12 Things NOT to Say About My Big Family

…even if you’re “just joking”.

I love having a big family. And by big, I don’t mean three or four kids. I love being the mom of a super-size family. My eleven children are such a source of sheer joy for me, and I’d never trade our life for anything.

Unfortunately, the choice that my husband and I made to have this number of children seems to give people the notion that they can say whatever they want to us about this decision. Some people say the nicest things, and I certainly am grateful for those moments because I’m finding that more and more people can’t seem to find the filter on their mouths. 

Total strangers often approach us and feel completely at home making comments right in front of our children about things that most people would never consider bringing up to people they know, let alone someone they’re seeing for the very first time. (And it’s not only strangers that do this. Believe me.)

I’m going to give some of these people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they think they’re being funny, but honestly, after hearing the same jokes three or four or 150 times tends to get a bit aggravating, especially when many of these comments can actually be hurtful when overheard by the children.

So today I’ve come up with a list of:

12 Things Not to Say to Me About My Big Family (Even if you’re “just joking.”)

(Yes, I’ve actually heard each and every one of these lines.)

1. You have 11 children? Why???

About two years ago I took the kids for a walk to the farmer’s market. As we passed the high school on the way there, I saw someone I knew from when I was in school leaving the building. We had only chatted about a minute when she asked if all of the children were mine. I answered in the affirmative, and she said, “You have 11 children?? Why??” right in front of my kids. What troubled me most was that this woman is a fellow believer, and I never expected her to say something like that.

My advice to people who say things like that: Think before you speak.

2. Are you pregnant yet?

This is usually something I hear at family gatherings. Every family gathering. From multiple people. They think it’s funny, but they’re wrong.

3. Don’t you know what causes that?

I swear every person who says this to me cracks up laughing as if they are the first person to ever say such a thing. It’s just not appropriate to bring up things like that, especially when the children are standing right there. Not to mention the fact that I’ve heard this about a million times now. Sigh.

4. Don’t you have TV/cable?

Ha ha. Another one I’ve never heard before. Again, our personal life is just that- personal.

5. Don’t you believe in birth control?

I would never approach a childless couple and tell them that they believe in birth control too much. I don’t make assumptions like that. Please do me the same favor.

6. Are you a Mormon/Catholic/Fundamentalist, etc.?

Again, I won’t bombard you with questions if you don’t have children. Let’s practice the Golden Rule here, please.

7. Wow! You’re fertile!

Okay, thank you, I didn’t know that…and now my kids do, too, and will be asking all sorts of questions about what that means…

8. You’re overpopulating the earth.

Yes, I’ve actually had people say this to me. FYI- The earth isn’t overpopulated!

9. I feel sorry for your kids.

Yes, someone with zero social skills (huh…I guess it’s not a homeschooling problem after all…) once said that they feel sorry for my kids because there’s no way I can spend enough time with each child. Hmmm…I homeschool, so my kids are with me all day, everyday, while kids in school are in school 30-35 hours a week and are often at extracurricular activities or babysitters for more hours on top of that, and I’m the one that needs to be concerned with how much time I spend with my kids?

10. You must be crazy.

That farmer’s market trip I spoke of in #1? That same trip, after we arrived at the market, we passed an older man who stopped me and gave me his card; he was a psychiatrist! Then he stood there asking me with a straight face if I was interested in an appointment because I “must be going crazy with all these kids.” Again, my kids were standing right there when he said this to me. No wonder so many kids are uncomfortable around adults.

11. Are you trying to get your own TV show?

Yes, I went through 11 pregnancies and births for the sole reason of getting on TLC. Good Lord.

12. Are they all both yours and your husband’s?

That’s the “polite” way of asking if all my kids have the same father, although a woman at the doctor’s office came right out and asked my mother if all my children were from my husband. First of all, YES, they are all from my husband, but secondly- and more importantly- it is incredibly rude to ask someone that. Whenever I disclose that, yes, they all have the same father, I usually get some sort of approving comment, but seriously. How would they react to someone whose children were not all from the same father? I can’t believe people think it’s okay to say these things!


I fully realize that a family our size can cause a bit of a distraction when we’re out in public, so, by all means, approach us if you’d like. Just please think before you speak! Compliment their behavior (if they’re behaving, of course). Tell them what beautiful kids they are. A great rule of thumb is to listen to Bambi’s mother (or was it Thumper’s??)-

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

If we adults expect children to follow that rule when speaking to people, perhaps we adults should practice following it, too.


Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

66 thoughts on “12 Things NOT to Say About My Big Family”

  1. Oh Shelly, I bet you’ve heard it all. When we moved to Washington many years ago, I was pregnant with my third. Several people asked if she was planned! I got the overpopulation remark when I was pregnant with my fourth (still in Washington). I told my neighbor we don’t believe that and actually believe there are more spirits waiting to come to earth. That shut him up! I would’ve loved to have had more children, so I admire moms like you. And I think YOU are amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Camie. You’re so sweet. I was pregnant with our 4th the first time I heard the birth control question. Like you, it was a neighbor who said it. Being the recipient of comments like these do help us to watch what we say to people, don’t they?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. With eleven children, too, I have heard all of these countless times. I admit that it’s now very rarely that all of us are out in public together – – – I try to shield the kids from these rude comments and questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another comment I hear often is: “You don’t look like you have 11 children!!” I usually respond by asking, “What does that look like?” They usually can’t answer. Or, I’ve heard, “Haggard” or “worn.” Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear that, too, along with,”You don’t look old enough to have 11 children!” I happen to like those comments, though. 😉 I honestly think they expect us to have missing teeth, gray hair, and spit up all over us. 🙂


  4. Hi Shelley,

    It’s funny – we have two girls, and people are shocked that we might want another one. Then they ask if we’re holding out for a boy. Then they look at the car and say that at least we have space for a couple more. My parents (!) even asked whether he was going for a vasectomy – thankfully the older child wasn’t paying attention, or that could have been an interesting conversation!

    I agree – why comment at all??? I know most of them don’t know we have another eleven (miscarried) in heaven, but even so it’s tactless. I suspect they just don’t know what to say, and are perhaps embarrassed because they started a conversation that they realise is (at best) tactless.

    Anyway. If I need parenting advice, I lean towards asking people with larger families. I admire the fact that you can do everything – children all fed/clean-clothed/educated/nappied etc and all present and knowing they’re loved and you get enough sleep at night to smile at me? Wow! At the moment, I can only aspire to this some days – and I only have two (and a chronic lack of drying facilities). I am in awe.

    Thank-you for showing us how you (in the literal sense) manage things. Because you have eleven children, you are more able to mentor the younger women around you (in this day and age, this includes people like me in the UK) than someone with only one or two – because you have seen a lot more than we have, you have more experience than we do. Thank-you for stepping up to this calling and sharing all your wisdom and hard-won experience with us.

    Jenny xx

    PS The acquaintance who asked why eleven? I’d have said that the twelfth just hadn’t arrived yet. But then I just like to see the look on people’s faces sometimes…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I have two, wanted four and people thought I was crazy. I am but that’s another story ;P I can only imagine. When I think of all you do, homeschooling, working at home, life and more I am exhausted and in awe. I love that you shared this with us. I will admit I am probably guilty of saying one or two of these things when younger. The lesson I learned the hard way. When A friend of mine got married every time she was sick people would (jokingly) say “maybe you are pregnant” what they didn’t know is that she and her husband tried for years to have a baby, the baby never came. Every time they asked it was like watching her die a little inside. We never know the struggles of others. To have kids or not is a private choice. Others need to respect that.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. That would be such a good idea, Shelly. Yes, tact is an important thing to teach our kids! And to learn ourselves. I’m sure I’ve said things to people that were tactless from time to time – although I try really hard not to.

        Believe it or not, we go to a church where there are lots of families with 4-10 kids and my husband and I actually feel a bit strange that we only have two. We are in the minority for sure! And we’ve had people with lots of kids who have said hurtful things to us because we didn’t have more.

        My theory is that people always think whatever decisions they make are right and they have a hard time understanding why anyone would make a different decision. Whether it’s family size, educational choices, putting parents into nursing homes versus bringing them into your home, the denomination of the church you attend, etc.

        No wonder some wise people long ago came up with the sayings “Curiosity killed the cat” and “To each his own.” 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I asked a woman who had a slew of children with her if she was pregnant about 10 years ago. She replied, “no, I’m not,” but it turned out she was expecting a comment like one of these until I told her that I had the same number of kids that she did. Then we had a nice conversation. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. We have 5 children and even my children are tired of the comments we recieve. ‘You’ve got your hands full.’ And ‘Wow, you guys are braver than we are.’ I was asked if they were ‘all from the same father?’ Once right in front of my children. Someone asked me if we were Catholic with a snarl on her face so when my kids walked away I said ‘Nope, just horny!’ She turned a deep shade of red pretty fast. The one in a blue moon sweet comments about family are so so appreciated, I usually want to hug them lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! That reminds me of my friend who has 11 kids and is into co-sleeping, because people are constantly going on about her large family and then they go on about the co-sleeping, usually saying something like “you and your husband must never be able to spend time together” (in more graphic terms than that) and never seem to realize the irony of those comments together… #FridayFrivolity

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Not only are mine not all from the same father, they’re not all from the same mother. 🙂 We’re a mixed dozen. I’ve gotten every comment/question you’ve mentioned above, but I’ve also gotten, “Do you love your real children more than your adopted ones?”

    That was said in front of the kids.

    No joke.

    People also love to ask why our children were “given up” for adoption, too.

    It kills me.

