It’s Not Rude To Respond

by admin on November 29, 2011

Hello!  I recently left my first job and accepted another position within the same field.  The change was significant with regard to the hours, pay, amount of work and benefits.  My new position has a flexible schedule and work-at-home options.  I should note that I am 28 and married, but we do not have children.

Since my new office is literally right across the street from my old office, I often run into friends and associates.  I was out for lunch with a friend of mine one day at a local restaurant.  We happened to be in line to order near a table where a mutual acquaintance, Erin, was sitting.  Erin said hello and asked about my new job.  I responded that I really enjoyed the new challenge, new co-workers, new boss, etc.  We chatted very briefly before I returned to conversation with my friend.  Suddenly, Erin exclaims, loud enough for the restaurant to hear, “Your job would be PERFECT for a mother!”, while nudging my side/stomach and nodding.  I replied, “You’re right.  When I find a mother, I’ll tell her to apply.”  Erin smiled, confused, and went back to talking with her companions.

I may have been rude for the flip comeback, but I was appalled at her nerve!  Erin and I are no more than casual acquaintances.   My family planning has nothing to do with her.  Not the most egregious example of “when are you having kids” rudeness, but coming from someone you barely know, in public, while poking my stomach is a bit much!   0511-11

That was a very clever comeback which I cannot find any fault with.   Erin was blathering…what I call “shallow stupid” things to say merely to fill a conversational void.  As you noted, not the most egregious thing someone can say given the situation.

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Rhonda November 29, 2011 at 5:01 am

Just let it pass. People blurt out dumb things all the time.

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Edhla November 29, 2011 at 6:27 am

For reasons I am yet to understand, many people’s tact and boundaries go straight out the window when the subject of reproduction comes up. Suddenly people who think you should have children are all up in your business, and many people who have children love to remind you that they do and you don’t, with a strong side-hint of “but you should.” And don’t even get me started on the type of parent whose boundaries get so compromised that they think everyone wants to know every single thing their kids have ever done, even if it’s, er, things that polite people don’t discuss at dinner…

Ahem. I’m projecting, sorry. :)

I agree with the admin and think you said the right thing. It wasn’t hostile, from the sound of it; just a remark that flicked her out of her complacency and probably made her sit back and really think about whether what she’d just said was appropriate. You’re under no compulsion to smile and take it- that’s not etiquette, but rather, being a doormat.

As someone who in my earlier years was frequently tactless (and I still become tactless when I’m trying too hard to get people to like me) I would appreciate being told when I’ve overstepped the mark, without being attacked for it, so I can make reparations. If you don’t speak up, the tactless person will generally have absolutely no idea what they’ve said wrong, truly!

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Enna November 29, 2011 at 7:02 am

I agree with Admin on this one, you comment wasn’t rude or nasty.

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AMC November 29, 2011 at 9:40 am

Ha! I love your response! Very clever!

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Green123 November 29, 2011 at 9:45 am

Well done, OP! Your family status or otherwise is none of Erin’s business and your comeback was brilliant.

Nothing, NOTHING irritates me more, as a 30-something married woman who is childless by choice, than jokes and comments about when I’m going to become a mother. If other people want to have kids, fine, but don’t assume every woman of a certain age wants to spawn. Some of us make lifestyle choices not to have children in the same way some people don’t get a dog and some people don’t go to Florida on holiday.

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Hemi Halliwell November 29, 2011 at 9:52 am

I’m with @AMC- love that response!

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AthenaC November 29, 2011 at 10:29 am

Haha! I like the response. Probably not what I would have said, but then again her question wouldn’t have made me uncomfortable either. Anyhoo – OP, any chance your first job was public accounting?

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Amber November 29, 2011 at 10:34 am

I will remember this response! Man, what is it about hitting your late 20s that makes people kinda latch on to you and prod you about having children? If I wanted them now, I’d have them already, thankyouverymuch :D

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--Lia November 29, 2011 at 10:39 am

Imagine if Erin had made that remark to someone who had been privately hoping to conceive for many years and had been crying herself to sleep over the infertility problem or many miscarriages. I’m just glad the remark hit you instead of someone in that situation.

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Margaret November 29, 2011 at 11:26 am

I think asking the “kids” question in a polite, just interested in you kind of way isn’t so bad. It’s more offensive when it is done in a judgemental or, as in this case, interfering way.

