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It Is My Privilege To Be The Instrument Of Your Etiquette Education

Continuing on in the Ooops – Foot In Mouth vein…

Some moons ago, I was 19, and had three plates in the air at once over the first summer home from college. I was enrolled in a course in my major taught very well at the local university; I had a part-time feature-reporting internship that paid in nickels but was experience! and to actually make money to live on the following year I had a fast-food gig.

I was sent out one fine summer morning to interview the proprietors of several pick-your-own farms popular in the area. In talking about who runs the farm, the farmer says that it’s just he and his wife.

“Oh, no children yet?” I lightly say.
“No,” he says flatly.
“Oh, maybe soon,” I chirp.

Awkward pause while I change gears and (thankfully) refer to my pre-written list of questions.

I don’t know whether they were childless by choice, unable to have children, unable to agree on having children, or had recently lost a child.

I do know that never again have I probed any further than “do you have children,” and then only when it seems to be necessary. (“If you have children, the church has a nursery….” for example).

My face was the reddest fruit on display that day.   0115-09

Imagine if we were reading the story from the farmer’s perspective:

I was being interviewed by some inept college student who had the audacity to ask about future children.   [insert various scenarios here] We’re child-free by choice/we just lost our 1 week old son to SIDS/we are infertile which is breaking our hearts …thanks stupid college girl for reminding me…..etc…  Tacky chick didn’t even have the heart to apologize for her gaffe.   Just left after an awkward silence.

There are nearly always two sides of a story or the rest of the story we never hear about.

The OP’s story is the reason why people should be gracious and forgiving in cases of unintentional Foot in Mouth disease. One never knows if it’s a learning experience the Ooopster will never forget which changes how they behave in the future. Imagine the privilege of being the instrument by which someone else grows and matures to be a better person!


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jenna November 11, 2010, 10:05 pm

    I’ve done that too. My only defense is that where I live (Asia) these kinds of questions are considered acceptable, so I’ve gotten used to “Are you married? Kids yet? Maybe you could lose weight. How old are you? What’s your rent like?” as acceptable conversation topics.

    The person I said it to is a part of that culture so it’s *slightly* less bad, but yeah. One person in my training module (a woman) had kids, the other (a man) was unmarried/childless, and he said he had no experience with how tired kids can make you. I have no kids but remember how tired my cousins made my aunts and uncles. “Oh, you’ll find out soon!” I said without thinking.

    Only realized later that he may have no intention of finding out, and while I can’t say for sure one way or the other, he was quite likely homosexual (and this is not a culture where gay couples adopt or conceive through other means).

    And doubly dumb because *I* don’t plan to have kids! Why would I have assumed that he did?

    OOPS. I’ll never do that again! I felt awful for weeks despite having been clearly shown through actions that the slip was forgiven and forgotten.

  • Alexis November 15, 2010, 8:56 am

    If you listen to them, people will tell you what they want you to know. They might not tell you what YOU want to know. Too bad for you! I have also learned the hard way to be careful about what I say!

  • J's Mama November 15, 2010, 10:04 am

    I’ve lost 2 children due to stillbirth, and I have had that conversation before. It definitely hurts, and usually most people think it’s pretty innocent.

  • DGS November 15, 2010, 11:00 am

    I’ve lost my twins to a double placental abruption at 23w5d, and it definitely does hurt, and most people think it’s pretty innocent and don’t know what to say when you’re honest back and say, “We lost our babies, and I almost lost my life in the process”. Before we were pregnant with them, we went through 2 years of fertility treatments, which was excruciating on its own. I’ve found, though, that as long as I don’t assume that the person was trying to be intentionally hurtful, I can usually manage the conversation so that the person doesn’t spend the rest of it with their face burning and red with embarasment. I usually thank people for the inevitable “I’m so sorry” and brush off any further inquiries.

  • Shayna November 15, 2010, 11:03 am

    I am medically unable to have children. My husband and I have been married for 7 years, and I get asked this question all the time. People just don’t seem to “get it” when you try to cut this conversation short. I hate it.

  • Harley Granny November 15, 2010, 11:51 am

    Luckily you found out the easy way that this is not an acceptable question.

    I’m glad you realized it early and didn’t press the issue after seeing the “subject closed” signs.

