Not a question a mother wants to hear: ‘Are you their grandmother?’

By Jill Robins for

“Are you their grandmother?”

That just happened. Someone asked me the question

It didn’t come as a complete surprise. I decided to have kids a little later in life than the average mum, so I knew there would probably come a day when I’d get mistaken for their grandma. I’d always imagined my reaction – ideally, a smack across the face, realistically, a really dirty look. But when it finally happened, I was amazed at how little I cared.

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This is how it all went down:

I was at Starbucks. The 20-something in line behind me noticed my two 4-year-olds, who were (to their credit, and my own) in that 15 minute window of the day when shirts were clean and boogers were absent. I had just finished a three-mile run and had a ton of things listed on my Saturday errands post-it. (Yes, I write my to-do list on a post-it. I’m old, remember?)


“Aren’t they just the cutest?” she gushed.   

I didn’t say anything because no response is really required when someone randomly comments on the cuteness of your kids. They’re only seeing a glimpse. I see the whole, dirty, sticky, screaming thing. But while I was silent, my mummy mind was going a million miles an hour.

Image: Pexels.

“For the love of Pete,” I thought, “Please don’t let her be a talker.  I just want to snort coffee, give my kids a blueberry scone, duct tape them to a chair in the food court and zone out.” I know … you’re probably thinking I’m a shoo-in for mum of the year, right?

My 20-something coffee line buddy studied me for a moment, hesitated and then out it came: “Are you their grandmother?”

I didn’t cuss or whip my earrings off and offer to throw down right there in the Starbucks line. I didn’t even spill my Venti triple shot on her shoes and try to make it look like an accident. No, I took the high road, looked her in the eye and said “I’m their mum,” then braced myself for the avalanche of apologies.

And there were many, many apologies.

At the end of the day, the young thing who asked the grandma question was probably more traumatized by the event than me. I shrugged it off with a grace that fell somewhere between “I’m not mad enough to run you over with my minivan” and “don’t think I’m cool with the fact that you just called me old.”

Of course I wasn’t thrilled, but it didn’t ruin my day or even my coffee break. I didn’t scarf down an extra scone or indulge in Ben & Jerry’s therapy. Her mistake was understandable; most women my age aren’t parenting small kids. I get that.

But I didn’t escape completely unharmed. I’d be lying if I said the question didn’t prick my self-esteem a little. I think I look pretty good. I think I look good enough to not have to add “for my age” to the end of that sentence. That said, I’m past the point where I could pass for 30-something. Well … maybe late 30s on a very good day. I had on running clothes and a baseball cap when I was asked the grandma question. I had thought I looked hip and fit. Not that grandmas can’t look hip and fit, but it was a jolt to realize that I was projecting such an old image.

Image: iStock.

Though I brushed it off initially, later on the incident caused me to reflect on my feelings of being that older mum. One of the upsides is a more relaxed parenting philosophy. My oldest is 22, so I’ve been through the terrible twos and the teen angst before. Not much phases me. But the downside is that I am not always able to relate to some of my mum peers. I’m not just in a different demographic from most of the other mothers in my kids’ preschool class – I’m a different generation (the generation where we think it’s tacky to wear sweatpants with “Juicy” on the butt.)

While none of my mum peers have asked if I was the grandma – yet – conversations with them are sometimes awkward. Although we have parenting the same-age kids in common, there’s not much more common ground after that. Some of them give me the deferential treatment you’d give a friends’ mum, which is weird for me.  One even called me “Ma’am” once.  Uhhhh, what?

I’ve always looked a little bit older than my age, which influences how people react to and treat me. It’s funny how our perspective changes over the years. When I was 13, a waitress mistook me for my dad’s wife. I was 5’7 and mature looking, although my youth became obvious once I opened my mouth. While 13-year-old me thought it was super-cool to look older (although I was grossed out that someone thought I was married to my dad), 48-year-old me sees things differently. Looking older is no longer super-cool. I’d probably kiss a store clerk on the lips if I got carded when buying beer. And, if someone mistook me for being married to my dad today, I’d totally pretend to be the trophy wife and appreciate the hilarity.

It’s ironic how things come full circle.

That girl in line at Starbucks probably won’t be the last person to mistake me for my kids’ grandmother, but I know it’s not the end of the world. I love my life, and being a mum, independent of how old (or how tired) I am. I can’t control what people think and getting twisted about a question I don’t like is a waste of time and energy. Chasing preschoolers at my age has enough built-in challenges. Scrunching up my face to give dirty looks is just gonna make more wrinkles…and no one needs that.

Jill writes about adoption, motherhood and midlife on her blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. She’s a regular contributor for Babble, Blunt Moms and the Huffington Post. Her writing has also been featured on Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room and in the Washington Post. She’s a Listen to Your Mother Austin alumni and was named a BlogHer Voice of the Year for 2015. Follow Jill on Facebook and Twitter.

This post originally appeared on and was republished here with full permission.

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