How To Talk To Parents About Douchey-Somewhat-Controversial-But-At-Least-Contentious-Trigger Topics

What I am not saying: "I am now going to take this opportunity to rub in your face what an inadequate parent you are for not sacrificing your entire life to homeschool your children, whom you obviously don't love."

The idea that we will all suddenly get along with each other about everything in the middle of being parents and having differing values/backgrounds/lifestyles/eating habits/non-eating habits/what shoes we a big jump.  Maybe I'm not the most optimistic about parent-to-parent harmony, but that is just because there is such a wide spectrum between "awesome, friendly parents" and "douchey, sanctimonious, join-my-special-MLM club, parents."

I have full faith that most of us actually don't care much about douchey topics — that we don't immediately fall into a frothy mess for trigger words like "gluten" or "homeschooling."

Most of us are swimming in the middle of the pond, getting the waves of popular parenting trends thrown on our inner tubes, complaining about eating styles, schooling methods and shopping habits.

The fact is,  we are all making decisions that work for our families and reflect our values, and we are doing fine.  I would even say we are doing great!

The problem for me, personally, is that my family is swimming smack in the middle of some big trigger topics.

And it kills conversations. Bad.

I thought that the best thing I could do is to pass along these amazing conversation blockers for other parents, who also want to have the fantastic experience of being able to stop friendly dialogue at the park in its tracks, before backtracking into disclaimer-territory!

Let's go!

1. "We have five kids."

It is hard to break that easily into conversations.

Parent: (Running after toddler in a park) "Sorry, I have two." (Grins, rolls eyes)

Me:  (Smiles) "It's cool. I have five."

Parent: (Glowers)

I don't mean it to kill the conversation, but it does. This always kills the conversation. Every time. Unless the other parent also has a large family, this statement comes with a heap of unsaid assumptions.

While what I mean is, "It's cool! I have kids too!  We're all in this together!"  What the other parent hears is, "I have five, so two is nothing" (which is absolutely not true...I had two at one point, and I remember trying to run after them both. It's insanity.), or "I have five, stop whining" (which is just a douche move, and will never be my intention).  "Why don't you have more? Are you planning on having more?" (OMG, that is none of my business, and I will never ask.)  

Disclaimer That Follows: "I remember when I had two, and it was impossible keeping the kids in one spot! Your kids are so cute! Awesome!" (please don't think I mean anything other than to be friendly...)

What’s funny is when I run into parents with more than five kids. Then it's just high-fives all around. "Are all of your kids wearing matching shoes today??" "LOL...OMG, shoes." "I know, right?"

...which are still the same things I said when I had one or two. It is just spoken at a higher decibel of panic.

I take pictures of their shoes once in a while, to remind myself that we knew where they all were. At one point. At the same time.

2.  "We homeschool."

Parent: "So, what school are you in this year?"

Kids: "I'm not in a school."

Me: "Well, we homeschool."

Another c-c-c-c-conversation c-c-c-c-combo bbbbreaker!!

What I am not saying: "I am now going to take this opportunity to rub in your face what an inadequate parent you are for not sacrificing your entire life to homeschool your children, whom you obviously don't love."

Dude, I have been homeschooling for eight-plus years, and even I get sanctimonious speeches from other homeschoolers. Homeschooling is so much fun, but it is tough! You know what else is?  Making sure your kids get to school on time. Making sure they have all their homework and projects ready for class. Making sure they are learning. Trying to convince them not to eat their glue sticks (we are all in this battle together...right?) . Going to parent-teacher conferences. PTA meetings. School functions. School musicals. School fundraisers. End-of-school parties. Teacher Appreciation Days. Spending time with your kids because you love them more than life.

Disclaimer That Follows: "I used to substitute teach, and some friends helped me start homeschooling when my daughter was old enough for school. It has been a lot of fun, but it isn't for everybody!  What school does your kid go to?"

Homeschooling is just another way to school...except with less pants, and more pajamas during the day (Hey, we're not judging anybody...right?).

We really were doing our bookwork outside this day, and my husband caught me off guard with the camera.  

3. "Is that gluten-free?  Because I can only eat gluten-free."

Foodie Douche-level: Achieved!

Wine. Finger for scale.

Okay, no joke: I have Celiac.

So things I eat actually have to be honest-to-goodness gluten-free.  Contamination counts. And there are very few ways of talking about this without reaching a douche-level that is dusted with snark and foodie condemnation.

I have to start conversations with the Disclaimer:  "Do you know if this is gluten-free, or if there is any flour in it at all? And it is totally okay if it does! I know how to feed myself, so I'm cool."  (Big, friendly, gluten-free smile.)

Honestly, I feel horrible asking servers if anything is gluten-free, because it has become such a fad topic and I hate to sound like a douche about things.

However, I have also found that whenever I ask if a dish is gluten-free, every single person has been nothing less than extremely helpful in making sure it is 100% gluten-free, and they make special notes on the order to make doubly sure.

Wine is gluten-free. Finger for scale.

4. "What do you do?"

This is the one that my husband hates answering the most. Because he loves his job, and he loves what he does and he does it really well.

But he is in computers, and he is one of the leaders in his industry, and he is a well-known speaker (in his industry, and from my own very biased perspective)...but it can sound snarky if said the wrong way.


Parent: "So, what do you do?"

Husband: "I work in computers."

Parent: "Oh, I have a nephew who likes computers! Do you work in (some company)?"

Husband: "No, I run the IT/Operations departments for a cloud software company in a major metropolitan city."

Sooo, maybe we are just sensitive because we started out washing dishes and filing papers in the back rooms of offices way back in the day, and maybe we have some deep-rooted Protestant guilt thing going on where we don't feel like we actually deserve this amazing life, warts and all, and we are truly, so down-in-our gut grateful that we have a steady job, and a roof over our heads, and healthy food to feed our children, and the freedom to homeschool.

Disclaimer To Follow: "It's a good job we love that provides for our family."

Our young programmer tinkering away with her lab buddy, Piggy.  

5. "Oh, you live in the city? Yeah. I live in the forest. On an island."

Snark-level: MASTERED.

living. in a forest. on an ISLAND.

OKAY, SERIOUSLY! No joke. We had been living in somewhat rural California suburbia for ages...until my husband got a new job.

And now we live in the forest.

On an island.


We had to find somewhere to live that was near my husband's new job, and we found the perfect house for a large family, that homeschools, makes gluten-free food from our garden, and needs some room to run around outside...hiding in a forest. And it was for sale.

It's just how it happened, and it is blowing our minds.  

I grew up on the pavements of Los Angeles during the 80s, and that was just a weird time, man. We got Michael Jackson at the Olympics, neon stretch pants, off-the-shoulder sweaters during LA summers and hair big enough to take down low flying airplanes.

But I'm not a hugely urban person at heart. The pavements of LA just never spoke to my soul. I like the solitude of nature. I truly enjoy living somewhere a little more remote; a little off the beaten path. Someplace where I have to worry about eagles stealing my chickens (true story). A forest on an island definitely fulfills the needs in our lives.

Disclaimer To Follow: "I live in the forest over there on that island. I KNOW, RIGHT? IT'S  A FREAKING ISLAND! AND THEY LET US LIVE THERE!" (Maniacal laughter.)

I can't get this smirk off my face. I can't believe I am allowed to live here.

So, there you have it. 5 conversation blockers I use in my life! No go out and find your own.

(Big gluten-free smile.)

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