It took us almost four years to have a baby. There was someone who would always mention kids in the most guilt inducing way, “It’s the best gift you can give to make someone a father.” I finally started answering “when are you going to have kids” with “the plan is to have them three years ago”. Usually there were no follow up questions after that.

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Cat November 29, 2011 at 11:54 am

I liked your response. Well done!

Of course, you could have added, “…or for a father!” We ladies mustn’t forget the gentlemen who fulfill the job of fathering children. It would be nice if a Dad could spend more time with his little ones too.

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b-rock November 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I thought that was a great response, not rude in the slightest!

@ Cat, you are absolutely right! My husband is a SAHD, and that works great for us.

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David November 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I think the thing that would have bothered me the most here is the nudging. I’m not a big fan of invasion of personal space by people I barely know. I think the OP’s comeback was brilliant.

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Ellen CA November 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm

It doesn’t just happen to women in their 20s and 30s. As a long-time married woman in my late 40s, I’m often asked in social situations if I have children. Nothing wrong with that, but when I reply in the negative, the standard response is “why not?”

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LovleAnjel November 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm

OP, I think you had a great response. Chirpy, non-insulting, but off-putting enough to make her think about the appropriateness of the remark.

As a side question, how should one respond to the physical intrusion? This person nudged the OP’s stomach. I have heard this is not uncommon for actual pregnant women to encounter. Should you just step away? Say something? (I’m sort of in favor of shouting “Bad touch!” or “I need an adult!” in a Peter Griffin voice.)

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AS November 29, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Like other posters, I too think that your response was excellent. I was squirming at the part imagining an acquaintance nudging your side/stomach. Erin invaded your private space in twice – one is with the comment, and secondly by touching you!

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Ashley November 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I have never understood why this subject is so fascinating to certain people. I get remarks like that from customers of mine who just can’t seem to handle the fact that my fiance and I have been together five years and haven’t popped out a kid. Even my fiance’s grandfather brings it up even though we have made it clear we do want to wait till we are married. I have no issues at all with people who had kids before they were married, or even have kids without being married at all btw, it’s just obnoxious sometimes that people can’t understand why my fiance and I have waited so long.

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Leslie Holman-Anderson November 29, 2011 at 1:23 pm

I’m with Admin, only harsher: You turned away from her, back to your luncheon companion. She wanted you to keep talking to her.

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Luna November 29, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Perfect comeback, you acknowledged what she actually said as being a valid idea, while completely ignoring the rude and real meaning of her statement. An effective way to stop someone in their tracks without blatantly calling them out and subjecting them to embarrassment. Hopefully she’ll think twice next time.

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ellesee November 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Good response! Maybe Erin was jealous because she wanted that job or knew another mother that wanted it too. Or maybe another foot-in-mouth disease where she thought OP was pregnant because of her physique? All inexcusable.

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Wink-n-Smile November 29, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I love the response. I don’t know why so many people think a woman’s reproductive choices are public property or open for debate.

My all-time favorite reply to the question “When are you going to have kids?” is “Two o’clock!”

I have yet to hear a good response to the “Why not?” question. Any suggestions? Every time it happens to me, I just clam up in shock.

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Twik November 29, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Remember, of course, if you do have children, there will be people who feel called upon to comment that *that* was a bad decision. You cannot win here!

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Allie November 29, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I’m afraid I can’t agree, Margaret, that “asking the ‘kids’ question in a polite, just interested in you kind of way isn’t so bad.” I’ve heard it so often and in so many ways that it absolutely makes my blood boil, no matter how it’s put. There’s a reason “how are you?” is considered polite. It’s vague and a simple “fine, thanks, how are you?” is considered a perfectly polite response. That is the maximum amount of detail about my private life that I want to be asked about by anyone other than my husband.

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Rug Pilot November 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Perfect response. Miss Manners couldn’t have done it better.

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Gee November 29, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I think your response was perfect.

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jess November 29, 2011 at 5:43 pm

It think Erin was a mother and thought she should have gotten the job because the flexible hours would have been ‘wasted’ on someone without kids who dont need them (not my view just what I think Erin was thinking)

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Magicdomino November 29, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I could forgive and ignore the comment as long as it was one time only; we all suffer from foot-in-mouth disease from time to time. Plus Erin was right. The job is perfect for a mother. However, the nudge in the stomach implying that the OP get pregnant if she isn’t already put the comment over the top. I thought the OP’s answer was perfect.

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sv November 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Perfect response! Nothing even slightly rude about it.

