How to stop worrying about a future child being very short like us?
December 1, 2008 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Am I worrying too much about our future child being very short? How can I get over this?

My husband and I are very short people, and we both come from short families. (As an example, I am barely five feet.) I can't see how our future child(ren) wouldn't be unusually short as well. This might seem like a pretty silly thing to worry about, especially if the child is otherwise healthy, but I do worry -- especially if this hypothetical child turns out to be a boy. Tall/average people just have it a lot easier. I guess I'm looking for some reassurance.
posted by trillian to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You probably are worrying about it too much. But there are medical processes and therapies that can help kids grow taller than they otherwise normally would be (some don't even need to put your child on stretching racks!). I'd suggest a visit with a pediatrician to discuss your concerns would be more likely to put your mind at ease than anything else.
posted by fenriq at 3:36 PM on December 1, 2008

If you're looking for reassurance -- I think everyone in life has little crosses (sometime big ones) to bear, and if it weren't one thing for your child (like height) it would be something else.

For what it's worth, I'm fat and I believe my life is valuable and worth living. And I happen to know that tall people often have trouble fitting in the world, just like short people.

Of course it's easier to be average -- by definition, things are built to fit 'average.' The thing I think you're missing is that most people are unaverage in some way, though it might not be visible to you.

Take heart that everyone has challenges, and it is in coping with them that we grow as humans. I think your kid will be fine if you give her/him lots of love, and practical strategies for coping -- and especially if you can make peace with your own feelings about being short.
posted by peggynature at 3:41 PM on December 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Yeah, this is not a big deal. If this is the most distressing thing you have to worry about, consider yourself lucky. As fenriq said, you can talk to an expert about it if you need some reassurance or advice. But really, if you create a supportive and loving environment for your children they will turn out fine, no matter how short/tall/skinny/fat they end up being.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:42 PM on December 1, 2008

The man I plan to have children with is an inch shorter than I am- and I'm a barely-average 5'4". I would be a liar if I said it never occurred to me, but I do think you're putting to much thought into this. So what if your son is short- it hasn't impeded your husband in any way, has it? He may have to put up with some bullying, but most kids do, for one reason or another. Glasses, bad taste in lunchboxes. Stop worrying- they will be short, and there's nothing you can do.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:46 PM on December 1, 2008

As a child, I was abnormally tall, and I got as much shit for being tall as the short kids did for being short. My sister had it even worse - in her primary school class photographs, she's the tallest person including the teachers. Which is to say, all kids will get hassle, whether they're short, tall, thin, fat, ginger, swarthy, or whatever.

Also, my parents are pretty diddy (5' 1" mother, 5' 4" father) and I'm 6' 2", so you may well be worrying about nothing, twice over.

That said, tall people do earn more than short people, so if you have a small child, make sure s/he is extra-clever ;-)
posted by jack_mo at 3:50 PM on December 1, 2008

they will be short, and there's nothing you can do.

well, in the grander scheme of things being "short" isn't exactly a tough thing to deal with compared with everything else that life can throw at us and b) there are things you can do; Diet has an immense effect on child development -- feed your kids well for years and they should turn up taller than you.
posted by troy at 3:50 PM on December 1, 2008

Anecdotally, my mother-in-law and father-in-law are both below average height (about 5'3 and 5'4 respectively) and they somehow managed to have two sons who are both over 6' tall, so you might be surprised.
posted by amyms at 3:52 PM on December 1, 2008

Your children will definitely start out extremely short, but don't worry, they'll get taller over time.

But seriously: I'm pretty tall, and can say that there are also plenty of advantages to being small! Is it better to be able to reach tall things or to fit into airplanes and cars more easily? Really either one is not worth worrying about too much since you don't have any control over it.
posted by aubilenon at 3:54 PM on December 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

This might seem like a pretty silly thing to worry about, especially if the child is otherwise healthy, but I do worry -- especially if this hypothetical child turns out to be a boy.

