I recently ventured into a locally owned toy store to purchase a baby shower gift for a friend. Because of the dominance of big box stores, these types of establishments are becoming increasingly rare, so it’s always a refreshing experience to shop there.
Anyway, as I waited in line, the owner of the store was checking out another customer. The customer asked the owner if he had any children himself. When he replied that he did not, the customer seemed very perplexed. He then proceeded to make several comments expressing surprise and disbelief over this very personal aspect of the owner’s life.
When it was my turn, I lightly suggested that perhaps that customer was crossing some boundaries. Seeming relieved that I understood, the owner expressed that he experiences this inquisition about his lack of children all the time. He explained that he understood people’s interest because of the nature of his business, but he is always surprised at how some people seem distressed over the fact that someone doesn’t have children. He said he’s even had people ask him why he hasn’t adopted, as though he must be ignorant of it as an option.
I concurred that even at the young age of 25, and especially because I’m recently married, people ask me fairly regularly about my plans or lack thereof to have children. To be honest, I started getting this question five years ago! We both appreciated the opportunity to commiserate about this strange social habit some people develop; the need to inquire and comment about such a personal aspect of someone’s life.
For those who struggle with infertility or who can’t afford the economic burden of children, this subject is understandably sensitive. This should be reason enough for people to know better than to ask people such a personal question. However, if you’re like me, and are honestly unsure if you even want children, this seems to throw people off even more. Besides the fact that it’s no one else’s business, I’ve had people react as though they were offended that I didn’t want to be a mother.
When this has occurred, it came from people who are parents themselves. Now, there is nothing wrong with being a proud parent. Everyone thinks their kids are the greatest, and generally, we non-parents don’t mind listening to a story or two or looking at a photo every once in awhile. It’s all about moderation. However, I think the adverse reaction from parents toward those who decide not to procreate stems from a fundamental insecurity about their own choices.
If you can’t relate to why someone doesn’t want children, I suppose that’s one thing. It’s quite another to express to that person that you don’t understand their decision. This is a paraphrased version of some of the more frustrating comments I’ve received: “Kids are great. My life never really had meaning until I had children.” This implies, of course, that if you’re childless, your life has inherently less meaning and purpose. That’s a premise I wholeheartedly reject. Now, perhaps these parents don’t intend to make you feel this way, but their need to persuade you into having children indicates a deeper issue. I suppose if I express that I don’t want children, it forces them to question why they did, and they perceive my choices as antagonistic to a huge part of their life. Even though, of course, my choices have zero effect on them.
The reality is that everyone should be secure about their choices. If you want to have children, there’s obviously nothing wrong with that. And conversely, if you don’t, you shouldn’t criticize parents or feel the need to explain yourself to them. After having these encounters, I became self-conscious for awhile at the thought of having to explain myself. I’ve since gained more confidence, and understand that their questions and disbelief are rooted in their own issues.
I’m very open to the fact that I might change my mind. This of course all depends on my future economic stability and fertility. Either way, I know that whatever someone else’s perception or judgment of my choices might be, it will have no bearing on what my husband and I decide to do.