Our Declaration of Independence from Horrible Questions

I’ve noticed a trend among a small sample size of me and my wife (roughly twice the number of people needed to warrant a New York Times trend piece). The trend is, people asking us if we’re going to have another kid and us looking at each other awkwardly wondering what to say.

I’ve noticed that the frequency with which people ask us this question has increased as our daughter gets older. My best guess is people used to see we had a baby and were like, “Oh no, you don’t want another baby right now because you have a baby,” but once our baby became a toddler and then a little kid people were like, “Hey, you don’t have a baby anymore. What’s the deal with not having a baby?”

Our respective families, for the most part, do not ask us this question. Our single/childless friends sure as hell don’t ask us this question. It only comes from other couples with kids, and not couples we know well, either. In fact, it seems the more casually I know these other couples, the more likely they are to ask if we’re planning to add to our brood. The chance of being asked the question decreases exponentially with the amount of time it’s been since I’ve met you.

As a human being with a modicum of self respect, one’s first inclination when getting asked this question is to respond, “None of your business, person I barely know.” And yet, we always demur and struggle awkwardly for a response, as if we’re the people who should feel awkward in this situation. “I knew we shouldn’t have gone to this Share Your Reproductive Plans Party–also known as Daring To Leave The House–with only one lousy kid. What a social faux pas!”

Legendary kid-punching football coach Woody Hayes once said of the forward pass, it has three potential outcomes, and two are bad. Similarly, the question “Are you going to have any more kids?” has a million potential answers. Only one of them is not fraught with awkwardness; i.e., “Yes, in fact my wife is pregnant right now.” Every single other answer is a minefield.

Maybe the couple wants another child but can’t for medical reasons. Maybe they can’t for financial reasons. (I know another kid would certainly break my bank, unless Congress finally legalizes organ selling, and I’m sure they will any day now.) Maybe they’re trying to have another child but have been unsuccessful and are feeling really demoralized about it. Maybe they have reason to think they might be pregnant and are stressed out–either in anticipation or fear. Maybe husband and wife have been tensely debating this issue for months and are at the brink of breakup over the strain this is putting on their marriage. Maybe their first kid has some disease or disorder that has them wondering if another kid from the same gene pool is a good idea. Maybe one of the parents has just received bad medical news that has made them rethink their plans.

I’m barely scratching the surface here. I’m sure you can imagine variations on any of these themes that range from uncomfortable to horrifying. The kind of details that you wouldn’t want to know about anyone, really. So why do people ask?

Here’s my theory: When you have a kid, you are assumed by certain other people to have no life. Namely, other parents–not all parents, but in general, only parents see you this way. The more kids these other parents have, the less of a life they assume you possess. If you have no life, ipso facto, there are no details about that non-life that can be kept secret. You are seen as a mere life-giver to your succubus spawn, because that is how they see themselves.

This type knows no class (in all senses of the word). It is found in overachieving Park Slope-ian helicopter moms or harried suburban types. When you talk to these kinds of parents, everything’s on the table. Did you breastfeed? How about immunizations? How difficult was your pregnancy, did you get an epidural, and would you like to hear my feelings on why you were horrible if you did? And those are questions women ask me, a dude whose role in the pregnancy was limited to DNA contribution and moral support. My wife has to sit through way, way worse.

I am officially declaring my independence from feeling bad about responding with anger and disgust to such questions. But my question to you is, What would be the best response, if said response is intended to shame the questioner? Please post your nominees in the comments.

  • Anonymous

    So I don’t have a response to the topic (under other circumstances, I’d expect to hear “Heave ho!”, but you can’t stop me from typing.) However, I do now officially feel like an ass for asking you this very question at Citi Field Workout Day 2010. 

  • Helen Rosner

    I see where you’re coming from. I really, really do. But I also have this conversation weirdly often with friends of mine at all stages in their lives, and after going through it dozens of times, I now get horribly annoyed when The Asked Party doesn’t realize that this question isn’t actually about them at all. (It’s the same question as “So when are you getting a boyfriend?” and “So when are the two of you getting married?” and “So when are you guys going to have your *first* kid?”) 

    The reason these questions almost never come from people who are close to you is because it is a False Question. It’s not about seeking an actual answer; it’s about finding something to say, looking for ways to bond, and acknowledging whatever your current romantico-reproductive state happens to be (single! encoupled! recently married! having one child!) while not actually knowing too much about you. A friend of mine who plans to never have children was moved to rage at her wedding recently when all her parents’ friends kept immediately following up their wishes of congratulations with “When are you having kids?” It wasn’t until much later that she realized they weren’t asking *her*, the girl who talks frequently and passionately about her right to not reproduce, they were asking the lady at the wedding in the poofy white dress, because that is a question you ask the lady in the poofy white dress when you’re an outer-circle wedding guest. 

    Obviously people only ask these questions when they feel positively disposed towards a positive answer. (No one who hates kids is going to ask when you’re planning to have another.) But you can’t hear these questions as about you. You have to hear them as unsolicited personal disclosure rather than unsolicited inquiry: “If I were in your position, I would want another kid.” “If I were in your place, I’d be actively looking for a boyfriend.” The subject of those sentences is “I”. It’s not you. It’s annoying, sure, and it’s absolutely invasive and rude, but you waste your anger on these askers. Smile, shrug, and move on.  It’s not about you, and no amount of explanation and disgust and asker-shaming will turn those tables and help the asker realize why they’re in the wrong.

  • Anonymous

    When are we having another kid? Definitely not until we manage to sell the first one!