I don’t have children. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why, and to be perfectly truthful, sometimes I haven’t answered nicely. It amazes me that friends, relatives, and relative strangers think it’s okay to ask such a personal question.
The decision to have kids is nobody’s business except for the potential sperm and egg donors. Yet we assume that everybody wants kids or, an even more insensitive assumption, that everybody is able to have children. What if I had six miscarriages before I stopped trying? Do I need to justify my decision? What if (as was in my own life) I just wasn’t sure my marriage was going to survive. Do I need to put it out there that I’m having marital problems? And what about a low sperm count? Or endometriosis? Or ovarian cancer? Or a horrible childhood?
Why is it okay to ask?
When I take a look beyond the questions to what I’m assuming are the assumptions, additional dilemmas are revealed. The breeders assume that the non-breeders have oodles of free time. They also assume we are selfish. Or that we hate children. I think anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I am busy. I am also generous and, undemiably, I love other people’s kids. I have nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews. I even have neph-dogs! These relationships are loving, mutually beneficial, and memory-making. For all of us.
Why is it necessary to offer up an explanation?
I wonder if anyone ever asks a parent of a whole lot of kids, like the Duggars or Kate Gosselin, “why do you have so many children?” Do we judge them for what some might consider to be overpopulating? Do we ask them if they’re extraordinarily fertile? Do we ask how they feel about birth control?
It’s doubtful that we can teach people not to ask personal questions in the first place, especially if their intentions are innocent. Instead, I think the lesson is how we answer those inappropriate questions. While, “none of your business” is always an option, it’s probably not a good idea to say that to your employer. Or to your mother-in-law. We can avoid the answer by saying “long story” or “I’ll tell you another time,” but that tactic is more-or-less encouraging a subsequent conversation.
My personal favorite response to an inappropriate question is, “why do you ask?” Try it. You might be completely surprised at the response. At the very least, you’re buying yourself an extra moment to choose the right words for the situation. While you’re patiently listening to the reason for the personal question, practice this response: “Oh. Ok.”
Then immediately change the subject.