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Is the question ‘Do you have children’ intrusive?

By Victoria Fryer 

Many months ago now, I wrote about how we answer the question of why we don’t have children. While I don’t particularly mind the question—at least not from people I know—I do consider it very intrusive to ask. It’s no one’s business why we don’t have children.

But, backing up a bit, what about the simpler question: ‘Do you have children?’

As someone who is childfree by choice, this question isn’t as intrusive as following it up with ‘Why not?’ But it is awkward for me. I find it really difficult to just smile and say, ‘No, I don’t.’ (Maybe I should practice that.) The awkwardness comes from my perception that others tend to make certain judgments about people without children.

A variety of ways I’ve answered this question:
• No; that’s not really our thing.
• We decided not to go that route.
• No, but we do have dogs—they’re more our speed.
So, I mean, not awful answers, I guess. But I also wish I didn’t feel the need to explain myself.

Answering that question for women who are childless not by choice becomes far more complicated. For women who want children but are unable to have them, the question is painful and can stir up any number of negative feelings. It’s for this reason that I kind of wish people wouldn’t ask at all. Kelly Da Silva at Huffington Post published a great article for childless people on how to respond to this question.

I do understand the question. People are always looking for things in common, conversation starters, an easy place to start from. Children can provide a wealth of topics for conversation among people who don’t know each other well—and for people who do.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had a conversation about how to answer social questions we really didn’t have a great answer for. I mentioned, “What have you been up to?” No one wants to hear about the details of my job—really, they don’t. And besides that, what do I really do? Parents always have an answer to this question. But my husband’s suggestion was simple: just turn the question around. ‘Not a lot; what about you?’

Seriously, why didn’t I think of that? (Because I’m socially awkward—that’s why.)

My answers to people’s questioning about whether or not I have children often shuts down the conversation, because I always forget to ask, ‘Do you?’. By giving other people a chance to talk about their own children, and asking them appropriate questions, you can deflect the attention away from your own answer and, hopefully, avoid the dreaded follow-up: ‘Why not?’

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

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