Wouldn't stop picking at it

Please don’t ask me why I don’t have children

Dried roses, Montreal, Christmas Day 2012I know some of you are asking out of genuine affection, while others are simply grasping when conversation falters, but the next time you feel the words bubbling up, remember this:

Generally, women without children are:

*Trying to get pregnant and may or may not be struggling
*Can’t get pregnant and mourn the loss
*Want children, but lack a partner
*Wanted children, but the opportunity has passed
*Eventually want children, but are not yet ready
*Don’t want children or never wanted children

In the first four instances, your question may potentially cause great pain or annoyance. In the last two, your question will definitely result in an eyeroll and a sigh. In any case, you’re putting this woman in an awkward situation and now she has to decide just how much private information she’s willing to divulge in the interest of answering politely.

And that’s if she feels like answering politely.

“How come you don’t have kids?”

It’s not like we forgot. Women start thinking about motherhood as children, as soon as that first baby doll is placed in our hands.

Know that I was raised by ethno-parents and in a community of Italian matriarchs who continue to shamelessly poke into the private details of my life at every communion, wedding, baptism and funeral. Know that I too have made the occasional careless mistake of letting those words – or similar – slip from my lips. I have been on both ends of this question and can attest that when it happens, rarely does anyone leave the conversation with a good feeling.

Ground plants, Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, Summer 2012Sometimes the question is followed by a short paean on the joys of motherhood and how no woman can feel complete unless she has given life. This only makes your heart drop through the floor, because regardless of your situation, the question “why don’t you have kids?” emphasizes an archaic and tenacious notion that a woman’s worth is inherently based in her ability to make little copies of herself.

Truth is, childless women are far more valuable to society that most people want to admit. As aunts, friends and neighbours, we are loving, capable babysitters who happily watch your babies while you take a shower, have a date or even just walk around the block. When they’re older, we listen to their frustrations and offer feedback by helping them understand their parents a little better (“When your mom was a teenager…”). Since we have the energy and resources to travel and have experiences that some parents cannot, we can regale children with stories of travel and interesting characters to feed their curiosity. We help parents colour in the shape and beauty of the world for their children and offer inspiration through a different point of view. We also offer parents a sympathetic ear during stressful parenting moments.

But when you ask me why I don’t have children, it’s like you don’t take any of that into consideration.

Thank you for wanting us to share all the joy that you feel in your role as a parent. Rest assured that should we one day be on the verge of motherhood, we will be overjoyed to tell you all about it and eagerly ask for advice.

In the meantime, how about asking us “What’s new?” or “How are you enjoying married life?”. It opens the door for us to talk about our homes, our work and our passions. Perhaps share pride in a beloved niece or nephew or an upcoming trip. We have a lot that we’d like to share with you, so please don’t shut down the conversation by asking an unfortunately-worded and inappropriate question.

I promise not to bore you with too much yoga chatter, ok?

16 comments for “Please don’t ask me why I don’t have children

  1. January 8, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Well said! The question of children comes from all sources, but I found it especially patronizing when a guy who works at the gym I go to was showing me around the facilities. Sure, it makes sense that he’d mention they have childcare, but when I said that I didn’t have children, it isn’t an invitation to say, “Well, when you have them eventually.” The ability to have children doesn’t make one no more than a baby-making machine.

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    January 8, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Thanks for stopping by, Melissa! It’s truly amazing to me just what people permit themselves to say to total strangers.
    That someone’s personal reproductive choices are still a matter of public discussion may seem like a minor issue, but it has more far-reaching impacts.

  3. Terra
    January 8, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Imagine if people asked, “Why do you have children?” I’d like to hear that answer. But then that’s a very personal and obtrusive question too.

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    January 8, 2013 at 10:36 am

    I like the suggestion that one of my Facebook friends made about responding to obtrusive questions: “Why do you ask?”

  5. January 8, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Great post! I like to respond to why we don’t have kids with, “Oh, we miscarried twins. How’s your day?”

  6. January 8, 2013 at 10:49 am

    My pleasure. Glad that Jill posted a link to your piece of FB.

    Yes, I know what you mean. In another instance, my bf was having a phone interview recently, and one of the first things that the guy asked him was if he had any children. My bf was surprised, but reacted perfectly fine to the question, but I would’ve been seriously uncomfortable given the potential for discrimination the question brings up. If I don’t have children yet, then therefore, I MUST want them sometime soon-ish, so the potential employer might feel justified to hire someone else.

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    January 8, 2013 at 10:53 am

    I just visited your blog and you have all my admiration for being so upfront about what you’ve been through.
    I’ve been struggling to tell my own truths recently (making progress!) and it’s no easy task.
    For someone who loves talking, I seem to have issues with talking about… well, myself!

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    January 8, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Exactly! And I’ve had friends hide their family plans from potential employers for fear of not getting a job.
    Too much emphasis placed on **How Can The Company Save on Benefits** and not so much on **How Can We Get The Best Person For the Job**.

  9. January 8, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Exactly! Great to “talk” with you about this important subject. I also read and liked your piece on feminism. πŸ™‚

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    January 8, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Why thank you, madame! It’s been a very edifying morning, all round.

  11. January 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I’m always surprised that I don’t get asked more often! New people I meet generally ask me if I have kids (I’m in my mid-40s and I’ve been in a relationship for 10 years) and when I say I don’t, the subject moves on to something else. It’s probably because I’m not very conflicted about it and it must show. I just say “no, I don’t. I never felt that strong desire you really need to have to decide to have kids.” It turns the question back to the asker: “Did I really have that strong feeling?” πŸ˜‰

    When I meet another woman my age who is also childless, I have to keep myself from asking “why”. I’m always curious to see if I can find someone else who feels like I do about kids (seems rare), but I realize that it might be a sensitive subject. But if the other woman opens that door then it can turn into an interesting conversation.

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    January 8, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I think your response is pitch perfect – mainly because it’s the one that I usually give. I have never really felt a strong maternal urge either and I have never really dreamed of having children. I’m perfectly comfortable giving that response, but what frustrates me is the way that some people who ask the question will shake their head and make *tsk* noises as you’re explaining your point of view. I have this sense that people really aren’t listening to us when we state our position and I wanted to raise awareness about that.

    That said, I love a good conversation as much as anyone and when someone I like asks, it’s a pleasure to share. Like this!

  13. Kathryn
    January 8, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Great post, Adriana!

    My own top three replies to the question:

    “I leave the repopulation of the planet to others.”
    “I don’t feel the need to breed.”
    “Only furry ones.”

    Strange phenomenon I noticed – the less well I know someone (distant cousin at a funeral, new neighbour, etc.), the more likely they seem to be to ask. I find it odd. Maybe it’s because if they know me they already feel like know the answer. πŸ˜‰

  14. Jacquie
    January 8, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Thank you, Adriana. Well said. Having struggled with infertility for years, I am intimately aware of the pain that question can cause. Having been blessed by my miracle child five years ago, I have since been occasionally asked when the second one is coming along. Ouch. Setting aside the fact that I am clearly well past my child-bearing years by now, you would think that people would simply be more understanding of the extremely personal nature of this question. Thanks for helping to spread the word, my dear!

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    January 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Great responses, Kathryn! Especially the furry comment!

    You’re not the only one to note the less-known-more-likely phenomenon. A few friends on FB made the same remark and goodness knows, I’ve seen it enough in my own interactions. I tend to agree with you, the ones that know you best, know the answer and respect you too much to keep poking.

    Really must get myself some furkids!

  16. ad
    January 8, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Ruby is a fine girl! What more could you need? πŸ™‚

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