    Some people don’t.

  • Louise November 15, 2010, 12:36 pm

    I once asked a woman for whom I used to baby sit, while we were idly chitchatting, whether she and her husband planned to have any more children. That’s when I learned she and the child barely survived childbirth and she can’t have any more.

    I wince just thinking about it, never mind writing it out. I’ve never asked that question again.

  • Kriss November 15, 2010, 1:15 pm

    A few years ago I was talking to the cashier who was ringing me up and somehow we got on the subject that I live in an apartment. She said something along the lines of “You should really get a house. Your boys need a backyard to run off some energy!” It stung a little because at the time we weren’t in a position to buy a house. What I appreciated was that she stopped, looked me in the eye and apologized. She said she was sorry for assuming and smoothed it over with “I remember what it’s like to be a young family and not want to be tied down to the wrong house in the wrong neighborhood. The right one at the right time will come before you know it.” I didn’t think ill of her for sticking her foot in her mouth but I respected her for confronting it. Now I try to apologize when I find myself chewing on a toe.

  • Tracey November 15, 2010, 1:32 pm

    I agree that it’s an innocent question to ask people if they have children. I think it starts getting into the gray area when you press further and ask “do you plan to?” although I am definitely guilty of doing so! I’m going to stop that continuing conversation right now, thanks for the reminder. We have one child and I am constantly being asked if/when/why regarding having a 2nd child. I always wanted another one, but now that I’m broke, I’m gestationally old and I’m not in a happy place in my marriage, sadly #2 is out of the question. Is that what the questioner wants to hear?? Heck no! Maybe more innocent question askers will let it go after the first question of children has been answered. In my case: Yes, I have one child and no, for many reasons we won’t be having a second. The end. 🙂

  • Julie November 15, 2010, 2:03 pm

    Once, while I was volunteering as a campus health advocate, we were put in small groups and told to take turns discussing the one physical aspect of ourselves we hated most. This was supposed to help us put our insecurities in perspective, or something. A guy admitted that he constantly worried about his height (about 5’7″) and that no one would ever find him attractive because of it. I had to open my big mouth: “But the majority of girls are shorter than you! And I know plenty of girls who like guys your height! I can’t believe you have any problems finding girls.” (Yes, I had a crush on him.) He just stared at me and said “More to the point, I’m gay.” My face ….it burned….

  • Jan74 November 15, 2010, 2:47 pm

    We are infertile, and I can handle “Do you have kids?” I can’t handle any follow-up like “Do you want them?” or “I’m sure you’ll have them soon” or a story about your friend of a friend who had them with no fertility treatments at 47. Any follow-up here and I’m in tears. So if you accidentally ask, stop right there. Don’t probe any further.

  • AS November 15, 2010, 2:53 pm

    J’s Mama and DGS – I am very sorry to hear your stories. I wish I could say something better, but don’t know what to say.

    I have had the experience of baby-related OOPS! on the other extreme. I once bumped into a former colleague who was much older than me. She was a single mother, and used to work really hard to take care of her children, hold a job as well as finish graduate school (Ph.D. nonetheless!). We had met after about 3-4 years, and were catching up, and I naturally asked about her children. She said that her daughter had just had a baby, and thinking that it is good news that she became a grandmother, I congratulated her. She just replied that it is not good news. I felt so embarrassed, and didn’t know what to say except “sorry”, though she was nice enough to not hold it against me, and changed the topic herself.

  • phoenix November 15, 2010, 3:11 pm

    This is a personal big one with me. Just last week at the doctor (where I was waiting for my hubby) a woman started on the “oh, are you married? kids yet?” When I said no, she asked why. When I declined to respond with “it’s personal” she went on saying she asked all young couples this, as she noticed a lot don’t want kids and she didn’t understand it. She was immune to bean-dip and I couldn’t leave, so I tried just not responding.

    “Is it the state of the world?” she asked. I started reading a magazine. “Is it a money thing?” I kept ignoring her.

    This went on for ten minutes! I was tempted to tell her my reasons (my family is a carrier for a lot of nasty genetic defects as well as a history of child abuse from mothers to daughters) because that usually quiets people, but she didn’t deserve to know.

