Stop Asking Couples When They’re Having Kids

Stop Asking Couples When They Are Having Kids

“So, when are you having kids?” my aunt asked me. At that point, I was 30 and had just been married for a few months. I didn’t even know if I wanted kids, much less when I was having them.

So I simply said, “I haven’t decided if I want kids.” I would spend the next hour listening to horror stories about women who (1) regretted not having children because they had put it off until it was too late, and (2) had difficulty conceiving because they had waited too long, basically suggesting that I was going to regret it if I didn’t work on producing children right away.

This would be my life for the next few years, where I would receive constant questions revolving around “When are you having kids?” from friends and relatives, followed by a bizarre, almost ritualistic attempt to persuade me to have kids.

If you think that this stops after having a kid, nope. The people who previously told you to have “just one kid” will now tell you to have one more. It just seems like it will never end.

The problem with “When are you having kids?”

I can understand why people like to ask this question. Find a partner, get married and have kids. This is the path we’ve been taught to follow since young. This is the path we’ve been told is the way of life.

This is especially so in the Chinese culture where having kids is seen as the ultimate goal in life. Sayings like 生儿育女, which means to birth sons and raise daughters, and 子孙满堂, which means to be in a room filled with children and grandchildren (often used to symbolize the peak of happiness), all support this belief.

Multi-Generation Chinese Family at the Park

A multi-generation family, often used to symbolize the peak of happiness in the Chinese culture

So after you get married, people automatically assume that this should be your life path. Without thinking, they jump in and ask “When are you having kids?”, as if really expecting you to give them a straight answer.

The problem is that it’s rude. It’s invasive. It’s also presumptuous.

1) Having kids is a personal matter

Firstly, having kids is a deeply personal matter. Whether someone wants kids or not is something for them to discuss with their partner, and not anyone else’s business. Whether you’re someone’s best friend or relative, you shouldn’t be asking a question like, “When are you having kids?”, because (a) you’re assuming that the person wants kids when they may not, and (b) you’re assuming that they even want to discuss this with you, when they may well not want to.

Even if you’re asking this with the intent of having a heart-to-heart, something like “Do you have any plans for kids?” or “Are you guys thinking of having kids?” would be more appropriate. The question should be open-ended and not presumptive, because, believe it not — not everyone wants kids.

2) Having kids is not the only path to happiness

Secondly, everyone has their path in life. The path is not the same for everyone and that’s okay. Some people want kids while some don’t. Some think that having kids is the greatest joy in life, while some see kids as a burden.

Having children is a decision with lifelong impact and will take away significant time, energy and resources from the parent(s) for the first 20 years or so of the child’s life. Anyone who has kids — and has raised them themselves — can attest to this. There are many ups and downs of having kids, and for some, the downs are too much and it’s simply not practical or realistic to give up so much of their lives to have kids. For some, it is better to remain child-free rather than have kids for the sake of it.

To assume that everyone should have kids, just because some other people think that having kids is the great and awesome, is rude and disregards an individual’s own wishes for their life.

Take for example, Oprah Winfrey — philanthropist and talk show host. Oprah chose not to have kids and dedicated herself to her purpose of serving the world. She produced and hosted The Oprah Winfrey Show, the highest-rated daytime talk show in America, for 25 years; founded a leadership academy for girls; and started her television network OWN. Through the years, she has inspired millions and become a champion for people worldwide. As she says,

“When people were pressuring me to get married and have children, I knew I was not going to be a person that ever regretted not having them, because I feel like I am a mother to the world’s children. Love knows no boundaries. It doesn’t matter if a child came from your womb or if you found that person at age two, 10, or 20. If the love is real, the caring is pure and it comes from a good space, it works.” — Oprah[1]

Is her life not purposeful because she doesn’t have kids? No, not at all. In fact, I dare say that her life is much more purposeful than many in the world, including some people who have kids.

