"When are you going to have kids?"
"When will I get grandchildren?"
"Are you EVER going to have kids?"
As the holidays approach, couples can come to dread questions about their current childfree state. Otherwise supportive and helpful loved ones can dig in with questions that can cause unnecessary pain, especially for couples disagreeing about whether they want children.
What if you didn’t have to dread these questions? The best way to minimize this stress is to have a plan in place to take care of yourself and each other. While it's tempting to tell these family members that it isn't any of their business, I believe grace over sarcasm and hostility is the way to go.
Here are a few tips to get you ready for the onslaught of questions, looks, or sideways comments.
1. Create a united front.
Decide together as a couple what the party line is going to be. Even if in reality the two of you are on different pages, don’t throw the other one under the bus. Don’t let another person make the problem be about your partner.
Your party line can be vague or specific, but make sure it can roll off your tongue easily. Keep it simple. Practice with each other so you can hear what it sounds like. If you're certain there’s going to be pressure or unwanted questions, you can head it all off at the pass with, “We have an announcement to make! We’re having our own private process about kids or no kids. We’ll let you know when we have clarity. We’d prefer if you don’t ask us about it.”
It’s also fine if you do want to discuss it with family members, but you’re not obligated. Parenthood is not a decision by jury.
2. Be respectful.
Yes, you can take the sarcastic route. I know how fun that can be! But you’ll survive better if you take the road of understanding and compassion. Understand that people are anxious in general, and if they’re unaware of their own anxiety, they’ll project it on to you. Anxiety thrives on uncertainty. Trust that your loved ones don't want to be mean or inconsiderate. People will often back pedal if they know they’ve offended you. If you receive an unwanted question here are some responses that might help:
- “I know you want a grandchild. This is a very personal decision for us and we feel private about our process of making this decision. We’ll share our decision with you after we make one.”
- “I know you want us to have kids. I’m sorry it’s hard for you that we haven’t decided yet if it’s what we want.”
- “I know you think we’d be good parents and I know it’s hard for you that we haven’t decided.”
3. And keep being respectful. It looks good on you.
Even with a compassionate and kind response, you still may get a reply back of:
- “Well, you’re not getting any younger and neither am I.”
- “What are you waiting for—tick tock?”
- “You’re so good together. You’d make great parents.”
- “Don’t you just love how they are with the kids?…such a natural.”
Then, take a breath and repeat what you originally said. Repetition is the key, not escalation. Sometimes the same thing has to be said several times the exact same way, with calm and patience. At some point, you may have to walk away or go check the oven—not to put your head into it but to see if what’s cooking is done.
Certainly, sarcasm is an easy thing to fall into but it’s not sustainable and the sub-text of sarcasm will hurt you more than them in the long run. Curiosity, compassion and honesty will always be a better approach. It might feel unsatisfying initially but, in the end, you’ll be happy you took that approach.
4. Try changing the topic to be about them.
Ask them questions about their own parenthood choices:
- “Why did you want kids or to be a parent?”
- “Why didn’t you have more kids?”
- “Why do you think your parents wanted children?”
Or you can redirect the discussion: “Can you imagine what it would’ve been like if the topic of having children was talked about and not assumed?” “Can you imagine being told as a child that not everyone is expected to have children? It’s something that you get to decide.”
If none of that works, then try, “What’s for dessert?”
5. Check in regularly with each other.
Be sure to ask each other how it’s going. “Have you been pinned into any corners or given any looks? Did you get any hurtful statements thrown at you?” Be a team. Check in with each other daily. When you’re around your family of origin it’s common to regress to feel like a child again and lose your sense of self. Remind each other that you’re there for one another.
One day children will grow up with the notion that being a parent or childfree is a personal choice. They’ll be taught that both are good choices and the message will be along the lines of:
“Motherhood, living a childfree life, or raising children is a choice. It’s a very personal decision and only you can know what’s true for you. One is not better than the other but one will be better for you.”
© 2017 Ann Davidman
Disagreeing with your partner about whether you want to become parents?
Check out this blog, "'He wants a baby. I don't.': Finding Common Ground When You and Your Partner Disagree About Becoming Parents", to discover a great exercise for talking about this difficult topic.