Last time, we explored the reasons why questioning people’s singleness can be inappropriate and hurtful. In Part Two we’ll learn how questions about future children can be equally insensitive. Then…hold on to your britches, ’cause in Part Three of this blog miniseries I’ll share some alternatives so that you never find yourself unwittingly picking at your neighbor’s wounds.
Part Two: “When are you gonna have kids?” (variations include: “Are you pregnant [yet]?” and “Don’t you want a family of your own?”)
Before our wedding, my husband and I had the birth control discussion. We needed to work out what, if anything, we were going to do. We considered lots of things as we weighed our options. I didn’t want anything that involved hormones because I dealt with some unenjoyable imbalances in the past. Plus, it took my parents nine years before they got pregnant with me – what if we experienced that kind of delay? We knew we wanted kids and we were both in our 30s; we didn’t want to wait too long. In the end, we decided to not do any birth control and see what happened.
What happened is I got pregnant the first week we were married. Surprise!
We were very excited, but we wanted to keep it to ourselves for a while. Being newlyweds it was a little bit challenging because as soon as you get married, people start asking about kids. Often, that wasn’t a problem because they’d just ask if we wanted to have them. That’s a normal question to ask of newly married couples and quite simple to answer honestly, even in my situation. What was challenging were the people who’d outright ask if I was pregnant yet, forcing me to lie to their face in order to protect our secret. Folks, I am a horrible liar.
Anyway, we managed to keep the big news to ourselves until we were able to announce it the way we wanted to and the process of dodging questions was only mildly infuriating. It’s the people on the other end of the equation that I really feel for with this question.
Some couples don’t have kids because it’s physically impossible for them outside of a creative miracle. Some are working on adoption or foster parenting – processes that can be heart-wrenchingly lengthy and uncertain. Other times, they’re in the midst of a struggle. Things aren’t working the way they expected them to, hopes are dashed on a monthly basis, and doctors and tests and pokes and prodding are involved. Perhaps they are navigating the aftermath of a miscarriage. The last thing these couples need is someone asking them why they don’t have children yet. I vividly remember witnessing an encounter years ago; one woman approached another, someone I knew had struggled with infertility for years, in a crowded hallway and loudly asked when she was going to have a baby. It was like watching a car accident happen; you want to do something to prevent it, but you do not have the time or the ability. The recipient handled it with astounding grace, but I know it stung. Imagine how “Don’t you want a family of your own?” sounds to these dear ones.
Here’s the thing about having children. Chances are if you are close enough to the person or couple, you know what their hopes are. You know if there’s struggle. You know if they’re waiting by choice. You know if they’ve decided not to become parents at all. Outside of that brief newlywed grace period, if you need to ask in order to find out, you probably don’t need to know. Asking pointed questions is likely to cause discomfort at best, extreme heartache at worst, and you don’t want to risk giving an already hurting person a verbal gut punch.
It all comes down to considering the other person first.