open and neutral outlook, we can honestly reply, "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're asking." True, it does encourage more questions; but it forces them to be more explicit about their meaning (while giving them space to back out). – Nigel Touch Jun 8 '18 at 13:36
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    @NigelTouch Perhaps it could be said in such a way, but I definitely disagree that it's necessarily passive-aggressive. Are all jokes said in response to genuine questions passive-aggressive? Sometimes a joke is just a joke – Michael Jun 8 '18 at 16:23
  • @NigelTouch Pretending to be stupid and not understanding a question is equally passive-agressive if I want to interpret your stupidity as feigned. Obviously you might also have implied no malice. – KalleMP Jun 11 '18 at 17:40
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I started working full time when I was 16 years old.

I would constantly be asked "Why aren't you in school?"

There are social expectations associated with both age and responsibilities. When we don't conform to the standard, then people feel compelled to ask why. Especially if you are violating an expectation they have on young people in general.

There will be people who see an opportunity to deliver their moral superiority upon you, and they will take advantage of that fact to make you uncomfortable for their own pleasure.

There will also be people who are just ignorant of what it's like to be you at that age and get asked those kinds of questions.

To all of the above you just answer

It's none of your business.

It will take time for you to believe that this is private, and you don't have to explain it to everyone.

Once you accept this is your own life, and you don't have to explain it to anyone else. You can then choose who you want to share the reasons with, and they can be told the truth as the way you see it. Without having to appease some social expectation about age and responsibilities.

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    How about "That's a rather personal question, isn't it?" Smile when you say it. It's slightly less confrontational. – Shawn V. Wilson Jun 6 '18 at 18:58
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    @ShawnV.Wilson asserting yourself doesn't create confrontation. The other person persisting after we told them it's not their business is how I would define confrontation. To which, the only reply remains "it's none of your business". Don't respond with a smile, don't respond with another question. State the facts and let the other person deal with. It's there problem they asked the question to start with. – user5658 Jun 6 '18 at 19:12
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    @cgTag So if I understand you, the way you define "confrontation" doesn't include things like implying that the other person is in the wrong for just asking or being curious? Personally I (and I imagine the prior comment's author) would consider that a type of confrontation, just a different type than verbal insistence - regardless of which way we split the "which definition this word ought to have" hairs, in my experience "It's none of your business" almost always invokes emotional reactions and attitudes that incline at least the person receiving that response against the person saying it. – mtraceur Jun 6 '18 at 21:41
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    @cgTag I've had a young worker over few months ago. While I didn't ask them straight out why they're not in school, I did ask if it were a holiday job, and if they'd still go school, or if they closed that chapter. If they answered "None of your business", they'd have successfully blocked any conversation they'd have with me. I'd basically just be there, then, and just make sure they do the job I pay them for. Whether that atmosphere is preferable over being able to break ice just to "prove your point" is for everyone else to decide. Look up Hanlon's razor. Don't assume malice :) – Aaa Jun 9 '18 at 8:48
  • "It's none of your business" is a very aggressive response that's likely to get you a reputation for being irritable. The person asking the question might not see it as a rude question or might not understand why it annoys you, in which case they'll see your response as an overreaction and it won't help the situation. – Pharap Jun 9 '18 at 19:55
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Dealing with apprehension.

When my mother announced her pregnancy, my grandfather was apprehensive because it wasn't planned.
Her response was simple: "Unplanned is not the same as unwanted." That ended the conversation there as he had to agree with the distinction.

You have similar options here:

  • Unplanned is not the same as unwanted.
  • Regardless of age, I was ready for a child.
  • I made a decision, and it was the right one.

It's not about engaging them in the discussion, it's about quickly explaining why the discussion might not be relevant to discuss to begin with. All three answers very quickly shut down conversation by pointing out that the assumption (too young, not ready, uninformed) is simply not correct to begin with.


Dealing with subtle soapboxing.