    My regret is I couldn’t teach her to stop ambushing people with that question! Maybe it is a regional thing- at my old job I couldn’t convince my HR manager that it was an inappropriate question because “they’re just being friendly.” Bleh.

  • boxy November 15, 2010, 3:28 pm

    Back in the Stone Age when I was 18 a co-worker introduced me to a customer who’s name was “Alowisha S0-and-so”. For some unfathomable reason I said happily, “Hi Swish!” The man was clearly embarrassed because he was still in the closet and I had somewhat outed him. At the time I didn’t know about his preference but still realized I had overstepped and instantly my face turned beet red. This guy was so gracious that he smiled, stuck out his hand and said, “I’m pleased to meet you.”

  • Shiksagoddess November 15, 2010, 3:40 pm

    (((J’s mama and DGS))) Nothing intelligent to say except, I’m so very sorry for your loss.

  • Fried Lobster November 15, 2010, 4:07 pm

    Huh. I had no idea that this was yet another topic people are expected to avoid.
    Maybe the farmer lost his 4 kids to an overturned tractor. Maybe his wife had a horrible disease and can’t have children. Or maybe the farmer has a flat tone of voice sometimes and simply didn’t have anything to say at the moment until your next question.
    Well gee. Maybe the OP shouldn’t have asked who runs the farm because that might have brought up painful memories of the tragic death of the person who used to run the farm with him. And you shouldn’t ask if there are any squash available because that might cause the farmer to think about the tragic disease that infected his squash crop, costing him all that time and money.

  • Sharon November 15, 2010, 6:02 pm

    May I say, I cannot begin to imagine the pain and heartache over the kind of losses mentioned by posters. I hope you had the love and care of people to help you deal with the loss.

    We live in a time when information is able to be spread worldwide in a matter of minutes. There are people who are famous for no other reason but for the fact that they are willing to reveal every detail of their lives in a public forum. There are people who are paid to do nothing but watch, dig, and pry into the lives of politicians and so-called celebrities. It it like we have disconnected from the whole concept of human dignity.

  • PrincessSimmi November 15, 2010, 6:31 pm

    I’ve never lost a child, and I can’t say I know what it feels like. But I’ve seen the pain that my friend went through – she tried to concieve for 17 years before finally having her first child through IVF last week. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    I’ve put my foot in it before and I can honestly say sometimes the bast way to learn is by making mistakes – just keep your fingers crossed that they will forgive you.

  • Giles November 15, 2010, 7:31 pm

    A lot less of a heartbreaking example, but my husband and I got used to comments like this after adopting our oldest daughter. She had kidney and liver problems so she was in the hospital frequently, and I’d have other parents commenting “Oh, she’s so jaundice. She’ll be so cute once she’s not yellow any more.” Then they’d pause and be embarrassed. Our daughter is Chinese. Another parenting comment you learn to live with is “She looks just like you!”

  • Skoffin November 15, 2010, 9:41 pm

    Fried Lobster- There are certain topics that should be left alone and for good reason. Asking if someone has kids is fine, but prying further into it is best not done. It’s none of your business why a couple does/doesn’t have children and whether they will. This subject is within the realms of sex, and we can all agree that asking about the sex lives of strangers is a no-go.
    Discussing someone’s personal or sexual affairs is not the same as talking about their business.

  • Ali November 15, 2010, 10:11 pm

    Know what? She asked, she dropped it quickly, she was obviously very young. I’d say no big deal. Yes, painful stuff happens/awkward questions happen, and yes, it can hurt. But letting go all that emotion is part of the healing process. If you get upset every time someone asks you if you have kids if you are unable to, you’ll live your life upset.

    I lost a close family member when I was young, and I’d get asked about her because it was obvious I had a person missing. I don’t mind the questions because they don’t mean to hurt, and I let the hurt go (of course I still miss her).

    I think a lot of times people are far too sensitive. People get upset if they can’t conceive and then their sister gets pregnant or so on. Yes, it hurts, it sucks, but innocent questions should not be a source of resentment or be dwelt upon. I think we should practice the art of letting things go.

  • Emily November 15, 2010, 10:16 pm

    @ AS – I don’t think you were rude or stepped in it here. The appropriate response to hearing about someone’s pregnancy is always “Congratulations” whether the pregnancy is planned or otherwise.

