I am the oldest of four girls. I loved growing up in a big family and am filled with pride watching my younger sisters grow from little girls to young women. It’s been so interesting to see our differences despite growing up in the same house. As children, we loved different activities, a range of playing with Barbies, putting on shows, playing with our cats, riding bicycles and kayaking. Our budding career paths have reflected this – me, a business analyst; the next, an engineer; another, a budding activist; and the youngest, just coming into her own out of high school.
That’s why it’s so disheartening when I tell people I’m the oldest of four girls and they say, “I’m so sorry for your poor dad!” It says my dad missed something having all girls instead of a boy in the mix. That because he was the only man among five women, it’s obvious what our family dynamic was. I’ve heard this said about mothers in families of all sons, as well, so it cuts both ways. It’s meant as a toss-away phrase, some gentle joke to show camaraderie, said often without thinking. But it sucks to hear it.
Usually when I get this comment I just smile politely and take it for the thoughtless comment it is. But now that my dad is gone and I can reflect on the entirety of our relationship (and how awesome it was!), that phrase is a barb. When people say it, it sticks, and I wonder the consequences of hearing this all through my life.
Over Thanksgiving break, my sisters and I discussed how to respond to this remark. The person saying it is not (typically) intentionally being hurtful, so it’s more useful to encourage a moment of reflection rather than pointedly saying you’re offended. The goal is to make them just take a beat to ask why that is a given. The best we came up with is simply asking, “Why?”
What would you say?