It's fascinating to read stories from childfree women relating their individual experiences and feelings about not having kids. There are as many explanations for why a person doesn't have children as there are for any other life status, such as being single or living in a city far from where one grew up.
Jumping To Conclusions
It's common for us to make instant assumptions about people's life decisions without having the necessary information, and often our conclusions are off base. Take me, for example. When one friend heard that I was writing a book about childfree living, he told me that I most likely would not have been a good mom-his assumption was that I don't like kids and that I lack the skills it would take to parent. I was initially taken aback by his instant remark-I believe that, had I had children, I would have been a great mother. But while his comment was bothersome to me, it was more of an irritant then a sting.
For many childfree women, however, such a thoughtless comment would have caused heartbreak and even re-opened healing wounds. Plus, they are not eager to explain their position and defend themselves. Think about someone you know who has gone to great lengths to have a child, visiting fertility clinics and adoption services and paying thousands of dollars, only to have their hopes and dreams dashed. This woman likely isn't fond of telling her personal story to everyone who asks, "Do you have kids?" or even more common, "How many children do you have?" much less a snappy response to her saying no with "You probably wouldn't have been a good mom anyway."
Childfree Conversations: How to Proceed
So, how should your respond when a woman tells you that she doesn't have children? Is it polite to ask why not? Many women have told me that this topic is nobody's business, so it's critical to recognize that you may get an unpleasant response to personal questions. Others, however, are happy to talk about their experiences. Proceed with caution and also with respect, and apologize if you wander into unwelcome territory, just as you would with any other topic.
In the past couple of years, I have begun to talk more openly with others about my life without children, and to encourage young people to view this decision as the biggest one they'll make in their lives. I want them to take it seriously and to believe that either way they go is okay. If you are a childfree adult, you may want to do as I have, and open up more about your experience. If you're not comfortable doing so, however, it's okay to give a short response and then to shift the conversation over to the other person. And if you are pushed beyond this for information, simply say that you don't want to talk about it.
The take-home lesson is that we all have behind-the-scenes explanations for our life situations, and making instant judgments will most often result in false and sometimes harmful conclusions.
Photo by Graeme Weatherston: The web address for Graeme Weatherston's portfolio is: