It’s an incredibly invasive question, and whether you plan to have kids or not, chances are you’ve been asked it before. We’re talking about the dreaded “So, when are you having kids?” question. Asked by well-meaning friends and mothers-in-law alike, this rude conversation starter is often made without much thought behind it: The asker likely isn’t considering that a) You are trying and aren’t having any luck, b) You might not be able to have kids for medical reasons, c) You simply don’t want children or d) It’s none of their damn business.
But, we’re sorry to say, none of the above will occur to the busybodies you’ll inevitably come across. To help guide you through this question with grace, we teamed up with therapist Irina Firstein for some insight behind the pesky inquisition and some smart things to say in response when you’d otherwise be lost for words—or left with only a choice few. Deep breaths (and the points below), girl.
“When are you having kids?” Here’s why people feel entitled to ask.
While the only people who need to be privy to your reproductive plan are you, your partner and your doctor, others somehow seem to believe that this very personal part of your life should be part of theirs too. It’s frustrating, but it generally comes from two tracks of thinking: genuine interest in your life or nosiness.
But there are also plenty of people from certain generations who may not understand that this can be a super stressful question to ask. For them, asking when you plan on having kids is akin to inquiring about your holiday travel plans. What they might not understand too is that today—among millennials in particular—people are choosing not to have kids at a staggering rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. birthrate is currently at its lowest point in 32 years because of factors like cost and not having enough paid family leave available to them from work.
Some people in the nosy camp, however, “are often insensitive,” Firstein tells us. “It is actually mind-boggling that, with the amount of infertility going on around us, people still feel like they can ask questions like this.” The only ones, she says, who fall into the first category (those with authentic interest and love) and have a leg to stand on when posing the baby question are your siblings, parents and very best friends.
What if the answer is that you can’t have kids?
“To be honest, I think you can say, ‘This is a very personal matter for us, and it’s really none of your business,’” says Firstein. “But if you want to be polite, you can say a quick ‘We’re working on it’ or ‘We’re having some difficulties’ and steer the conversation away from the topic. You don’t owe anyone details or explanation for this.”
Your Partner’s College Friend: So when are you guys having kids? Clock’s ticking, right?!
You: Yep, we’re working on it. Have you seen the new Little Women? We did last week and loved it!
When it’s your parents who are prying
The best thing to tell your parents and in-laws who are beginning to ask when you’ll be starting a family every single time you see them? The truth. There’s no sense in tiptoeing around the subject if you know for sure that children are just not in the cards for you and your spouse. It will only prolong the awkward question-asking-and-dodging dance you’re currently performing and unfairly get their hopes up that it’s a possibility when you know it’s not. The convo might look like this:
Mom: I don’t understand why you two haven’t mentioned kids yet. You’ve been married for three years already.
You: We’ve thought and talked about it a lot and decided that children just aren’t for us. We’re both very focused on our work and we love our careers and want to spend the free time that we do have traveling the world. We hope you’ll understand and support our decision.
“Not everyone wants to or should want to have kids,” says Firstein. “I think it’s totally fine to tell your parents or in-laws that you don’t want to have children and that you have different plans for your life, but it’s best to be honest with them. You may want to explain further, depending on how close you are, but this is your choice.”
Why is it still so bizarre to not want kids anyway?
If you’re not having children because you don’t actually want them (gasp!), that’s totally your business and your right as an autonomous person. Unfortunately, some people out there still have not caught up with this fact and will push against you and your decision because procreating has been ingrained in us as a species, Firstein explains.
“Not wanting to have children is still uncommon because we are raised and programmed to reproduce,” says Firstein. “It is part of the survival of our species, and that’s a powerful idea. We are hardwired to continue our genetic lineage, which gives many of us an idea of immortality. A lot of people are also raised to feel like it’s selfish to not want to have kids and just live for ourselves instead.”
If you have a hunch this is why you’re being probed, you can refer to this script:
Gossipy Cousin: Don’t you think it’s pretty selfish to not carry on your family line by refusing to have babies?
You: For us, it would be more selfish to have a baby we might not want and end up being sub-par parents than it is to not have kids at all.
Avoid confrontation (if you want to)
When all else fails—whether the conversation turns into a debate between you and your parents or you and your and Great-Aunt Susan—simply smile, nod and change the subject to make your point. If literally walking away is what it takes to put an end to the uncomfortable exchange, that might be your best option. If that’s too abrupt for you, try this script at the next family party:
Nosy Aunt: So, now that your cousin has had her third, when are you giving your parents a grandchild? I know your mother would be thrilled.
You: I’m so excited for Emma and Steve! And you just reminded me that I haven’t sent them a gift yet! I’ll be right back. (Don’t go back).
Remember that “you really don’t have to respond to these questions at all,” according to Firstein. And that “there is no reason to argue the point unless you want to. You do not have to convince anyone that you know what you are talking about.” It’s your life and your body.