But I don't feel comfortable when the questions are about me having a son. Like: "How come you've got a son?". And once I was directly asked "Why do you have a son?".

These question are asked with a hidden agenda: suggesting that [your presumed age] is much too young to have children.

Having that opinion is fine (to each their own). I don't mind an open debate on that topic. You might not, and that's fine too. But that's a matter of openly sidestepping the discussion, and suggesting that you agree to disagree.

However, there is a secondary thing here: leading statements. By asking the question, they are implicitly adding their opinion and the assumption that it is correct.
A classic example is asking someone "have you stopped beating your wife?". Replying either "yes" or "no" will always make it seem like you implicitly agree that you do beat your wife.

If you engage them in a discussion on young parents, you've implicated that you yourself feel like you were too young to be a parent ("if the shoe fits"). If you're the one who brings up the young age, then they technically did not tell you that you're too young, so they can't be blamed for then mentioning their opinion.

The solution here is to not respond to the subtle implication, and respond to the question as asked - making no inferences whatsoever.

This is effectively fighting fire with fire (manipulating the conversation away from where it was manipulated towards), but in a fairly harmless way. It allows for the topic to be sidestepped with no friction if you pick a funny instead of combative answer.

"How come you've got a son?"

  • Oh. did your parents not have "the talk" with you?
  • Sexual intercourse.
  • Amazon order.

"Why do you have a son?"

Pointless "why" questions generally deserve a "why not?" response. It quickly ends discussions where the asker did not have a specific question in mind and is more just on a fishing expedition to find things to argue against.

An alternative would be to label the question as philosophical and explicitly sidestep the discussion altogether.

Other answers are possible, but are generally considered more combative.

14

I would try to move the subject on as quickly as possible by replying with something like:

Being a young dad was not part of my "great plan", but I'm so glad it happened, because it's the best thing that's happened in my life.

Then move on to talking about the positives that have come as a result.

My daughter gave birth at 17 to a 12-weeks premature boy. She is now stronger, more responsible, more balanced and more loving than any 20 year old I know. She gets similar questions, but tends to reply with "It happens. And I wouldn't change it for the world". And as 50 year old granddad of a nearly 3 year old legend of a grandson, I couldn't agree more.

11

I'm 26 and I'm getting my son in ~2-3 weeks. When I told my colleagues (who are 5-7 years older and have no children), the situation was pretty similar.

In your situation I'd go for 2 possible answers on the question "Why do you have a son?".

I think everything is said, if you ask them back: "Why do/don't you?" It gives the asker enough time to think about his question and realize it might have been a bad idea to ask it. Also this "counter-question" kind of blocks further questions about you.

In your specific case you can also say that you finished your education and you want to have a family/son now. In my opinion that's a pretty good and simple reason.

7

Contrary to more popular opinions, I do not perceive these questions as rude or offensive. Maybe You should not too?

Humans are, in general, curious creatures, interested in anything out of the ordinary. Certainly in Europe being a single father at Your age is not ordinary, so it is not surprising You draw attention. There is nothing malicious about this, in itself.

So why not share the main bullet points of Your story? It's positive and heart-warming, a 'good-end' to an otherwise sad situation. In the age of hyper-protective parents, greedy multinational corporations, terrorism, and corrupt, weak governments, I think everybody would be happy to hear about a young man who stood up to the challenge and did a good job.

And if someone thinks less of You, then You know what value this person has, and therefore there is no need to care about that particular opinion.

Openness and honesty are forgotten, but powerful weapons. You did nothing wrong and there is no reason to hide.