Taller men have shorter lifespans.

I saw a recent study that said that the ideal woman (for men) is on the short side, about 5'4". They gave Scarlet Johansson as an example of a woman who fits men's ideal type in many ways, including her shortness. Most women probably wouldn't mind being her.

As a man of exactly average height, I would be more interested in dating a 5'0" or 5'1" woman than a 5'9" or 5'10" woman, all other things being equal. Tall women often insist on finding a man who's "taller than me," which is an unfortunate situation to be in since they're ruling out most prospects.

You're right that shorter men tend to have less success with women. Life is hard -- there are all kinds of hurdles someone could face in finding a mate.

The thing to do is not to say, "Oh, I guess I can't have a kid, because if he's a boy he might face some challenges in life." The thing to do is to raise your son (if you have a son) with good enough character that he'll be self-confident and won't be overly discouraged by rejection.

You seem to be affected by availability bias -- you're picturing the first thing that comes to mind when you think of "short men" (Oh no, hard to get a date!!!), and then broadening that to be one of the most important things about the person. Most things people do in life are not affected by their height one way or the other. (Read Chapter 5 of the book Stumbling on Happiness.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:04 PM on December 1, 2008

Both of you being short does not mean that your child will automatically be short.
posted by grouse at 4:08 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tall/average people just have it a lot easier.

In what way? Seriously. If you've had a hard time in life, I doubt it's because your short, even it it seems that way. Those kids who called you shorty would have called you something else if you'd been taller. They didn't pick on you because you were short. They picked on you because they were bullies, and they just latched on to your height because they could. If you'd been taller, they would have latched on to something else.

In a kind but misguided move, my dad named me Marcus because nothing much rhymes with it. He thought that would stop kids making fun of me as they would as with Chuck/Fuck or Carolina/Vagina. Of course, they quickly figured out Marcus/Carcass. And some of them called me Marcus/Fart-cuss. Most of them just called me fag. My dad explained to me that my feelings shouldn't be hurt, because those are stupid insults. Ah, parents. Their naivete is charming, isn't it?

I'm also shorter than most guys I know. Guess what? I have a great job and I'm married to a beautiful woman. Do you want your son to work for people who only hire tall people? Do you want him to marry a women who's not interested in guys under 6'2"?

Of course, I'll never get to be a pro basketball player. Darn.
posted by grumblebee at 4:14 PM on December 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yesterday's Washington Post Magazine had a long article about a teenage girl born with a genetic abnormality which resulted in dwarfism. She opted for surgery to lengthen her legs. Some of the issued discussed might be of interest to you.
posted by Kangaroo at 4:21 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Height might be the first thing you notice about someone, but it's not necessarily the first thing you remember.
posted by plinth at 4:32 PM on December 1, 2008

I'm pretty short - about your height. Yeah, sometimes bullies were rough in elementary school. And yeah, I can't always reach the top of the bookshelf or the smoke alarm or whatever (hey, that's what tall people are for). But I don't wish I was taller. If I was going for the perfect size to maximize efficiency and comfort, I'd probably have to grow a few inches, but who's going for perfection? You get used to your body; it's YOURS; I wouldn't trade what's uniquely mine for some sort of optimized model. It may sound cliche, but there's nothing more useful you can give your future child than a sense of pride, confidence, and unconditional love, which will be more than enough to battle height-related insecurities.

There are some folks out there who only date people within certain "height limits", but I'd like to think that silly fad is SO "last year". I'm dating somebody who's more than a foot taller than me and so far, the only thing that's come of it are bad jokes and the occasional craned neck.
posted by Cygnet at 4:36 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

My dad's second cousin is really close to 6'. Her parents were both under 5' -- yes under 5'.

So, who knows what can happen?

