One of the challenges the childfree talk about is how not to get defensive when asked by people they don’t know (or don’t know well) why they don’t want kids. Here are my three favorite strategies:
First, a question worth asking is why we can feel defensive in this situation. There are lots of reasons people get defensive, but in this case there can be a couple of reasons why it can happen. One is because the person asking the question has gone beyond the boundaries of personal space–in this case, not physical personal space, but “relational” personal space. It can also arise from feeling a negative or judging undercurrent in the question.
Having a strategy to respond will help any defensiveness that comes up. Here are three I have seen work (and used myself!).
This relates to all three: Start with and hold the position that they are genuinely curious about you. Now this may not be true, but choosing to frame it this way will help whatever you say come from less of a defensive place. If someone is interested in you, and this interest feels like it is without judgment, doesn’t it feel easier to respond?
1. Call out the fact that they are asking you a personal question — with seriousness.
Make sure they know that you feel that they are asking you a personal question, yet respond anyway. I know some people may say you have every right not to respond and you do. However, I say treat it as an opportunity to expose people to the reality that parenthood is optional. You don’t have to open your heart wide open and give every personal reason to someone you don’t know well; come up with a brief response that describes your reasons in general terms, and keep it in your back pocket for this kind of encounter.
2. Call it out – with humor.
Make the point that they are getting personal too fast in a way that’s humorous or clever. One of my favorite responses here is what one woman interviewed in Families of Two would say–something akin to, “That’s a very personal question–it’s like me asking you what color panties do You have on?” Then answer; here too, I say don’t let a chance to talk about this choice go by.
3. Play a little aikido.
Aikido is about taking the energy coming at you and using it to “apply a counter-technique,” In this case, it means to first make the point that this is a personal question, that you will answer, if they will start by answering for you why they have or want children.
If delivered from a place of curiosity, this can lead to a very interesting conversation, and potentially to knowing each other a bit better, and who knows…maybe the blossoming of a new friendship.
There are lots of ways to go about this kind of situation. These are just three ways of approaching it I have seen work.
What strategies do you have?
Well, my strategies usually depend on how I care to be viewed by the person. If my boss (or any person who could possibly affect my career in the future) asks, I’m fairly polite and usually say something funny like, “Oh, I don’t think my cats would like them.” I’d rather not seriously talk about it with someone I work with, because they may not like my reasons. When I say, “I have no interest in children, people usually hear, “I hate your kids, and would run over them if I had the chance.”
However, if I’m talking with a friend of a friend I just met and might be spending more time around this person, I’ll answer honestly. Like you said, it’s a conversation, and a chance to get to know people. I know a lot of people say they have trouble making childfree friends, but most of the people my husband and I know/meet are also childfree. It’s almost like ferreting out someone in a secret club.
Then, there are the people you meet who ask and you know they are judging you. It’s like an interrogation: “How long have you two been married?” “Really, 8 years, how many kids do you have?” “When are you planning on having them, you aren’t getting any younger you.” “No kids, Why not?”
Again, my response depends on how much I need the person to like me. Potential work contact? I’ll admit, I’ve played the infertility card, just to get them to drop it. I hate to do it. It makes me feel like I’m having to hide who I am, but I can’t jeopardize my career. Technically, it’s no longer a lie. I am infertile; I had my tubes tied:)
But, if I don’t like you, don’t need to be nice, and I feel the judgement… my response to “Why don’t you want kids?” is usually “Because every year there is always some woman who drowns them in the bathtub, and I’m too pretty to go to prison.”
Crude and shocking makes people leave you alone every time. Granted, I’m probably not helping the image of the childfree, but the look on their faces is too good to pass up.
LOL on the bathtub-prison response!!
It really depends on your goal for the conversation. You may not be able to get across everything you want to get across with just a few sentences. You will probably have to pick your battles.
It’s hard to answer reasonably AND show that it’s a personal question AND not sound defensive AND get them to challenge their assumptions AND educate them AND show that you have very good reasons AND teach them how to approach childfree people. You’ll have to choose one or two of these and let them get educated about the others somewhere else. There’s no magic bullet zinger reply that does everything.
Now I try to be as matter-of-fact and nonchalant about it as I can, because I want to get across that for me it’s a perfectly reasonable, logical, sensible choice. (It’s also a personal, emotional choice, but that’s not necessarily what I want to focus on with someone I don’t know very well.) Being matter-of-fact about it may sound like I’m ignoring their rudeness, but I have to let that go.
What I want most is to let the person know that my choice is perfectly normal and reasonable and ultimately not such a big deal. I hope that person sees my choice and thinks about parenthood as a choice.
Even if they don’t quite understand, I want that person to be able to say, “He’s thought about it and he’s chosen not to have kids because _____.” That all by itself is something of a victory.