Many famous celebrities have chosen not to have kids as well:

  • Chelsea Handler is a talk show host who chose not to have kids. She has said honestly in interviews that she doesn’t have the time to raise a child, and she doesn’t want her kids to be raised by a nanny.[2][3]
  • Betty White was a famous comedian who chose not to have kids because she was passionate about her career and she preferred to focus on it.[4]
  • Ashley Judd is an actress and political activist who chose not to have kids because she feels that there are already so many orphaned kids in the world. To her, her resources can be better used to help those who are already here.[5]

And then there are others like Chow Yun Fat, Marisa Tomei, Renée Zellweger, Rachael Ray, and Jennifer Aniston. These people choose to be child-free for different reasons, such as because they’re already pursuing paths deeply meaningful to them, because they do not wish to be tied down with a child, or because they just don’t feel a deep desire to have children.

Not having kids has not prevented them from being happy, and people need to stop painting the narrative that one must have kids to be happy. Doing so has caused many parents to suffer dissonance when they have kids and realize that reality is far off from what they were told. There are people with kids who are deepy unhappy, and there are many who live deeply fulfilling and happy lives without kids. There is no one path to happiness, and it is up to the individual to define what makes them happy.

3) You may cause hurt and pain

Thirdly, you never know what others are going through.

Some people may want kids but are facing fertility struggles. For example,

  • Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan went through three miscarriages before having their firstborn.[6]
  • The Obamas had a miscarriage before they had their daughters via IVF.[7]
  • Friends star Courteney Cox had a total of seven miscarriages before having her daughter, as she has a MTHFR gene mutation which raises the risk of miscarriage-causing blood clots.[8] In fact, she went through a miscarriage while filming the episode about Rachel giving birth. As she said, “It was terrible having to be funny.”

About 10% of women have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant[9] while 13.5% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages, with the figure rising as the maternal age rises.[10]

For some, the journey to conceive is fraught with deep pain as they experience miscarriages, go through round after round of invasive fertility treatments, and wait in vain for a successful pregnancy.

And then there are people who cannot have their biological children due to genetic issues, illnesses, or problems with their reproductive system, which could have been there since birth. For example, Charmed star Shannen Doherty was unable to have children due to her cancer treatment.[11]

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and family

Barack and Michelle Obama had a miscarriage before having their daughters via IVF

While you may be think that you’re being helpful or funny by asking people when they’re having kids, your question may well trigger hurt and pain. As Zuckerberg said,

“You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child. You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience.”[12]

4) Not everyone is in a place to have kids

For some, having kids is simply not something they can consider due to their circumstances in life.

Some people may lack the financial resources to have kids, a reality in places like Singapore.

Some people may be facing serious issues with their marriage, in which case their priority should be to work on their marriage, not to have kids.

Some people may be so burdened with caring for their dependents that they are unable to consider kids, at least not at the moment.

And then there are people who may be facing health issues, issues that you don’t know and can’t see, that would make pregnancy difficult due to the toll it would take on their body.

For these people, they may look like they’re in a perfect place to have kids due to their age, job status, etc. But the reality is they can’t due to very serious, legitimate reasons, and you don’t know because you aren’t them.

5) Some people could still be thinking

Lastly, there are people who are neutral to the idea of having kids. This was me when I just got married. These people need time to think it through, because having kids is a permanent, lifelong decision with serious consequences. There’s no reason to assume that having kids should be an automatic decision because you’re bringing a whole new life into this world. This is a decision that would change your life forever, as well as the life of the child you bring into the world.

I personally think one of the worst things someone could do is to simply have children for the sake of it, and then afterward give their child sub-standard care, something which I feel many people do.

For those who have yet to have kids, they need the space to figure out what they want — not have people breathe down their neck day in and out about having kids.

My experience

For the first few years after I got married, I wasn’t thinking about having kids. Firstly, having a child is a lifelong decision, and I wanted to enjoy married life before diving into a decision as serious as that. Secondly, my husband and I were happy spending our lives with just each other — we didn’t feel the need to have kids, certainly not in the way our culture obsesses over it. Thirdly, my husband was dealing with some personal problems and I was fully focused on supporting him through them. These were issues that we needed to sort through before considering kids, if we were to want kids.

