"Where are the kids all day?"

Last night, coming in from a local Let's Panic About Babies reading after work and some much needed belly laughs, I ran into a neighbor in the hall. She's a woman I've always liked, despite her constantly informing Nate and me that Sage seems nice all but that Thalia is realllly special.

I suppose until you have kids yourself, maybe you haven't yet learned that parents kind of like both of their children. Or maybe that's just us.

"So you're working from home again now?" she asks as we head towards the elevator together around 8PM.

"No," I say, indicating the 90 pounds of work gear hanging off my shoulder. "I've been back at an office for more than a year now."

"Ohhhhhh," she says. "I think I remember that now."

She hesitates.

"So then...wow...so uh...where are the kids all day?"

Where are the kids all day? She hardly disguised the judgment implicit in the question.

Of course a litany of snarky answers popped to mind, none good enough to actually say out loud.

Oh, they're home alone.

Gee, we just pass them off from neighbor to neighbor. How do Wednesdays sound to you?

The kids! Oh my God, I forgot about the kids!

Well, Thalia is babysitting Sage now. Five seems like a good age to learn responsibility.

Some guy down the street just got out of prison last week and started a daycare. We're trying it out. It's cheap, and he throws in free juice.

What kids?

Because I'm only passive-aggressive in my head--and rarely clever on the spot--I just smiled, told her that they're in school now, then tried to change the subject.

But the question stuck with me into the night. Even Nate, who tends to dismiss this kind of thing as me being sensitive, paused Call of Duty on XBox 360 long enough to raise an eyebrow.

"Do you ever get asked where the kids are all day?" I asked him.

No. Of course he doesn't.

Speaking of things you never say to a working mom, I have a whole list of them published in Redbook this month, with thanks to everyone on my original post who contributed. Thank you! Thank you! Next time may it be a whole column and not just a few quips. There sure is enough material.


Blogger Marinka said...

Is that some kind of a trick question?

I mean, If we're at work, how the hell are we supposed to know where the kids are all day?

3/9/11, 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Yuliya said...

And by school you mean boarding school right?
Ship em off!
hip em off!
Waaaay off!
(I think some of your possible answers sound delightfully plausible)

3/9/11, 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Jen said...

Whenever I'm asked this, which is often, I tell them that the dog is watching the kids, who are 8 and 4. Will people ever stop asking this question?!

3/9/11, 11:13 AM  
Blogger Marinka said...

Or! You could ask her if she'd mind watching them. Since she's so concerned. Two birds, one stone!

3/9/11, 11:15 AM  
Anonymous @nicoleva on twitter said...

I personally like to stick to 'tied to a tree in the backyard'.

3/9/11, 11:15 AM  
Anonymous The Dalai Mama said...

I too hate that question. It's so judgy. I was at a meeting the other day and my daughter was home sick with my husband who works from home and I was telling someone that and they had the nerve to ask me "oh he doesn't mind staying home with the kids?" Really? He works from home and why should he care? They are his kids too. We are equal partners.

Of course as I type that I feel the hypocrisy as I just recently emaile birthday party invitations for my sons birthday and I emailed the moms...not the dads.

3/9/11, 11:15 AM  
Blogger Pammy pam said...

as a former single mother i used to get asked that all the time. i used to say oh, they are at home alone, with a bottle of vodka and cigarettes.

3/9/11, 11:16 AM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

I avoid the pediatrician after a nurse said to me, in full view and earshot of my daughters, "The best choice is to be home with your kids at least 2/3 of the time. Is that something you can't do or do you just choose not to?'

I think, though the sharp and passionate side of you probably disagrees, not biting are the best things you can do. There are some minds that won't ever be changed...too small.

Sorry, I was trying not to be catty.

3/9/11, 11:16 AM  
Blogger The818 said...

I tell them to blow me. (the idiot, not the kids.)

3/9/11, 11:16 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Ha! I work in sports PR and occasionally get to travel with one of the teams. It's a men's team and sometimes the wives of the players and technical staff go with the team. After training one day, before opening practice up to the media, I was chatting with on of the assistant coaches' wives (as her boys played with the other coaches' children on the field) and I mentioned I also have children. She stopped what she was doing, looked around me (like, looked at the immediate area around my legs) and asked, matter of factly, "So, where are the children?" My reply, after looking her in the eye to see if she was being serious, was simply: "At home, with their father."

