The Controversy of Holiday Conversations - Erin's Inside Job

The Controversy of Holiday Conversations

As the holidays approach, many people begin demanding what can and can't be asked during holiday conversations. This is my take on 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 around holiday conversations.

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 in these holiday conversations, 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 holiday 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.

What are your thoughts about the controversy around holiday conversations?

5 comments on “The Controversy of Holiday Conversations

  1. I understand your angle with this article. As someone that is married, 37 (almost), and no children, we get asked this all of the time. Although I never get angry or aggressive and it doesn’t bother me to the point where I would demand people not bring it up over the holidays, it is an uncomfortable question. I‘M always kind in my response and try to be cognizant of why they would ask the question in the first place (your points above). I do think it is more of an education piece (like everything else) and some people will be more enlightened and others just “won’t get it” necessarily. The reasons for not having children are not simply I want them eventually or I don’t want them. Sometimes it can bring up pain for a person. Yes for infertility reasons, miscarriages etc but also for many other reasons. We never really know another persons struggle or reasons behind the choice. I think it can be a healing question if it comes from someone who is genuinely interested and accepting/open to conversation. For me personally, it’s usually coming from someone who does not understand a life outside of the conventional norms and there is judgement attached to it and the person usually gets aggressive about missing out on something wonderful in life (which in my personal situation makes me feel deep sadness as it’s not really a choice that i don’t want children but it may not happen). So although my thinking mind understands why they ask, it still instills some painful feelings.

    1. I 100% agree with Dee’s comment. While I don’t think people need to be so angry in demanding that private questions not be asked of them, I think they have every right to feel annoyed/not want them asked to begin with. And this goes for any personal question, whether it be, “why don’t you have kids yet?” or “what do you do to make money?” I understand that many times these are harmless questions but I think they also come from a place of believing in societal norms, and judgment if you’re not doing something the more conventional way.

      I feel this most though because my best friend struggled with infertility. She also lost her first child a few days after he was born. Even her immediate family has been insensitive to her feelings about having children. In her case, she very much wanted them, but felt her body was physically failing her and every unsolicited question about when she was going to have kids reminded her of that.

      It’s true that we cannot change everyone and our reactions are very much our responsibility but I think what these posts are doing are trying to raise awareness and possibly make people think more about what they say before they say it.

  2. Hi Erin,
    This is an interesting topic and one that my girlfriends and I were just speaking about recently. I am a 35 year-old, child-fre (by choice) woman so i have most certainly fielded more than my share of these types of questions. Like the poster above, i cant say it makes me feel overly angry, but i certainly do find them problematic. And that’s for a few reasons. I agree with what you said in the article that peoples intent with these questions often isn’t malicious, but we need to remember that intent doesn’t erase impact. Just because someone doesn’t mean anything negative by something they have said or done doesn’t mean that they haven’t done something negative. The problem with the kids questions, and largely in them being directed most strongly towards women, is that it implies and assumptions or an expected standard for what a woman’s role is, and that is to bear children. It is not dissimilar at all to the heteronormativity of our cultures in that we assume the default sexual orientation is straight and we show this (even the most well meaning people) in how we ask little girls if they have a crush on a boy, which implies an expectation or a default, forcing them to “come out” if they dont fit this. This is the same issue with asking women when they are having kids, it implies that is the expectation and if a woman is not doing that (for any reasons, whether she cant or doesn’t want to) she has to declare that and often times is forced to defend that choice. It has become acceptable to not only ask a woman when she is having kids but to then find it appropriate to ask her why not, if she says no. Again, implying that she needs to defend her deviation from the norm.
    So while it may seem a casual question and if you arent someone who has spent years having to defend your deviance from the “norm” then it might seem like an absurd thing to get upset about, and I get that. But it is important to understand that this simple question has much, much deeper roots in womens rights, expectations of our roles, and a society that deems it acceptable to publicly question us about our decisions around our bodies and our reproductive intentions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.