Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Advice Q&A: How to Answer "Why Don't You Have Children?"

Last week, Singletude reader Ami was in search of memorable replies to singlist questions. With the help of other readers, Singletude offered some possible answers to one of those questions in "Advice Q&A: How to Answer "Why Are You Single?" Suggested replies ranged from informative to tactful to (hopefully) funny. (If you have other ideas, it's not too late to add them to the comments!)

Ami also asked about how to answer those folks who think just because they know, courtesy of Twitter, what half the world is planning for the weekend, they also have the right to know what you're planning for your womb (or someone else's womb if you're a guy).

Q: The following are questions people ask me frequently. I would love to have some better, newer answers. Any and all suggestions appreciated.

2. "Do you have children?" I used to say a simple "no" and leave it at that. But, I adore children, and I sensed some parents were a bit offended. Lately I say, "No, I just have doggie-kids. I love my dogs. I have lots of nieces and nephews, though. I just love being an aunt." Or, if I know the person is single and childless, I simply say no. That one isn't too bad. But parents tend to ask part two of that question, which is...

3. "Why don't you have any children?" This is rude and offensive. It puts me on the defense, and I'm not sure why. I have never desired to have children. I did try to conceive for two years at the beginning of my marriage because my ex-husband talked me into it. I am looking for polite answers, vague answers, and especially witty, sarcastic answers. =) I need a good answer for the different types of askers. For many, I don't mind shaming them a tiny bit for asking. My goal is that they take a hint and don't ask the next single girl. Better yet, ask a man my age.

A: It's understandable that this question makes you feel defensive. Asking why you don't have something implies that you should have it, that you are not the norm if you don't. That is rude and offensive. Beyond this judgmental implication, the question is also impolite because the decision to have children is such a private one. Finally, magnifying the insensitivity to the nth degree, this question rubs salt in the big, gaping wound of anyone who wants kids but, for one reason or another, can't have them.

As with questions about why you're single, the question of why you're child-free presents an opportunity to broaden your interrogator's mind and help him or her understand that parenting is not for everyone. Just like married couples who don't get why some singles wouldn't want to have the pleasure of living on top of someone else 24/7, some parents can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to wipe snotty little noses and drooly little mouths as a prelude to morning coffee. Or, worse, they equate this lack of interest with a fatal character flaw like selfishness, egotism, intolerance, or--the very worst of all--an irrational hatred of cute, cuddly poo factories.

Seriously, though, there are plenty of singles who like kids just fine but don't want to raise them or simply don't want to raise them alone. That's a valid reason not to have a baby and one that other people should be expected to accept. As you noticed, though, sometimes parents bristle because they misinterpret a choice not to parent as a judgment on them for choosing parenthood or even a judgment on their children. So, if you want to explain your decision to a parent, it's good to phrase it in a diplomatic way that makes it clear you're not condemning their lifestyle. For example, you might say, "I love kids and spoil my nieces and nephews rotten, but I don't have any myself. I admire people who take on that commitment. It's such an important job. But I've always felt driven to dedicate myself to (fill in the blank with some of the pursuits you love). I believe that's the best way I can give of myself."

However, questions about your childbearing plans, even more than questions about your marital status, are highly personal, and you certainly don't owe anyone an answer, no matter how innocent their intentions. On the contrary, since this line of questioning can be embarrassing and even painful, it makes sense if you'd rather discourage it entirely. So...bring on the one-liners!

Significantly, I think, a Google search revealed few sources that address how a single woman might answer "Why don't you have kids?" So, some of the following web pages were intended for infertile or childless couples. Nevertheless, most of the responses are adaptable and span the gamut from, as you said, polite to vague to witty and sarcastic. Feel free to look them over:

"Great Comebacks for Questions and Criticisms for Not Wanting Kids"
"How Do I Answer the Following 'Rude' Questions?"
"No Kids? There's Gotta Be a Snappy Comeback"
"When Are You Going to Have Kids?"

Some other comebacks I've heard or thought of over the years:

"That's not what life had in store for me."
"Some people don't. Guess I'm one of them."
"I used to ask myself that question. Now I know the answer. I made the best choice for me."
"I wanted to save them from a lifetime of therapy."
"My therapist tells me I should kick the drug habit first."
"Because I wouldn't force my worst enemy to relive my adolescence, much less my own child."
"I can't even feed myself three square meals a day!"
"I used up my maternal instinct on my dogs/cats."
"I don't? Oh, no! I must've left them at the mall/the doctor's/McDonald's/etc.
"Kids? What a great idea! I'll pencil that in between my hour-long commute and 10-hour workday...or before my Wednesday night class...or after my weekly co-op board meeting...or maybe on Saturdays after the soup kitchen."
"As you can see, mom jeans just aren't 'me.'"
"I consider it my own contribution to carbon reduction."
"Because I really like sex."
"Because I know how to use birth control responsibly."
"Because I don't believe in 'accidents.'"
"Why, are you volunteering free childcare?"
"Why don't you ask my ex?"
"I did." (meaningful silence)
"Not everyone has that option."
"Because I've been waiting to see how yours turned out first!"

