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Thoughtless Questions: When Are You Going to Have Kids/More Kids?

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This article is part of my Thoughtless Questions series. The purpose of this series is to create greater awareness for people who want to be better human beings. Each entry examines a question that people frequently ask that can be painful or harmful. The people who ask these questions don't have bad intentions, yet the questions they ask are thoughtless.

One such question is: When are you going to have kids/more kids?  

My hope in writing this article is to share why you should avoid asking this question, why I believe people ask this question, and provide alternative talking points. 

When I was a teenager, my older sister became pregnant, and I had the privilege of becoming an aunt. However, the baby wasn't expected, and I learned how easy it can be to get pregnant. It seemed at the time that becoming pregnant was the easiest thing in the world. If you engage in sex, in one moment, your entire life can change. As I continued in my teens and aged into adulthood, I met more and more ladies who became pregnant and experienced great joy in creating a family with their spouse.

Then something peculiar happened, I began to hear stories from women who desperately wanted to have children and yet couldn't. I would hear from my friends that they were undergoing complicated medical treatments, sometimes at great length and great expense, in order to determine what was not working and create the desired outcome. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't.

Currently I know of at least three couples who remain infertile. Some couples continue to try and don't give up for some time. Other couples choose to give up on having their own biological child. They might adopt or become foster parents, but a couple reaches a point of acceptance where they will never have children. Even if this point is reached however, it can come with a great amount of pain that lingers for some time.

What does this have to do with asking our thoughtless question? Well when you ask someone if/when they are going to have kids, there is the potential that you are opening up a painful subject. You don't know where they are on the parenthood journey. They may want to have kids and can't. Or they may not want to have kids, but know that choice often carries judgment from others. Perhaps they have one child and would like to have more, but their first pregnancy was difficult and they can't or don't want to risk having more. There are so many factors. 

The choice to have kids or not is a very personal choice, but for some reason, the general population feels this is a normal question to ask just about anyone, no matter what type of relationship you have with them. However, this is a thoughtless question. 

Why do people ask this question? 
Whether we recognize it or not, society has conditioned us to create a model of what normal looks like. Although some things are changing, the default expectation is that adults will get a steady job, settle down, and have kids. People who fall outside of this model are often marginalized or thought of as strange. Although I have never had kids or experienced the pain of trying to have kids, I often feel the unvoiced weight of being outside the "normal" silo. I am single and have no kids. My status already leaves me feeling left out of many things. I don't need to feel any more different than I already feel.

By asking this question, you are telling the receiver they are different -- not normal. Otherwise, why would it even be a question? It should be legitimate to have kids or not have kids.

What does someone experience when you ask them this question? 
Believe me, you aren't the first person to ask them. They are probably thinking, "Oh no, not this again." If they want to have kids and can't, you are opening up a painful subject. If they don't want to have kids, you are asking them to explain something that is not your business. Believe me, if you are a close friend, they will talk to you about their life choices when they want to if you have that kind of relationship.

If you aren't someone they want to talk to about this, they may cry. They may get defensive. They may shutdown and end the conversation with a lame excuse. Anything to get away from you. Do any of these reactions seem positive? Or they may feel obligated to tell you, only to see your face begin to space out as you realize you have opened a can of worms you really have no interest in opening.

Who (if anyone) has the right to ask this question? 
Maybe no one. Parents, you can ask your child this one time. Friends, wait for them to bring it up. Acquaintances/work friends, forget it. Doctors need to ask it for safety reason when they give you various tests. 

What can I ask or say instead? 
What's next for you in life?
What's new with you?
I love being your friend.
What's going on in your mind and heart these days?

If they have a kid, ask them about the kid they have -- not about having more.

There are so many other aspects of someone's life to ask them about when catching up. Ask them about work, vacations, what they like to do, eat, drink, watch on TV. There's no need to know about their plans for parenthood.