  • Kristen November 15, 2010, 10:16 pm

    @Fried Lobster–I agree that one shouldn’t feel like they’re tiptoeing through a landmine when having conversation, but I think the issue here is drawing the line between standard conversation and intrusiveness.

    In my opinion (others are, of course, free to disagree), asking if someone has kids is fine. I consider it as falling under the category of “common knowledge” in terms of personal relationships. However, if they do NOT have kids, any further probing is getting too personal. It’s not just the issue of it possibly being an emotionally-loaded question, it’s simply not anyone’s business.

    I should also add that even if the person in question does have kids, there is still such a thing as too much probing. (“But you’re so young!” “Was this planned?” etc.)

  • Vegas Tea Room November 15, 2010, 10:36 pm

    Unless one is a teacher or a journalist one should talk about the weather with strangers. If one is a teacher or a journalist one would have to be a clod to interpret their comments as anything but generic no matter how many children you have genocide, no matter that you have three minutes to live from stage four cancer, no matter that you husband committed suicide after murdering half of his prior work station. Small talk is just that.

  • Amp2140 November 15, 2010, 11:10 pm

    Look, clearly OP was wrong, and she knew it. That doesn’t mean we need to put her on a stage and stone her. It happens. People get more and more flustered as they talk, and sometimes it takes awhile to realize that you shouldn’t have asked that, or that you should have apologized or let it go. Everyone has a unique life story, and you shouldn’t need to tip toe around every topic.

  • RP November 16, 2010, 12:46 am

    @Fried Lobster – That slippery slope argument doesn’t work. Why someone doesn’t have children is personal. Who managers a farm and what crops are grown aren’t personal questions, especially when being interviewed about the farm.

    There are topics that are too personal to discuss with strangers. Asking someone about their childbearing plans is too intrusive. There’s also the problem that often times (often does not mean always, before people jump on me) asking someone why they don’t have children carries the assumption that if you don’t have kids there must be something preventing you from doing so. The assumption can be irksome.

    If that sounds weird, apply the question to something else that’s personal:
    Person A – “Are you a Christian?”
    Person B – “No”
    Person A – “Why not?”

    @boxy – I don’t understand how mispronouncing or giving him a nickname (I’m not clear which happened there) outed him. Even if you somehow implied he was gay that didn’t mean you were right about it.

    @phoenix – That lady was nuts and is an extreme example of that irritating assumption that can come with the “Why not?” That she actually goes around doing this to everyone as though she’s owed an explanation is just beyond the pale.

    I agree with Harley Granny: The OP does deserve some credit for dropping the subject when it became clear he didn’t want to discuss it. Also, fussing at the OP now is rather pointless since she’s already learned not to go there.

  • Me November 16, 2010, 1:34 am

    I don’t really see where anyone is stoning the LW. The point of the OP, so far as I can see, is that we should always consider both sides of a story before taking offense to something.

  • Amber November 16, 2010, 3:14 am

    Oh, I remember being at a party and overhearing a rather drunk man repeatedly putting his foot in it in a similar way. He asked a friend of mine when she and her husband were having kids; she smiled and told him “when the time is right.” He jokingly said to her, “better hurry up, your eggs are ageing!” She just smiled and said nothing – little did he know she and her husband had been trying to conceive for over five years.

    Not long after, I overheard the same man talking proudly about his family, and his closeness with his children. He asked another young woman sitting close by if she was close to her parents and she said she was close with her mother. The man was jokingly jibing her, asking what her problem with her dad was. She answered simply, “he’s not a very nice man.” Not letting it go, the man continued to jibe her, lecturing her on the importance of family and parental respect and saying, “he can’t be that bad!” The young woman stiffened slightly and said, “he molested me for the first 10years of my life.”

    It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Yuck 🙁

  • Amy November 16, 2010, 4:46 am

    I feel so bad for people that want children and cannot concieve for any number of reasons. Most people are brought up to think that everyone is to have offspring, but there are couples out there that really don’t want any kids….period. My foot in mouth…..after a friend of mine said she and her husband are not going to have any, I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry you are unable to conceive” She said, “No, we are doing everything in our power to prevent it…..oops.