3/9/11, 11:17 AM  
Anonymous Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

Funny, I've often had an opposite assumption.

I always got "Oh, you're back at work. Are your kids enjoying daycare?"

With no consideration of the fact that perhaps their father was taking care of them while I was at work (which he was until the little one started school this year).

3/9/11, 11:18 AM  
Anonymous bessie.viola said...

I get asked this question ALL THE TIME. It never fails to make my head explode. "You're... working? Full time? What do you do with Madeline?"

Chain her up under my desk, obviously. With a water dish and food bowl.

People are assholes.

3/9/11, 11:20 AM  
Blogger ElisaC said...

Dude, you don't have to have kids to know that one shouldn't favor/praise one child over the other...TO THEIR PARENTS!!!! That's about her being tactless, not childless :)

3/9/11, 11:28 AM  
Blogger Message said...


3/9/11, 11:30 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

It's even worse when you work from home, yet send your kid to daycare. The judgment that comes at you is palpable.

For me, there's no way I can get work done at home with a busy two year old tugging on my arm every fourteen seconds. Also, he's an only child. Daycare gives him time with other kids, he learns to share, take his turn. My husband works long hours and can't be primary caregiver.

Our situation works for us. But the comments I've gotten! "You're at home, and you let strangers look after your child?"

They're not strangers, asshole. They're highly qualified and much beloved child care experts. Gah.

3/9/11, 11:31 AM  
Blogger Kerry said...

Sigh. How old is this person? She sounds like a cross between ancient great grandma and maybe four and a half (she doesn't know about school?)

So true about Nate not getting this question. Although I'm guessing he gets his fair share of assumptions and mean-spirited questions when his leading lady is out of town in fabulous places for work.

3/9/11, 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Susan said...

I'm going to be skewered for saying this, but is is possible that some of these questions come not from a position of judgment, but from a simple desire to make conversation or connect? Or in an effort to empathize with how hard it must be sometimes? Full-time workers DO sometimes worry about child-care choices or miss their kids school plays or ache for them when traveling (I certainly did), but when someone asks a simple question, "how's daycare working out?" or "where do they go after school?", this person is dismissed as a judgmental asshole.

3/9/11, 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

"But isn't it hard having other people take care of them?" I love that one. And at this point, I just answer: No. I like it this way.

3/9/11, 11:47 AM  
Blogger Abbey said...

Um yeah, that stings / is a crazy thing to say. I feel like it is probably none of her business and also pretty easy to surmise where they are. Weirdness... maybe I should be glad I haven't talked to my neighbors lately, but that feels wrong too.

3/9/11, 11:51 AM  
Anonymous kirida said...

Sometimes the question is innocent curiosity and other times I wonder where the hell the people get off trying to get so much access into my life.

I tell people that I drop them off at the neighborhood taco truck because I want them to be bilingual and learn how to make awesome tacos. Life skills!

3/9/11, 11:59 AM  
Anonymous Jenn said...

I'm with Susan here- what should she have said? (If she was genuinely curious and/or just making conversation) Looks like if she asked about daycare, she's being an asshole, if she asked about you working at home, she's being an asshole. Is it just the rule that no one can ever ask about childcare arrangements? Or can they only ask if they use correct phrasing like "What are your childcare arrangements"? (like that doesn't sound pretentious and overly interested). I am sure a lot is conveyed in the tone, but the words alone wouldn't cause me to bristle.
You are totally right about men never having to answer this question though. Just the "Where is your wife/their mom?" one instead.

3/9/11, 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

What an utterly passive and stupid question to ask. Duh! Seriously, what is wrong with people.

3/9/11, 12:03 PM  
Blogger ~j. said...

"We just dumped some Cheerios on the floor and turned on The Little Mermaid. They're fine."

3/9/11, 12:03 PM  
Blogger michael moebes said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/9/11, 12:04 PM  
Blogger Muskrat said...

I would've said, "Didn't you see Taxi Driver? Why, they're out prostituting, of course!"

3/9/11, 12:05 PM  
Blogger Tripped Up Family said...

I say "Oh, that's why we had the triplets, you know. They entertain each other so well, you really don't even have to be there."

