10 Things You Should NEVER Say to People Without Kids
Aug. 16, 2017
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Typically, people with children love extolling the value of their decision to have kids. They talk about the joys of parenting — despite the sleepless nights and squabbles between siblings — and excitedly inquire of others when they might join the mom-and-dad club. But not everyone wants to be — or can be, for that matter — a parent. Whether someone is childless by choice, wants kids in the distant future or is struggling with infertility, your well-intentioned comments on his or her lifestyle can come off as rude and even extremely hurtful. Here are 10 things you should think twice about saying to anyone without children.
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Do you have kids?
This query seems completely innocent — and it usually is. However, it can be tough for those who don’t have kids to answer, especially since it’s typically one of the first questions people ask when they meet someone new. “My husband and I could not have children. We tried for many years,” says former professor and author Janet Ruth Heller, Ph.D. “I get tired of having the first question in a conversation be whether or not I have children. Women’s value should not be measured solely by their ability to get pregnant and reproduce. Ask first about our interests, our jobs or our backgrounds.” The discussion also gets very personal after someone responds that they don’t have kids. “It leads to a conversation about fertility, adoption or criticism,” says Dane Kolbaba, who has been trying to have kids with his wife for years. “Even if we are talking to someone we have never met before, it often leads to a deep, touchy territory that we didn’t plan on getting into in the first place.”
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“I guess you’re not ready to have kids yet.”
This comment assumes that everyone wants — and is able to have — kids. And worse: It also throws in a dash of judgment. Relationship coach Marisa Ferrera was on the receiving end of this line when she and her husband were trying and failing to conceive. “I wanted nothing more than to become a mother,” she says. “The people who said this implied that I was more interested in having material things and wasn’t ready for the expense of raising a child. I’ve never cared about material things, and I remember thinking I’d be happy living in a tent if I could only have a child.” When the comments got to be too hurtful, Ferrera eventually told friends and family the very personal news that she and her husband were having trouble conceiving so people would stop making assumptions.
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“The clock is ticking!”
This comment is not only thoughtless, it’s also superfluous. According to clinical psychologist Danielle Keenan-Miller, Ph.D., who is active in the Los Angeles infertility community, it’s no surprise to any woman of childbearing age that there is a limit to her reproductive longevity. “Many women are struggling enough under the pressure of time without additional social pressure or judgment,” she says. “This type of comment also makes an insidious assumption: that women who cannot have children are infertile because they ‘waited too long.’ While that may be true in some cases, there are plenty of women under the age of 35, or even under the age of 30, who cannot have biological children of their own because of other medical conditions.” The other pressure point that comes into play is whether or not the childless woman in question has a significant other with whom she can see a future. Commenting on the clock adds additional stress that she “should” have found someone with whom to procreate already. The fact of the matter is this: The only person this comment should come from is a gynecologist or reproductive endocrinologist who is looking at a woman’s hormone levels and helping her make an informed decision about her ability to conceive, Keenan-Miller says.
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“Once you have children, you’ll understand.”
For women who have chosen to be childfree, this statement comes with an obvious assumption that you will have children, explains Karen Malone Wright, founding voice and chief executive of the blog TheNotMom.com. “I would expect the first response is an eye-roll and then a clarification about their life decision,” she says. “The attempt to shame a childfree woman occurs when the other person shifts to say, ‘You’ll regret your decision,’ ‘You’re breaking your mother’s heart’ or any one of a dozen tropes designed to change a woman’s mind.” Certainly, there are a number of experiences that only people with children will be able to have. But saying something like this to those who are childless by choice and by chance is disrespectful. “Writing off someone’s ability to understand something simply because they don’t have direct experience with having children is demeaning,” says therapist and solutions-focused mentor Crystal Rice. “This type of statement discretely implies that the ‘understanding’ someone has by having kids is somehow better than one without. There is no universal truth gained by having children.”
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“You don’t know what tired is.”
One of the hallmarks of parenthood, especially early parenthood, is suffering from a severe lack of sleep. As any parent knows, this form of sleep deprivation is unique to having a child — but that doesn’t mean it should be thrown in people’s faces if they don’t have kids, whether it’s by circumstance or by choice. The following story from Wright illustrates how non-parents can be made to feel inferior to parents on this front: “My husband and I were repainting and redecorating our home and had been up until 3 a.m. At work the next day, I happened to talk with my supervisor’s husband in hopes of reaching her. When I yawned and explained why, he laughed and said, ‘You can’t say you’re tired until you’ve had a newborn in the house!’” The comment left her “speechless and in tears,” she says. “By his ‘rules’ I will never be allowed to complain of fatigue since I will never have a newborn in my house.” Instead of acting superior, parents should use their experiences (lack of sleep, in this case) to commiserate with those without kids. “I would like to think that in a future scenario, that man’s comment would be, ‘Painting all night? If you’re as tired as I was with the new baby, you have my sympathy!”