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    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? We require that answers provide some sort of backup, such as personal experience or an external source, for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. – user58 Jun 7 '18 at 9:42
  • @ArwenUndómiel As per second sentence of Your comment: Oh, but it does, explicitly: " It's positive and heart-warming, a 'good-end' to an otherwise sad situation. In the age of [...] I think everybody would be happy to hear about a young man who stood up to the challenge and did a good job." This is a one, example reason WHY I think this is a good idea. I could throw other ones, but I did not want to create long wall of text, which people would find unreadable and boring. – Maciej Jun 8 '18 at 8:01
  • @ArwenUndómiel As per the remaining part of You comment: I am afraid I have to confess I cannot imagine how is that supposed to look like. Can You please provide examples of questions which do that? – Maciej Jun 8 '18 at 8:05
  • @ArwenUndómiel That could be said of a lot of other answers here, including the one with most votes. Why pick on this one specifically? – Pharap Jun 9 '18 at 20:00
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    @Pharap - Because I happened to notice this one. I don't have the time or inclination to read every answer on the site. However, if you happen to notice that other answers don't meet the standard either, please flag them as "Not an Answer" ;) – user58 Jun 9 '18 at 20:03
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Fellow Spaniard here, in case it matters.

Most of the time when people ask me this kind of questions, I find that the best response is to turn the question against them:

Q: —How come you have a son? / Why do you have a son?
A: —And why wouldn't I have one?

This is usually followed by an awkward "Well.. um... because, you know..." on their part, expecting you to finish the sentence with the "obvious" (to their judgmental minds) reason why.
Of course, you should just ignore this silent cry for help and patiently wait for their answer, maybe add some pressure ("No, seriously, why?"), until they "get it" and change the subject -- hopefully forever.

With this, you're essentially going all-in and saying: I know what you're thinking, but you'll have to grow a pair and actually say it out loud to my face; or else shut up.

They usually shut up.

Saying bad things face to face is hard, and that's why this works.

Once in a while, though, you might get an actual answer, like "because you are too young / are too poor / are still inexperienced / no sabes nada, John Nieve". Good! Now you have a specific opinion that you can shut down with a specific answer.
By now I'm sure you've heard each of those claims a dozen times before, and know how to reply to them, but other answers in this thread can help you do so if you don't. Some possible options:

  • Too young? Lots of people my age have kids without a problem. / I'd rather be a young and happy father than having to deal with a teenager in my 50s.
  • Too poor? I work hard and I'm single, so actually I can save more than most people.
  • Too inexperienced? No one is born knowing everything, better start now. / Surely 4 years ahead of most kid-less people talking out of their asses...
  • You know knothing? I'm the father of dragons, and the 4yo one is kickin' ass!

Of course, you can always disarm such remarks with a blunt and simple "Well, that's _your_ opinion".

2

I would personally find this question rude. My personal life is none of their business unless I want it to be. My response to these questions would be a soft reprimand delivered in the form of a joke. A specific example of how I would do this is: "Well when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much...". This would (hopefully) help the person asking to understand I'm not going to give them a straight answer. The specific words said would need to change based on culture and I can't give a firm suggestion for Europe or Spain.

This kind of answer lets the person know that you heard the question. It lets them know that you are not prepared to give a serious answer to the question they asked. Answering the question in a way that one might address a child seems very rude on the surface. However, it's a relatively gentle way to point out that you find the question being asked is not appropriate. If the person asking presses the issue it's okay to go with something more direct like, "That's a pretty personal question. I'm not going to answer it."

0

There are two parts we want to accomplish, make them understand that you find their question inappropriate, and make not make them uncomfortable.

In my personal experience this can be done by acknowledging that their question had a merit, but at the same time it is none of their business.

So, along these times, I would say:

I understand that it is not very common for someone at my age to have a child, but this question is rather personal.

By answering in the previous way, you only assume that their question was sparked by a sudden curiosity and had no malintent, but at the same time it is out of bounds. The curiosity could have been a by-product of the fact that you have a nice job, you are doing a masters and at the same time you are managing raising a son, which sounds rather impressive, which would be another reason I personally would refrain from assuming malintent.

protected by HDE 226868 Jun 6 '18 at 23:20

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