3/9/11, 12:09 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

I'm pretty sure I would respond with snark. I have a neighbor who is in her 50's, never married and no kids. When I come home early with or without S, she's always peeking out the door asking what's up. MYOB! The kid is in her crate in the basement, geez, I left her water.....
Great post, as usual!!

3/9/11, 12:11 PM  
Blogger nina said...

Why does no one ever ask the dads that question? Don't most kids have 2 parents?

3/9/11, 12:16 PM  
Blogger Kristin Craig Lai said...

The real question is, why does her mind first go to the kids? If she wants to make conversation why not ask, "How are you enjoying being back at work?" or "Where do you work?".

The reason that Nate doesn't get asked is because people don't think about him as a father first and a person second.

On another note, I think y'all should come live in my 'hood because I have never felt judged for having my kid in childcare while I work at home. If I did, I honestly don't know what I would say.

Maybe, "She's on her leash in the back yard."

3/9/11, 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

I can agree with Susan that perhaps the other person is just trying to make polite conversation or make a connection, but it is all in the way it is said. If after finding out you work the person's eyes bug out and they immediately ask, "so where are your kids all day?", that implies judgment. If they ask how work is going and make actual polite conversation and casually ask what your child care situation is, that is more appropriate.

At my old job I worked with almost all men (who also had children). We were in a group meeting preparing for a business trip, and my boss turned to me, ONLY me, and asked "but who will take care of Claire?". He failed to ask the other fathers in the room the same question. I was dumbfounded for a minute before stammering that she'll be fine at home with her father.

Most the time I just try to joke that I throw a few Cheerios in her crib and call it good to shut people up, but people, really? IDIOTS.

3/9/11, 12:25 PM  
Anonymous annie said...

Um, I'm home all day and have no idea where my kids are. Is that a bad thing?

3/9/11, 12:29 PM  
Anonymous Kathy said...

Really? That is offensive? I would think it comes out of curiosity more so than judgement. I stay home with my four young children and I often get asked "Where are the kids?" whenever I go anywhere without my "entourage". Different context perhaps but it never occurred to me that if I were a working mother the question would be loaded with judgemental implications. Is it possible that our own insecurities come through when faced with these circumstances? My answer, by the way, is a dismissive, yet joking "I don't know, they are somebody elses problem right now!"

3/9/11, 12:31 PM  
Blogger Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

My sister's husband is the stay-at-home dad and he gets asked all kinds of inappropriate questions. I was the stay-at-home mom so it's fun to compare notes on the weird things people ask moms v. dads.

In addition to being the stay-at-home dad, he makes toys and children's furniture from old skateboards. (His Etsy shop is "boardgames.") So he's kind of a work-from-home dad, too; although he works when my sister gets home from her job.

3/9/11, 12:35 PM  
Blogger Issas Crazy World said...

Ahhh the childless. They can be quite amazing.

I am good at comebacks the next day, never on the spot. However, you could always tell her that you crate them during the day.

3/9/11, 12:47 PM  
Blogger Stacey B said...

I had the woman, to whom I pay over $1000 a month in rent, ask me...as I'm handing over said rent check...if there isn't some way that I could afford to stay home with my son and not have to work.

3/9/11, 12:51 PM  
Blogger leanne said...

There is one woman in my office who has asked me this question a few times. And it doesn't come across as her being curious. It's almost downright maddening.

3/9/11, 12:55 PM  
Blogger Danielle-Marie said...

We have two kids, Landon 22 months...Hannah 6 months. Whenever my fiance comes home, Hannah is almost always in bed coincidentally. And he'll always ask (seriously, not even as a joke) "where's Hannah?" The other day I couldn't help it and said "she ran away with the circus. Said she'd write."

3/9/11, 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Karen Sugarpants said...

I get that all the time since I started school. So annoying.

3/9/11, 2:38 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

I, on the other hand, as a WAHM, get asked things like, "So what on Earth do you DO all day now that your son is in school?"

Lately I've been telling people, "Same thing I do every day: try to take over the world!"

The mothering game is rigged, I tell you. Rigged.

3/9/11, 2:40 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...


Offensive? Nah. I'm not easily offended. It's just maybe a little...indelicate?