If all there is to worry about is the height, then that's something to be grateful for, no?
posted by zizzle at 4:41 PM on December 1, 2008

I wasn't an especially short kid. But I was a fat kid. It sucked to feel like there was something physically wrong with me that made me un-likeable and weird. Looking back, though, I've realized that there were kids in my classes who were heavier than I was, but whose confidence and personality outweighed (har) their physical different-ness from the "normal" kids. I just hated myself.

Similarly, I knew several short boys growing up whose confidence made it seem nonsensical to mock them for being short. Although I'm sure sometimes they were picked on for being short, they were also generally some of the "coolest" and most popular kids in my class. There were other short kids who, like me, clearly felt that something was wrong with them. I suspect they got picked on more than the confident kids.

I don't mean to oversimplify. I guess all I'm trying to say is that in my experience self-esteem has a huge role to play in a child's experience growing up and it doesn't necessarily correspond to physical perfection or any other quality.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:44 PM on December 1, 2008

As a fellow short person, I totally get where you're coming from. However, since you haven't had your kids yet, who knows how tall they'll be? I'd kill for a couple more inches, but I don't think being short has negatively impacted my life to any great extent. Being short just means that I try extra hard to have good posture.

Here's a list of famous short people. At 5' 7" I wouldn't classify Audrey Hepburn at short, but who knew Picasso was only 5' 4"?
posted by cucumberfresh at 4:51 PM on December 1, 2008

I'm your height, weigh 110 lbs, and I have my pilot's license, am an experienced Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), scuba dive recreationally and worked as a lifeguard, have worked as a structure firefighter and gotten paid to jump out of planes as a smokejumper, and have fought fires on five continents.

My height has never held me back.

In fact, as a structure firefighter I was a valuable asset because of my size- as the smallest and lightest on the team I was often able to climb through, over, and into spaces inaccessible to my larger colleagues.

Don't worry about this, please. Childhood is so difficult for a myriad of reasons. Certainly height affects the way children are perceived by their peers, but so do looks and body type. For whatever reason, I think names are an even bigger reason kids get hassled growing up, so make sure you think about the names you're considering (and any possible abbreviations, derivations, and rhymes thereof) before you inflict a name on akid.
posted by RachelSmith at 5:00 PM on December 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

A 'short' addition to cumberflesh's list- many of the world's best mountaineers, rock climbers, and cyclists are of below average height- an excellent strength/weight ratio.
posted by TDIpod at 5:09 PM on December 1, 2008

I'm 5'1, and if my height has hindered my life any I haven't noticed it yet.

I'm quite happy being short, and if there were a way to magically become taller I wouldn't do it. Maybe your hypothetical short offspring would feel the same way.
posted by lemuria at 5:10 PM on December 1, 2008

I am 8 inches taller than both of my parents, and my brother is about 6 inches taller than both of them. There is some element of randomness to these things. Also, I think nutrition is better in general nowadays, which plays some part also.
posted by number9dream at 5:11 PM on December 1, 2008

First of all, there is nothing you can do about it. You may be thinking that if you had married someone taller, then your kids would be more likely to be average height. Not necessarily. My grandmother was 4'11"; my grandfather, 6'4". They had four children. Three of them were very short (two 5'0" daughters and a 5'6" son (my dad). The fourth, my uncle, is 6'4". (And he weighed FOURTEEN POUNDS at birth! Grandma was in a bad mood ever after. There are worse things than short kids.)

Second, I am your height, and I'm sure you would probably agree with me that being short is nothing more than an inconvenience for girls, and really just when it comes to clothes shopping. So we're down to worrying only about potential sons now.

So third, yes, being short can present difficulties for boys, but I would imagine that the only serious difficulty would be that it limits the pool of potential mates. But whose pool of potential mates isn't limited by something? I have known a lot of high-achieving short men, including my dad, one of my law professors, and one of my in-laws, so obviously it is not a barrier to professional success. Everybody has to deal with something. And anyway, what are you going to do about it? Nothing will guarantee you average-height kids, but then nothing will guarantee you healthy kids, or bright kids, or law-abiding kids. If you spend some time thinking about all the other things that can go wrong, I bet you'll start to see this height question in a better light.
posted by HotToddy at 5:17 PM on December 1, 2008

I'm female and perhaps even shorter than you, OP. My parents were short and passed on genes that made me 4'11", myopic, and pretty smart.