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Emmers November 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Frankly, I found your comment rather charming. It got the point across, of which I am sure unfortunately went over her head anyway, without being over the top or rude.

The ability to brush off such kind of innocent bather is one I wish I could posses and call upon on more then one occasion where I am left shy and awkwardly quiet.

On the topic of folks inappropriately butting into pregnancy….it’s all too common scenario where strangers and even close friends and relatives feel the need to assert themselves in your life and I’ve seen far too many women getting bullied about their disinterest in motherhood.

It seems more and more acceptable lately for one to shame and guilt someone for going outside of what they may considered the ‘norm’. Unfortunately these people are rarely going to understand the phrase “Mind your own business”

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LovleAnjel November 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm

@Wink-n-Smile

That’s a tough one. I would try to think of something sort of whacky, like “Because we prefer gerbils” or “We’re waiting for the revolution to start” or “I’m still on the waitlist for Captain Kirk’s sperm”.

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Another Alice November 29, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I am obsessed with this response! Absolutely hilarious, and not rude in the sense that it’s true.

The reason, to me, that it’s rude to ask about children is not just because it’s none of your business anyway (which can be true regarding any question, depending on context) but because it’s what I like to call a “Can of Worms” question. As other commenters have said, there may be a very sad reason why a couple does not have children – that they can’t conceive, that they have some sort of genetic condition they don’t want to pass on, that they’re having marital troubles – the list goes on and on. It’s the same with questions regarding politics and religion (which marriage and children questions also often fall into). The general rule is, if the response to a question could make you or, more importantly, the responder feel awkward or embarrassed, don’t ask!

As a side note, it just reminds me about my cousin’s bridal festivities. It didn’t matter what the event was – bridal shower, bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner, wedding reception – I was CONSTANTLY asked, “Where’s YOUR boyfriend?” Not even, “Do you have a boyfriend?,” but a direct jump to where he is. Rude on so many levels. It actually kind of hurt my feelings because I’d love to be in a relationship, just haven’t found one. It was not only a reminder of singledom, but how in the world do you expect me to explain WHY I have no significant other? Shall we re-hash every date I’ve been on and what could have gone wrong? (Then, maybe that’d be proper punishment! Ha!) ;-) But not only that – what if I did have a boyfriend and we just broke up and I was heartbroken? Or he wasn’t attending because a relative of his had passed, or he was in a car accident, or he hated my relatives? Heck, what if I was gay? Again: Can of Worms. Nothing that could constitute a response is an appropriate conversation whilst celebrating another’s happy moment.

P.S. My response slowly went from an awkward, “Um, I don’t have one” (which resulted in a feign-stunned “What??? Why??”) to something similar to the OPs: “I have no idea. If you find him, let me know!,” with a flashed smile and quickly walking away.

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Echo November 29, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I agree with Magicdomino, I don’t think the comment was that egregarious but the stomach nudge pushed it over the line. Great comeback!

I will never understand why parents try to push having children on other people. I love my baby to bits but raising a child is such hard work, and I would imagine it would be even harder if you didn’t have that strong, ‘I want a babeeee!’ urge.

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Kathryn November 29, 2011 at 9:05 pm

LOL! Take me back a few years and I TOTALLY would have been Erin. She probably put some dots together and got really excited, thus blurting it out loudly, which is completely, 100% what I would have done a few years ago!!

But I’ve learnt NOT to do that. Your reply was pure gold! Shut down and humorous, I love it!

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Lady Antipode November 29, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Wink-n-Smile, teh most proper response to “Why aren’t you going to have children?” is a gentle smile and saying “It’s a personal matter” then diverting the conversation elsewhere. If they persist, repeat that it’s a personal matter (over and over again), or say “a conversation for another time” and again divert.

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Sunny_Ducks November 29, 2011 at 9:23 pm

I like the OP’s reply. Classy without being rude.

A family friend of ours has a novel approach to this quandry as well. However, in her case, instead of being childless by choice she has been trying to conceive for years.
After years of ignoring insensitive questions about when she will have children she has now made the decision that when confronted with such intrusive questions, she will tell the boor her story-in great, painstaking detail. The boor usually finds it is not that comfortable to listen to a tale of someones crushed dreams.
Her hope is that by forcing the boors to listen to over half an hour of her and her husbands history of doctors appointments, failed IVF, medical treatments and so forth they will perhaps realise their error and reconsider asking such questions in the future.

