Thoughts and ideas to inspire, uplift and affirm the childless and childfree, by circumstance and by choice
I keep coming across lists of things I’m not allowed to say to people.
According to this article, when someone has just had a baby I shouldn’t ask about them about how much sleep they’re getting (apparently that’s moronic) or compliment them on looking so fabulous so soon (that’s infuriating). According to this article, when someone has had twins I mustn’t ask which one is older (it will be assumed I don’t realise that twins are conceived at the same time) or mention that I know anyone else who has twins (it leaves mothers speechless).
You only have to read a few of these lists-of-things-not-to-say before starting to feel it might be safest to stay home and never say anything to anyone ever again…
But it does make me think about similar lists of things people are advised not to say to non-mothers. Aside from “I feel really sad/sorry for you,”, which is kind of a hard edge for me, there is actually hardly any remark or question I find truly offensive in and of itself. It depends entirely on context. For me, just about anything goes if the question is being asked out of genuine, respectful curiosity.
I’ve been asked, “Do you actually feel like an adult if you don’t have a child?” and “Do you ever worry that you’re missing out on the most important experience a woman can have?” and not found the questions in the least offensive, because they weren’t judgements, they were genuine attempts to understand another way of living and a different point of view. I like discussing my choices and circumstances in this kind of conversational context. And I love learning about the different shapes of other women’s lives too.
I definitely appreciate some of the warnings about sore-spots for women whose lives are different from (and also similar to) mine and I’m grateful to have discovered some really important pitfalls by reading these kinds of articles. I would certainly never advocate firing personal questions at strangers, or even all close friends. But I sometimes wonder if these ever-growing lists of things we’re not allowed to say might be stifling conversations we need to have if we really want to understand each other, build knowledge about our choices and circumstances and create a real, viable range of options for women’s lives.
If you’re interested in the ways dialogues with and among non-mothers can work, you might like to read a post about rage in online childfree communities or a post about whether or not the childfree experience doubt about their decisions (the comments especially).
But in the meantime, how about you? Do you have hard edges in terms of questions people can ask you? Or do you, like me, find that it depends mainly on context?
[The beautiful image above is presented with permission from Englebert Romero.]