29 May, 2017

Taking back control conversationally

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. 


  1. I think people who talk solely about their kids are trapped in a loop similar to those who can only talk about the past, or their hobby (think cars, sports, fishing, etc) or what ever they fixate on. It's actually terribly sad as it shows how under developed they are in life. Too often, these same individuals end up divorced and tend to drive others around them away.

    Looking at it in this light, I don't see a lot of value in calling these people out. They are posed for a fight and their defenses are high. It's not that I'm advocating to continue to subject yourself to this type of torture (it's painful in general, but for infertility survivors who have resolved but are not parenting it's particularly hard), but until they are interested in changing, I think avoidance and minimizing contact is best. Including cutting the conversation short.

  2. I meet a lot of women on a regular basis who either talk about their husband or children.Sometimes, it annoys me. I feel if they don't have any other topic? Isn't this scary that their life consists of just these two topics?

  3. I tend to avoid people who are conversationally limited (once I discover that wee tidbit about them)or if unavoidable, seek to limit my exposure to them.

  4. I think if it is someone you have to be around for personal or business reasons trying to draw them in a different direction is great. If it is someone you don't have to be around-avoid. When my friends with children and I get together we rarely talk about our kids- it is a pretty boring topic to anyone but the parents/ grandparents for the most part. My friends who only talk about their kids I have found I am spending very minimal time with them. It isn't so much I find it obnoxious but I just find it one dimensional and boring. (Ps- I am a stay at home mom and feel this way)

  5. I've noticed that my default action when people talk about their kids is to say "Yeah when I was a kid / when I was that age..." and then say something comparative about what I did/liked/saw at that age. I dunno if this is a defence mechanism or if I'm trying to save my own face because I don't have kids to talk about, but I seem to do it more and more. I'm not suggesting it, I just know it's something I do. But only with people I like. I think on reflection I'm trying to contribute to the conversation because the person's my friend: if I'm honest I do worry sometimes that my good friends think I have no insight into their lives as mothers. If I'm not bothered about the person or it's someone at work I just say something like "Ha, yeah, kids love that don't they (or similar)" and then I literally turn or walk away without much of an explanation. I've been fairly rude at times and I don't even dwell on it.

  6. I am fortunate not to spend a lot of time with people who are conversationally limited, who can only talk about their kids. I find it's hardest when I am the only one without kids at an event made up of moms, because they gravitate towards that subject and feed off of each other because it's a commonality, but I can step in with things about houses or gardens or work or whatever. I guess I'll have to learn what to do in these situations more often... but I LOVE the idea of saying, "are you going to walk away if I say no to that question? Can you believe some people do that?" as a pre-emptive strike. Ha!
    PS-- loved my postcard!

  7. I definitely draw other people out as far as actively engaging in other subjects. This is a good way to direct things to a place that might actually include my life too, the downside is it sometimes puts people more at ease to spew about parenthood. The lack of awareness that parenting is not a respectful conversation topic for everyone is still a problem.

    When I have the energy, I take an interest in other people's children AS PEOPLE. You'd think a parent would appreciate this, but they are usually so expectant of attention towards and validation of themselves as parents it often seems to throw them.

    Like Different Shores, I also refer back to my experiences at whatever given age they are talking about. This is the only reference point of experience I have, what else am I supposed to do? This lets people know I'm able to engage, but as I am, not on their terms.

    These things are not easy as I feel the social expectation is that I will have the same interest, reference points, lack of trauma and world view as those who parent and those who were able to easily have children.

  8. When I have people in my life who can only talk about their kids - I just link it back to my nephews and then work really hard to steer the conversation to things like work or hobbies or pets. Luckily, I only have a few people in my life like that ... and hardly any one asks me why I don't have kids any more.