31 August, 2012

The art of conversation

Klara had an interesting post about feeling ignored because she didn’t have children.  It’s something those of us who live a no kidding life have all experienced this at some time or other.  We find ourselves ignored, as people fawn over those with children, engaging in animated conversations about ages, school, etc, obviously finding an easy, common bond. 

I remember being at a friend’s house for the Naming Day of her children.  My husband and I were chatting with another couple who didn’t have kids.  Our mutual no kidding state wasn’t why we were chatting – they were just the only other couple there we had met before, we liked them, and we managed to find things to talk about.  Then another guy arrived, someone we’d also met before – my husband had actually been to school with him – but didn’t know especially well.  He was welcomed into the conversation, with the opener “so what have you been up to lately?”  He started listing off all the things he was doing with his children, adding in comments like "you know how it is with kids." We all looked at him.  He tailed off,  muttered an excuse, and vanished.  Presumably to find some parents to talk about car-pooling and soccer and homework..  It was the most blatant example I've encountered of someone who had lost all powers of conversation.  Actually, now I can look back and laugh at his discomfort.  But I remember, at the time, feeling quite insulted that he didn’t even bother to stay and talk to us about anything else.  Sadly, once the topic of children is off the table, many people really can’t talk about much else.

This is understandable I guess.  Their heads are full of the lives and their kids, with no room or time or inclination (I think that inclination is an important factor in this) to consider other issues.  And so they have nothing else to talk about.  In the same way that part of my extended family (uncles, aunts, cousins) cannot in any way relate to my life.  They’re mostly hard-working rural people, and then there’s me  – no kids, lived overseas when I was 17, then again later, university educated, travelled extensively for business and for pleasure, live in the big smoke, etc.  They struggle to find a common point of reference, and always have. I understand that.  If I’d had kids, that would have been an easy bonding point, a common point of reference. 

But you know, I wonder how that would have made me feel?  I’ve never enjoyed stereotyping, and always wanted to be seen for who I am.  I’ve always been offended if I’ve been ignored because I’m a woman, or if assumptions have been made that I think a particular way because I’m a woman.  (Yes, I do think more like a woman, but it doesn’t mean I can’t understand maths either, or don't want to be independent!)  Yes, I acknowledge that if I had been a mother that would be part of who I am, and an important part.  But I always felt it would still only be a part of me, that motherhood wouldn’t define me in the same way that infertility doesn’t define me now.  I’m more than that, broader and deeper.  And so if this friend of a friend, or my relatives, felt more able to talk to me because I had kids, it wouldn’t actually change anything other than a brief conversation.  They still wouldn’t be able to talk to me about my life, to learn about me, to find the wonderful person they’re missing out on!  They still wouldn’t know me.  And that's their loss.


  1. dear Mali,
    thank you for a beautiful post.

    I hate hate words: "you know how it is with kids". Some of my coworkers use them constantly. Needless to say I never go out for a lunch with any of them :)

    I laughed when I imagined the man who said that and then tailed off & vanished.

    Good bye for now... I have to to to work... wishing you a nice evening & sweet dreams!

  2. Just read both your posts (yours and Klara's). I do think that often when people that don't know each other are mingling or when people see each other again after a long time, they talk about their kids because they really have nothing else to say to each other. Work might not be too exciting, politics and religion might be dangerous topics... so kids.

  3. This is almost exactly how I met/got to know my scuba diving buddy. he would always talk work with my partner, and they both seemed to enjoy that and I let them. Then one evening we had some BBQ problem , my partner disappeared for 15 minutes to solve it, leaving us to find common ground. I was unemployed, so talking work was not an option. Neither of us had kids and for a bit we struggled. Then I noticed his watch, and we got to talk scuba. We have been on three diving trips since :-)

  4. Such an interesting topic as last weekend, a distant Aunt/Uncle (without children not by choice) were in town. I think they are amazing people, and take amazing trips, have a lovely dog, with some more recent health problems.

    Anyhow, my husband's family emailed us to see about a dinner. I thought - terrific - a dinner with them, us and parents...certainly the conversation will be good. Several days went by to find out the children with kids were invited - ugh.

    The dinner went as usual - with the families with children dominating the conversation and talking about their families. I don't think once I heard any of them ask the aunt/uncle anything. A few times, we got some words in with them...but the whole thing made me disappointed once again.

    This aunt/uncle moved accross the country years ago when their infertility was born. I do often wonder if we will follow in their footsteps - making that physical separation so we don't have to endure the isolating conversations so much.

    I suppose I find it easier to tolerate with people that I don't know...or people I don't know well. But when it happens with what is suppose to be close family - ugh.

  5. Loved this post. I find that I try and avoid functions where there will be lots of parents - especially girls night out. When I have gone out with the girls - all they talk about is kids and husband bashing. I mean..your getting away from the kids for the night - wouldn't the point of that is to forget about them for a night and have fun with the girls? It usually ends up with me leaving depressed so I no longer go.

  6. How timely. A bunch of family came over from my country of origin. It was great to see them, but highlighted the fact that they have no interest in my or my husband as people and their lives are defined by their children and grandchildren. And..I have thought lately that we can just go anywhere and do anything as the only life others may feel they miss out is centred on kids, which we don't have. There seems to be something both liberating and upsetting in that. Thank you both for writing about this.

  7. I've given some thought on this topic and despite the fact that lots of Indo people are nosy, but I think they've been taught that small talk is very valuable there (I actually believe it's considered a positive thing over there if someone excels in making small talks), so even though we have no kids, whenever I come back home to Indo, my relatives (most of them do have kids and grandkids) do engage me in conversations about different topics.

    So I think in my case, I've been hurt more by what I've heard people say than being ignored due to my situation.

    Anyway, I agree with you that it's THEIR loss if they don't even make the effort to get to know you.

  8. How rude! Yep, its awkward isn't it, its like there's no awareness, no forward thinking, nothing outside that space other than their sphere? Then again, I have wondered, if I were at home and parenting 24/7, what else would I know about and have to talk about, other than my kids? (not making excuses for them, just trying to look at the reasons why). (Like being on an ivf cycle, its all I seem to blog about! Kinda the same - all encompassing).

    Yes, there's people I can think of right now, I honestly think that the presence of certain kids are the best thing they have going on, so thats what dominates the conversation. I can't honestly believe that they believe this is all we want to hear about, especially when they know whats going on in our lives, but more that they have little else which gives them that 'yay' factor.

  9. Are we related, Mali?? ; ) I could have written most of this post, right down to the relatives. (One of my farmer-uncles told my dad it was a waste of moeny to send my sister & me to university, since we would just get married & have babies anyway. Ugh.)(For the record, between the two of us, 1 marriage, 0 (living) babies.)

    You have been on a roll lately with some really great posts!! : )

  10. I have found that in the last several years I have been seperating myself from extended family. They have no interest in my life since we don't have the common thread of children to talk about, and since they are not interested in me I can't put myself out there again and again to just be rejected. Family relations are a weird thing.