One of the challenges the childfree talk about is how not to get defensive when asked by people they don’t know (or don’t know well) why they don’t want kids. Here are my three favorite strategies:
First, a question worth asking is why we can feel defensive in this situation. There are lots of reasons people get defensive, but in this case there can be a couple of reasons why it can happen. One is because the person asking the question has gone beyond the boundaries of personal space–in this case, not physical personal space, but “relational” personal space. It can also arise from feeling a negative or judging undercurrent in the question.
Having a strategy to respond will help any defensiveness that comes up. Here are three I have seen work (and used myself!).
This relates to all three: Start with and hold the position that they are genuinely curious about you. Now this may not be true, but choosing to frame it this way will help whatever you say come from less of a defensive place. If someone is interested in you, and this interest feels like it is without judgment, doesn’t it feel easier to respond?
1. Call out the fact that they are asking you a personal question — with seriousness.
Make sure they know that you feel that they are asking you a personal question, yet respond anyway. I know some people may say you have every right not to respond and you do. However, I say treat it as an opportunity to expose people to the reality that parenthood is optional. You don’t have to open your heart wide open and give every personal reason to someone you don’t know well; come up with a brief response that describes your reasons in general terms, and keep it in your back pocket for this kind of encounter.
2. Call it out – with humor.
Make the point that they are getting personal too fast in a way that’s humorous or clever. One of my favorite responses here is what one woman interviewed in Families of Two would say–something akin to, “That’s a very personal question–it’s like me asking you what color panties do You have on?” Then answer; here too, I say don’t let a chance to talk about this choice go by.
3. Play a little aikido.
Aikido is about taking the energy coming at you and using it to “apply a counter-technique,” In this case, it means to first make the point that this is a personal question, that you will answer, if they will start by answering for you why they have or want children.
If delivered from a place of curiosity, this can lead to a very interesting conversation, and potentially to knowing each other a bit better, and who knows…maybe the blossoming of a new friendship.
There are lots of ways to go about this kind of situation. These are just three ways of approaching it I have seen work.
What strategies do you have?