3/9/11, 3:39 PM  
Anonymous rkmama said...

Can I just say these comments are awesome? Totally made my day.
When I worked outside the home I always just responded with "I threw a ball and a couple of chew toys in the crib with her- it works OK for the dog, right?"
And @Jaelithe- THANK YOU. I need a good response as I started getting that little gem this year too.

3/9/11, 3:43 PM  
Blogger Goddess in Progress said...

We leave the dog in charge.

What? She's a 13-pound schnauzer. She can totally handle two 3.5-year-olds.

As for the favoring, when my twins were 8 months old, a woman asked me "which is the good one?" No joke. Totally serious. I mean, at least the babies weren't old enough to understand, but holy crap.

3/9/11, 4:54 PM  
Blogger Jessica {Team Rasler} said...

I'm at home now, but I also get asked where the boys are any time I show up anywhere without them. Usually people ask who's babysitting (to which I reply, "No one. Their FATHER is taking care of them right now.") But I am left wondering how to ask what the childcare situation is when both parents work. There should be a delicate way of asking it (which your neighbor obviously didn't find), but I think it's tough. And I agree that it gets asked of the moms and almost never of the dads. Your post and the comments made me laugh out loud. If only the well-meaning idiots of the world knew how our mockery of them lifted our spirits... : ) Nah, then they'd never stop saying insensitive things.

3/9/11, 5:03 PM  
Blogger Noelle said...

When I was 8 months pregnant with my second child I had a woman at a BBQ inform me that my child wasn't being cared for properly because I worked and employed a nanny to care for her. I was a little shocked by her comment but I didn't really say anything, muttered something like I worked and that having a nanny worked for us. She basically made it seem like she was the perfect mother---also went on and on about how she never yells etc. I was fuming by the time I got home and wished I had told her what I thought of her. The host later called me to apologize for her friend's behavior and informed that this perfect mother got so drunk that she was stumbling around in front of her children. It was at that moment that I decided that I wasn't going to let judgemental assholes make me feel bad about my parenting choices.

3/9/11, 7:29 PM  
Anonymous Valerie said...

I am a lawyer with a busy practice and a Mom of two but do an ok job keeping all the balls in the air (thanks to my equal partner husband, smaller city, and great child care, among many). I often get asked by people who know I have young kids how I "do it all." My husband, also a lawyer, who picks up the kids from school equal time and coaches the soccer team and does his equal share of everything, NEVER has been asked anything remotely like "how he does it all!"

3/9/11, 11:00 PM  
Blogger The Mommy Therapy said...

You should have told her the kid thing just didn't work out.

I stay home and get a whole other slew of comments questioning things like my ability to think or still function in society without trying to wipe someone's nose or whip out juice boxes for everyone. At times it possibly isn't a ridiculous question, but I still find most of the queries I get dripping with assumption and judgement.

What is the deal with the harrassment of the mothers. We do what we do. Be nice and move along.

3/9/11, 11:38 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I'm in the camp that this is a perfectly normal question to ask someone in order to avoid making assumptions about what they do for childcare. Seems like she just meant, do you have a nanny, do they go to daycare, does Nate stay home with them. But rather than being presumptuous and saying something like, "Oh, how did you find a good nanny to stay with the kids?" (which to me would have been extremely annoying), she just made an open-ended query. Or maybe I just think this way because I've asked a similar question to friends and that's what I've meant by it.
Now, as to whether a neighbor you don't know very well needs to be inquiring about your childcare situation at all, well, that's another story.

3/10/11, 9:24 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Kate, I think in this case you need to give me a wee bit of credit for being able to interpret tone and body language for a question asked to me in person by someone with a history of inappropriate statements.

3/10/11, 9:28 AM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

I assume all people who ask inappropriate questions are learning disabled. It helps me let it go.

3/10/11, 11:59 AM  
Blogger Dyar Baby Momma said...

I feel this more now that I work from a home office. I couldn't do strategic consulting with my kids here, its just like I have an office. They go to daycare. But I definitely feel like I have to explain over and over...

3/10/11, 12:35 PM  
Blogger Mama Bub said...

I was at the bank, alone, the other day. The teller looked at my empty arms and asked where my children were as if she suspected I had left them in the car. I told her they were at home with my husband. "Oh, how lucky you are," she said.

