21 April, 2011

That question

Yes, that question.  You know the one.  Do I have to say it?  Are you going to make me?  OK.  But brace yourself.  The question is:  “Do you have kids?”  However many years have passed, however happy I am in my life right now, however much I even feel relieved that I’m not running around a young child, that question still has power over me.  Even now, it can still cause a blip in an otherwise perfectly innocuous conversation with a stranger in the gym changing room who thinks she recognises me. 

Fear of the question is perhaps even more powerful.  Instead of looking forward to seeing my sister and her husband and my gorgeous niece this weekend to celebrate CJ’s third birthday, I think about the birthday party.  I plan to avoid it – thinking we can borrow a car and escape for a few hours.  It’s not so much the thought of a dozen or so toddlers running around hyped up on sugar, although that’s enough to put me off.  No, it’s the mothers that scare me.  Either the questions about whether I have children.  Or those looks (you know the ones), from the women who are “in the mother’s  club” to one who isn’t.

That question has the power to hurt out of all proportion. The memories.  The feelings I’ve largely dismissed on a day-to-day basis.  That question has a direct line to the tender bits deep inside.


  1. I think we can all agree that question will forever hurt us...

  2. I was wondering the other day, if that question would ever stop bothering me? Because someone asks it at least twice a week at work.
    I've learned that a simple, "No." seems to work best in reply. But always want to say, "F-off! Do you really think that's a polite way to start a conversation? Asking me about my reproductive status???"

  3. I always want to say when asked that question "yes, but none living" but I always chicken out.

  4. It's so hard living in a society in which we learn to ask basic questions as a way of being polite, making conversation, but ultimately they are so fraught with baggage: Are you married? Do you have kids? What do you do for a living? We think we are being friendly by asking. We need to figure out new ways to be with new people.

  5. This is such a wonderful blog, Mali -- thank you for sharing it with us! I know I've slipped and asked the question when it was hurtful. I didn't know it would be when I asked, but could almost feel the other woman cringing as the words came out of my mouth. If I could have pulled back the words, I would have. The painful questions aren't limited to the topic of children either. A dear friend died of pancreatic cancer recently. His wife said she got so she showed up late to meetings and gatherings and left a few minutes early so she wouldn't have to deal with "How are you?" She said that hearing "It's good to see you today" was just as friendly, and didn't hurt quite as much.

    Jan, in Portland

  6. Yes, I also hate that question. My standard answer is "no, but I have a dog". The answers to that vary, and the conversation does not always end well, but at least I don't have to explain anything.

    It was very stressful when my old dog died. I'm happy to have a suitable substitute now.

  7. agreed--fear of the question is almost worse. my answer is, no i'm having too much fun to be bothered with little things like kids. it's not true, but makes me feel better for a moment as i attempt to embrace my non parenthood place.

    btw--if you do the blog award thing, i gave you one over at my blog :)

  8. Yes, I agree, the question is one that hurts, beyond all reasonable proportion. I usually just say no, no we don't and turn the conversation back on them. It doesn't hurt any less, but it probably doesn't bring an abrupt end to the conversation either.

    I recently started a new job and now that people I know me a little I can sense them wondering why we don't have kids. None of them have asked, thank goodness, but there are the mothers and the non-mothers, in a certain age group. Especially at this time of year, when 99% of the office has been deserted because all the parents have school holidays to deal with.

    Wishing you a happy Easter and ICLW.