It’s the trifecta of uncomfortable questions at a family get-together. If you’re single: “Are you seeing anyone special?” If you’re coupled: “When are you two taking the next step?” And if you’re married or in a long-term relationship: “When am I getting grandchildren?”
Though expectations about the path young adults must take are changing, it seems like there will always be those people in our lives who want to make sure we’re on track with what they’ve always hoped for us.
“The expectation is you meet in your mid-20s, you get engaged, you have a big wedding, you buy a house and you have children,” said Jen Rives, a Minneapolis-based licensed marriage and family therapist. “Anybody who doesn’t align with that formula, (some) people just don’t understand. I think it’s a huge assumption that everyone wants kids.”
Deviating from those expectations can be hard. Talking about it can be even harder. The kids question, in particular, can be painful, depending on where you’re at in your relationship and what you want out of life.
If questions about having children make you uncomfortable, what’s the best way to navigate them?
In the moment, the best way to handle this kind of question is to have a pat answer you’re ready to whip out at any time, Rives said. This can be “a response that feels true to you, or doesn’t feel true to you at all that you can just say,” she said. Anything that will help you feel more comfortable when someone tries to get information from you about your plans to conceive.
That means doing a little work ahead of time, either by yourself or with your partner, if you have one, to figure out how you want to respond.
Your response can:
“I don’t think it matters what you say, as long as it’s something you’ve thought through, that you can handle… with a little dignity and flair,” Rives said. “I think the beauty of it is you’re going to figure out what’s most comfortable for you.”
Before you attend an event where the topic might come up, practice your response a few times, by yourself, with your partner or with some friends. A little role play can help, Rives said.
“On the way over, just keep saying that thing in your head or out loud and get prepped for it,” she said.
Some people just don’t take the hint, and will ask the same uncomfortable question every time you see them. If you feel comfortable, follow up with that person later and let them know it’s not a topic you want to be asked about.
If you’ve been struggling to deal with questions about your plans to have children, it’s useful to find likeminded people to talk through it with, both inside and outside your family.
“Even though everybody else, it seems like they’re on the same trajectory, there are a lot of people who struggle to answer this question,” Rives said.
It’s easy to feel like your friends have your back. But having allies within your family can help you deal with situations when they pop up in family settings.
“Talk to a family member who’s your cheerleader or champion,” Rives said, like a favorite aunt, a cousin you’re close with or even your parents.
For example, “if there’s aunts in the family and they keep pestering” you, you can say, “‘Hey Mom, can you tell your sisters not to ask this question anymore?'” Rives said.
Rives said she wanted to “give a big shoutout to people, if they read this, to not ask” people about their plans to have children.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand that they’re asking a question that can be really hurtful,” Rives said. “Maybe you’re not aware, but maybe you should get aware.”
Why is this question becoming less and less cool to ask? First of all, “it assumes that everyone wants children … It’s assuming your dominant cultural plan” is what everyone wants for their life.
“There are a lot of people who are giving (having kids) different thinking, questioning and giving themselves space to consider a different path in life,” Rives said.
Second of all, “more women than ever are struggling with fertility,” Rives pointed out.
“If you’re (asking this question of) a woman who’s in her mid-30s, you could be talking to someone who has had three miscarriages, or has been trying to get pregnant for two years,” she said.
If you do feel close enough to someone to ask about their plans for children, ask in an appropriate setting, like when you’re alone together, and try asking in a way that doesn’t center it around yourself and your own plans for them. For example, “How do you guys feel about children?”
“That’s an open ended question that is more respectful,” Rives said. Do some critical thinking about why you’re asking this question at all, and proceed with care. “More respect, more thoughtfulness, is absolutely required.”