Don’t Ask Me How Many Grandchildren I Have!

“How many grandchildren do you have?” a Facebook friend posted last week. People started commenting with their numbers—7, 3, 5, etc.

The original poster is one of those people who are always posting questions. What foods do you hate? What countries have you been to? Who starred at the first concert you attended, etc.? I’m sure you have friends who do that, too. That’s fine. It’s fun. But then this grandchild question came up.

I could not help myself. I typed, “Zero. You should not assume that everyone has children and grandchildren.”

That’s all I said. But it lit a fire. The mommy brigade scolded me. It’s all in fun, they said. I don’t have to get all angry about it. I said, “I’m not angry, but I need to represent my people who would find this question hurtful. Enjoy every minute with your grandchildren. Just be aware that some of us don’t have them. I’m jealous of everyone who does.”

Jealousy is my go-to response these days. I tell folks who are happy about their families that I’m jealous as hell. Period. Let’s move on.

There are so many people to whom it never occurs that some of us, for all kinds of reasons, never have the opportunity to have children. I feel a duty to let them know. More than a fifth of us don’t have kids. They need to see that, acknowledge it, and maybe have a little bit of sympathy instead of closing the door in our faces.

Can I get an amen?

Have you found yourself in situations where you had to challenge the assumption that everyone has children? What did you say?

***

On the brighter side, something cool happened on Saturday when I was walking Annie on the next block. This Corgi named Winnie always comes waddling out on her short legs to greet us. She has the softest fur I have ever felt. On Saturday, she was accompanied by a group of little boys. The smallest one came running over to pet Annie with long slow strokes. Suddenly he turned from my dog and put his arms around me. He could only reach up to my hips. I was so touched. Then he ran back to his yard, but he stood there waving as we walked on.

“I’m Grandma Sue to the world, and I love it,” I told my deaf dog.

I promise you will reach a point where little ones are a delight and not just a cause of deep pain.

***

Here comes Mother’s Day again. Do whatever you need to do to nurture yourself on that day. Take a bubble bath. Or a hike. Buy yourself flowers. Dye your hair blue. Honor your own mother if she’s still around. Avoid social media and don’t put yourself in situations that will make you feel worse (Sunday brunch!!!). If you didn’t see it on the Childless by Marriage Facebook page, do listen to this Childless Not by Choice podcast, which offers great advice from 11 childless women about surviving the holiday. Host Civilla Morgan always makes me feel better.

Big hugs to one and all. Sue

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15 thoughts on “Don’t Ask Me How Many Grandchildren I Have!

  1. A long time ago, I went to a focus group day for my job. I was a civil servant and usually we were lucky if there were sandwiches but on this day, the hotel provided a three course hot lunch. I sat down at the table and after a short while, a very senior manager sat down next to me. She turned to me and said out of nowhere, “how old are your children, Jo?” I was surprised that she knew my name and simply replied, “I don’t have any children, Jean”. Without saying a word, she turned 180 degrees and asked the same question of the woman on the other side of her. I couldn’t hear the response but I knew that lady from my office and knew that she had at least one teenager. The very senior manager then spent the whole meal talking to that lady, completely ignoring me.

    I was at the end of the table and it was a very long wide table so I couldn’t even talk to anyone on the other side of it. I had to sit in silence for three excruciating courses. I knew someone sitting on the other side and she pulled a few confused faces at me. She later told me that all she saw was a manager sit down next to me, say a few words and me say a few back. She saw her practically give herself whiplash turning away and then stayed turned away for the whole meal. She wondered what on earth I had said to elicit such a response.

    I was in my late 20s then but looked a lot younger. I was quite junior but obviously educated and it would not have been reasonable for a virtual stranger to expect me to have a family at that time. I was not really thinking about having children then so it just struck me as being incredibly rude. Had it happened when I was in my thirties and really feeling my childlessness, I would probably have been devastated.

