THAT question. Do you have kids? There are quite a lot of posts around at the moment where the question of what to say to this question is being mentioned. I know I’ve addressed this before. But I keep seeing the issue come up - and the common thread is that no-one feels comfortable answering this question.
Some people feel it is rude not to answer.
Others feel they want to be "honest" and provide details.
Others feel they need to justify why they don’t have children.
Others don’t want to answer, but just don’t know what to say.
I remember seeing the film of a psychological experiment where someone, in a public place, simply started giving orders to passers-by. The innocent passers-by were remarkably obedient, compliant, submissive even. The conclusion was that obedience – especially to someone who projects authority and the expectation of obedience - is obviously an instinctive response. I wonder if that explains why why we feel we have to answer a question, any question, when we’re asked? Even when we don’t want to? I think this instinct to be obedient, to conform, and not to be rude is especially strong in women. So we’re really in trouble when we’re asked if we have kids, aren’t we? It explains perhaps why we feel we’re being dishonest for not giving out full details of the reasons why we don’t have children.
But, you know, I don’t think that choosing to withhold information is in any way dishonest or rude. Why should we feel that way, especially as sometimes the questions are rude / insensitive /invasive or personal? I think we are simply exercising our right to privacy. I don't choose to bring up that topic. So why should I respond, in any detail or at all? And a lack of response, or a simple answer, isn’t rudeness or dishonesty. A rude response might be “mind your own @%$#*&^ business!” A dishonest response might be a response that simply isn’t true. But a decision not to answer or give details? That’s not rude, or dishonest. It is simply the answer we want to give.
I chose to give a one word answer – No. Depending on who is asking, I may or may not follow up with any details. But usually, my view is that if they don't know me well enough to know I have children, then they don't know me well enough to know any details! So I simply say "No." And when I say it – with a strong tone, with a degree of finality, but always politely – I find I am not asked the inevitable follow-up question “why not?” (And let’s face it, that’s the one we really don’t want to answer!) By not offering more information, by strongly implying that that topic of conversation is a dead end, I find that those asking the question – perhaps responding to their own need to be obedient – move on to another topic too.
I feel strongly that as a community we need to claim our right to respond the way we want to. We shouldn’t feel cowed, or victimised, by questions we don’t want to answer. I hope that we all will one day feel strong enough to choose to answer – or not – as we see fit, and without guilt, or fear, or shame.