My childhood did kinda suck, but not just because I was short. I was a target for bullying for many reasons, and being short just meant it was easier for bigger kids to pick me up, tie me to things, etc. If I had been more average, maybe I would have been able to defend myself, but I might not have been bullied at all if I wasn't smarter than the rest of my grade until I got to middle school, or if I didn't wear glasses, or if I was just friendlier and quick at learning the social things most kids learn early on.

My brother is also short but has no problems because he's funny and gregarious and most kids like him. A short kid with a little more social skill than average will be fine, and there's plenty you can do to make sure your kid is well socialized. That kid, especially if it's a boy, will be prepared to compete with his peers at work and in the dating pool later on and won't fare worse than his taller friends.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:02 PM on December 1, 2008

Shortness is not a bug, it's a feature. (I'm five feet even. )

Look, everyone has a physical feature of some sort that they might wish were different. But shortness is not that big a deal. And as a female, I feel there are actually advantages. (True, not at the grocery store when I want something off a top shelf, but that just forces me to be creative. )
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:08 PM on December 1, 2008

My husband and I are very short people, and we both come from short families. (As an example, I am barely five feet.) I can't see how our future child(ren) wouldn't be unusually short as well.

Height is not a simple genetic trait. We understand only a little about the genetics (enough to know that there are many genes involved, for instance), but we do know that there is a very significant environmental element. Nutrition (prenatal and during childhood) is especially important.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:48 PM on December 1, 2008

From an environmental standpoint, smaller is better. Do you want some horrible stretched out child, a lanky freak who can't sleep comfortably in an airplane or train seat? No!

Plus, what if your child wants to be an astronaut or actor? Height is a huge drawback in those fields.

And your offspring might be tall. You kid will be a new person, and there are limits to what you can do about that. Don't worry.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:01 PM on December 1, 2008

For all you shorter people, I always wished I was shorter (more petite in women's clothing terms), because high water pants *never* happen to short people and clearly this makes you a target of bullies in school. Too tall, too skinny, too poor.

School sucked.

When you have a really long torso and long legs, no clothes fit, AT ALL.

I think that if you instill in your kid(s) a great sense of self, they will be less likely to have some of these issues. I knew some really short kids in school who were part of the cool kids. Their height didn't stop them in life. They are all successful now. You prob shouldn't worry too much about this.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 7:38 PM on December 1, 2008

If it really bugs you I would make a list of things you notice, concerning this "handicap", that points out specific elements which you feel would otherwise hinder your off-spring. I imagine this list would be built from experiences of your own life. Now, with list in hand, is there really ANYTHING you can do about them? I have to say, "I doubt it."

On the other side, there are advantageous you can provide your son or daughter- good schooling, a diverse cultural life and the ability to make the most of what they have. If you focus on the positive and convince your children they can do anything they aspire to then you will of built a giant of a person regardless of their size.

The only thing you should fear is your own worry- replace that with a positive out look and things will be just fine.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:53 PM on December 1, 2008

But there are medical processes and therapies that can help kids grow taller than they otherwise normally would be (some don't even need to put your child on stretching racks!). I'd suggest a visit with a pediatrician to discuss your concerns would be more likely to put your mind at ease than anything else.
posted by fenriq

Or you could teach your children confidence in who they are and in their ability to overcome life's challenges.

I know many very successful people that are considered quite short. Unless there's a medical problem doing anything to change their natural height is irresponsible and borderline loony.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 9:36 PM on December 1, 2008

I don't have an anecdote. To be very honest though, if your potential son became so bothered by his height, he may elect to have a lengthening procedure done.

Also, there's two distinct threads here which are meaningfully different from each other:

A) Your son could totally be tall; my ex-husband's cousin's six-six brother had four-feet-tall parents.

