I’ve been thinking about ways of dealing with the inability of (some) parents to talk about anything other than their children, and would love you to share any ideas or success stories of your own. I am tired though of always being the thoughtful ones, the ones who do all the emotional work in having conversations with parents, because we’re worried about being rude if we actually try to point out – either bluntly or through hints as below – how unfairly (and frankly, rudely) we are treated when we answer, “no” to that inevitable question.
There is of course the possibility of making a pre-emptive strike, responding, “before I answer, I want to check you’re not going to walk away if I say that I don’t have children,” and then tell them a funny story about this actually happening – if they actually walk away after that, then they truly have a problem!
Another pre-emptive response (similar to the one above, or perhaps the next step in the conversation) is to diplomatically ask them about how they feel about those parents who lose all their conversational abilities and interest in others when they have children. I personally know many mothers who roll their eyes at always being asked about their kids, rather than their work or travel or what movies they’ve seen recently or the weather or current events, etc, and would respond very positively to this.
As soon as possible, ask them questions about their lives (other than their children), showing you’re interested in them rather than just their status as parents, whether it’s house renovations or what grows (or doesn’t) in their garden, what sports they follow, where they grew up, etc. People love talking about themselves, and should respond positively to you, perhaps not even noticing they’re not talking about their kids for once.
If they’ve opened the conversation asking about children, then it's easy to ask about their kids, demonstrating in the nicest possible way that it is perfectly possible to have a pleasant conversation about children without actually having children.