“Do you have kids?”
The question is inevitable. And the older I get, the earlier it gets asked in introductory conversations. It first began happening several years ago, when I landed my first “real” job – 40 hours, benefits, earned time, staff parties complete with homemade goodies.
“No,” I would answer, laughing at the mere thought. “I’m only twenty-three, for God’s sake.” (But even at twenty-three, a good many of my peers had already begun procreating.)
Back then, most people would say, “Oh, I see. Well, plenty of time!”
“Kids aren’t really in my plan…” I would try to explain, to which most people – particularly other women – gave a knowing look and a wink.
“Plans change!” they’d say in a sing-song voice, flashing a sugary smile.
Three years later, most of my peers now have children or have near-immediate plans on making them, but my answer has not changed. However, now I am getting asked about it on a more frequent basis. I know the question comes from a good place – coworkers and new acquaintances just wanting to get to know me, to find out more about my life. I do not fault any one person on asking me, but I am growing tired of having to answer to the question.
The more I hear it, the more I think that we need to stop this cultural phenomenon of asking each woman we meet if they have or when they want children. For me, the choice not to have kids doesn’t come from any deep, dark secret or complex psychological issue. I simply don’t want them. I am more than happy to just be a kick-ass auntie. I have absolutely nothing against women being mothers – but I have no desire to become one myself. You want to have kids? Great! Let’s go pick out some cute onesies. You don’t want them? That’s cool, too. Let’s go spend our non-kid-related money on pizza and books.
It’s disturbing to me that in 2016, I still feel I have to defend my choice to stay kid-free to people who feel it is every woman’s prerogative to want children. I’m not going to make this a moral or political diatribe – clearly I believe each woman has the right to choose for herself whether she wants to have kids, and it is not for anyone else to judge that decision. But the more I get asked whether (or when) I want to have children, the more strongly I feel that it may not be an appropriate question to begin with. It comes with good intentions, but it can also come with consequences the asker might not consider.
In my case, the question is irritating, but not emotionally traumatizing. However, the same may not be said of a woman who gets asked the question just after being told she has uterine cancer and needs a hysterectomy. A woman who recently suffered a miscarriage probably wouldn’t want to answer, either. Or a woman who has tried for years to have a baby, with no success. Nor would a woman who just learned she is pregnant and, for whatever reason – maybe she’s the victim of a sexual assault, or has been abandoned by her partner and cannot financially support a baby, or is faced with a medical crisis in which she is not advised to stay pregnant – is considering having an abortion.
My point is: each of us women comes from different walks of life, and we each have our own beliefs and conflicts when it comes to having kids. We need to remain cognizant of the fact that not every woman can have children, and not all of us want children. The stories behind those choices are varied, but they are each worth taking into consideration, whether or not you personally would make that same decision. If a woman already has children, it’s safe to assume those kids’ existence will come into a get-to-know-you conversation organically. But if she doesn’t have children, she may not want to discuss why she doesn’t. And we have to remain sensitive to that reality.
Incidentally, I have never heard anyone ask a man they just met if and when he plans on having kids. And, while we’re on a related note, I’ve grown tired of the response that I will change my mind “once I meet the right guy.” In the past, more than once I tried to shape myself into a different version of me, a version that wanted children. And I did this because the guys I was interested in wanted families down the road. But then I stopped trying to force myself into someone I wasn’t and recognized that it is okay to not want children. It doesn’t make me a bad person or any less of a woman. It’s just part of what makes me a little bit different from the majority. (But then, I’ve never wanted to be in the majority, anyway.) After finally, wholly accepting this about myself, I knew my reply to “the right guy will change your mind” was “the right guy for me won’t want kids, either.”
I know I will continue to be asked if I have children. I’m at that age where most of my peers are having them, and the question is as inevitable as snow in a Maine winter. I will continue to tell the truth – no, I don’t have kids, and no, I don’t want to have them in the future. I will then steer the conversation in another direction, though I know there will be many people (mostly women – it is almost always a woman who asks) who will try to lead it back and dissect my choice not to become a mother.
Frankly, there are other questions people could ask me that would give them deeper insight into who I am as a person. “If you were a vegetable,” they might ask, “what would you be?” To which I might answer, “A baby carrot. They’re small, but vibrant.” Another good one might be where I’d most like to travel. “Ireland,” I’d tell them. “And Scotland. And the Caribbean. And Italy. And Greece.” But the best question to ask?
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