B) Being short isn't that bad; oftentimes its spectacular.

I don't have a comment for the former, but I do for the latter. Height, until recently, was a trait that was unchangeable, unlike breast size (or more recently, calf size, or wrinkles even). Given that a procedure was developed to enable human intervention, however costly or controversial, somewhat dismantles the second claim.

I'll say it here: being short can sometimes suck, regardless of first-hand experience. It's a first impression, a sexual feature; one of the most fundamental awarenesses of a person.

You're right in being more afraid for a short son; surely this fear came from somewhere, right? It came from, perhaps, school yard taunts, and then later, seeing the confidence height gives certain men.

I can't speak to the ethics, or morality, of plastic surgery like breast augmentation or limb-lengthening, but in truth, for those with the money, it can level the genetic gamble.
posted by trotter at 10:44 PM on December 1, 2008

I worried a lot about my son and daughter inheriting what I see as my own personal sub-par physical attributes, and whether it will impact their lives negatively as it has mine (or in unforseen ways.)

As it happened, my daughter inherited my sticking-out ears, but I'll be damned if they're not adorable on her. And my son, he inherited my eyes and cheekbones and smile, none of which I liked about myself, but on him they're brilliant together.

So you may do well to consider that you're projecting your own insecurities on you as-yet-unborn child, and so you may be worrying too much.
posted by davejay at 12:05 AM on December 2, 2008

It's a teaching opportunity, if the kid is short.

I'm terribly nerdy, Mr. Llama is terribly nerdy, the little llama is our little nerdette. Also, she has a funny name.

It's unlikely she'll get through life unmarked by the occasional moment of self-doubt or awkwardness or self-consciousness, but it's our job to let her know that she is always loveable and worthwhile, so when those moments of reckoning come they don't tear her down or leave her ragged or empty or missing her center.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has some flaw in the eyes of someone else. We're all fat or shy or nerdy or short or tall or bookish or off-puttingly lovely or we have big horse laughs or eye twitches or whatever. It's completely impossible to engineer a kid that isn't going to have to confront something. The only reason this particular thing matters is because you yourself have experienced it, but that doesn't mean it's actually more awful than any of these other things.

Try not to get too worked up about it. A kid would be more damaged by the sense that his parents feel his shortness is a deficiency than by actually being short.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:36 AM on December 2, 2008

Take a look at your husband, that's your worse-case scenario (for a boy). He marries a like-height lady who worries about their kids. Not too horrible. Also if you get over this, chances are you will find something else to worry about. I think that's normal, just don't let it prevent you from being happy. You can be happy and worry.
posted by syntheticfaith at 6:40 AM on December 2, 2008

No worries. Even if they grow up to be short adults there will be taller people who will help your children get that bag of cat food off the back of the tippy-top shelf at the grocery. Like that nice guy with the beard and glasses did for me today.
posted by mcbeth at 10:16 AM on December 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great feedback -- if I marked best answers, I'd be marking too many! I feel a lot better now and see that I was being a bit silly. Just needed some perspective. Thanks again.
posted by trillian at 3:16 PM on December 2, 2008

Looks like you already got the answers you needed, but for comparison -

Magazine article on factors affecting human height, and Wiki page -

Basically, good diet, good childhood health (ie diarrhea during growthspurt = shorter, usually), & a moderate amount of exercise.
If you and your partner have shorter legs relative to your torso, it may be slightly more likely that with good environment, your child will be a little taller (ie, more likely that you might have been a little stunted [mentioned in Guatemalan vs American Maya, wiki link] - uh, not meaning that in an offensive way!). It's mostly (80%-90%) genetic though.

Also, if your child did look like they were going to be very short, then before leg surgery, the mostly likely option would be injections of Human Growth Hormone before the end of puberty. Though, that has (many of) it's own problems.
posted by Elysum at 5:50 PM on December 2, 2008

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