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Please, please stop asking: “Do you have children?”

Bex Main | June 21st 2017

You’ve just met someone new, at a friend’s house, at the pub, at church. And then they ask the question that you—and many over 30s—dread: “Do you have children?”

Your heart sinks.

There’s an awkard tension and you look at your hands and respond with “No”.

“Oh…” they say.

When you meet a woman for the first time and you want to make conversation, ask us anything—even our shoe size!—just don’t ask us if our uterus is fulfilling its purpose.

It makes us feel all kinds of rubbish.

It’s like asking a single person if they are married, or a bald person if they have cancer. You just don’t do it!

And normally, it’s not even necessary. In my experience those that have children will reveal that to you within the first half hour of meeting them.

Usually it’s coming from a good place but when people ask, “Have you got kids?” I get that. They’re trying to be interested. Yet I feel like the silence that inevitably follows is deafening. I am hugely tempted to say, “Actually I’m barren” just for the kicks, but I haven’t ever had the courage to.

 My not having children is not a fact that should create pitying looks or awkward silences.

But for some women the efforts that they have undergone to try and conceive are lengthy, traumatic and painful. I’m not one of those women, although my age and my marital status mean that kids are now not likely in my future (at 33 I’m not getting any younger!).

I LOVE kids and I love to babysit and hang out with them. I find them wonderful and fascinating little humans. But my life hasn’t steered that course, and for some women it wasn’t even that they had a choice.

But sometimes people can be just plain insensitive. I recall talking to one parent who had three children and was struggling with sleep deprivation. He said to me, “Just you wait, you’ll have it all to deal with one day!” Wow, thanks… great way to encourage a sister in Christ…

For him it was a throw-away comment. But it made my heart sink.

But the thing is, within the family of God there is more than one way to be a mother. I look after teenage girls every year on a Christian summer camp. I try to be a kind and loyal friend and have been referred to as a good “mother” by lots of people that I have cared for or done life with. (Mainly because I always seem to have a pen on me or a tissue and know how to get red wine out of the carpet.) But I often find I’m a shoulder to cry on.

And that should hardly surprise us. Jesus himself said, “Truly I tell you … no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10 v 29-30) And I love how at the end of Romans Paul chooses to greet his friend Rufus, and also his mother, “who has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16 v 13). My not having children is not a fact that should create pitying looks or awkward silences—it’s an opportunity to embrace and rejoice in being a mother in God’s family. And sometimes I need reminding of that too.

So for those that are married and blessed with children, here are a few helpful things you can do and say to love your childless friends:

  • Ask, “Do you have family nearby?” instead of “Do you have kids?” Then it gives us the chance to respond positively with other people rather than be on the backfoot all the time.
  • Get creative. There is so much more to a person than who they are married to or their children. “What do you do for work?” “What do you do to relax?” “What genre of movies do you like?” Keep it simple. In fact, many women I know with children would gladly welcome a break from talking about them!
  • Invite us to dinner and let us hang out with you. Your kids like having new people round and we get to experience a “family chaos vibe” that is missing from our own lives. Also, as we are enjoying 8 hours sleep a night we may be more likely to have the energy to deal with your crazy kids!
  • Ask us to babysit. We may well have time on our hands and our plans can be flexible. We get kids, food and wifi! But equally…
  • Don’t assume we’re not busy. I find I am busier now than I ever was, and filling my life with what is important. 
  • Ask if we have plans over the holidays or bank holiday weekends. If we don’t have plans, ask us to be part of yours. Even if we do have plans, it’s still nice to be asked so that we can have the chance to share what’s going on in our lives.

Bex Main

Bex runs the Customer Services department and works to bring calm and clarity to any confusing situation! Her background in stage management is endlessly helpful for this. Bex lives in Redhill and is involved with women's ministry at Holy Trinity Redhill.

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