It’s totally an invasive personal question, and you have every right to call them on it. No doubt. I’m just thinking that emphasizing how private and personal it is may just add to the impression that childfree people are bitter and irrational. Tell them that it’s a very personal question and they’ll probably assume “oh, she wants children but can’t have them” or “oh, probably a child abuse survivor” or some other “you’re broken” explanation for not having children. Make it matter-of-fact and it may actually blow their mind more than flipping it back on them.
As for the aikido metaphor….It’s hard to use a self-defense analogy and NOT sound defensive, don’t you think? 🙂
Ah but the aikidos use defense as their best offense ; )
I like your points. It is a lot to try and do to try and educate and explain one’s choice but I believe it can be done — bu explaining oneself that in and of itself can be the education–at least the a doorway in. When people think about what they are going to say beforehand (or have a couple of different strategies in their arsenal, depending on the situation), they so often say it just goes much better…
Super advice, Laura!
I’ve rarely been asked by people who are close to me — especially friends who’ve known me all of my life. But on the rare occasion that someone *does* ask, I always say, “Because having children is a selfless endeavor. When I carefully considered all of the reasons to have children, all of mine began with ‘I want …’ rather than the only one that matters. Which is: ‘A child would be very lucky if he or she had me for a parent.'”
I usually respond with something like, because my wife and I were not confident we could raise them the way we would like to, in an environment that we consider suitable. That is the honest truth.
I can’t remember who said it on a Facebook group post, but I love this one:
“Oh, I love/like my vagina the way it is, Thanks.”
I use that one all the time and it either shuts people up or cracks them up. 😉
Honestly, I almost always use “We’ll see whats in the cards for us”. Husband and I are fencesitters leaning childfree, and as we’re nearing 30 and 6 years married the questions are coming more and more often.
So I guess I use the sidestep followed by a “However, I do have a habenaro plant that my Mother-in-law named Myrtle. We asked her to plant sit and suddenly they all had names…” So sidestep + humor/distraction = changing the subject without actually answering the question. And I’m not kidding about the plant named Myrtle.
My usual answer is very simple and absolutely truthful: “I’m happy with my life as it is.” If they persist, I go into the details about how I value quietness and solitude and love my current family (spouse and cat) and have never felt any desire to have my own children.
On the offense/defense metaphor:
Yes, but treating someone’s question like it’s an attack and then turning it around on the attacker is not really about responding to general curiosity. It’s the difference between answering a question and replying with another question.
Sorry to sound so nitpicky. I just think that some approaches are completely incompatible with other approaches. It’s hard to accept a question as curiosity AND as an attack.
Scott, Understood–My knowledge of aikido is not comprehensive, but I do know that it is about how to manage energy — to take and transform it to work for you, not against you. That is the frame I was coming from in phrasing this strategy this way…
When it comes to family we just say something along the lines of “we haven’t really discussed it yet”, “we have yet to come to that conversation/decision”, “we’ll see what happens” or “we are still not in a financially and in general life-stable position yet to start thinking about children”. We basically answer in such a way that its not really easy for them to follow up with another question since were so vague. We are most definitely CF but would rather not burn bridges with close family/extended family. Oddly enough, while I hear a lot about CF people being approached and questioned by strangers I have not really encountered this. Perhaps its because I live in what is seen as a large metro-area where more ppl are CF, less ppl are religious, and there is quite a bit of other types of couples (gay, lesbian) and lots of singles. I have had some innocent curiosity from close friends which I respond to with honesty and they have all accepted my position (mind you they are all childLESS at the moment, none of them are married, and all in their late 20’s so that might be the reason why they don’t see it as a big deal).
That is very much like my favorite response. I usually say, I’ve never had the desire for children, and I love my life just as it is.
Still this usually gets a “blank face” response from people, almost as if I didn’t answer the question or they have no idea what I’m saying…..
I feel fortunate that I have never rudely been asked *why* I don’t have/want children; that type of question has only ever come from people who knew me well enough to actually care about my answer. However, in the event that some stranger does try to pry too deeply into my personal life, I look forward to using a line I heard on another childfree forum: “Why don’t I want to have children? Probably for the same reason that you want(ed) to have them.”
Thanks all. Let’s hear more of what you say..Very useful to share this kind of thing! To I.Am.Free–Have not heard that one before-Clever!
I have 4 dogs. For a long time, I had 5. My answer is usually something like, No, no kids, but I have 4 dogs and they are an awful lot like two year olds. Those who have had dogs as companion pets laugh, and those who haven’t but do have kids get horrified that I would compare their children to my dogs, and don’t ask again.
I say: “I have two” when they ask the age, I say: one is 3, the other one is 2. And then I add “but they are very easy, I just have to feed them and clean the little box every day” The response is a laugh and no more questions.