A few things you shouldn’t say to a childless woman

Below is a condensed version of an article from The Age today that I thought was worth posting.

It is so important that we don’t make the assumption that people always get to choose their path in life.

If you’d like to read the full article, you can find it here.

A few things you shouldn’t say to a childless woman

Wendy Squires May 04, 2013

Photo Credit: Kylie Pickett

Not all women can have babies or want to have babies. Photo: Kylie Pickett

There are two words for the woman who reached over the table, grabbed my hand and in a consolatory tone announced, ”It’s a tragedy you never got around to having children. It’s the most wonderful thing a woman can do.”

Those words are ”shut” and ”up” (the printable response) or, more charitably, ”think” and ”first”. Because it doesn’t take Freud to work out this statement was patronising, assumptive and just plain insensitive.

…I wanted to thump her. Hard. Not just for me, but for all childless women. I’m talking about sisters on IVF; the ones who can’t carry to term; those who’ve suffered stillbirth or the loss of a child; the infertile; those with infertile partners; the ones hoping and waiting on a committed relationship; the ambivalent; the never intended to and don’t feel the need to justify the fact.

Most of the childless women I know do find peace with their circumstances, even if it takes some time. Until, that is, someone comes along and demands their curiosity itch be scratched as to why no kids or, worse, declares you emotionally or spiritually unfulfilled with uncalled for comments such as the one I endured.

I believe children are a gift and not a given in life, and those who receive should be grateful. They should not be offering from on high ”Oh, it is such a pity”, ”a tragedy”, ”you would have loved it”, consolations to those without – even if well intended. People need to stop and think what they are really saying to another with ”you don’t know love until you have a child”, ”I wasn’t complete until I had kids”, ”you are nothing without family” or the deplorable ”don’t you like children?”

A friend of mine who is a well-known celebrity understands this. I was watching when she was interviewed on TV once. The male host skipped through her bio with the clanger, ”You decided to choose career over family …” I will never forget my friend’s face, frozen in a smile that hid the angry tears I knew were welling. I was aware she had not chosen career over family as he so rudely surmised, but that she had miscarried her much-wanted baby late term and was told she would never have another as a result. Like most women there was a backstory to her situation, one that didn’t need ignorant supposition to aggravate.

I was with a girlfriend who had recently been told to give up on IVF and witnessed her pain when the ”you don’t know love until you have a child” remark was dropped at a party…

The simple fact – not that it is anyone’s damn business in the first place – is that most childless women today feel the decision was taken out of their hands through lack of financial and emotional security. According to a study in Australia’s Journal of Population Health, many childless women in their 30s want to have children, but can’t due to reasons ”beyond their control” such as not having a partner, stable relationship, or partner that wants children.

Perhaps in future when judging another woman on her life choices or publicly applauding your own, these statistics should be kept in mind. Not all women are awarded the same opportunities in life and not all women want or need them. Surely we can all agree on mutual respect and consideration of circumstance as a safe middle ground.

Saturday Age columnist Wendy Squires is a journalist, editor and author. Twitter: @Wendy_Squires

11 comments on “A few things you shouldn’t say to a childless woman

  1. Michael says:

    Nice article. The fact that children are a gift rather then a given was a great point.

  2. Sam barber says:

    People can be so insensitive sometimes and do not take into account peoples medical conditions or history nor their ability (or inability) or wants and desires. It is true, not everybody wants to have children or are able either physically or due to their circumstances. I have wanted to have babies since I was about 2years old, I have always absolutely adored children since as long as I can remember, having said that, you also need to find the right person to be a father to your children, and I am not about to go and “get myself out there and get what I want” as i have been told to do on several occasions. I may never meet the right person, and that is ok.

    Having being “officially” diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 24 there is also the added chance of infertility or difficulty conceiving children. But again, that is fine, I don’t know what my future holds. I have come to the point of acceptance that I may never have children, and that is ok, and if it doesn’t happen, I get the best of both parts, being able to steal other peoples babies for cuddles and returning them and or having a unique kind of relationship with them as they grow.

    However if some of those things were said to me, it really would break my heart, and hurt me to the core.

  3. A.Roddy says:

    I agree with all except I don’t see kids as gifts. I see them as individuals, a responsibility. I am a childless by design(ttc a few years) and would hardly say Britney Spears or Kate Gosselin is more gifted than me. Even Bin Laden had 23 kids. True I like kids but wonder if things ar emeant to be the way they are for a reason. I try to look at the positive side though I would like the challenge. At almost 43, I face not having kids at all. THat’s Ok. Thanfully no one asks much anymore because of my age. I still don’t understand why childless women are stuck explaining and ones with kids never have to. It is nobody’s business.

    • sarsrose says:

      Hi! Thanks for visiting, and thanks for your response. I see what you mean about the gift thing. In fact, I was talking to a woman at work today about your response as I found it to be an interesting angle. Perhaps they’re not a gift in the sense that a person is more gifted if they have them, but they are a gift in the sense that they are not a right but a privilege, and they should be considered a gift rather than a burden? Of course an individual and a responsibility as well.
      Anyway, thanks for your thoughts.

