How do we cope when our friends or family or colleagues do nothing but talk about their children or grandchildren? Even if we discuss something else, is this always where their conversations end up? Can we deal with that or not? I mean, conversations ebb and flow naturally. Some topics might be more relevant to us, and others might not be. But what do we do when the conversations always turn to the subject that excludes us? Do we have to just grin and bear it?
I’m going to start by saying I am lucky with most of my friends. There might be brief conversations about their kids or grandkids (though in the last few years, it has been more about ageing parents than adult kids), but ultimately, when we get together, there are other topics that dominate. We’d all always rather talk about work or books or movies or plays or politics or food/restaurants or movies or, best of all, travel! Even when I’m the minority (I have one particular group of friends that comprises three other women – with kids and (for two of them) grandkids – and me, without either), the conversation never dwells on the kids/grandkid issue. Other friends, who get together less often, are the same. I think it is simply a result of the interesting people who are my friends, rather than the fact that they are being especially considerate of me! They know I’m happy to talk about their kids, and if they don’t mention them, I will usually ask after them. But they don’t want to sit their and only talk about their kids. None of them want to be defined only as mothers or grandmothers. My hope is that you can all find at least one or two friends like that.
However, whilst I’m happy to sit and talk to friends about their kids/grandkids, it isn’t always the same in reverse. One on one, I don’t have a problem with most of my friends. We talk about my life without kids from time to time. But in groups, I’ve found that my particular No Kidding point of view gets shut down. At the very least, it has stopped conversation, and obviously made people uncomfortable. I’m not complaining about my life, either. Even though they’re free to complain about having kids/not seeing grandkids, etc. I’m just mentioning the reality of my life sometimes. They know me. They know my life. Why should that make them uncomfortable? It’s frustrating. But thankfully it is rare.
I have a few rules for when I’m talking with
others. I don't always stick to them. But they're my baseline.
- If people are talking about kids, then I
get to have an opinion too. I’m not going to criticise
them as a parent (I don’t have a death wish! Lol), but I might have examples of
other points of view, whether it is from observing friends and their kids, or
experience with nieces and nephews, or my own experience as a child. Just
because they’re talking about kids, doesn’t mean I have to sit the topic out. I’m
there, I’m part of the group, I’m damn well going to be part of the
- If my input is consistently ignored or not welcome, then maybe I
need to say something, or ask for change or consideration. Perhaps I’d throw it in lightly, in a jokey
tone, along the lines of, “okay, enough conversation about your kids, let’s
talk about the big wide world that’s out there waiting for them.” Perhaps on a
more serious note, I’d point out (to one individually or to them all as a
group) that they’re isolating me by always talking about their kids, and that
they don’t seem to be interested in my life, or my participation in the group. I’d
do it only when I feel strong, and when I’m prepared for the consequences. I’d
like to add that I’d do it when I feel safe, but if friends are behaving that
way, maybe I would never feel safe with them? And I’d do it tactfully, and avoid
being overly aggressive or passive-aggressive. Fading away, or continuing to seethe,
wouldn’t really work for me.
After all, maybe they don’t even realise what they are doing, and how that makes us feel. Maybe they’ll make more of an effort. It’s possible. So perhaps it is worth the risk. Because of course, I know that speaking up is risky. We could be further isolated. Friends might start getting together without us, so that they can talk freely about their kids. That doesn’t make them very good friends, if you ask me. But our friends are our friends, and it can be hard to risk that. Still, it can be just as hard being in a group of friends who ignore our situation, who isolate us by constantly choosing topics of discussion that exclude us, and who, as a result, do tremendous damage to our feelings of comfort, self-worth, and safety amongst people who are supposed to love us.
- We ALL get to talk about our lives. If they get to talk about being parents, then I
get to talk about being a non-parent. It is not a taboo subject! It’s
also not a tit-for-tat situation. I won’t respond immediately to a story about
their kids with my opposite situation. That’s not necessary. It just means that
if I find I want to join a conversation, and my perspective includes a comment
on not having kids – maybe I’m thinking about preparing for my old age, for
example, or my environmental footprint – I can and will raise it as an issue. As I said above, I don’t
need or want pity, and I’m not complaining. I’m just talking about my life.
- I choose what I want to say. I’m not going to be shamed for my decisions, or goaded into saying more than I want to, just as I shouldn’t be shamed into silence. I therefore feel free to change the subject, or to let them see that invasive questions might be inappropriate.