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Margaret November 29, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Allie — if I were to meet you in an elevator, then sure, I wouldn’t ask nor would I care whether you have kids, a partner, a job, a home or anything whatsover. However, if you are someone that I have some reason for getting to know — we work together, you are now on the executive of my organization, we’re neighbours, our grandma’s share a room in the nursing home and I’m going to see you another 200 times, etc etc, then I think “Do you have kids?” is the same kind of question as, “What kind of work do you do?” Sure, neither of those are any of my business, but it is a way of getting to know you and finding things to talk about.

I have a SIL who considers any question remotely related to kids as being the exact same as if the person had made detailed enquiries about her sex life. Obviously I don’t talk to her about kids, but I think she takes the most innocuous comments and reads WAY more into them than is intended. I don’t think her overreaction means the initial question or comment was rude — sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s not. I have the same desire to beat peaple senseless when it’s minus 40 and someone says, “Cold enough for ya’?” However, I recognize that it’s just one of those things people say. Sort of like asking, “How are you?” when you really don’t give a crap.

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Bunnyface November 29, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Wink-n-Smile, every time I get the “Why not?” my response is something in the neighborhood of “You can’t really expect me to answer such a rude question!” which may be a rude answer, but gets the point across.

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Tori November 29, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Wow…as if the asking about kids isn’t weird enough she has to poke you too?
On a similar note my mother had problems with getting pregnant and staying that way. She had my older sister successfully, but then she divorced that husband and married my dad a few years later. They tried many times to have kids and after 6 miscarriages and 3 stillbirths she and my dad decided to adopt. They adopted me in their mid-30’s.Then my little sister 5 1/2 years later. For some reason I look like I am actually a mix of their genetics.I got the tall gene(both), the under-bite gene(dad), and the stub your toe until it’s broken gene(mom). Funny story, while we were waiting for Lil sis to be born(we knew about 4-5 months in advance-I was still 4 when we found out so before October 2000). We had some relatives over. One cousin, about 6, asked my mom ‘Are there 2 baby’s in there?’. He didn’t get the concept of adoption but he knew babies came out of the mom’s stomach. Soon after mom went on a diet and started jogging regularly so no one would mistake her for being preggers again.

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Cat whisperer November 30, 2011 at 1:15 am

I don’t think that “Erin” intended to be offensive. Sometimes we all engage our mouths without making sure our brains are in gear first.

“Never attribute to malice what is equally explainable by stupidity.” Old proverb.

Personally, what I’ve found a LOT more offensive is people asking someone who has moved to a new job how much money they got, what their salary is now, how much of a raise it represented from what they made at the old job. I was taught that asking someone how much money they are making, no matter how you phrase the question, is unforgiveably rude and intrusive. It just isn’t anyone else’s business! In the course of my work-life (I’m retired now), I’ve had people I didn’t know from Adam ask me those kinds of questions when I started a new job.

(With experience, I came to regard those kinds of “none of your business” questions as sort of like the rattling of a rattlesnake: they allow you to identify the kinds of people you want to stay away from.)

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Lambzig November 30, 2011 at 5:52 am

OP, I like your comment. It took me ten years of infertility and difficult, failed treatment before I had my gorgeous daughter and I had to endure years of comments ranging from “you are obviously not the maternal type” to “when are you going to give your poor husband a baby, its selfish of you to put it off” from strangers and acquaintances (let alone family). While I like Margaret’s response, I never really wanted to let people know about my situation as I felt pitying looks would be worse. I wish I had thought of your comment, its witty, not rude, but stops the enquity in its tracks and doesnt give any information away. Excellent.

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Susan T-O November 30, 2011 at 9:20 am

Wink-n-Smile, you could try the response an online male friend of mine uses when asked why he knits: “It’s a condition of my parole.” When I’m asked if I have kids, I generally answer with, “Good God, no! Um, I mean. . . no.” Generally gets a chuckle and no follow-up questions.

OP, I agree with the others; that was a perfect response.

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Xtina November 30, 2011 at 10:26 am

OP, it was the perfect comeback. Wish I could “think fast” like that when it is needed.

It doesn’t matter what your reproductive status is, by the way. If you have kids, people still ask intrusive questions and make weird comments, too. I thought once I finally gave birth to my son, that all the questions and opinions about my “child status” would end, but noooo–that just kicks off a whole new set of comments and questions–whether or not we’re going to “give him a brother or sister” is the most common one. Whyyyyyyyyy must people know such things? What if I’m infertile and it’s a personal struggle for me, and you asking sends me into a bout of depression?

