TMI? How Much Should We Tell People?

A male friend of mine is reading my Childless by Marriage book. Once planning to be a priest, he has never married or had children. He’s still very religious, and I expected him to be shocked. I mean, the man is shocked when I say something as innocuous as “That sucks,” and he won’t watch movies with cursing or sex in them.
The early chapters of the book are quite open about my sex life, about losing my virginity to my future husband, my experiences with birth control, and my post-divorce experiences with other men. Maybe, after reading all that, he would not want to be my friend anymore. So, the next time we talked after he started reading it, I held my breath.
“Well,” he said the first day, “You’ve had quite a lot of experiences, haven’t you?” Um, yes. “I can’t believe how open you are.” I guess. “You’ve been through so much.” It’s just life.
I told him I was worried about him not liking me anymore, but he said, “Nothing you could do would change how I feel about you.” Now that’s a friend.
The second day, he talked about feeling left behind. He didn’t become a priest because he wanted to marry and have children, but he never found the right person, “the one who rang my bell.” Now, in his 60s, facing open heart surgery in the near future, he knows he can never get those years back.
That “wasted years” feeling is one many of us share. What did we do with those years when we might have been with someone we loved and/or with those years when we might have been raising children? What do we tell people when they ask, “Why?”
Do we give them all the gory details about infertility, birth control, miscarriages and misgivings? Do we talk about how our partners don’t want kids—or we don’t, how the stepchildren have messed up our own chances, how we fear passing on mental illness, addictions and other problems, or how we just don’t have enough money? What do we say? How much should say?
In casual conversation, I usually just tell people, “God had other plans for me.” I believe that, but there’s so much more to the story. Just saying I don’t have kids tends to bring conversation to a halt. No kids? No grandkids? What? How much should I share?
What do you think? How much information do you need to give when people ask why you don’t have children? Do you tell all, give a vague answer, or change the subject? Is it none of their business? Do you turn it around and ask why they DO have children?
Please share in the comments. And, if you’ve read my book, did I say too much?
Thank you all for being here.

10 thoughts on “TMI? How Much Should We Tell People?

  1. Hi Sue. I am currently going through a painful crisis at finding myself with no children and a partner who didn't want them. 'Waking' up to this is in my late 40's sent me into a soul-destroying crisis that I am only just recovering from. The choices are awful. I am returning to my home country to try to make decisions. I have sisters who have children married, then divorced, yet my path seems different from the norm. It's private and painful and very lonely. I am glad you have written this blog.


  2. I feel for your friend who had chosen a path that never materialized. I have a few friends who did decide to enter into religious life. They seemed fulfilled. But “different.” One friend lives a “normal” life. Meaning he occasionally slips an F-bomb, enjoys a few beers and jokes around with the best of them. Still, I find myself being a bit more guarded around him. Which is funny because I would think that those who take a religious path do so for their devotion to a God who only loves and does not judge us by our shortcomings. If anyone should accept me for me, it should be a priest, right?So I can appreciate your nervous feelings of having someone reading your true and honest words. You put it out there, and that is brave.As for what I tell people, I don't tell them much. In our very Catholic family, I believe most of them think we “can't” have children. One extended relative (who actually can't) recently confided in me that she's sick and tired of family members hounding her. Once in a local coffee shop, she discovered that an aunt includes her on a prayer chain. All sorts of people are praying for her private situation to pan out. She should have appreciated that gesture, but I guess having strangers knowing about her private struggles is just a little too much for her. I don't blame her for being mad.I must give off a vibe because I am never asked, never approached. When I speak of not having children, it's like the floodgates open and people jump on the chance to find out whatever they can. (presumably to share with the others)Even my own mother doesn't ask me, for fear I will cry. My brother told me this.I inquired about adoption through my husband’s cousin, and she was happy to provide information to me. I thanked her and told her that maybe a few years down the road we might be a position to take that path. She warned me to “not wait until my life is perfect.” I finally unloaded because I am sick of people thinking that they know everything about my situation. I told her too much. About how waiting for my husband to tackle his drinking addiction was the farthest thing from “perfect.” That “perfect” lies under a mountain of debt. I want to get at least halfway to “perfect” before I invite a child into the mix. We're on a great path and I'm so happy now. I was smart enough to know to NOT have a child. I think I'm a pretty good judge of when it's a good time to start. And now is not yet the time.Anon S


  3. Thanks for sharing this, Anon S. It is hard to know what to say and what to keep secret for fear people will go overboard with the pity or bombard us with nosy questions. In my writing, I tend to tell all, but in real life, most people don't ask. They assume I have kids until I tell them otherwise.


  4. I always enjoy your posts. I am one year into my second relationship, where we both are happy to not have kids (I accepted no kids after trying to adopt for years with a bad husband, and now that I am ill with chronic illness, I am glad I don’t). But we have a bit of regret from time to time about the years we lost with the wrong person. We love each other dearly. He has two grown girls, who presently hate my guts, but I hope in time will come to see that I do make their dad very happy. I find that having an illness is great when it comes to the kids question. He has two gorgeous grown daughters, and he doesn’t want any more and I don't want kids if I can't be the kind of mom I had originally planned. My health is enough for me to take care of. It seems I found a way to feel like I adopted an older child, as I have taken an adult with developmental disabilities under my wing. I am teaching him to read, or trying to, and making sure he has enough food to last him the month. He lives on his own and is responsible for himself. It’s good enough for me. Hat


  5. God has other plans for me… so poignant… sometimes I am so scared because I just can't visualize what those plans are. I never imagined a life without children when I was growing up, so I never really made any plans as such. What now, what now? Life is definitely not over, nor is hope (we still have a glimmer of hope). Admitting that it might be time to dare to think of life in a different way seems almost like admitting defeat. But is it?


  6. How much is TMI? For me it depends on the person.Church people are the worst on this particular subject. “So do you have kids?” Ah, yes, thank you for opening that can of worms. Not an innocent question, dear reader. Not at all.If the person is insensitive enough to ask that question, I have learned to just shut the conversation down and share as little as possible. They have no brain-to-mouth filter & haven't earned my trust yet.If the subject comes up nonchalantly via natural conversation, then I'll open a little, share a little more. It just depends on the “vibe,” to borrow another commenter’s term. Interrupting me will shut the conversation down asap.Although tempting, I never return the gesture in kind. I never ask them a similar personal question. So are you ovulating? Trying to conceive? Is your brain-to-mouth filter broken today? In terms of TMI , I am ok sharing my story with a listener who wants to hear it, who doesn't offer suggestions (hey, why don't you get a surrogate?!) and in any situation where it may help the listener to understand or cope with their own challenges they face.


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