In my interview for an article in womansday on what not to say to the childfree, writer Charlotte Lavala asked me about “cringe-worthy” things women can say to their childfree woman friends. I gave her a boatload of ideas, and a couple landed in the article.Here is more of what I told her:
1. Asking, “Is/Are your ______ ok with you not wanting kids?” Fill in “husband” or “parents” or “grandparents”~
Why is this cringe-worthy? Because it can assume that the person asking thinks she and her husband have not come to a mutual decision on this, and that if not, she is “depriving” him of something he must automatically want. It also can assume that one needs to take into consideration what Others want with regards to this decision, which is a very personal one, and should not be influenced by the desires of others (what they want for us–for their own reasons!). What would be a better thing to say? Nothing–until your friend brings it (meaning others’ feelings about her childfree choice) up first.
2. Commenting something like, “It must be nice that you have the time to _________ (focus on each other if in relationship, really focus on your career, hobbies, etc.)”
Why is this cringe-worthy? It assumes the childfree have all kinds of “free” time! It is a myth that just because we don’t have kids means we have more “time” — many childfree are just as busy as parents…the time spent is just spent in different ways. It also implies parents don’t have the time to do the kinds of things in the question, which can create subtle pressure to feel sorry for them.
What’s a better, more positive comment? How about simply How are you and X doing or How’s the job these days? Or What’s happening with the x project (a hobby etc) –In other words, what you would ask anyway to get caught up on the person’s life!
3. If they have pets, asking, “How are your babies doing?”
Why can this be cringe-worthy? It assumes the childfree think their pets are like having a baby. The assumption under that: They really do want a baby, but just haven’t reached the point in their adult development that they are ready to have a baby-baby! To this assumption the word is Not. Sure, ask about pets, just not using the word “baby” or “babies” as synonymous with them!
4. Commenting that, “You wouldn’t understand…”
Why can this be experienced as cringe-worthy? When it comes to parenting challenges, the childfree must not know anything about parenting or children. We were once children ourselves, have parents, and many childfree work with kids in their professions, etc. That we don’t know anything about parenting is one of the many stereotypes out there about the childfree.
5. Any comment insinuating, “You’ll change your mind.”
Why is this cringe-worthy? It assumes that the the friend thinks her childfree friend “will” want a child, but she just doesn’t know it yet–that we somehow don’t really know what we want…and that our friends know more about what we really want than we do! It is an arrogant assumption to somehow think parents and would-be parents know the childfree better than they know themselves.
You see I am using the word “assume” a lot. This is because the assumptions made about the childfree so often influence how questions are cast which can hit a childfree person the wrong way.
To avoid this, make no assumptions, and always come from the position that your childfree friend has just made a different lifestyle choice, and no matter how different your lives may look you love her and are committed to the friendship. This advice goes both ways….
As does this: To keep a childfree-parent friendship strong, always show genuine interest and curiosity about your friend and what she is up to, and what is important right now in her life.
Childfree, what do you consider to be “cringe-worthy” comments or questions?
I totally agree with ALL of this! I hear these all the time and I get the most pissed off over “you’ll change your mind”. No one would dare tell a pregnant woman she’ll change her mind someday or grimace and ask ‘why’ when she says she wants kids at all. Trust me, it doesn’t go over well.
I just don’t understand how it’s ok for the childed to think they have a right to ask such rude, personal questions of the childfree.
When friends or acquaintances make comments that infer that taking care of their children is more important than anything you do.
Give and example of what the comment would be…
#1 irks me the most. By far. My gay friend asked me this very question just last week! Proof that even other “non traditional” families don’t necessarily understand us, either.
When trying to explain why you can only tolerate children for a short while the other person responds with, “It’s different when they’re your own.” My cousin with kids told me that was a lie…
That you are the exact type of person who should be having kids.
“It doesn’t ruin your life to have kids; it gives you experience and precious memories.” Well guess what? I don’t want that experience and I can make memories just fine with my husband.
One of the things that bothered me recently – was an encounter with a friend. One of my friends is on the fence about children, but another friend of ours who happens to be the fence sitter’s sister-in-law keeps asking if she’s pregnant, or saying “o maybe you’re pregnant, or asks if she’s looked into adoption more. When we went out for a girls night the issue was brought up at least every 10 minutes. She really seemed to be pushing her desire to have another child on my fence sitting friend.
In terms of cringe-worthy comments, I think 1-3 are mildly annoying but 4 and 5 are above and beyond rude. I can actually see #1 coming from some degree of curiosity, and 2-3 coming from people who are just starting to think about being childfree as a real choice but are trying to wrap their heads around it.
(I do think of my cats as being part of my family, so I wouldn’t mind #3, but I can see how it would be offensive to assume that because I’m childfree my pets are my children.)
Saying I’m going to change my mind or saying I just don’t understand is flat out insulting.
Another offensive assumption: if I don’t have kids, it’s just because I don’t have them YET or haven’t found the right person or haven’t come to the realization yet that I need them.
I don’t know if this counts as a comment, but very often when parents find out I’m childfree by choice the assumption is that I am criticizing them for being parents. All of the sudden I have some kind of anti-parenting agenda.
Interesting that on the Woman’s Day website you linked to, there is a brief advice article about social graces. One of the questions was something like: what do you do when the boss’s wife is trying to get pregnant and it’s not working and she is then nasty to all the women in the office who have children?
I can’t tell if that question is a kind of progress or a step backward….
I find the comment “That’s a big decision” to be pretty offensive, up there with “You’ll change your mind.” It seems like choosing to HAVE a kid is an awfully big decision, that most people don’t give much thought to…
Wow I don’t hear that one from people a lot — You’re right– it seems to insinuate it is a big decision to have no kids, and Not a big decision To have them!
I’m 25, so I hear a bit (including from my doctor!) of “You’re too young to know that now. You’ll change your mind.”
I’ve known for TEN YEARS. I don’t even LIKE kids.
“But you’d be such a good mother!”
WHY do people think it’s ok to say this? How do they seem to think they know me better than myself? I’d be a good mother because I’m a good pet parent? That’s because I LIKE dogs. I don’t like kids. Big difference.
Another one that ticks me off is when, after I say I don’t want kids partially because of my family medical history, they brush that off. And then when I say “No, really, I’ve gone through severe suicidal periods, severe depression, so has my father, and almost everyone on his side of the family has an addiction or a mental illness.” Then they say “But that can be dealt with!” What irks me the most about this is that it’s like they’re saying that what I went through WASN’T A BIG DEAL. It WAS. It was (and sometimes still is) the worst possible feeling in the world. It is excruciating. How DARE you belittle it!
Christine, I too get amazed how people can brush off medical history as a big reason not to have biological children. Here is a woman who wrote a great piece on why she chose not to “roll the biological dice” in Newsweek awhile back: http://laviechildfree.com/2009/12/justifying-the-choice-not-to-have-kids/