I 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.
Sometimes 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?