As a recently married woman in my early thirties I often get well-intentioned people casually asking when I’m going to start having children. Also if I mention that I’m feeling sick or bloated the first conclusion is “Oh! You might be expecting.”
Whilst I understand that none of this is done with malicious intent there are only so many times I can smile and say “No, that’s not the case I’m just ill” or “If children happen that’s great but we’re just happy as we are right now.” and then carry on with my day unaffected. Speaking to my husband reveals that he is rarely asked the same question which means that it is an irksome double standard.
Society seems to have trouble understanding women around the age of 30 that haven’t yet produced a child. There is even more head-scratching if that woman is married as many believe that the primary purpose of marriage is to have children. For me, and I suspect a few others, that is not the case. I married my husband because I love him and cannot imagine life without him. If children happen to enter into our future then that’s great but if they don’t then that’s okay too.
Thanks to my social conditioning I feel guilty for admitting that last part. It is true that most little girls grow up playing with dolls and assume that one day they might have a child of their own but the fact is that in reality it doesn’t always work out that way.
Some of my friends have children and I am happy for them and I find their kids adorable but I’m equally happy for my friends who don’t have children. Watching my parent friends is a great education into just how much having a child changes the way that you have to live your life. Everything with children has to be pre-planned until they are old enough for spontaneous days out and sleep becomes a thing of the distant past. Those of us without children are still able to decide what we want to do and where we want to go at any given moment and if we want a lie in we can have one.
I think it’s because of the lifestyle differences between those that have children and those that do not that both sides become a little less able to understand each other. Those with children naturally want everyone else to experience the joy of becoming a parent and those without are happily enjoying their lives also being free to do what they want when they want to do it.
The way society pressures women to have children can be quite demoralising. There are many articles in national newspapers warning that western women are leaving it too late which implies that a women who doesn’t have children is automatically failing her gender in some way.
What about the women out there who don’t want to have children? Are they failures too?
Some women are happy as they are whether in a relationship or not. Others accept that biologically it is not likely to happen and throw their energy into other aspects of their life. I remember reading the warnings about Career Women “missing their chance to become a mother” as they focused on their jobs instead and I always thought that it was an unfair assumption.
Maternity leave laws in the west, the USA in particular, are not very generous and are generally geared towards women being the ones to take time off work. Some countries have addressed this better and even the UK, where I live, is introducing legislation that will make it possible for both parents to share maternity leave should they so wish which should make it fairer on women although it might be an administrative nightmare for companies.
However workplace attitudes remain somewhat antiquated in places with a few managers secretly dreading an employee telling them that they want to take maternity leave. This can lead to some women feeling that they have to make a choice between family and career. Some businesses are more enlightened and offer flexible working contracts, to enable employees to balance their work and life better, but I know this is not the case everywhere.
Even if your place of work is accommodating, parents then have to deal with the astronomically high costs of childcare should they wish to return to work and leave their child in the care of professionals. Some are lucky enough to have family close by who can help out but many do not so cost becomes a factor as to whether a couple has children or not.
Another reason I think that people need to stop asking whether someone is planning to have children is that some people have trouble conceiving. For people in these situations this seemingly innocent question can be extremely distressing. People who long to have a child but cannot find such a personal question extremely hurtful. So unless you plan on being there to counsel the person that you ask, please just avoid the topic unless they bring it up first.
By asking such an intrusive question you are opening the door to an emotional torrent in some women’s heads.Whether this is because the person you asked doesn’t want children or hasn’t decided yet and is sick of being asked about it or they do want children but they are having difficulties conceiving, doesn’t matter. I think it is time we stopped thinking it is okay to ask such an emotionally loaded question and just enjoyed each other’s company.
10 Things Never to Say to Childless Friends (MSN)