Holiday Minefields: Nosy Questions About Babies
Evade or engage. It's up to you.
Posted Nov 19, 2020
When we congregate around screens this holiday season, family and friends may feel emboldened to ask when to expect COVID-conceived kids from those who don’t yet have them.
For many, fielding such queries is neither simple nor benign. Maybe you're feeling tender, defensive, or vulnerable. Maybe you're not in the mood to explain yourself. You have every right to choose your response, because your reproductive output is no one's business but your own.
These are also golden moments for us non-parents to lead the conversational dance and respond in a way that suits our intentions and emotional states. With preparation and practice, we can smooth divots in the verbal dance floor and share our perspectives in new ways.
For years, I fielded the kid question with dread and confusion. If I told the truth, I was vulnerable. If I made light, I invited inaccurate assumptions.
Almost always there was a defensive tone to my responses:
“No, but I really like kids.”
“We tried, but it didn't work.”
“No, but I love my animals.”
All true, yes, but why all those defensive-sounding buts?
We can either evade the topic or engage with the person asking. It makes sense to be ready. We'll be asked about kids for the rest of our lives.
Here are some evasion strategies:
Bait and switch.
Usually, the person broaching the topic has kids. If you're genuinely interested, inquire about them. If not, switch to a less personal subject.
- “It’s been ages since I saw [name]. How are they?”
- “Did you hear I recently moved? Do you know the area?”
- “When you were a kid, who were important role models in your life, other than your parents?”
Use humor and shift.
If it’s your style, humor can be a light-hearted way to evade.
- “I’m keeping my options open but not ready to go it alone. Who do you know?”
- “We're still practicing. I'll let you know if anything changes.”
In an article he wrote for The American Scholar, Christopher Clausen shared two evasion strategies.
“When a friend or sibling asks accusingly why you haven't had children yet,” he said, “there is only one effective answer. ‘If I could be sure of getting one just like yours, I'd do it in a minute’ is guaranteed to deflect the attack and change the subject. Most people prefer flattery to imitation.”
Clausen shared another strategy: “On one occasion my father, always an outspoken man, took my wife aside and blurted experimentally, ‘Chris should have given you a child.’ To which she responded: ‘I would have given it right back.’ My parents never raised the question again.”
Cut and run.
There will be occasions when you'll want to exit the conversation. It's not rude; you're taking care of yourself.
- “Please excuse me for a moment. I need to check the oven.”
- “My drink needs refreshing. Why don’t you catch up with my sister?”
By taking a break, you have time to decide what you want to do or say.
These days I enjoy talking about what life is like not having kids. Many friends and family are interested, too. When we share our experiences, we make our lives more real.
We take our rightful place as adults manifesting roles different than the mainstream. Speaking up involves risk, so ease into it and be ready with a fallback strategy.
Talk about talking about the subject.
The least risky way to open up is to talk about how challenging it is.
- “Do you know other people who don't have kids?” Give them a moment. They’ve probably never been asked.
- “This can be tough to talk about, especially with parents. Some of us wanted kids, others didn't, but it's usually not so clear cut.”
- “How often have you talked frankly with someone who doesn't have kids? Why do you think that is?”
Share impersonal facts.
Data and facts are a safe way to approach the subject in an engaging way.
- “Women earn on average eighty-one cents to a man’s dollar. A mom with a child at home makes seventy-six cents, while a woman without kids earns ninety-six cents.”
- “One in every five or six adults will never have kids. There are a lot of us, and projections for future generations are higher.”
- “Charitable organizations love people without kids.”
Talk about someone else's experience.
When we're trying to get more fluent about our own lives, it may be easier to talk about others.
- “I heard of a childfree couple who worked remotely while traveling around the world. Can you picture doing that?”
- “My friend is a preschool teacher who helps kids start reading and know their numbers. Were any of your kids' teachers non-parents?”
- “A childfree elder I know funded a scholarship for the homeless. I hope to consider something like that someday. What about you?”
Disclose something about your own experience.
To get personal, somebody has to take the initiative. You can guide the conversation by going first.
- “I don't have kids and imagine it's different than you think.” If they seem interested, share a few pluses and minuses you've discovered.
- “I think of 'parent' as a verb and mentor a dozen young people starting out in my profession. Other than your own kids, who do you parent?”
Turn the tables.
Shifting the focus to the other person can reveal their point of view and willingness to talk.
- “That’s quite a personal question. Why do you ask?”
- “What if one of your kids doesn't have children?”
- “Assuming you didn't have kids, what would you have done differently?”
When I asked my mother that last question, she said she would have pursued a Ph.D. and professorship in English Literature.
“That doesn't mean I didn't want you and your sisters,” she quickly added.
“I like that you can picture another life,” I told her. “Maybe you see my world differently now.” It was the most authentic exchange we ever had.
Edited and excerpted from Kaufmann, Kate (2019) Do You Have Kids? Life When the Answer is No. Berkeley, CA:She Writes Press