I was recently interviewed for an article in womansday on what not to say to the childfree. Writer Charlotte Lavala asked me about "cringe-worthy" things women can say to their childfree woman friends. I gave her a boatload of ideas, and a couple landed in the article. Here is more of what I told her:
1. Asking, "Is/Are your ______ ok with you not wanting kids?" Fill in "husband" or "parents" or "grandparents".
Why is this cringe-worthy? Because it can assume that the person asking thinks she and her husband have not come to a mutual decision on this, and that if not, she is "depriving" him of something he must automatically want. It also can assume that one needs to take into consideration what Others want with regards to this decision, which is a very personal one, and should not be influenced by the desires of others (what they want for us--for their own reasons!). What would be a better thing to say? Nothing--until your friend brings it (meaning others' feelings about her childfree choice) up first.
2. Commenting something like, "It must be nice that you have the time to _________ (focus on each other if in relationship, really focus on your career, hobbies, etc.)."
Why is this cringe-worthy? It assumes the childfree have all kinds of "free" time! It is a myth that just because we don't have kids means we have more "time" -- many childfree are just as busy as parents...the time spent is just spent in different ways. It also implies parents don't have the time to do the kinds of things in the question, which can create subtle pressure to feel sorry for them. What's a better, more positive comment? How about simply How are you and X doing or How's the job these days? Or What's happening with the x project (a hobby etc) --In other words, what you would ask anyway to get caught up on the person's life!
3. If they have pets, asking, "How are your babies doing?"
Why can this be cringe-worthy? It assumes the childfree think their pets are like having a baby. The assumption under that: They really do want a baby, but just haven't reached the point in their adult development that they are ready to have a baby-baby! To this assumption the word is Not. Sure, ask about pets, just not using the word "baby" or "babies" as synonymous with them!
4. Commenting that, "You wouldn't understand..."
Why can this be experienced as cringe-worthy? When it comes to parenting challenges, the childfree must not know anything about parenting or children. We were once children ourselves, have parents, and many childfree work with kids in their professions, etc. That we don't know anything about parenting is one of the many stereotypes out there about the childfree.
5. Any comment insinuating, "You'll change your mind."
Why is this cringe-worthy? It assumes that the the friend thinks her childfree friend "will" want a child, but she just doesn't know it yet--that we somehow don't really know what we want...and that our friends know more about what we really want than we do! It is an arrogant assumption to somehow think parents and would-be parents know the childfree better than they know themselves.
You see I am using the word "assume" a lot. This is because the assumptions made about the childfree so often influence how questions are cast which can hit a childfree person the wrong way. To avoid this, make no assumptions, and always come from the position that your childfree friend has just made a different lifestyle choice, and no matter how different your lives may look you love her and are committed to the friendship.
This advice goes both ways.... As does this: To keep a childfree-parent friendship strong, always show genuine interest and curiosity about your friend and what she is up to, and what is important right now in her life.
What are other comments or questions that can be experienced as cringe-worthy?
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