How Cute!
Is He Yours?


How Cute!
Is He Yours?

When Nicole Blades married a white guy, she knew that if they had a kid, that child’s skin color would be lighter than hers.

Nicole & Scott at their wedding

Nicole & Scott at their wedding

Nicole & Scott with their son

Nicole & Scott with their son

What Nicole didn’t count on was people questioning whether their son even belonged to her. In this episode, Nicole talks about what it’s like to repeatedly be mistaken for the nanny. By people of all races.

Plus, find out the perfect quippy comeback that Nicole came up with to battle the “Is he yours?” question—and whether or not it worked.


Read Nicole’s writing on race & motherhood
Nicole has written a lot about what she calls being “nannied” by strangers. Read her articles in the New York Times’s Motherlode blog and xoJane, as well as her own blog Ms. Mary Mack, where she writes about race and motherhood, among a wide range of parenting topics.

What’s YOUR trigger question?
As parents, we all seem to have questions that set off immediate inner rage. What question sets you off, and have you found a comeback that makes you feel better?

Wedding photo: Kathryn Le Soine

36 thoughts on “PODCAST #33: How Cute! Is He Yours?

  1. I’m of mixed race (black, irish, native american), my son’s dad is your garden variety white guy — medium white guy complexion, brown hair and brown eyes.
    I have straight medium brown hair, tan skin and light brown eyes.
    My 3 1/2 year old son has tan skin, bright blue eyes and california blonde curly hair. Typical cali surfer looking kid.

    It’s funny. My son’s facial features are a carbon copy of mine, so it’s very rare that anyone ever questions whether he’s mine or not.

    But that kid’s hair and eyes are really something and people always comment on them. And inevitably someone notices that despite the carbon copy face –there’s a difference. And then they ask the inevitable question…

    Where’d he get the hair and the eyes, your husband?”.

    And I always sigh and reply with the same answer, every time.

    “I’m not married.”

    And then I just smile and move off topic.

    Because as a single mom.. the thing that annoys me the most about that freaking hair/eyes/husband question is that people assume I’m married and I’m not, nor have I ever been in a partnership with my son’s father.

    Being a mixed kid growing up in the 70’s I heard so much of that “are you his or who are you and what’s your mom and what race are you and what do you identify as” question based on my skin color (remind me to tell you the time I got lost in the grocery store at 4 years of age and the store clerks refused to return me to my white father because they thought for sure that I made a mistake because there was no way that that nice white gentleman could be my father — thanks for the trauma, 1974!) I’ve just become desensitized and immune to it.

    Look. Most people are always going to want to put you and everything around them in a category because it’s going to make them feel safer. They honestly (mostly) don’t mean anything by it. If they know where you fit and they can classify you, then they know where they fit in comparison. It’s just human nature and the way we do things. And perhaps, sometimes they DO mean something by it. That’s human nature too. You can — and should — move away from those folks. That’s how I see it anyway.

    (And for those who are keeping score — he got that hair and eyes from my dad, the Irishman.)


  2. When I talk about a question, like “Is he yours?” bothering me, someone is always quick to point out that most people who question are not trying to be malicious, so it shouldn’t bother me. I think that what these people are missing is that often, when a person has a trigger question, whatever that may be, there is a reason.
    In my case, I have given questioners the benefit of the doubt many times, and while the other person didn’t mean to cause harm, underlying questions are anything but benign, especially when asked in front of my child. In addition, until my child’s adoption was finalized– which occurs months after a child is placed into their family’s home– there was a little part of me that worried that something could happen to take him away from me. It’s was a remote possibility, but when you are a new mom, even remote possibilities can be scary.
    That being said, I have practiced having a calm, conversation closing response. My child needs me to be able to do that, so that he know that there are lots of ways to react to other people, and that you don’t have to answer questions that you feel are too personal–especially when asked by strangers. That doesn’t me that I don’t get to be upset/ angry on the inside when a stranger asks questions that invade my or my child’s privacy.

  3. The top trigger question for my husband and I is, “Why doesn’t he get a job?” (Often cruder, ruder, more critical versions of that.)

    I am a family physician and ever since our son was born and I graduated from residency (happened within months of each other), my hubby has been a stay-at-home dad. Besides the fact he wanted to, there is also the very real fact that I have a career and he had a series of dead-end, low paying jobs that he hated. Why would we put him through more of the same when he could do something truly meaningful that he enjoys? Some people asked him annoying questions like when he would get a real job (which I know stay at home moms face too) and one family member told him she was “ashamed” of him for not supporting his family (and of me for not being a “good” wife) but most people saw the logic in it and accepted our decision.