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“Raising children is the most rewarding thing a person can do.”
While having kids can be a joy, becoming a parent is not the only way to live a fulfilling, rich life. “Raising children can be rewarding, yes. But so can helping orphans, being a nurse, writing a piece of poetry that impacts someone in a positive way or simply living a happy life,” Rice says. “Making this type of statement can be rather self-indulgent and can inadvertently diminish both the sense of accomplishment and positive impact on the world that the other person has.” Keenan-Miller agrees, noting that many childless women she’s worked with wish they could have children but do not because of biology, life circumstance or even the death of a child. “Assuming that all women who are childless are that way by choice is a significant error, and thoughtless comments about the joys of children can awaken a deep pain at an inappropriate moment,” she says.
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“You obviously didn’t really want children since you didn’t adopt.”
It’s wrong to assume that just because someone is unable to have biological children they should have adopted a child instead. Heller recounts talking to a woman acquaintance of hers who has several children, and, in answering her questions, she explained that she and her husband had not been able to conceive. “My acquaintance stated bluntly that I obviously did not want children because my husband and I did not adopt one. I found this very insensitive,” she says. “The decision to adopt is separate from the decision of whether or not one wants children. Many couples prefer to have children who are genetically related to them, but this is not possible for about 10 percent of couples.” Wright adds that an alternate version of this statement comes in the form of the question, “Why didn’t you just adopt?” She calls this a thoughtless put-down because of the word “just.” “The questioner is implying that adoption is either easy to accomplish, easy for both partners to accept and agree to or both. Inaccurate on all counts,” she says.
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“You're able to work late because you don’t have kids.”
Another common assumption is that because someone doesn’t have a kid, he or she has less of a need for personal or family time. Marketing professional Hillary Zody, who is childless by choice, recounts hearing co-workers say things like: “Hillary can work late, she doesn’t have kids,” or “Hillary doesn’t need that day off as much as I do — I have kids,” positioning themselves as more worthy of a break because they are parents. “The reason this is so insulting is that someone would dare to think my personal time is less valuable than theirs simply because I don’t have children,” she says. Wright agrees, adding that employees and supervisors who are parents often assume that whatever it is the childless worker has waiting at home — a pet that needs walking or a sick relative — it isn’t as important as, say, a child’s soccer game. “The truth is that employers’ efforts to support parent employees with on-site day care, nursing stations and untracked leave feels (and is) unfair to non-parents,” she says.
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“You’re so lucky you don’t have kids!”
Sometimes parents lament the time, energy and money it takes to raise their little ones. But saying something like this, or encouraging non-parents to “live it up” and “enjoy being free,” can be incredibly painful when directed toward those who are trying to conceive. “What they would give to have a child taking all their financial resources, puking on their silk blouses and leaving blocks on the floor for them to step on,” says health psychologist Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D., who has 14 years of experience in working with infertility patients and young people who have a chronic illness that will interfere with reproduction. Keenan-Miller adds that although this comment may feel affirming to a woman who is childless by choice, it is likely to breed resentment among women who would like to have a child but can’t or who lost a pregnancy or a child. “Complaints about parenting to one of those women will likely fall on deaf ears at best, and at worst can be perceived as hurtful if the person making the comment is aware of the reasons for one’s childless status,” she says.
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“Once you find the right person, you’ll change your mind.”
It’s one thing to inquire as to why someone wants to remain childless, but it’s another to assume that their current life circumstances are the reason why they don’t want kids. “Not wanting children is not contingent on who my partner is. But by implying that I’d be more ‘whole’ once I find that perfect partner reinforces the idea that I’m not a complete person now,” says marketing professional Kim Kohatsu, who is childless by choice. The implication here is that a woman is something “less than” until she’s married and has procreated, which is quite an antiquated way of thinking.
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What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever thought about the things you say to people without children? Have you heard any of these comments or questions before? Which of these comments is the most annoying in your opinion? Share in the comments section!
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