    My Mum has no grandchildren and I know it hurts her when people make the assumption that she must have them. I don’t know if she challenges them or just stays silent. People do make assumptions but, as the saying goes, when you assume, you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’…

    I’m glad that little boy gave you a hug; I bet he enjoyed it as much as you did.

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    • How incredibly rude! Did you ever find out what happened to this socially inept creep? Hopefully karma stepped in . . .

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    • I had something similar happen to me some years ago, Jo — I used to scrapbook — admittedly, a very mommy-centric hobby — and I was at a scrapbooking “crop” — a gathering of women at a church hall sponsored by a local scrapbook store, where we all worked on our scrapbooks (and of course, chatted and admired each others’ work and enjoyed a catered lunch). I was there by myself and sat at a table with two women who were obviously friends. They asked me how many kids I had. I said, “I don’t have any kids.” I don’t think they said another word to me for the rest of the day. Anytime I tried to strike up a conversation, complimented their work or asked them a question about a tool or product they were using, the replies were short and perfunctory. I’ve never forgotten that. Talk about awkward!

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      • I don’t understand why they were so rude to you, Loribeth. It’s not like you said “I don’t have any kids – it’s ruined my life” and burst into tears or started ranting about it. You answered a question with a simple statement of fact, just like I did. If one area of conversation is unsuitable then you pick another one. I’m a Brit – we can easily have long conversations with strangers about the weather. You don’t just ignore that person completely. Some people can be very strange, and very rude.

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  2. I was working with patients in a skilled nursing facility. We were doing a social activity that also worked on balance and upper body strength. All of the older adults were seated in a circle and tossing a beach ball that had different questions written on the different colored sections. A patient I had been working with caught the ball, read the question “What are the names of your grandchildren?” out loud, and immediately went silent. I knew from working with her that she did not have any children; therefore, I knew she did not have any grandchildren. But, I had heard her talk about her nephews so I jumped in and asked, “What are your nephews’ names that you are always telling me about?” She smiled and answered and the game went on. Later I asked my supervisor if I could buy a new beach ball and write new questions on them, leaving off the grandchildren one. My supervisor, who also didn’t have children, said, “Yes, please! I’ve always hated that question.” I returned after the weekend with a new beach ball purchased from the dollar store.

    I’m glad you spoke up on social media. I’ll never understand why the mommy brigade takes such offense to our reality. (Insert eye roll)

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  3. Thanks for speaking out Sue. Good for you and for us. By and large the mommy brigade would like us to remain silent and invisible about our childless/grandchildless-ness. I don’t understand why, other than it makes them uncomfortable when we speak up about it, even if only to say, “no, I don’t have any kids (or grandkids)”. They don’t care to understand that these questions/comments might be triggering or hurtful because of their assumption that not having kids is ‘no big deal’ and is something ‘you just get over’.

    To the person who said “you don’t have to get angry about it; it’s all in fun”, no it’s not fun for those of us who are bombarded by this crap day in and day out and are expected to stand by gracefully in silence. It gets old, particularly Mother’s Day week. It’s called social media and we are part of society, like it or not.

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  4. Amen.

    About 6 years ago, not long after my mother had died, my husband and I had a weekend away. By then, DH had had a stroke and I was a carer, but we’d found a lovely accessible hotel.

    DH kindly told me to have a shopping trip while he rested at the hotel. I decided to treat myself to some new skin cream.

    The sales assistant was very helpful and friendly. Then…She asked whether I had any grandchildren.

    I’m afraid I burst into tears. The poor woman kept apologising.

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    • I’m sorry that happened to you. I think the problem is that people think it’s a reasonable question when making conversation with strangers – “do you have children?” or “how old are your grandchildren?” etc. People who say these things obviously have children themselves and it doesn’t occur to them that it could be a sensitive subject for someone else. Maybe that sales assistant will think before she asks that question again and you raised some awareness, without meaning to.

      Liked by 1 person

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