    Then I had a stroke and couldn’t earn as much money as previously. I can still earn more than my husband plus working is SO MUCH EASIER for me post-stroke than parenting. So he continued to care for the children and me and I continued to work. We decided to let the most good come out of the situation as possible by using our story to advocate for those relying on Medicaid and Food Stamps. We were horrified to discover that people were more interested in questioning his employment status than they were to discuss the real issues at hand.

    We had already been a little irked by other typical comments directed at dads. People regularly said things like “Oh, are you babysitting the kids today?” or “Wow! You are doing such a good job! That’s amazing!” (for normal parenting feats like going to the store with two children) or “What sweet children, tell Mom she’s doing a good job.” But since my strokes, it’s become a too-common assumption that our problems would be solved if he just shouldered his manly duties and supported the family. If only it were that simple. Do people really think that we are so stupid to have overlooked what they appear to think is a super-easy, obvious solution? At this point I’ve just not answered. Thankfully, there are some good souls out there who stand up for us.

  4. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I’m curious if other people have good questions or comments they use at the park, playtime at the gym, etc., to unoffensively get their bearings with the other adults they are desperately trying to have a grown-up conversation with and maybe make a connection with for future playdates all while being constantly interrupted by kids. It’s just easier to talk to someone if you are not constantly trying to dance around the mystery of if they are a parent (and a parent to the kids you see them with), the gender of the child (certainly my kids have made people hesitate to use a pronoun), if they live in the neighborhood, etc. So how do we determine these vital pieces of information politely and quickly?

    I’m fine with direct questions especially when accompanied by a “sorry, this might sound a bit funny” face and tone that Midwesterners use to show they know they might be getting personal. I find it really hard to connect with someone beyond a really superficial “hey, cute kid” if I don’t know anything about them.

    But I also recognize and urge others to think about the privilege we might have that makes certain questions (“are those your kids” “are you the homeowner”) not even register because we’ve never had a bad experience with an assumption about or reaction to us based on our membership in a group. I know my privilege can make me tone-deaf to how my attempts to connect are being received. But hesitation to make conversation beyond smiling and nodding because I don’t want to offend also feels really bad and is also potentially offensive.

  5. Elizabeth,
    I loved your comment! When I’m at the park, the people I end up talking to the longest often open with, “how old?” I feel like when a person is open to talking with someone new, a small opening like that, can allow the conversation to start. I have noticed that given the opportunity, many women clarify their reltionship with the child automatically, and if not, I can often tell by listening to how she refers to herself around the child, or, what the child says if he/she is old enough.

    I don’t every feel comfortable enough with a new person to exchange phone numbers or set up a one on one play date after one conversation, but I if I feel like I connected to the other mom, I invite her to join my mommy group on meetup. That way we can get to know each other more in a group setting if that is in the cards.

    On a side note, why, as moms, do we feel like aunts/nannies/ other non-parent caregivers aren’t worth talking with? I know that I tend to favor conversation with other moms, but that might not be fair. I bet anyone who is in a position to talk primarily with children all day, would appreciate the opportunity for some adult conversation.

    1. It’s not that other caregivers aren’t worth talking to, it will just be a different conversation. But, yes, I think a lot of times parents are looking to share a taste of the things that are most fraught and are generally only experienced as parents–sleep, breastfeeding, feeling guilty when you wish they were older and more independent, work vs family balance, why do my children whom I love so much hate each other so hard sometimes, etc., etc. And of course the parent is always (we hope) going to be connected to the child so a parent provides more stable access to a potential playmate than a babysitter sometimes. Parenting can connect people so easily across barriers–I love that kids provide openings to chat with people I wouldn’t feel like I knew how to approach otherwise. Also we’re all stuck here together while our kids run around so I know I’m probably not being annoying or it doesn’t seem strange unless someone’s obviously trying to multi-task or with a friend.

  6. rh said:

    I have to say that in the delivery room, they held up a pale baby with white blond hair, and they tell you “yeah, that just came out of your brown body” it’s kind of freaky.

    My sentiments exactly. That’s why I wouldn’t ask people “Why do you ask?” when they ask me if my bleach-blond, surfer-tan toddler is my son. I am Caribbean black and resemble Nicole Blades pretty closely, and my husband is white American-European mishmosh ancestry. It’s obvious why they’re asking — at first glance, he doesn’t look like me — and it just doesn’t bother me. I rarely get this question on the West Coast, where Caribbean black nannies are less common and interracial children seem to be far more common. (I think I see more mixed-race black kids in my new town of Davis, CA than darker-skinned black kids.) I get the question most often from NYC/NJ-area foreign nannies who are more curious than anything else and don’t have the same shyness/anxiety about asking or commenting on skin color.

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