People end up childless for many different reasons. Some are unable to conceive or to carry a baby to term; some don’t want children; some have never met the right partner; some of us are with partners who can’t or don’t want to reproduce; and some of us are just victims of bad timing—when you were young enough, the opportunity wasn’t there, and when the opportunity came along, you were too old. There are all kinds of variations on these themes.
But most of the world sees only that we have deviated from the norm by not having children. I’ve experienced that. People have said, “Oh, you didn’t want kids.” I scrambled to convince them that that was not the case, that I did want children, but it didn’t work out. “Well, then, why did you stay with Fred?” they might ask. Soon I feel as if I’m on trial because I’m not a mother. It’s easier to jump in with a half-truth. “We couldn’t.” “God had other plans.” Or, when I was younger: “We’re working on it.”
We weren’t working on it. We were never going to work on it. Fred had no sperm, thanks to his vasectomy, and he was done with babies. There would be no reversal, adoption, or other work-around. But I didn’t want to get into another 20-questions situation. At baby showers, when people would announce that I would be the next to have a baby, I’d just smile or laugh. I didn’t want to spoil the party.
In the book I just finished reading, Childless Voices by Lorna Gibb, she describes horrible things that are done in some parts of the world to women who don’t produce children. They are shunned, imprisoned, beaten, or banished. (I’ll share more about this next week.) But even in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, the childless are considered “other,” a weird and foreign species.
Gibb writes: “Western society is predominantly pronatalist and the childless and child-free are often interrogated as to the reason for their state. If it then becomes known that someone is voluntarily childless, they suffer from negative stereotyping and may be regarded as deviant, and treated with disbelief and disregard.”
In other words, we get stink-eye. Even if it’s not our fault, if we are childless because it takes two and we don’t have a willing or able partner.
So my question today is this: Do you find yourself lying or shading the truth about your lack of children to avoid awkward conversations? Why? What do you say? In similar situations, what does your partner say? Does his/her story contradict yours? Let’s talk about this in the comments.
Forgive me for missing last week. I had a minor medical situation, but it’s all fine now. See my Unleashed in Oregon blog for a most unflattering photo. 🙂
The Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—are chatting online again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. It’s at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.
7 thoughts on “Do You Ever Lie About Your Childless State?”
In the past, when pressed into conversations about kids, I found myself sharing stories about nieces and nephews. And then I ended up feeling icky, like a fraud. These days, I try to get a sense of whether it’s a teachable moment or maybe an opportunity to open up with a woman who has a similar story.
My darling husband will sometimes deflect with “We have dogs.” Since it’s usually strangers who are just trying to make conversation, this feels okay to me.
P.S. Glad to hear you’re okay.
Thank you, Kathleen. I have used my niece and nephew, too, but you’re right. It’s not the same. We do need to assess the audience and decide whether it’s worth discussing in depth.
I can’t answer on behalf of my partner, but it is embarrassing how many times we are asked this question. I remember being quizzed by family, co workers, in laws, and misc others on why I have not had kids, or the presumptions people make (career, pathway, interest). People want to assume an answer before they engage the reason.
The best response came from an event a couple years ago when someone asked me if my partner and I had kids. As I stumbled to answer the question (it is still a very hard topic to discuss), the person responded: “Life is complicated”. Indeed–sometimes the pathway you think you are on hits an unexpected stumbling block.
Yes, life is always complicated. Good answer.
The thing is, I don’t think I owe anyone an explanation. People deserve the full explanation ONLY if I decide they deserve it. I’ll give it only if I want to, and then the version I want to. Shrugging is good. Saying “no” if I’m asked if we have kids, and making it clear I’m not going to say anymore helps. “It didn’t work out,” is as much as I’ll say if I don’t want to expand on why. Sometimes, to relative strangers, I might tell them the details, if the occasion is appropriate and I feel they have asked out of empathy or genuine interest (rather than nosy curiosity). It’s different every time. And “we have cats” was a good one. Also, “we travel too much” used to work pre-COVID. Sigh. There was a funny list I found years ago, with responses like “the dog/cat is allergic” or “we’ve just put in white carpet” or other such responses which convey the message that we don’t want to tell and make people laugh, which helps lighten the mood.
This reminds me of Dr. Seuss and his first wife inventing a child, Chrysanthemum Pearl, to tell exaggerated stories about. She was incredibly talented and even featured on a Christmas card of theirs one year. 🙂 I read about it in a Smithsonian Magazine article (3/2/2017) if anyone is interested.
I never heard about that before. That’s fascinating. Thank you for sharing this. Here is a link. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/chrysanthemum-pearl-was-child-dr-seuss-never-had-180962291/