When Kids Ask If You Have Kids: A Childfree School Counselor’s Take

There is lots of talk out there about how to best respond to adults who ask the childfree why they don’t have kids. But what about when kids ask?  I recently asked my Brazilian friend Aggie who is a School Counselor …

..and does not have children by choice. She works at an elementary school (K-5), and works with students who are 5-11 years old.  I first asked her how she responds when kids ask her why she does not have kids. She explains that, “Kids never ask me directly why I do not have children. Instead they ask me if I have kids. Age makes a difference. When some older students (4th & 5th graders) ask me if I have children they become a bit puzzled when I say no. But they move on with no further questions or judgments.  The younger kids, (K-3) generally don’t ask me this question.”

Aggie’s experience has been different than mine. With kids ages 4 and up, I have not only been asked if I have kids, but why I don’t have them. They have generally been kids of friends or acquaintances of mine. Aggie and I agree that our experiences can very well be due to having different roles with the kids.  She works with kids and is in a “professional role they respect.”  Me–I am a friend of their parents, and there can be a more informal kind of  rapport such that they query to the more personal question of why.

In any case, Aggie makes an insightful point — “I think adults are usually much more judgmental than children. Kids ask many questions simply because they are curious. It is normal and instinctual. It seems many adults ask questions because they are ready to jump to conclusions and be judgmental.”

When kids have asked me if and why I don’t have children, sometimes they have gone a bit further and ask why I don’t like kids. They assume that I don’t like children because I don’t have them.  They are not judging me like a parent might, but taking it more personally–that it must mean that I don’t like them. So in response, I make sure I explain it has nothing to do with not liking them.

In general, how best to respond to kids when they ask this kind of thing? Like Aggie says, how to respond depends on the kid’s age, “the maturity of the child and my level of comfort discussing the subject with him or her.”

Whatever the age, I hold the mindset that this is an opportunity to communicate the idea that parenthood is optional in life. To younger kids I have said things like, “Not all people grow up to be moms and dads. Some grow up and get to be aunties and godmoms like me!”   Or to kids that are a bit older, I cast it as more, “Growing up and becoming a mom or dad is totally up to you–it is not something that happens to everyone.”

There are many ways to communicate it’s not a given in life, and I believe the childfree should take any chance they get to impart this to the next generation!

Childfree, what do you say when kids ask you if have kids? Or why you don’t have kids?

17 thoughts on “When Kids Ask If You Have Kids: A Childfree School Counselor’s Take

  1. Excellent question! I’ve been asked this many times by the children of my friends who have them. But I never looked at it that they were just asking. (Even thougfh they were. They weren’t being judgmental at all. Just curious.) They all want to know why I don’t have kids because I’m so good with them. It’s always depended on who I’m talking to and their age. Mostly I just say, “It just didn’t work out that way.” Once in a while I say, “So I can have more time to dedicate to you.” But I never felt uncomfortable being asked this by a child. I think that’s what made me realize the reason why is as you pointed out, because they weren’t judgmental.

    1. I agree I have never felt uncomfortable talking about it with kids, but in hindsight know that I could have done better clearly introduce the idea that becoming a mom or dad is not a given in life. This is my laser focus these days when talking to children about it when they ask! ~L

  2. “Not all people grow up to be moms and dads. Some grow up and get to be aunties and godmoms like me!”

    I love this response! My students (who are preschoolers) sometimes ask why I don’t have kids and I sometimes give responses that can be problematic: “I’m not married,” or “I already have cats,” are my usual answers. I recognize though that kids aren’t the end point of marriage and I don’t have pets as a “substitute” for kids. I sometimes also say though, “Well, I already have you all.” I think I need to re-frame my answers to be more about the choice aspect of parenthood.

    1. I love knowing you are a childfree pre-school teacher…despite what the sterotypes are that we all just don’t like children, there are so many childfree like you who have children at the center of their work life!

  3. I just turned the tables on my childed relatives and got their kids on my side. When their kids asked why I didn’t have kids, I told them that if I did, then there would be no reason for them to come to my house, because the rules would be the same as at their house. There would be no more chocolate cake pancakes or left over Chinese take-out for breakfast. No watching movies or playing video games until all hours. They soon told thier mothers to leave me alone. None of the kids wants to see Auntie Mona’s Camp DoWhatChaWanna disappear. ;-p

  4. thanks for this great post – i just discovered your blog and can’t wait to read more.

    i have a 7 year old niece who asks me nearly every time i see her why i don’t want to have kids. i never know what to say. i like your point about emphasising that parenthood is optional. i also get asked why i don’t like kids… then it gets a little awkward. i really don’t – but my family is different 🙂

    can’t wait to share this post with my readers!

  5. Interesting…the only issue I would raise is that by telling friends’ kids that some people are aunts, uncles, godparents (!), etc., we may be reinforcing the idea that “the other people are normal…we are here to fit into that system, to complement the parenting part of life.” It sort of makes an excuse for not having children by saying “but we make up for it.” Know what I mean?

    Love your blog.

    1. James, Thanks for writing and interesting point. I guess I don’t see it as trying to make up for anything. With very young kids, I like that it puts forth the idea that there are many roles people play in life; yet you make me think that maybe it could be better and more interesting to explain it in terms of occupations e.g., some people grow up to be teachers, doctors, moms, dads. It is a “job” after all, and quite the big one. I wish we treated it more that way when it comes to “qualifying” for the job! But that is for another discussion ; ) With kids say 6 and above they seem to get the optional point very well…but that often comes after having to explain that it has nothing to do with not liking “them” (especially until they go into their teens-) What angle do you think childfree people should take? ~L

  6. Of course the intention isn’t to make up for anything, but I fear that’s how it would be understood, even subconsciously, by children. “I’m not a mommie, but I am an aunt or godmommie” (i.e. I connect with you within the system of parenting, not as an independent contractor). In that situation, I would just tell a child any age something like “Some people choose not to have kids” and let them figure out the rest on their own. And I’d make that statement to a child of any age. Just be honest about and confident in our decision without having to fit it into the broader world where children are the assumed norm.

    Our goal: get the kids to ask their parents, “Mom, Dad, why the Hell did you have kids!”

    1. I am with you–yet when I have said it straight like that with young kids like Aggie says their curiousity keeps them asking questions! Re goal–right on. I would love to witness a kid ask his/her parent that–or even, Why did you want to have me anyway ?

  7. As an elementary school teacher, I have been asked this question by my students who range in age from 5 to 9 years old. My response is usually something like “No, but I have many nieces and nephews (13, to be exact)to love.” That usually satisfies their curiosity and they ask no further questions about it.

  8. Super post, Laura! Thanks for sharing it in the comments at Why No Kids? I agree with you here: “I hold the mindset that this is an opportunity to communicate the idea that parenthood is optional in life.” And your age-specific examples are perfect. I think that children need to learn about choice (and ideally have the lesson reaffirmed often enough that it balances out the existing norm.) I’ve also seen that my nieces and nephews respond well to the idea that my bride and I have chosen to spend time with them INSTEAD of having our own children. Similarly with my students. Emphasizing this positive shifts the focus from the negative. We are what we speak! 🙂

  9. Yes Laura! Great article. I love explaining to kids that adults have choices. Very interesting idea about different cultures. Many adults from places like Costa Rica and Mexico ask me how many kids not IF I have kids.

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