  • UK Helen November 16, 2010, 7:24 am

    My husband and I didn’t want children, and in 20+ years of marriage we haven’t had any. Result! When I was younger, I used to be quite defensive about it, but over the years I found that nobody pried – well, not to my face. If somebody asked if I had children, I’d just say, “One cat, no children!” and that would make them laugh, and that was the end of that. I’ve no idea what people think about why we haven’t got kids. It’s none of their business.

  • Ali November 16, 2010, 7:35 am

    But the OP didn’t ask them why they had children. She just noted they had no children, and said, “oh maybe soon,” which was her way of dropping it. I don’t see any major faux pas in this at all. This isn’t a foot-in-the-mouth, this is more like a toe.
    Some of the examples in the comments here are offensive, because they pushed it. I think it’s okay to ask someone if they have kids/dogs/the flu if, upon getting a short answer, you drop it.

  • Enna November 16, 2010, 8:03 am

    Sometimes it is bad to ask if someone has children or not or wants them or not. There is a time and a place when such information can be asked about. It depends on the situation. Perosnally if someone says they don’t have children then asking them if want them could be rude.

    I was in a coffee shop once and one of the customers was showing off a photo of his niece/nephew to the lady serving the coffee – he was a proud uncle. She asked if he had any children and he said no, she said did he want them and he said he didn’t want children. That was okay as the conversation was about children anyway and he was okay about her asking it.

    Personally I don’t want children – Ive gone from saying “never” to “maybe”. My expecting firend asked me is their a paritcular time I want to have children and I said “no, not really if I have children I have them if I don’t I don’t. At present I don’t want children. If I never have my own children I’ll adpot. Even if I have my own children I’ll adot too.” But then she is my firend – I don’t mind her asking.

  • Enna November 16, 2010, 8:04 am

    please pardon my spelling mistake I meant “there is a particular time” not “their”!

  • Xtina November 16, 2010, 9:50 am

    Thankfully the OP knew that she’d pressed too far and left it–glad that she or he learned that lesson. An apology might have been nice, but this wasn’t the worst breach of etiquette I can think of either, haha.

    I don’t think the question of whether or not someone has children is a bad one–after all, there are some questions people just naturally ask other people when making conversation–true that you could inadvertently tap a sore spot for someone, but in defense of the asker, unless the askee is wearing a sign that says, “don’t ask about…”, then how is one to know?

    The art of it is for the asker to know when to drop the subject. Obviously some people take it WAY too far, and that is where the faux pas lies. IF I even ask the children question, I don’t ask anything further if the other person doesn’t speak more about it without my prompting.

  • CC November 16, 2010, 10:34 am

    My husband and I want children, but for various reasons, are unable to have them. This is a very touchy subject, especially for me. I had a student (I teach adult ed) who asked one time if my husband and I had children. I told her that while we wanted them, we were unable to have them and said it in a manner that said clearly “Subject closed”. She then went on to tell me how wonderful being pregnant was and how she had loved being pregnant with her four children and how childbirth was an amazing experience. She then concluded with “You really should try it sometime.” By this time I was in tears and had to leave the room and she asked another student if she had said something to upset me.

  • Gemma November 16, 2010, 10:58 am

    I’ve lost three children to miscarriage. My hubby and I have one living son. When he was 18 months old, someone told us that it was time for us to have another one. Didn’t ask if we were planning on having another, but told us it was time. I shot back, “We’d have four children by now, but three of them died.” Not the best way to handle it, but I was still reeling in pain from my latest miscarriage.

    Why do people think they have any right to dictate someone else’s family plans? Sometimes the choice is not even up to the couple themselves. Not everyone can easily get pregnant and carry to term.