One of the most thoughtless comments I ever got was before I got pregnant, I was talking with a relative at an event, and she asked me if hubby and I were going to have kids. I told her I wasn’t sure but we’d be happy either way, with or without kids. Then she says, “oh, life has no purpose until you’re a parent”. Great, thanks lady–tell me how you really feel. So I guess no matter how many good things I ever do, I am insignificant and useless to the world until I have birthed a child.

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Kara November 30, 2011 at 10:41 am

@Wink-n-Smile

The response that I like to use to the question “When are you going to have kids?” is “Thirteen past Never.” (If the person asking is someone who has nagged me about kids before – family members, I am looking right at you! – I might add “Is that soon enough for you?” or “Will that work for you?”)

I tend to respond pretty bluntly to the “Why not?” question. Anyone who has the gall to ask me that question gets told “Because I don’t want any”.

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caterlaw November 30, 2011 at 11:47 am

OP here. Thank you for all of the postitive feedback. I usually think of good responses to things like this days or weeks later, so when I came up with something right away I was concerned that I had been rude. Thanks for telling me that I handled it well.

To clarify, Erin is a very nice person, and I am sure she meant no harm. Nor do I think she was jealous of my job. She is older, well-established in our field (law) and has long practiced in an area outside of what the new job entails. She can be a little eccentric, and I think she was just making conversation. I was taken aback by how loud the comment was and her decision to poke my stomach! I doubt there was any ambiguity as to whether I was expecting; I am petite, so if I were pregnant, it would be pretty obvious. As another poster pointed out, her comment was truthful: my new job is conducive to having a family. I’m just not there yet :-)

And I agree with Another Alice. Pregnancy and family-planning are “can of worms” topics. I have had far too many friends with fertility issues that I have learned to leave well-enough alone!

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Green123 November 30, 2011 at 6:50 pm

I was chatting to my Mom this evening – she also views this site but never comments. I’m an only child, and I was, ahem, an accident when Mom was in her 40s. She and Dad never planned to have kids, but I came along and they put up with me etc. She said that when she was younger and people asked when she was going to have kids she would say ‘May. May-be this year, May-be next year, May-be never’. I laughed out loud! Think I’ll steal that idea!

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admin December 1, 2011 at 4:42 am

Green,

Your Mom’s reply is very clever, too. Definitely worth “stealing”.

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Allie November 30, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Oh, you’re lawyers… well that makes a difference. Still rude, but it’s a lot more understandable as to why her mind would go in that direction.Whenever colleagues move to a more flexible law job (which are all too few and far between), that’s the natural assumption. It sounds like she’s happy for you and it was just a foot-in-mouth thing. I agree, Margaret, that there is a qualititative difference between “so, any kids?” and “why don’t you have any kids?” (and although both annoy me, I don’t consider myself overly-sensitive). Still, I just wish people would let that particular dog lie until the other person brings it up and go with “what’s your favourite colour?” instead. Sometimes I say “they make pills for that now,” which is terrible, I know, but oh so satisfying.

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Kimi November 30, 2011 at 9:11 pm

@Wink-n-Smile

I used to tell boys pressuring me for sex that I was “saving my self for the unicorns.” Maybe something like that would work here too?

But anyone who was a stranger/aquaintance and touched my stomach might come away with an owie, I’m jumpier than a rabbit and really don’t like being touched. I don’t have any past trauma, but imagine if someone did and how they would feel. People’s bodies should be left to the people they belong to unless given permission.

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Miss Sweetbones December 1, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I’m with everyone else. I think it was a great response. It was playful. I think it’s important to try and give people the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. It seems unlikely that Erin was deliberately trying to be rude or insinuate that you were supposed to have kids. I think she was just having an oblivious moment. Your response was lighthearted and not snarky or scolding. You maintained your boundaries without jumping down her throat for what was in all likelihood an honest mistake. I think that’s great.

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Hannabanna December 2, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I see nothing inherently wrong with what Erin said —-this WOULD be a fantastic job for a mother, so I think a simply nod, or a polite “yes” would have sufficed, but I am against people touching others unless they are good friends.

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Elizabeth December 5, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I faced the ‘why don’t you have children?’ question repeatedly for many years (it has slowed now that I’ve been married 21 years!). For a long time I handled it badly but I found an answer eventually: “Wow! That is something I haven’t even explained to my grandmother.”

And the truth is that my grandmother never asked why I didn’t have children.

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