When we return to "Singletude Q&A," we'll brainstorm some more creative answers to matrimaniacal questions, so keep your thinking caps on!

If you're a child-free single and feel comfortable sharing, do you hope to be a parent someday? If you're child-free by choice, how did you reach the decision not to have kids? How would you advise Ami to answer people who ask, "Why don't you have children?" Can you think of any witty one-liners?

Fun Link of the Day

Do you have a question for Clever Elsie about some aspect of the single life? Have an unpublished rant or rave about singlehood? Write in, and you just might see your question in a "Singletude Q&A" or your rant or rave in a "Singletude Sound-off"! Singletude makes every effort to republish submissions in their original form but reserves the right to edit your submission for length and clarity.

Disclaimer: Clever Elsie is not a licensed mental health professional and does not give professional advice. Her answers are based on experience and what she hopes is more common sense than displayed by her eponymous Grimm Brothers character. She cannot be held legally responsible for your choice to follow her advice, although she thanks you for thinking it clever.

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Jenn said...

I've never actually had someone ask why I don't have kids (not sure if that's because the answer is obvious to anyone who knows me or if I'm just fortunate to have not run into this particular rudeness). But I imagine that I *were* ever asked the question, my response would likely simply be, "EXCUSE me?!?" accompanied by an incredulous "you did NOT just ask me that" look (I've practically got a patent for that one :-)). I simply can't imagine how someone with half a brain could even ask that question - I mean, are there really people who don't grasp what a personal question that is?!? I'd really be tempted to say something like, "Well, I actually just had a miscarriage that has left me unable to ever have kids, thanks for asking." Geez!

Anonymous said...

I love the mom jeans one!

Someone on Onely (is it bad that I'm too lazy to go back and check who?) answered the kids question with, "I tried, but the state kept taking them away."


Special K said...

Gosh...I get this EVERY TWO DAYS! Of course, "why not???" that is such a stupid response! Great points here...I think it is better to figure out why I am STILL defensive...because sometimes I am not, and sometimes I am. It is my reaction that matters.

Shiri said...

I'm young (22) but I've always known since I was a child that I don't want children. Parenthood was just never something that interested me, and never something I pictured myself doing. I get called selfish a lot for it--but I think it's selfish and ridiculous to think that what works for one person should work for everyone.

Coming out of my vagina is not a requisite for me to raise a kid--if I ever decide I want kids, I'll adopt one. But I know I don't ever want to experience childbirth. I'm too young to do it now but if I could, I would gladly get a tubal ligation. There are plenty of children already in the world.

Alan said...

I'm single, child-free, and plan to stay that way.

I'd say,again, the best answer to rude questions is to state that it's really too personal. Long explanations sound too much like apologies, and one-liners can make it sound like you're avoiding the question.

I'd second Shiri's comment, that it's truly selfish to impose your own lifestyle on everyone else.
I'm afraid it's very common for people to attribute negative personality characteristics to those who hold to different beliefs/practices.

What I've found is that once you have confidence in your ability to make decisions, you'll worry less about other people's judgements on those decisions.

Filipina Girl said...

For me I got offended when someone asked me if why don't I have any children or why am I still single. When they asked me something like this I will tell them that I am happy being single. No more further explanations like I owe them one.

Clever Elsie said...

Jenn: I'm surprised over and over by what people really don't grasp as personal. This story has nothing to do with singleness, but I consider it a good one: Once upon a time, I did a stint as a legal secretary. During the brief time I was there, one of the lawyers managed to ask me everything from what my political and religious beliefs were to how I arranged my sock drawer! One day I called in late due to illness, and when I arrived, he started pestering me with questions about what was wrong and if it happened often like he thought he was my GP! I truly was on the verge of saying, "I have uterine fibroids, and they're causing heavy vaginal bleeding" just to get him to shut up! It wouldn't have been the truth, but it would have been so satisfying to see the look on his face!

Christina: That's a good one, too!

Special K: When I first read your comment, I wondered why people, erm, singled you out for that question all the time. Then I remembered that you work with kids! Perhaps these people are asking because they see how good you are with children and think they're giving you a compliment. Anyway, I like what you said about how much more productive it is to concentrate on our own responses. After all, we can't control what other people say, only how we react, and our instinctive reactions can give us a lot of insight into ourselves.

Shiri: Hi! Welcome to Singletude! I think it's really admirable that you've thought this through at such a young age! The conscious decision not to contribute to overpopulation or have children you don't really want is one of the most selfless decisions a person can make, and I hope you won't let any comments to the contrary bring you down.

Alan: You bring up a very good point about confidence in our own decision-making abilities. It sort of ties in with what Special K said about focusing on our own reactions rather than someone else's comments. It's wonderful when you reach a place where you're comfortable enough with yourself to truly not care what anyone else thinks of your choices. And good for you for not letting anyone pressure you into feeling like you owe them personal information!

Filipina Girl: Hi! Thanks for stopping by at Singletude! This is usually my approach, too. I just say I'm happily single and move on to the next topic, leaving them to infer whatever they want. That's great that you're secure enough to give a simple, direct answer that doesn't bother to justify what shouldn't have to be justified.