  • Mother of a Bride November 16, 2010, 1:51 pm

    I think we’ve all had those foot in mouth moments. I know I have! Some of the worst moments I’ve ever witnessed came from my MIL. That woman has no filter in her head that tells her “don’t say that out loud” Many times I have tried to laugh off her stupid comments, but after so many years (and so many gentle reminders that certain things shouldn’t be said) it’s annoying that she STILL thinks it’s okay to say what she does. I don’t know if she thinks she’s being “cute” or “charming” or if she really is that stupid about social situations, but she’s really let some doozies fly. Very politically incorrect comments that have made her entire family cringe. Plus, she doesn’t seem to get the hint when someone gives her short answers to her very nosy questions. She’s forever asking overweight women when their baby is due and I used to think she’d be so embarrased she’d get it, but now I wonder if she does that as a way to make herself feel superior to them by bringing attention to their belly fat. (Not that she’s any skinny thing herself!) She will loudly say something about all the “mexicans” in the store and it’s mortifying when the “brown” people turn around to say “I don’t speak spanish and I am not from Mexico! I was born here! (USA)” I finally put my foot down and refused to go anywhere public with her anymore unless my husband is there to witness her behavior. The last time we ate out with her (more than 6 months ago) she insulted the waitress, bothered people at the next table by intruding on their conversation with her “cute story” and generally made an @$$ of herself. I almost wish she had a drinking problem and we could blame booze for her behavior, but sadly she’s just that way and has no remorse or ability to learn from her mistakes. Every time my children are getting ready to introduce someone to this grandmother they say “Let me apologize in advance for her comments”–I find that incredibly sad.

  • Geekgirl November 16, 2010, 2:18 pm

    I cannot have children, but this doesn’t bother me, as I don’t want children. But when people meet a woman over 25, they assume she either has children, or is planning children.

    If I say ‘I can’t have them’ I get a half hour lecture/inquistion in all the ways that I could possilbly conceive (never mind that I don’t have, nor want, a partner).

    If I say ‘I don’t want them’ I get told I’m wrong, I’ll change my mind when I’m older (as I haven’t in the last 20 years, I doubt I’ll want them now) or, and this is the worst one, I may think I don’t want children now, but when I hold my child in my arms, I’ll change my mind. (I know that isn’t true for a lot of women – there are so many women who are told this, and then never feel that connection, and both mother and child end up miserable).

    Asking the initial question is one thing. The bad course to take is pressing the question on and on after the initial ‘no’.

  • CherryBlossom November 16, 2010, 6:24 pm

    I must admit I don’t understand why everyone keeps mentioning how rude it is to ask WHY someone doesn’t have kids, when that is not what happened in the original story. Yes it can get a bit annoying or possibly hit on a very sore subject when someone does that, but we all seem to have a pretty firm handle on this concept. We all recognize why it can be rude. The OP never strayed into that territory, she never took the conversation beyond the question of whether or not the farmer had any children – a pretty standard topic of small-talk conversation on a family farm – so why all the comments about the potential rudeness of something that she was actually tactful enough to avoid?

    That said, my sympathies to those posters who are unable to have children or have lost them. I can’t even imagine how heartbreaking that must be. I wish I could give you all hugs!

  • Bint November 17, 2010, 7:23 am

    CherryBlossom, people are reacting to this part:

    “Oh, maybe soon,” I chirp.

    The poor OP was mortified afterwards, because that’s not tactful at all. People say things like this without thinking – we all do, but it’s actually a pretty presumptuous thing to say, as she knew at once.

    What if he said, “Or maybe not, since I’m infertile/the IVF hasn’t worked/we don’t want kids/we would love to have them but can’t afford them for another eight years/our child died’?

    Even at the most harmless level, this is like asking if someone’s married and saying, “Oh, maybe soon!” when they say no. Grrrr. Most unmarried people who get this hate it. It’s so dismissive and assumes you really want it when you might not. But childlesness is a *very* touchy subject for a lot of people – too many people to take the risk you’ll just irritate rather than upset them.

    Seriously, there’s nothing in the slightest bit wrong with asking if someone has children, but if they say no they haven’t, you stop right there. The OP realized this. I’ve done the same as her in the past – I don’t have children – I’m sure most of us have; I wish more people realized like that OP did that this isn’t a harmless thing to say.

  • Raven November 17, 2010, 10:32 am

    First, to AS, that was not an “oops” for you; that was a foot-in-the-mouth for the grandmother. Clearly the only reason she brought up the baby’s birth, really, was to complain about what bad news it was – who does that? Airing your family’s issues is bad etiquette. Saying “congratulations” when there’s a new baby is not overstepping; it’s the norm. It’s like congratulating someone on their son’s/daughter’s engagement, and having them say, “Not really, we all hate him/her.” Why do it?

