Anytime you question a Southern sister about the number of kids she does or doesn't have—or her ideas on how to be a good mom—you're on shaky ground, bless your heart.

mother feeding baby
Anytime you ask a Southern sister about the number of kids she does or doesn't have, you're on shaky ground.
| Credit: George Marks/Getty

Southerners are known for our courtesy and good manners, and yet when it comes to who's a Mama, who's not a Mama, and why she had two kids or ten, we can make some serious missteps. Maybe it's because we're so family-centered. Or curious. Whatever the reason, we've been known to ask our sisters some REALLY personal questions that need to get the boot. Here are our top picks—let us know if you have more.

Why on earth did you have so many children?

Why not? Lots of families are blended today, with kids from each spouse coming together under one roof. For religious reasons, some couples don't believe in birth control. Others just love raising children and want to have as many as they can support. Or maybe they have fond memories of life in a big family and want their own children to have that experience. There are lots and lots of reasons for having lots and lots of children . . . and they're all personal. Instead of asking that mom of six "why," ask her to help a sister out by sharing her weekday organization hacks.

When are you going to start a family?

Mama and Memaw get a bye on this one, but nobody else does. When is Southern Sister planning to have babies? Maybe never because she doesn't want to. Maybe never, even though she desperately wants to. Maybe she has fertility issues. Maybe she has chosen adoption instead of childbirth, and the process is slow. Or money's too tight and she can't afford good insurance or pediatric care. No matter what the answer might be, the question is painful to hear and impossible to answer. And this just in: It's personal.

Don't you like kids?

This one is downright accusatory. There are wonderful, loving people out there who just don't relate well to children, and they know it. Also, it's possible to adore children but have no desire to make a lifelong commitment to parenting. It's equally possible to yearn for parenthood and be unable to conceive or adopt. Making the leap from "she doesn't have children" to "she doesn't like children" is unfair.

"Aren't you worried that . . .?"

This is Southern speak for disapproval, disguised as concern. Examples: Aren't you worried that your daughter isn't starting preschool this year? Aren't you worried that your kids aren't playing soccer? Aren't you worried that a public/private school will hold your child back?

Have you considered adoption?

Childless couples with health issues or disabilities have likely heard this one. If you ask it, you're assuming two things: (1) That Southern Sister wants to have children. (2) That she can't have them biologically. You're making a really big jump to some deeply personal conclusions about her life choices, not to mention her reproductive health and that of her spouse. Unless she's a close friend who has confided in you and asked for your advice, best not to go there.

You're still not married? How old are you?

What you just said, as far as Southern Sister is concerned, was this: Your situation is desperate! You'd better find a man fast or you'll be too old to have children!" Again, you're assuming she wants children. If she doesn't, you've made her feel as if there's something wrong with her. And if she does, you've just set off the alarm on her biological clock. Either way, she's fantasizing about giving you a Julia Sugarbaker takedown, bless your heart.

You're having a baby . . . at your age?

Here's what Southern Sister just heard you say: I think you're way to old to have a baby. Whether a woman is able to conceive and give birth is a medical decision and a personal one. So unless you're her spouse or her OBGYN, zip it.

How can you stand to stay home and just raise kids? OR

How can you stand to go to work and leave your kids?

Might as well tackle these together. "JUST raise kids." Seriously? She's shaping young lives all day, every day. That's no "just."

"Leave your kids." Actually, she's helping to feed them. And clothe them. And send them to college. And making all kinds of sacrifices to be there for them. Ladies, let's drop-kick this derogatory duo once and for all.

Granted, most people have good intentions. Even so, when fielding awkward personal questions, we can't help wondering: What would Julia Sugarbaker Say?

As far as we can recall, even Ray-Don didn't venture into conversations regarding Julia's son, Pain. Didn't she say she named him that to remind her of what childbirth felt like?!