Ahhh, yes. The question I often dread. I sometimes let it go with just a “no,” and move onto another subject. And it can be awkward. Parents don’t seem to know how to respond to my “no”. While I don’t necessarily think it is everyone’s business to know why we don’t have children, I occasionally share a bit about our childless-by-exhaustion experience because I want to educate.
Let’s face it, for lots of folks the do-you-have-children question is a handy ice breaker (heck, I sometimes ask the question myself). In addition, I imagine it is less anxiety provoking to talk about one’s kids than it is to talk about one’s self. Also, people bond over their experiences with children, much like we bond over our experiences without children. However, when discussing this blog with my sister-in-law yesterday, she asked me how we infertile, CNBC folks, would want the questioner to follow up our response of “no.” In other words, she sometimes asked the do-you-have-children question and got “no” as a response, and she didn’t quite know what to say after that. She stated that she wanted to be sensitive in handling the situation and wanted my advice. I was bit embarrassed because I didn’t have a ready answer. I eventually stated that I wouldn’t mind if someone asked me more about my life in a non-judgmental way, leaving it up to me to decide if I wanted to add anything about why we don’t have children. Maybe something like “Interesting…I’d love to hear more about your life.” At any rate, I promised my sister-in-law I would post about this and ask you all and get back to her. So, when asked about whether or not you have children, how would you like folks to respond to your answer of “no”? What do you want people to know and appreciate about you?
ElizabethJuly 4, 2016 at 11:15 pm
I have been asked this question endlessly over the past 6 years. My answers have changed from just No to No it’s not up to us it’s up to God, lately we have tried to be a little more honest about our experience saying by saying No we don’t have kids it hasn’t been easy for us. Either way my suggestion to your sister in-law would be if someone says simply No they probably aren’t ready to elaborate and I would drop it. If they decide to give any kind of detail with the answer like well it hasn’t been easy then maybe try to ask sensitive questions from there like oh I’m sorry it hasn’t been easy, thanks for sharing that with me. That way if they want to elaborate they will and if they don’t you have been sensitive and kind. It’s difficult, I remember years ago asking people insensitively about babies not realizing the pain it could cause and now that I am in that same situation I see the hurt I potentially caused people with being naive early on I feel horrible. I do feel like it’s nice to be helpful to others now that I’m on the other side of the conversation about how to approach it with grace. Wonderful post thank you!
RubyJuly 6, 2016 at 12:49 pm
Thank you for your insightful comments, Elizabeth. I agree that we have to gauge our responses delicately. It is amazing how this experience of infertility sensitizes us to others, isn’t it?
MaliJuly 5, 2016 at 1:19 am
It depends very much on my tone of voice! If I’m not interested in elaborating or have already realised that the person asking is only interested in talking about their children, my “no” will be quite different to my “no” to someone I think I might be prepared to open up to a bit more!
I’m quite happy just to hear a simple, “oh, okay,” said in a nice way, which doesn’t make it awkward, and allows either of us in the conversation to turn to another conversation. Sometimes I’ll try and change the subject, to help get the conversation flowing.
However, my first preference, and the answer I’d suggest to your sister-in-law, is that people should try try not asking the question at all. After all, in general conversation you usually end up with the answer to the question anyway. People with children usually can’t resist mentioning them. People without might drop it into the conversation too – I’ll occasionally say, “since we don’t have kids …” etc, which lets people know the situation. This avoids any awkwardness for either person in the conversation.
RubyJuly 6, 2016 at 12:41 pm
You make such a good point–parents are usually so anxious to talk about their kids that they will whether we ask or not. I am concluding that generating a more creative list of opening questions (not including the do-you-have-kids question) to have in one’s back pocket would ultimately be more helpful in the long run.
Different ShoresJuly 6, 2016 at 4:39 am
This post took me to “Childless by Exhaustion” – what a brilliant phrase and a great piece. Yes, when is enough enough, especially these days when you could go on into your 70s?? I wasn’t much of a tryer really, and I’m happy for it now – one cycle of mega-dose ivf was enough for me (TBH I couldn’t live without my hobby: strong coffee).
Re “Do you have children?”, I don’t really mind it anymore; if it’s from uber-mummies, I just say “No” and wait for them to deal with it, let them squirm a bit. If I feel it’s an empathiser, I’d be more forthcoming. I used to hate it but not so much anymore.
RubyJuly 6, 2016 at 12:46 pm
Thanks for your comments on “Childless by Exhaustion” The price to have kids can get to be too high. And we each have our own price point.
I like your term of uber-mummies. That is classic!
loribethJuly 10, 2016 at 7:15 am
Hmmm… I suppose they could follow up with “Any nieces or nephews?” but that still puts the focus on our relationship with kids. I think the best approach would be to simply move on to another question — what do you do for work? Where do you live? Something a little more neutral.
Nicole CiomekJuly 17, 2016 at 12:52 pm
Hmm. I don’t think I want a follow up. I try to say something else after that typically. Like to change the topic and take the pressure off them as I know they feel awkward now. I know most people don’t ask that question to be rude. It is a way to make conversation, and I know most people do have kids, so you know.
I guess to me maybe just asking about their work, or something else would be preferred. Just to move on. Still being in my 30s, I always get “Do you plan to?” Or “Oh you still have time” or “Why not?” and that’s highly highly annoying. So, definitely no follow ups in that vein.
While I know it stings when people ask me if I have kids, it stings me more when people ask “Are you going to have kids?” Because that to me is way too personal.
RubyJuly 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm
What an interesting point–asking “are you going to have kids?” is such a different question than “do you have kids?” Hmm…it does seem more personal and it could even have an implied judgement in there depending on how it is asked.
dubliner in deutschlandOctober 20, 2016 at 11:16 am
I hate that question too, and also “when are you going to have kids?” which I never know how to answer. If only it were easy!