    At least more people are nice than are rude . . . I hope I’m one of the nice ones!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, some of those are just really insane! I have two close friends – with a dozen and baker’s dozen and I’ve just always been insanely jealous (because I’m an only child, so ANY number of siblings pretty much blows my mind!) I’m sure having a big family has its ups and downs, but I just think it’s way cool!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for your post! Luckily here in Guatemala big families are the norm, so there’s usually less of those comments. But a foreigner asked me when I was pregnant with my first whether or not he was planned! People get way too much into each other’s business and I’m sorry you have to hear all of those ugly and unnecessary comments! I love big families and hope to have one someday…right now we just have 2. Seeing children as a burden really does seem to be the norm especially back in the US, it’s unfortunate that people feel that way AND that they think they should have an opinion about everyone else’s choices.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. When I say to women with large families “you have your hands full,” I mean it as a compliment. I am the mother of two children and would love to have more but some days it’s all I can do to make it to nap time. I greatly admire large families.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Know how you feel when seven children was extraordinary in my family, back in the 70s. Things like, oh you’re Italian, inferring that they have big families so that was why mum and dad had so many kids. So thank you for taking the pressure off my family now that 11 is the new 7. Keep on smiling and thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. People sometimes amaze me with what they think is ok to say. The “do you know what causes that” one I got when I only had TWO (they were close together, but please!) So many of these, including that one, are not ok to say, EVER. To anyone. Especially in front of their kids. There’s a few of these that I could see not minding in certain circumstances (if worded right, when the kids aren’t around, and you know me well and are actually interested and want to have a real, serious discussion about it…such as the ones involving beliefs, or why I choose to have the number of kids I choose to). But some people just don’t understand the difference between what’s appropriate for small talk and whats not. There are some things that are just not a “supermarket line” type of question…and that you better at least know my name before you ask.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If some of these questions were not asked laced with sarcasm, I wouldn’t mind answering them. It’s funny that you mention the supermarket because that’s where I get most of these questions! And I love that rule- you’d better at least know my name before you ask! Great comment!


  13. I don’t know if this is appropriate to say but……Shelley, I am in absolute awe of you and your family. I have a friend who had nine children and she did a fantastic job. You’ve taken it to the next level and sound so well balanced and loving – I bet Christmas at your place will be fantastic! For every parent doing a great job with their kids I say high five and good on you xx

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So I do not have 11 kids, only four little girls including twins- here in upper middle class suburbia though I mine as well have 11 so I can relate to these completely. Since I have four girls people always assume I wanted a boy and just got unlucky- not the case I would not have it any other way. So offensive.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh, I am SO with you on this, Sister!
    I have gotten all of these among others. #3 is the one that irritates me most and interestingly, only men ask it. It puts me a very awkward place to try to respond to that. I wish they’d ask my husband instead. Uncomfortable!!! They seem to think they are being clever, but you and I both know they are not.
    I get plenty of wonderful comments and smiles too. I’ve thought about making a T-shirt with all the answers printed on it to wear when I go out in public with all my children. Would be taking it too far?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I literally can’t believe it :-O
    Maybe if these people were homeschooled, they would know how to be polite and subtle.
    Just sayin’ 🙂
    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Shelly, for every woman with many children who has been grilled tactlessly about it, there is a woman with few or no children who has been grilled about that. We live in a society where people don’t seem to know how to mind their own business about anything! We all form opinions about people and situations we encounter, but some of us were taught from early childhood not to let every thought that pops into our heads come out of our mouths!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I bet your household is more blessed than many of those who make those rude comments. People can be so insensitive and think they can say whatever they want…..wrong! Don’t be hurtful in any way. Merry Christmas to you and your lovely family. It was nice to meet you on the Blog Hop.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’d laugh… if it just wasn’t all so…disappointing.

    I grew up in a family of 16 kids. My mom and dad had 15 and then adopted one. I grew up hearing most of these comments…even when I was too young/innocent to know what they were talking about.

    I mostly just feel bad for people who say these things and think this way. I think they might need more family/love themselves ;p

    Hugs to you, amazing woman and mother! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Have you ever read “Cheaper By The Dozen” by Ernestine Gilbreth? It’s about a family with 12 children and whenever anyone asked the father “Are these all yours?” he’d say “Sure are, and you ought to see the ones we left at home?” My favorite comment of his was when they were all driving somewhere and they were stopped at a stop sign and someone on the street said “Hey Noah, where you going with that ark?” He said “Collecting animals like the good lord told me to. All I need is a jackass. Hop in!”

    Liked by 2 people

  21. I have 5 kids and I get tired of hearing this stuff… It especially bugs the heck out of me when I’m asked about my kids’ parentage, as if the kids that are mine biologically are somehow better than the ones I am blessed to have, but didn’t come through me… Uhhh, can we say none of your business. Anyway, I’m sorry that you experience these things, while at the same time, I’m at least glad that I’m not the only one to have to face these awkward conversations… Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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