The Controversy of Holiday Conversations
This post is one that has taken me years to figure out how to write, and honestly, I don’t even know what it will turn into as I do. Yearly, around the holidays, I start to see an increasing number of angry messages demanding that no one ask them about when they are planning on having children. For some reason, these posts make me incredibly mad and have since before I was a mother myself. I asked myself why. I talked with friends about it. I talked to my therapist and other friends who were also therapists. I tried to figure out where this rage was coming from.
I understand that I haven’t struggled with infertility (it took us four months to conceive), miscarriages, and other health factors that undoubtedly take a toll if you’re someone who is actively trying for a family, so I can’t experience what it is like for those people. This has always been something that has bothered me, though, as mentioned above, before I had a child. I’ve received my fair share of these questions and just answered them and moved on. I wasn’t personally offended when asked. I didn’t angrily demand for people to stop asking them.
Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten to this place where I no longer struggle with my opinions and I try and live life as transparently as I can. Maybe I’m just not as reserved as I once was. I’m not sure what it is, but I’d love to hear your take on it because I always want to understand an issue from as many perspectives as possible.
These are some of the thoughts I’ve come up with.
You can’t control the behavior of others
I think what prompts my sometimes visceral reaction is the tone in which I read these posts. They are often aggressive, demanding, and sometimes rude (which I’m sure could be argued of the questions being asked as well). It’s one thing to ask politely or educate people on something they may not understand as well as you do, but it’s another to DEMAND that people change their behavior.
What’s important to understand is that the only person you can control is yourself, so if these questions make you uncomfortable, it’s important to learn some strategies to deal with them because people are still going to ask.
Own your decisions
If the reason you haven’t had children is because you don’t want to have them, say that. Don’t give vague answers that will just invite more questioning then or in years to come. The sooner you can shut down the conversation, the sooner you can move past it.
It speaks more about them than you, so understand that
As one of my friends pointed out, many older family members will ask because just as you have moved into a new phase of life, so have they. As you have moved into adulthood, your dependency on them is no longer there and that can leave some people feeling lost and searching for a new role in their own lives. This means that your having children will make them a grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. and that helps give them some solace as they also age. No, it it not your responsibility to grant them that wish if you don’t want to, then or at all, but take a step back and think about their position as well.
It’s also important to note that yes, it is unfair of them to put their fears and feelings on you, which is something that they should work on. That being said, and back to my first point, you can’t control another person so they may or may not be emotionally mature enough to do this.
More often than not, people are not asking to be malicious. It’s either a genuine curiosity or small talk (which yes, could be improved upon subject-wise). When extended family gets together, it’s a way to catch up and figure out how people are doing. That doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate, but it’s certainly not unexpected.
Learn to set boundaries
If questions become too invasive for you or simply too frequent, figure out what your boundaries are and set them. This could look like communicating how these questions make you feel and asking that person to please stop asking, let them know it’s none of their business, or even turning down family events if you feel like dealing with these conversations will be too much for you to handle.
Everyone is different and affected differently by life. I really think it’s important to stress that if you’re having trouble dealing with certain things — ANY things, then it’s up to you to get some help in dealing with them. Talk to friends, talk to a therapist, journal, or any number of ways in which to figure out your thoughts and feelings and learn healthy coping mechanisms. As much as we want to force people to behave in a way that makes us comfortable, it’s simply not possible.