When To Inquire About Parentage

23 Jul

Pretty much never.

This is for those of you who are wondering, but especially for those of you who are not wondering, and who apparently do not know better (or who simply do not mind making inappropriate inquiries):

The gap in age between a woman’s children is not at all proportional to the appropriateness of asking the mother whether the kids have the same father.  

It’s as wrong to ask a woman with kids twenty years apart whether they have the same father as it is to ask a woman with kids 18 months apart.  I know.  I get asked it with surprising and alarming frequency, and (used to be shockingly) mostly from strangers I’ve just met.  What happened to the reins we used to have on inappropriateness?

My mother was recounting to me recently the time she was slapped as a kid when she referred to someone as “pregnant,” because the most one could say then was that someone was “in the family way.”  Not that I want to go back to a time when being direct resulted in corporal punishment, but shouldn’t adults at least have a better sense of boundaries, particularly with strangers?

As a bi-racial woman with multi-racial, multi-generational children, I guarantee you this same message applies to inquiries about the race of a person and their parents.  People don’t go around asking white kids where there parents are from (sooooo, are your parents from ….. um …. Ireland?), nor should they ask it just because a person’s skin is brown.


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