I try not to eavesdrop. I am a proud graduate of the prestigious Noneya Business School of Butt Out, Jerk. Yet, sometimes, I can’t help overhearing a conversation, and sometimes I can’t help but be intrigued by that conversation. Take yesterday for example: I was sitting in a coffee shop a few feet from a couple of women who looked to be about my age, perhaps a few years older. It seemed to me that these two ladies didn’t know each other very well; maybe they were coworkers or something. In any case, I tried to ignore them and carry on with the work I was doing, but my train of thought was suddenly interrupted when one of the women (Woman A, we’ll call her) loudly asked the other: “So WHEN are you two gonna have a BABY?!”
Woman B: “Uh, you know, we’ll see. Anyway…”
Woman A: “We’re trying for our third. You guys better get going soon [giggle]!”
Woman B: “Heh. Yeah.”
Woman A: “You’ll be too old to chase those kids around the playground [snort].”
Woman B: “We’re still young. We’ll see.”
Woman A: “Oh, I think it’s good to have ’em while you’re young!”
Woman B: “I do too. Unfortunately, we’ve had trouble conceiving. We’re seeing a fertility specialist about it.”
Woman A: “So, how’s the latte?”
It was torturous to even be in the same vicinity as this embarrassing exchange, so I can only imagine how Woman B must have felt. Halfway through the interrogation I was seriously tempted to walk over there and make the obvious even more obvious. “SHE IS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THIS VERY INTIMATE LINE OF QUESTIONING. SHE DOES NOT FEEL LIKE DISCUSSING HER REPRODUCTIVE SITUATION WITH YOU. HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF HE ASKED YOU ABOUT YOUR WEIGHT, OR ABOUT HOW MUCH MONEY YOU HAVE IN YOUR BANK ACCOUNT? YOU WOULDN’T? THEN KNOCK IT OFF AND DRINK YOUR COFFEE.”
Something tells me that wouldn’t have helped matters.
My wife was pregnant with our twins less than a year after we got married, so we (or at least I) never had to deal with the oblivious, rude, boorish tools who like to pin you to the wall until you explain in detail your plans for procreation. But I’m well aware that these people exist, even though their existence confounds me. I can’t imagine asking someone such a personal question and then CONTINUING to press the issue after they’ve made it EXTREMELY clear that they aren’t interested in talking about it. Who does this? What is wrong with these people? Is it maliciousness or plain stupidity that drives them?
Both? Probably both. Nothing worse than a malicious fool — except, perhaps, a malicious genius.
I feel a certain camaraderie with parents now that I’ve joined that community. My warm feelings of companionship, however, are strained when I witness my fellow parents pull stunts like this. Breaking News: fertility problems are rather common. If you are TRYING to make someone feel bad about not having kids, you could likely be TRYING to make them feel bad about a medical condition that has already brought them much heartache and sorrow. Get a clue. Cut it out.
I think we all know that children are conceived through sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is generally viewed — albeit decreasingly so — as a private matter between two adults. A child is conceived when a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg. I’m reviewing these facts in an attempt to explain why another person’s reproduction is very much a matter that has nothing to do with you. When you ask someone, “when are you going to have kids?” you are really asking them, “when are you and your husband going to have sexual intercourse so that his sperm fertilizes your egg?” And when you shout, “why haven’t you had kids yet?” you are really shouting, “why hasn’t his sperm united with your egg yet?”
When you put it that way, it just sounds like something you shouldn’t be asking your coworker on a lunch break, doesn’t it?
I come from a big family. I want to have a big family of my own. I love kids. I love it when married couples have kids. But it would never occur to me to actively pressure another couple to have kids. Besides, do we really want people conceiving children because of peer pressure? Do we really want parents becoming parents just so people will stop asking them when they plan on becoming parents?
Of course, there’s a flipside to this coin. As the childless deal with their own onslaught of insulting and probing personal inquiries, people with a lot of children tend to be the subject of a different sort of investigation. And when I say “a lot of kids” I mean, like, two. My wife and I have twins — a boy and a girl — which means we have heard this question approximately 70 million times: “so, are you done yet?” “You’re finished now, right?” “I guess it’s time to get snipped!”
Oh, so we’ve reached your child limit for our family? Well, thanks for telling us! Funny, I don’t recall moving to China.
Two kids does not a large family make. We’ve reached replacement level, that’s it. We broke even. We aren’t “done,” but thanks for asking.
I have six siblings, so my parents, and any other parents of what passes for big families in modern America, can tell you plenty of stories about the unbelievable things they’re forced to hear from adults who must know better.
“Are they all yours?”
“You must not have a TV!”
“Are you, uh, religious?”
“You must love sex!”
“Haven’t you heard of overpopulation?”
“Were they all on purpose?”
“So this last one is it, right?”
And so on.
Parents of big families are always in for a treat when they tell people they’ve got another on the way. They’ll likely be greeted with either a stony, silent glare, or an exclamation of exasperation and disgust.
What’s so hard about saying “congratulations”? I’ve never had trouble with it, and it’s never occurred to me to act like I’m put out or annoyed just because another couple conceived a child.
What’s the moral of this story? Don’t be a monumental jerk, I suppose. And when you hear that childless people don’t like being asked when they plan to have kids, or that people with big families don’t like being asked when they’ll be “done,” the only proper reaction is this: stop asking. Period.
I’ve seen plenty of other bloggers tackle both of these subjects, and the comments are usually crowded with culprits attempting to justify their behavior. “I don’t mean to be offensive!” “I’m just trying to make conversation!” “I’m only trying to be friendly!”
You’re trying to be friendly by asking a question that you know will cause annoyance and grief to the other person? You call that “friendly?” You might call it friendly, I call it you attempting to make yourself feel better about your own situation by trying to make someone else feel uncomfortable about theirs.
Worry about your family. The rest of us will take care of our own. Something tells me we can manage just fine without your input.
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