What Not to Say to Childless Couples
For those of you with children who couldn’t be happier, good on ya, and I assure you that some of your biggest admirers are people without children. After all, you behold the constant work, sacrifice and grit it takes to raise the next generation with the utmost respect.
Sadly, that courtesy is often not reciprocated, as couples without kids are often submitted to what can only be called “childless shaming.” Sometimes, this is due to cultural expectations, the wish for grandchildren or other reasons. It can come across as exceedingly rude at best, or downright hurtful at worst. Keep in mind that everyone’s situation is different, and childless couples may be so due to biological fertility issues, age, illness or just a lifestyle choice — all of which are none of your business.
By all means, talk to your childless friends and relatives about their situation, but here are a few phrases and questions to avoid in such circumstances. (You’d want the same level of courtesy, yes?)
Bringing the Kids
Never assume that your kids are welcome at an event your childless friends are hosting. Maybe it’s a sit-down dinner party, or adult-y stuff is planned. When in doubt, ask ahead of time. Instead of phrasing it in a form that sounds like “We’re bringing the kids, so deal with it!” maybe try instead, “Is it OK if we bring the kids?”
Your childless friends will thank you for it, and, I guarantee, most of the time they’ll tell you to, of course, bring them!
A Question of Happiness
Happiness takes many forms. Yours may be watching “Frozen” for the 200th time with Junior, and that’s fine.
But mine is watching “True Detective” at any hour of the day or night without worrying about impressionable eyes inadvertently seeing something they shouldn’t.
A Matter of Ownership
I highly doubt you would say this to adoptive parents. Nurture can be as important (or more so) than nature, and recent studies have posited that both play an equal factor in a child’s development.
A child’s genome doesn’t necessarily determine his or her happiness both when young and as they grow up. A loving home environment is as crucial, if not more so, to their future.
The Whole Package
As if someone’s career, time with friends, travel, aspirations and having a mate (or not) are somehow all worthless in the absence of children.
Sadly, when someone says that a child “completes” your life, what they likely mean is that it “validates” you. Everyone defines happiness or purpose each in his or her own way, and just because yours is defined by parenthood doesn’t mean that the “barren” see it the same way.
Not in the Cards
Call me crazy, but selfishness isn’t necessarily a bad thing under all circumstances. Becoming a parent is arguably the situation that requires selflessness above any other. And some of us, well, just don’t have that personality trait and are unwilling (or unable) to think of someone other than ourselves first and foremost.
It’s better to realize that before you have kids than after you already do and find you’re not up to the task (too late; get on it!).
Choose to Forget
My fiancée has heard this one more times than she cares to recollect, and she says she’s not anxious to find out how well she can handle the pain. To those who give birth and deal with all the discomfort and pain that goes along with it, more power to you. We, the childless, will cheer you on from the sidelines.
However, if you want a good laugh, check out this video of men being strapped into a machine that simulates labor pains, and watch their (unsympathetic) wives smirking beside them.
CNN reported that the cost of raising a child from birth until legal adulthood hovers in the neighborhood of $233,000 — and that does not include college.
That’s a quarter-million invested by the time they hit voting age. Then comes college! That’s also to say nothing of a shaky economy wherein more millennials are moving back home than ever before, thus requiring even more of an outlay. And then such unforeseen adult life events as a sudden illness, car breakdown, down payment on a home or help with an upcoming wedding (this one I can speak to personally) can come into play.
All of which is to say that by the time all is said and done, a half-million is likely “invested” in one child — to say nothing of a second or even a third. Yes, they’ll (hopefully) be around to take care of their elderly parents, but the childless, not having to spend that money upfront, likely have a nest egg saved for old age, including a home health aide. And hopefully younger relatives and friends will still pitch in — or at least visit and offer human contact — during my twilight years.
Not unless they’ve recently changed the definition of never, no. Why do some people feel the need to ask this one every few months as if the answer will change? Like we’ll "see the light?"
For “House of Cards” fans out there, recall a scene during the later seasons where one character asked Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) if ever she regretted not having children. Her response: “Do you ever regret having them?”
I guess I’ll never know true love then, thanks.
Once again, who are you to dictate to me what love is or means? Love takes many manifestations, and there is no one universal definition of what constitutes “true” love. The great thing about the noncorporeal emotion we call love is that it can mean many different things dependant upon circumstances and the persons in question. You love your cat, but not in the same way you love your brother or your spouse.
Or your child.
A Numbers Game
Women get this one a lot. Biology is unfair, and while men can become a father until the day they die, there’s a limited window of time for women. And yes, celebrities of a certain age have been using the best fertility options money can buy to conceive and give birth even after 50, but those are outliers.
Not having kids may have less to do with biology and more to do with energy, focus on career or just a choice. Also, a crack about someone’s age is a bad idea under the best of circumstances, and doubly so when it has to do with the years of reproductive ability. Keep this in mind.
Now that you mention it, I could use a much bigger TV, maybe a newer car and a three-week cruise around the Mediterranean.
The Guilt Factor
I get it — pressure can be awful to keep the family genes going, and in some cultures, it’s “expected” you will pair up and procreate. And while that may be true for you, it may not be true for me.
Also, one’s priorities change over time, and thus even couples who perhaps wanted kids at one time realize they don’t have the energy or will or focus to devote to children. Their parents might be disappointed, it’s true, but that’s between the couple and their parents.
Human arrogance and ego drives us to feats of grandiose self-monumentalizing that (we hope) will remain long after we’re gone. Procreation is one such way to “ensure” that something of us continues on, sure, but the counterpoint is that all things pass, and you can’t be here to ensure how your descendants are getting on.
It’s comforting to think that some small part of you will continue on in your descendants, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that sentiment, but not everyone needs that cold comfort as they go on in life. By all means, have your kids to keep your genes going, just don’t forget to focus on the now rather than a theoretical future you can never behold.
Saving the Human Race
Actually, our species is doing fine — so much so that if things don’t change, we could very well run out of room within the next hundred years. Estimates put the species at a rather healthy 8 billion now, with the United Nations predicting there will be almost 10 billion of us on Earth by 2050. The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization projects that by the mid-century mark, world food production will need to increase 70 percent just to feed that many people.
There’s only so much arable land out there and so many fish in the ocean to harvest. We only have one Earth (sorry, Elon Musk, but terraforming Mars isn’t a realistic backup plan), and we’ve sadly done quite a number on our home in the short time since the Industrial Revolution.
For this reason, many people have chosen not to procreate — while simultaneously understanding that we cannot stop other people from having kids of their own. It’s our little bit of giving the planet a hand while making life better for the rest of humankind.