Stop asking people when they’re going to have children

It may be innocent but it’s presumptuous and can be deeply insensitive

Trigger warning: this post discusses miscarriages and infertility

If you’re in a long term relationship or married, but without children, the chances are you’ve been asked “so, when are you having children?” For many couples, it can be par for the course and is usually well intentioned or good natured banter from family and friends. But if having children isn’t on the horizon, or if not having children isn’t for want of trying, having to bat away such questions can be received with a range of emotions from mild annoyance and frustration to pain and distress.

Before I became a dad, it’s a question my wife and I would often hear. Typically said in jest (or perhaps truth in jest from our respective parents), and not a subject that I was worried or anxious about it, it wasn’t something that affected me. Not to mention, no one around us really harped on about it to the extent that it became an annoyance. Though for many couples, it can be a different story.

I’m at an age where many of my peers, but certainly not all, now have children. For some of those that don’t, that’s a choice and one that should be respected. Having children isn’t for everyone and for some it just isn’t a feature that they seek to be a part of their lives or their relationship. There shouldn’t be any judgement for that stance whatsoever. For others, it may just not be the right time for them, especially as people are generally having children later in a reflection of contemporary lifestyles. If having children is a decision you’re nearing to but not quite there yet, why should you feel pressured to hasten that decision to satisfy others?

Despite modern society increasingly distancing itself from archaic and arbitrary measures of what constitutes success, there still remains a fixation upon what we’re supposed to do in life and those expectations remain in our most personal spheres. We’re supposed to be in a relationship. And if we’re not, we can expect to be questioned why, and worse still, shamed for it. And if we’re of a certain age where many of our peers may be having children, and within a relationship, then obviously we should be too, right? Wrong.

It’s therefore little wonder that marriage and having children can sometimes be for the wrong reasons, such as an attempted solution to a broken relationship or merely buckling under the pressure of societal expectations. If the question of when children were coming disappeared, a layer of that unwarranted pressure to have children would likely disappear with it.

No one should be made to feel guilty or that they’re an anomaly for a decision that’s theirs to take in not having children. Yet many will be made to feel just that. Furthermore, the decision and commitment to have a child isn’t one that should be taken lightly. So shouldn’t we laud those who don’t conform and decline to have children if it isn’t an experience they desire?

For others, not having children may not be a choice they’ve made. Conception and pregnancy are not an exact science and for many who don’t have children, that hasn’t been for want of trying. Conception for some couples can take years of trying, sometimes to no avail before alternative routes such as IVF or adoption are explored. And even then, the process is not only not guaranteed but is also lengthy and emotionally draining.

For some couples, experiencing a miscarriage, or even recurrent pregnancy loss, can be a painful reality. Imagine the distress caused in both scenarios, compounded by seeing the babies of family, friends and even strangers as a reminder that parenthood remains elusive. It’s made worse by having to handle the insensitivity of people asking when you’re going to have children; when unbeknownst to them, the recipient of their question wants nothing more than to be a parent.

So how has such an insensitive line of questioning come to be so commonplace? Much of it can be traced back to expectation but it’s also reinforced by the older generation.

Becoming a grandparent is a wish held by many parents with adult children. Indeed, if I gave them the green light, my parents and in-laws would proudly parade my son all day, everyday.

Said parents see their own peers becoming grandparents and many want that for themselves. Although where it goes too far is when social conditioning starts creeping in again and becoming a grandparent becomes something that is supposed to happen. Some even see not becoming a grandparent as a disappointment and will ignorantly articulate this, nonchalant to the fact that there might be a reason why grandchildren haven’t been forthcoming.

It’s a view that’s particularly prevalent in ethnic minority communities where the significance of family makes becoming a grandparent almost a necessary rite of passage and something some will feel entitled to. That deeply misplaced sense of entitlement can be extended to ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ in the community, that you might not even know, telling you that it’s about time you had children. It’s well meaning but for someone who knows they perhaps can’t have children or is having trouble conceiving, it’s also incredibly insensitive.

There needs to be more awareness, sensitivity and empathy for those who can’t have children or are having difficulty conceiving or becoming parents. Especially with social media, we need to be mindful of excessively flaunting our parenthood to an audience that will likely include at least someone for whom we’re projecting an experience they’ve been unable to have for themselves. That doesn’t mean refraining from celebrating our own children but simply being a bit more thoughtful in our exchanges and what we share. And above all, not asking when children might be forthcoming unless it’s a conversation they’re happy to have.

We need to remember and respect that having children is a choice some choose not to make. Likewise, difficulty in having children, biologically or otherwise, is a reality for some who would like nothing more than a baby. When and if someone is going to have children can be a sensitive subject and more people need to be mindful of that.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store