Welcome back to Parental Advisory, where I answer all of your social media and IRL parenting etiquette questions. This week, let’s talk about presumptuous family members at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
I’m recently married, and I’m already dreading my relatives asking me when I’m going to get pregnant while we’re all together for Thanksgiving. Before I was even engaged, I had to field questions from my family every time we got together, but now that I’m married, the questions seem even more incessant. It feels like I can’t even comment on my cousin’s pictures of her kids on Facebook without one of my family members chiming in and making some remark about how I’m next, and I definitely can’t be in a room with multiple relatives without someone bringing up my current “childless” status. My husband and I are pretty sure we want to have kids, but we know we don’t want them yet. How can I tell my family that I need them to back off without seeming rude? I’m trying to avoid an argument, but the more they ask, the more offended and annoyed I get.
Wait a second, you’re married and aren’t focusing 100 percent of your energy on making a baby? Jeez, K., how selfish can you be? You should already know, based on every parent under the sun telling you so, that you can’t understand love or the human condition or your purpose on this Earth until you have a child, and yet… you’re stalling. I wonder why that could be?
I’m kidding, of course. And I’m sorry you’re dealing with this and I feel offended on your behalf, K. If there’s one thing that I’ve heard over and over again, it’s how frustrated people who don’t have kids feel when they’re bombarded with questions about babies from their relatives. Yes, it’s annoying (and inappropriate) when your boss asks or your neighbors or your Facebook friends who you haven’t seen since high school (I can’t count the number of old high school friends I’ve seen sidling up to other high school friends just because they suddenly have parenthood in common) — but it’s actually hurtful when your relatives are the ones pummeling you with needless and at times uncomfortable questions about procreating. Having a baby isn’t a decision that I’m guessing your relatives want you to make hastily, and yet they act like your top priority should be to get pregnant simply because you chose to get married. It can leave some people — especially women — feeling like they’re not good enough for their relatives if they’re not contributing new humans to the family. Instead of just bringing mashed potatoes to Thanksgiving, you were supposed to bring a baby bump.
But babies are expensive and require a large time commitment (at least 18 years from what I’ve heard), so why do so many of our peers and family members act so casual about raising a kid? Not to mention, conceiving a baby isn’t always as easy as it’s “supposed” to be, which is highly personal. Something tells me your 80-plus-year-old grandmother doesn’t really want to get an earful about prenatal vitamins, semen counts, ovulation cycles and/or miscarriages when she’s prodding you about getting pregnant in the same breath that she’s asking you to pass the candied yams. I know when my 95-year-old grandmother asks me why I’m waiting to have a baby, she’s not prepared to hear any real answers and is instead just making conversation. (Note: Making conversation with my grandmother often means getting slightly berated, but in a loving way! Or so my cousins and I tell ourselves.) What my grandmother, and most nosy aunts, want to hear is that you’re thinking about having a baby soon, going to start trying soon or something else along those lines. So do what I do and tell them what they want to hear.
It’s a compromise that some may not be willing to make, and if you are one of those people, I don’t blame you. If you would rather look whoever it is in the eye and say, “I’m so tired of being asked this question. When and if we decide to have a baby, you’ll be among the first to know, but until then, please just stop asking,” then by all means, do that. People should know that the question can stir up a lot of mixed feelings and isn’t necessarily as casual a conversation topic as they think it is. I am fully onboard with laying down the law, being genuine and perhaps educating people on why they shouldn’t ask when you’re having a baby (or baby No. 2), because I believe everyone should be aware of the impact of their words. But something I’ve figured out is that for those people who do ask their friends, relatives, coworkers and/or neighbors about future babies, a lesson in etiquette might be useless or have deleterious effects. It’s possible you’ll get labeled “overly sensitive” or treated like a baby-hater, which may wind up requiring further defense. My feeling is, rather than defend yourself against relatives who are chitchatting about your empty uterus as nonchalantly as they might a new Pixar movie, just give them an inch and tell them a few white lies if you have to.
Typically, I let my body language fill in the blanks. You can raise your eyebrows in silent judgment before replying to your annoying sister-in-law that you’ve discussed the topic of babies but have no formal timeline, and she may get the hint. You can laugh uproariously at your uncle’s rude remark that you’re “getting old” and tell him that we’re all getting old. You can shoot daggers from your eyes if your mother says, for the umpteenth time, that she read somewhere that women’s ovaries start drying up at the exact same age you are right now, and you can tell her, for the umpteenth time, that you and your husband are focusing on your careers right now. Whatever you decide to do and however you decide to fend off the meddlesome masses, just remember that no one asks when/if you’re having a baby to be malicious. Clueless as our relatives may be about these things, they usually mean well, and especially on a day like Thanksgiving, it’s important to focus on what we’re grateful for versus what we could do without. No one has the right to prod you about your body or your plans, but you can choose how to handle their questions before the holiday gets underway. And don’t forget the best perk of not being pregnant around the holidays: Consumption of alcohol. Bring a bottle of wine or three, and let the heavy pours begin.
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