Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Sharon Praissman Fisher

The Dreaded Question: 'Why Don't You Have Children Yet?"

Pregtiquette on handling pushy relatives and unsolicited advice.

Our first Pregtiquette post about navigating the holidays while trying to conceive, generated further questions from readers. This post focuses on the pariah of all questions posed to childless women near and far: “Why don’t you have children, yet?” It is surpassed in hurtfulness only by the “why aren’t you married, yet?” often asked of single women. (Thought you dodged a bullet once you married, huh?)

The question, “Why don’t you have children, yet?” actually has a more genteel cousin: “Do you have children?” Some people consider this a part of polite conversation. A getting- to- know-you of sorts. It’s the type of thing your Aunt Mary’s co-worker who is only at Christmas dinner because the rest of her family is in Korea, may ask. The motivation is benign and it is no different than someone asking you what you do for a living.

Nonetheless, if you are trying to conceive and feeling upset about how long it is taking, or otherwise experiencing fertility frustration, the question may make you feel sad, defensive, or irritated. You may feel like providing some explanation for your lack of children, either because of the defensive emotions, or from a desire to share your frustration. However, in the case of responding to a near-stranger, a simple “no” suffices and will prevent anyone from feeling uncomfortable.

It is the addition of the two simple adverbs “why” and “yet” which can cause havoc in the minds and heart of every wishful mother. Some of you may be currently trying to conceive and some of you may be deliberately delaying until you are in a more stable financial or professional situation. Either way there is an accusatory tone to this question. It also almost always foreshadows useless and often inappropriate unsolicited advice. The advice is usually delivered in a forceful “motivational” tone, similar to how a football coach talks to his team. That approach can throw you off guard. It is unsettling to have someone appear so overly invested in your family planning. No one would attack you lunch choice in the same way: “You need to put more lettuce on your sandwich! Come on, you’re running out of lunch time and you only ate half your soup!”

The motivations of the asker are many and we can never know them for certain. The speaker may truly want to help you, because she thinks you would be an awesome mom. The comments may reflect her own insecurity about parenting. She may need to be the “expert” (again, reflecting her own insecurity). She may simply be an obtuse person. After giving the advice, she will often carry on about how much she loves being a parent. That’s the icing on the emotional devastation cake.

Recently, a woman of a certain age told us she received the “Why aren’t you a grandmother, yet” flavor of this question. Apparently, this is quite common. It was followed not only with a briefing on the joys of grandparenthood that she was missing, but also advice on how to get her children to procreate.

The antidote for both scenarios is unapologetic confidence. Confidence in your (or your children’s) ability to one day become a parent and with the decisions you (or they) are making along the way. Confidence in your ability to shut down the conversation before it makes you uncomfortable. Most importantly, have confidence in your overall self and life.

Strong opinions and unsolicited advice don’t end once you get pregnant. You will use this confidence when people forcefully expound their ideas of how you should parent and whether you should have a second child.

When people persist in asking you about such a personal topic, then proceed in a way that clearly reflects their need to talk far more than your need or desire for advice, it reflects their insecurity. The person that is more interested in telling you what they know than in listening to what you need, or expressing interest in your experience, is desperate for validation. Go ahead and give it. Be careful, however that it is not at your expense. The following vignette demonstrates our point. Picture Sheila with a confident, indulgent smile and a calm demeanor throughout the entire conversation.

Aunt Mary: “So when are you going to make your mom a grandmother?”

Sheila: “Oh, hopefully sooner than later.”

Aunt Mary: “Well, you should get on it! No one’s getting younger here!”

Sheila: “We are actually trying but sometimes these things take a while. What’s new with you?”

Aunt Mary persists…..

Aunt Mary: “You know, Debbie down at my office did IVF and got a great set of twins! You should just do that!”

Sheila: “Thanks Aunt Mary, but we got it under control and it’s not up for discussion. How are you and Uncle Henry doing?”

Sheila is able to handle Aunt Mary by maintaining a neutral, kind, and firm stance. That is what confidence looks like. She does not get defensive. She takes the comment about ageing in stride. She tries to redirect the conversation subtlety and when that does not work she takes a firm stance. Future grandparents can do the same thing. Delight in other’s grandchildren and be firm that you don’t need their advice.

Gaining confidence takes some work. Dr. Biali shares a nice primer on it here.

Trying to conceive can often shake our confidence in our body’s ability to function normally and reliably. It is helpful to recognize on a daily basis how great your body works. Everyday take a minute to acknowledge something positive about your body. Here are some examples: I am strong, I ran 2 miles, I ovulate every month.

We leave you with a theme song...

When it comes to trying to conceive or parenting, what are you confidant about? What shakes your confidence? What Pregtiquette topics would you find helpful?

If you want to find out about new posts, follow us on twitter: @beyondeggtimer


About the Author

Sharon I. Praissman is an adult (medical) and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.