    • Sam barber says:

      What an interesting perspective, I agree with the point that people who have children hardly have a skill that others lack or that are more gifted than others (Kate gosselins pregnancys were assisted by IVF) But I do see children as a blessing a gift that unfortunately not everyone is able to receive (or should receive) however that is not up to me. But I totally agree that childless women should not have to explain that to anyone, no one knows what is in that persons heart, nor their body (ie if they are actually able to have children) whether or not it is a decision made by that person or it is out of their hands no explanation should be required by anyone and they should just be accepted for the individual that they are.
      But yeah I agree some people with children that neglect and or abuse them should be the ones explaining things.

  4. funnysister says:

    Very well written. Still trying to make peace with it myself.

    Being childless is a conversation killer. When I answer “How old are your children?” and pleasantly advise the person that I don’t have any children, I always feel I have to fill the awkward silence while I know they are sizing me up, trying to figure out this oddity.

    I really do cringe at the assumptions that I don’t like children; that I am selfish; that I have a fabulously indulgent life and can’t possibly understand real responsibility, obligation and financial concerns.

    It is astonishing to me that people will actually ask why we never had children. Being a nice girl, I could never utter shut up (or the more appropriate response you alluded to)

    I love and adore my (9) adult nieces & nephews and their children. I am involved in their lives on at least a weekly (and for some a daily) basis despite a 2000 mile distance. Many times people have insensitively said, “it is not the same kind of love or relationship.”

    For me there is no difference. I know it and I think “my kids” know it. Really, that is all that matters in any relationship, isn’t it?

    No judgement is always a good thing!

    Thanks for a great post!

    • sarsrose says:

      Thanks for visiting and for your honest comments. Your phrase “…that I have a fabulously indulgent life and can’t possibly understand real responsibility, obligation and financial concerns.” really rings true with me. I have someone at work who constantly likes to remind me how easy my life is and how much time I have because I don’t have those responsibilities!
      Funny what you said about your nephew and niece. I was talking to a single woman the other day and reflecting on how much time she spends with her friend’s kids. How blessed are those kids!? We may not have our own, but we are able to pour into the lives of other kids so much more than those who have their own.
      I think in some ways the love I have for the students I teach is a bit deeper because I don’t have children of my own to take up my time and thoughts.

      Bless you, and I hope and pray that you will continue to find peace and strength in a situation that it sounds like you would not have chosen for yourself x

  5. A.Roddy says:

    I guess my views come from reading up on the Quiverfull movmeent. The Quiverfull movement is a subgroup of Christian Fundamentalism and some Jews. They shun all birth ocntrol because they think all kids are gifts from God. In other words more kids means God favors you above others.

    The idea is to build an army for God. It is a spiritual gage. Andrea Yates was part of this group. Yates drowned her five kids in 2001 because she wanted to ‘save’ them spiritually. In spite of doctor’s warnings about her mental state, she continued having kids. Recently, a mother of 9 smothered her 9 month old baby because she felt she had too many kids. She wanted the other kids to die in a car accident so they could go to heaven. This woman was part of the same movement.

    As you cn see there is an inherit danger in promting ‘children are blessings’, etc. Fertility is a fluke of nature. It isn’t meant to be a contest or reward. True,children can be great joys to some. However, they are individuals with unique personalities, not trophies, not extensions of ourselves. In the end, they will decide if they are a gift to the world.

    • sarsrose says:

      Wow, I can see how you came to your views. Those are obviously awful examples of how the idea of seeing Children as a gift from God can go way too far.
      I agree that any idea that a person is more favoured by God because he has given them the gift of children is wrong. I think it really just come down to the individual’s definition of the word gift. I’d just say children are a gift in the sense that they are unearned, undeserved and that they are not a right.
      I think though, that in your example, people are treating this ‘gift’ like something to be earned/grasped/acquired for their own benefit, which is dangerous.
      Certainly take your point.

  6. sf says:

    Wow, what a great post! Excellent! It was a shock to me when young 20-somethings were asking me if I regret not having kids (I wasn’t even 35 then) when I was already past 30 and then give me that sad look. It was crazy to me because these were happy-go-lucky males and females who loved to go out, party, smoke pot, go surfing, etc. Why would THEY care about my not having kids and make me feel like I had lost a lottery ticket or something? So here I am nearing 40 and one of the reasons I had moved away from family members was because I had had it with all their talk about my being irresponsible for not being married yet and when am I gonna give my parents grandkids. It was to the point I threatened to my family that I would marry the next homeless guy I drive by! So true that these things are not in our control, but in the Lord’s hands and that His timing for whether or not we will ever be married or have kids will be His decision.

    I can’t even repeat it enough to my family for them to take a good look at me and to see how messed up my life is. How wise God is to not give me a child because He knows and I sure am not patient, loving, or tender (and I can’t cook!) to care for a child. But no, my family members just ignore all of those negativities in me and still repeat to me (an uncle of mine does so every chance he can get) that I’m doing my parents an injustice for my singleness and childlessness.

    Ah, thanks so much for this post, which brings me much relief to read! I will reblog it.

    • sarsrose says:

      Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t write it myself, but it certainly struck a chord with me and inspired me to write my other post ‘A few things you shouldn’t say to skinny people.’
      I’ve been so fortunate in that most people around me aren’t pressuring me to marry or have kids. I can imagine how painful it would be if they were. There are just some things in life we don’t have a choice about… and even if we do, our choices shouldn’t always come under the scrutiny of others.
      Thanks for sharing!

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