I was interviewing this fascinating, accomplished, professional woman and it was going great. Our conversation had a nice rhythm, she had some anecdotes and zingers I knew would jump right off the page. Oh joy, oh boy, this profile was practically writing itself. Then, when the interview was just about over, I dropped the bomb. A conversational dud that fell with a big fat thud: Do you have any kids?
It sounds like a pretty innocent question, right? It’s not like I asked her about her favorite sexual position. But she didn’t have kids and that simple truth made me feel like I had crossed a line and was intruding into her personal life.
How is it that we can live in a society that teaches the four R’s–Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic and Reproduction–and yet asking someone whether they have children can be considered rude? I wanted to explain to her that even though I’m now on the mom side of the fence, I’m not so far out of her neighborhood.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was childfree and working late nights at the office, cursing my colleagues who got to leave at 5 to pick up Timmy and Susie from daycare, while I had to work late to pick up their slack. I remember what it was like. As much as I love my son, I do sometimes long for the days when every dining out experience didn’t come with complimentary crayons.
There’s been so much written about “the mommy wars” between the stay-at-home moms and moms who work, but nobody really talks about the “my life choices are better than yours” tension between the women who have children and those who don’t. Like it or not: I could feel it in the air as I awkwardly ended the interview.
Now I’m not one of those women who believe it’s everyone’s fate to procreate. I can certainly understand why everyone doesn’t want a baby on board. Not everybody pines for progeny. I know plenty of cheerfully childless people, I thought. Look at Oprah, and Mother Teresa. What about Condoleezza Rice? What’s the big deal? I wanted to explain all that to this woman and couldn’t find the words. It just felt too personal, like I was asking her how much money she made or whether she believed in God.
But as I flipped through my address file later, I realized that the vast majority of people I hang out with have kids. It’s not that I don’t know a lot of childless people, but we don’t really run in the same circles. Apparently, they like their conversations uninterrupted by shouts of, “Stop stabbing your sister with a fork!”
The moment I walked down the aisle and got married it seemed like people started asking me about “the pitter-patter of tiny little feet.” It was amusing at first, but became progressively more painful and annoying as we struggled to have a baby, and the ticking of my biological clock joined in the pitter-patter chorus.
When I was struggling with infertility it seemed like the whole world was pregnant or potty training. I began to cringe inside every time someone asked about kids. Was this what it was like all the time for people without kids?
How do you keep your cool in a world filled with drool? My friend Cara, who gets asked all the time about kids, laughed, “I usually just tell them I’m raising kittens instead.”
Daisy, a college friend who tied her tubes in her 20s, said when people ask her “why don’t you have any children,” she simply retorts: “why don’t you have any class?”
Angie, who’s approaching 40 and is cheerfully childless, says she’s been asked, “Aren’t you getting to the age where you should be having babies?” Her favorite response: “Nah. But aren’t you getting to the age where you should have better manners?”
But my favorite response came from Camie, who said, “I’ll consider having a baby when maternity clothes and minivans are sexy.”
Hmm … I wonder what Angelina Jolie drives?
Is it rude to bring up babies? Share your thoughts–and horror stories–with email.
Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on July 11, 2008.