I find it interesting how questions and topics that seem innocuous can actually be outdated and belong in the “used to be okay for some reason but really aren’t anymore” pile.
From personal experience and much reflection, the topic of children (or family planning) is a very strong candidate for this.
The more I think about it, the more I think that there’s never a good time, situation or way to ask a woman whether she has kids or is planning on having them.
The way I see it, there’s a list of possible situations a woman could be in when you ask ‘do you have kids’ or ‘do you want kids’. Only one of them is positive:
- She has them or wants to have them and is super excited to talk to you about it. In this case, whether you ask or not, she’ll get onto the topic.
Otherwise, the possibilities generally point towards it not being a topic to address (regardless of how well you know her):
- She wants to have kids at some point but doesn’t want to talk about it.
- She is pregnant, and in the first 12 weeks and doesn’t want to tell anyone.
- She’s pregnant and hasn’t told her co-workers yet and doesn’t want the news getting out.
- She is or isn’t sure about starting a family, but keeps getting this question and it’s putting a lot of pressure on her. * * This is compounded if she’s also being pressured by her partner or parents.
- She can imagine it but has a condition that makes a successful pregnancy unlikely (PCOS/endometriosis).
- She’s trying but has had (potentially very recently) one or more miscarriages.
- She’s been trying for ages with no luck.
- She knows she can’t have kids.
- She doesn’t want kids and had a contraceptive accident recently and is hoping she isn’t pregnant.
- She has been raped and hopes she isn’t pregnant.
- She doesn’t want kids but constantly feels abnormal and like an outsider because people keep asking her like it’s the only way to exist.
- She wants kids but knows that she can’t care for them right now.
- She has conditions she’s afraid of passing on.
- She has one kid and that’s enough.
- She has one kid, and is or isn’t sure about another (see all reasons above).
- She has multiple kids and that’s enough.
The difficulty is that this is currently a normal and frequent question - at least in my social circles. Suggesting that we stop asking about these things (and, by extension, about partner status/getting married/…) is sometimes described as ‘over the top’ or ‘pandering to over-sensitives’. I’d like to appeal that, actually, stopping making these intensely personal and intimate issues a standard and accepted conversation topic is long overdue. If your conversation partner has kids or is planning on having them—and wants to share that information—then sooner or later they will. You don’t need to ask.
Speaking from experience, it can be a difficult and painful—and yes, triggering, question if you are not 100% willing, excited to and able to have children. There have been situations I have dreaded (meeting less-known relatives and family friends, meeting new people, small talk at conferences) because of how often this has come up. I used to have a metric of “minutes till a random person asks me about my child-rearing plans”. It wasn’t often very high. I’ve gotten calmer and more comfortable with my own position over the years, but each question can still feel like an accusation. A reminder that I’m not “normal”. And if I’m ill, or stressed, then it can still be difficult, even now.
And even if you manage to articulate a calm “no, I don’t have or want kids”, the onslaught of follow-up questions that put you in a position of justification only serve to increase the pain. There are many ways to live a life, have meaning and experience love. And there are plenty of other, less invasive, topics.
Author: Alex Schladebeck