The Only Response You’ll Ever Need to Nosy Questions


Four years ago I was a brand new mother. I was in love with my son and often spent hours staring into his steel blue eyes or tickling is tiny toes with kisses. I also spent hours each day wondering whether I was a good enough mom or if I was doing something (or everything) wrong.

When I went to Target or the park and looked at the moms around me they seemed to have together in a way I just didn’t. Every single one of them appeared smarter and prettier and so much more at ease with motherhood than I was. I wanted to seek out friendships with fellow moms but I was nervous that they would be critical of the choices I was making or judge me for doing something wrong that I didn’t realize I was doing.

When someone approached me with a question that seemed like it might or might not be judgmental, like, “Where’s your baby’s jacket?” or “You’re still nursing?” or Where does your baby sleep at night?” I never knew whether they were going to offer me support for my decisions, or offer a silent (or not-so-silent critique). This lack of confidence usually left me half-answering and trying to change the subject. Or leave the interaction altogether before I said anything “wrong.” 

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One day, when talking with a group of women at La Leche League, I shared my concerns and the leader shared the perfect response to any personal question. She recommended I say, “Why do you ask?” This response would keep the conversation flowing if it was someone who wanted to offer their support or friendships or let me know right away if they only wanted my answer so that they could make a judgment. I tried it out the very next opportunity I got. “Are you nursing your baby in the carrier?” asked a woman at the grocery store. Still nervous about how other people perceived my public breastfeeding, I blushed and replied, “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” she responded, “I remember nursing my kids when they were little and I never could quite figure out how to do it in a carrier. I’m so impressed!” Immediately we started talking about how tough early nursing can be but how important it was to both of us. And just like that I felt supported, something I might not have felt had I said yes and hurried away as I might have before.

Soon after that incident, I had another chance to use my new favorite response. A co-worker asked me if I was planning to finish losing the baby weight. When I responded with, “Why do you ask?” instead of an embarrassed muttering from me, she was the one who didn’t have an answer. Instead of leaving that interaction embarrassed about my thicker shape, I left feeling strong and confident. Over the next few years, I had a chance to respond to questions that I felt were a little too personal time and again. Each time, the response “Why do you ask?” helped me figure out the asker’s intentions. Sometimes, it helped me find support. Other times it helped me know right away that the asker wasn’t doing so with the goals of support at the forefront of their mind.

These days I’m a much more confident mother. Although I know I’m probably not doing everything right, I’ve gained the comforting wisdom to understand that no one is. Now, as I make my way through the grocery store I’m often hauling a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old and am far, far too busy to be stopped by people asking where my baby’s socks are or whether I should be letting my 4-year-old son wear nail polish. On the rare occasion that my little ones are both calm and quiet enough for someone to approach us with an oddly personal question, always respond with my favorite answer, “Why do you ask?”

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The Only Response You’ll Ever Need to Nosy Questions

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. She is writing a memoir on pregnancy, motherhood, and sisterhood and lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. ... More

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