Lucky that my husband could keep the kids alive for five minutes while I ran to the bank?

3/10/11, 2:10 PM  
Blogger Modern Mom said...

Another "favorite" of mine is when people say that they want to stay home w/ their kids bc they "don't want other people to raise them". My smartass automatic response (which I bite my tongue to keep from saying - but one day probably will) is "Wow...I really feel sorry for your kids is you consider daycare equal to raising a child."

My USUAL response is that our daycare provider is someone we consider like family, and yes, she has a hand in raising our children and helping develop them - just as our parents (kids' grandparents), aunts, uncles, and friends all have a hand in raising our children.

3/10/11, 2:44 PM  
Anonymous Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com said...

Awesome article, but you forgot the full-time mom thing. I HATE THAT TERM. I'm a stay-at-home mom and I hate that term. Full-time mom? REALLY? Like working mothers aren't full-time mothers? My mother was a working mother - ARE YOU IMPLYING THAT SHE WAS SOMEHOW LESS OF A MOTHER? That I was cheated out of a proper mother?


You must have the patience of a saint, Liz. A SAINT. My jaw hit the ground just reading that.

3/11/11, 12:27 AM  
Blogger Janel said...

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was 26 years old, had a masters degree, working on a second masters, and was working full-time as a library director in a small college library. My husband works part-time, making me the main "breadwinner" in my family. I can't tell you how many women (NEVER men) asked me if I was going to come back to work after my maternity leave. My answer every single time was, "Well, I called my mortgage company, and they said yes, they'd still prefer receiving a payment every month. So yeah, I'll probably be coming back to work in six weeks." I always said it with a wide-eyed, sweet smile on my face.

3/11/11, 12:43 AM  
Blogger clueless but hopeful mama said...

I'm with Becoming Sarah. I'm also a stay at home mom and I cringe every time I hear or read "full time mom". All moms are full-time moms- ALL OF US- working outside of the home or not.

And I hate when anyone assumes I'm ready to judge employed moms just because I'm home with my two at the moment (EMPHASIS ON 'AT THE MOMENT'). They will sidle up to me and say something snarky and I will blanch and say "Sorry?" with the inflection to say "I'm sorry? Are you really assuming I agree with you? Because... NO."

3/11/11, 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you got that comment with older children. Usually that type of judgment is reserved for the moms of babies.

I hate that the entire question implies that we're shirking our Mom Duties. The real question is always "Who's watching your kids FOR YOU?" Unless we look miserable/torn/guilty and complain loudly about how we wish we could stay home, then everyone suspects we're pawning our real responsibility off on someone else.

3/11/11, 9:36 AM  
Blogger Occidental Girl said...



3/11/11, 10:38 AM  
Blogger superfizz said...

I've had that question but I've also had the question, don't you wish you were home with them?

I'd like to give a big old f u to that question.

3/11/11, 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Jill said...

It goes along with the notion that when the husband travels for business, no big deal. However, when a woman travels on business, the mother-in-law or someone HAS to come in to help. And what a trooper for taking on the kids while his no-good working wife is away on business!

Why is that? Why is it a great accomplishment for the man to parent on his own a for a few nights and business as usual for women to do it?

3/11/11, 2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The double standard is, quite honestly, horrendous.

3/11/11, 11:35 PM  
Blogger Elaine A. said...

Man, I don't know how I missed your original post about what not to say to working moms! Darnit! And even though I don't work outside of the home now, I once did and neither is a walk in the park.

And can I just say that I REALLY wished you'd given her one (at least) of those snarky replies??

3/14/11, 1:23 PM  
Blogger J at www.jellyjules.com said...

I always say they're home with the liquor, guns, and knives. I mean, where are THERE kids, right?

3/14/11, 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Lauretta S. said...

I have been on both ends of this question. Since you know this person, you're instincts are probably right about her motivation for asking. However, there is a non-judgemental reason for asking.

After I went back to school, and later work, I frequently asked other moms similar questions to learn more about the different ways they handle childcare issues. I've learned a lot from them and even adopted some of the approaches that were appropriate for our family.

If we work together, all of our kids can benefit, and the world will be a better place.

3/15/11, 9:30 AM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

Marinka for the win.

3/17/11, 5:04 PM  

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