Crossing the Line: Questions and Comments to Avoid
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
TRIGGER WARNING: looks at issues such as infertility, trying to conceive and gender disappointment.
At one stage, I admit I wasn’t sure if I wanted children. People told me I would regret not having them. I don't know if that would have been true, but obviously we adore our son and I can't imagine life without him now. However, now that we’re over that conversation, we’re onto another one, all about our decision to stop at one. Again, I am constantly told I'll regret that decision.
Why on earth do people think it's okay to pass judgement on other people's life choices? It should matter if I wanted to wait to have children or if I didn't want them at all; it is purely a decision for myself and my husband.
So let’s take opinions out of it. Is there any evidence about who is happier?
There isn’t a huge amount of research on it. Hans-Peter Kohler found that a first baby makes both Mum and Dad happier. The second baby, however, has little effect on the father’s happiness and causes the mother’s to decrease. It’s not necessarily clear on why this might be for mothers, but it’s interesting given how many people tell me that I NEED two children... or else the first wind up lonely and spoiled...
A different study showed that parental happiness increases in the years around the birth of a first child and then decreases to before-child levels. The study found that having a second child may also increase happiness, but having a third child does not.
Does that mean that I will judge everyone who has a second or third child? Absolutely not! I know very happy parents of both two and three children and for them, big families were always the dream.
Another comment I was told I may regret was waiting to have my child until I was a bit older. Now, since having my son, I have wondered if delaying children can be a negative as you may be so set in your ways before you stop to have children that the 'shock' of becoming parents is maybe worse? However, my friends who had children when they were younger said they felt they missed out on some aspects and that it was hard when friends were at such different stages to them. The previous study showed that those who have children at older ages or who have more education have a particularly positive happiness response to a first birth, showing that postponing childbearing (something else we had to justify a lot) can also help increase happiness. Again, I'm not judging anyone who has their children earlier, but what are people basing their comments on that they make to me? Clearly it's opinion, not scientific research!
I've also had the question: "don't you want a girl? Won't you regret not having one in later life?"
This one is always a tough question. I'm sure I would have loved having a little girl, in the same way that had we not had our son, I'm sure my husband would have always wondered what it would be like to have a boy. But we love the child we have. We were blessed with a boy and if we had a second child, that may also be a boy and I do truly believe I'd be happy as long as they were healthy. I wouldn't have another child solely based on a desired gender. However, I can't understand how people think this is an appropriate question to ask. Perhaps the child I miscarried before my son was a girl? If I did long for a girl, do I want to be reminded of the fact we won't ever have one during office chit-chat?
I've realised that the main issue here is still that people feel it is acceptable to ask questions about something that is purely between myself and my husband. I remember being quizzed about whether I wanted a child and how I better 'hurry up'. This was the week after my miscarriage. At this time I DID want a child and it had been cruelly taken away. I just mumbled something vague like, 'One day, hopefully'. I have a friend who was asked 'didn't you want kids?' after discussing her full hysterectomy during her teenage years after cancer; she just responded with. 'Yes. It's shit isn't it!' That shut them up. Since then, I've really tried to avoid asking people such loaded questions about children and relationships. I admit it takes some practice to avoid. However, you never know someone's circumstances, be it a simple choice not to have children, or a circumstance like struggling with finances, fertility, or mental health. If someone wants to share, they will but I now do my best not to be the one to prompt.
I hope others will support this approach regarding inappropriate questions that may prey on private worries.
But what about our comments about those public choices that seem to be judgements? What can we take from all this? Perhaps that we are all different. That people can be happy with one child. People can be happy with 2 children. And more than 2! Or none at all! People can be happy if they have their children when they are younger, or if they are older parents. And people are perfectly capable of being happy with 'just boys' or 'just girls'.
We should stop asking questions that are none of our business. We should stop pushing our own ideals on other people. I think that what will really make the difference is when hope meets reality: if you want a big family and can achieve this, isn’t that amazing? And if you have just one longed-for child, then you may be thanking your lucky stars for that single opportunity. And if you have children when you feel ready, that is also amazing. And if you are happier just doing your own thing without children, then we'll all be jealous of your free time! (And if you are blessed with a little brood of boys, then you can look forward to gaining some daughter-in-laws without having to pay for the weddings!)
What inappropriate questions have people asked you? Have you faced judgement over your choices? Comment below.