    As for the asking thing … people always ask things or say things they shouldn’t. They assume they making conversation, being helpful, or getting to know you. When they ask the tough questions, it can be excrutiating. (There is a man at our church who always asks me “Does your Grandmother still remember you?” – she has Alzheimer’s … that’s such an awful question to be asked, especially consistantly.)

    I’m an adult ed instructor, and my students are ALWAYS asking me when I’m getting married, when I’m going to have children, etc. Last year I ended a long-term relationship, and then came in to work the next day. I had a couple of new students, and the first thing they said to me was, “Do you have a husband?” and it was all I could do not to burst into tears, given that I no longer had a BOYFRIEND, let alone a husband.

    My point is that sometimes it’s the question itself, and sometimes it’s the timing. We can be aware of the questions we ask (and I agree, “why?” is not an appropriate question) but sometimes others need to realize we aren’t always aware of the details of their lives – seemingly innocuous questions can be traumatic if asked at the wrong moment.

    OP, I’m sure you didn’t mean any harm. “Do you have children?” is a very common question, right up there with “Are you married?” (very annoying for us un-married types) and “Where do you work,” which is awful if you happen to be unemployed. (FWIW, I lost two jobs in the space of 11 months last year, thanks to the financial crisis. “I’m between jobs” and changing the subject became my way of dealing.) “Maybe soon,” wasn’t the best follow-up, but as you didn’t know the circumstances, it obviously wasn’t malicious.

  • madame-mim November 18, 2010, 7:46 pm

    Kudos to the OP for recognizing her 19-year-old naïveté and coming clean to all of us about it!

  • Jan74 November 19, 2010, 11:24 am

    CC, I’m so sorry. Hugs to all the other ladies here who have experienced one or more terrible losses.

    I get extra offended if I tell someone that we are already doing the adoption process and they throw a
    “miracle conception” story at me, or info about fertility treatments. What is that supposed to mean exactly? That my not-yet-here adopted child is already worse and lesser than because I didn’t carry it? Way to go on my hate list for life. I’ve been preemptively cutting all contact with people who say similar things, to prevent them from saying something terrible in front of my future child.

  • Emmy November 26, 2010, 9:02 am

    I think asking about pregnancy plans has become an ‘acceptable’ topic in most people’s minds. The reason I say this is because I have gotten many questions on it since I’ve gotten engaged (we’ve been married for almost 5 years now) and many other people here seem to have the same experience. Otherwise thoughtful people who wouldn’t dare ask personal questions such as “how much money do you make?” seem to think questions and assumptions about reproduction are OK. In my situation it is no a painful subject, but it is annoying and I’ll usually answer them with “When the time is right”. I’m sorry for those who do find this a painful subject and are badgered with personal and intrusive questions and assumptions.

    A friend of mine “Tom” asked about our plans for children after marriage. Tom isn’t exactly known for tact and I told him that we wanted a few years to ourselves before thinking about kids. Tom then started insisting that he was a honeymoon baby and saying ‘you never know when you’ll get pregnant, it may happen on the honeymoon’. I just gritted my teeth as I was not about to tell Tom I was on birth control to make sure that didn’t happen. I was also proud of myself that I did not badger Tom with the same question when he got married a year later.

    I also hate assumptions about our child planning and whether we have children or not. One time at a church retreat, a woman just asked me if the ‘little ones were at home with dad’. Very recently I was talking with a financial planner and he asked if I had children. Since I am in my mid-thirties, he continued “well at this point, I’ll assume you don’t plan to have them at all”. In this case it would have been appropriate for him to ask instead of just jumping to conclusions. Maybe it is a little thing, but I find it irritating.

    It is also annoying when you say you don’t have children yet and somebody feels the need to tell you that you should and then expound on the joys of parenthood. Same goes with saying a husband and wife are not a ‘real’ family until there are children. This would be extremely painful for those who can’t have children and just annoying to those who don’t want them.

  • v8veronica December 14, 2010, 9:49 pm

    And never assume anyone is pregnant unless you see them in the labor ward!!!!!!!!!

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