Yet I kept getting nudges to have kids, even though I never said anything about wanting them.

“So, when are you having kids?”

“This person’s baby is so cute, isn’t it? Why don’t you hurry up and birth a baby?”

“When is it your turn?” (In response to news that someone else just had a kid)

It was as if I was some vehicle, some machine to produce kids, where my own views in the matter didn’t matter. It felt dehumanizing, even degrading.

The most frustrating thing was that I kept getting this question, while my husband — as a man — would never get it, even when we were in the same room together.

It was as if my sole reason for existence as a woman was to have kids, and until I had them, I was regarded as unworthy or incomplete.

The decision to have kids

Yet the decision to have children is a personal one. It is a complex one. It is also a decision that will permanently change the lives of the couple.

It is not a decision that one should be pressurized into making because their mom wants grandchildren or because their grandma wants to play with kids. It’s a decision that a couple should make because they genuinely want to bring a life into this world and nurture it to its highest level, and are ready to overcome all odds and challenges in the process of doing so.

Because when a child is born, the people bugging others to have kids aren’t the ones who will be caring for the baby 24/7. They are also not the ones whose lives will be set back by years (even decades) as they care for the new life. Neither will they be the ones responsible for every decision concerning the child for the next 21 years.

It will be the couple.

And the people who aren’t ready, who were pressured into having kids because they were told that it was the best thing to do, may have to deal with regret as they are stuck with a decision they cannot undo. Because there are people who regret having kids, and we need to be honest about that. These people regret, not because of the child’s fault, but because they were simply not ready to have kids, be it financially, emotionally, or mentally. Unfortunately, the children are the ones who eventually suffer, from living in dysfunctional households to dealing with issues of violence, abuse, and anger.

We need to recognize these realities and not make parenthood seem like it’s a panacea that solves a lack of purpose or life’s problems. Things don’t magically get better because people have kids; existing problems usually worsen as having a child puts a huge strain on a couple’s lives. Digging into people’s plans to have kids, and pressurizing them into one of the biggest life decisions they can ever make, will only stress them out and perhaps push some into depression. As this redditor shared,

“I have a friend who went through six years of miscarriages and fertility treatments before the doctors figured out the problem and she had her son. The nosy ladies at her work and her in-laws questioned her constantly. The depression from that made it harder for her to conceive.”

Stop asking couples when they’re having kids

So, if you like to ask others when they’re having kids, it’s time to stop that. It’s rude, invasive, and disregards other people’s need for privacy. It’s also none of your business.

The reality is that if people want kids, they will work on having kids. They don’t need you to prod them.

If they don’t have kids, it’s either because

  1. they don’t want kids,
  2. they haven’t thought about having kids but don’t need you to prod them,
  3. they are not in a position to consider kids right now, or
  4. they want kids but they are facing some struggles.

For people in group (d), they aren’t going to share such deeply personal experience over some afternoon tea, and certainly not by you asking, “When are you having kids?”

The best thing you can do is to give people space. Understand that having kids is a personal decision, and people don’t have to share or explain anything. Respect that others have their right to privacy. Respect that people are individuals on their own path, and this path may not involve having kids. And this doesn’t make them incomplete or lesser in any way.

Instead of asking people “When are you having kids?”, talk to them like you would to a normal person. There’s no reason why conversations should suddenly revolve around childbearing after marriage; it’s not like a person’s identity changes to revolve around having kids. A person still has their own passion, goals, and dreams. Talk to them about what they’ve been doing. Understand their interests. Know them as a real person, not some random being here to fulfill society’s checklist.

If you’re really interested in someone’s plan to have children, like I mentioned in the beginning, you can simply ask, “Do you have any plans for kids?” If they wish to share more, they will do so. If they give a half-hearted or evasive answer, then take the hint and move on.

Ultimately, having kids or not doesn’t change one’s self-worth. A woman is complete with or without kids. A man is complete with or without kids.  A marriage doesn’t need kids to be deemed complete. Having kids should be a conscious choice, not a result of external pressure. Don’t judge people by whether they have kids or not. Some people will have kids and some won’t. Some will have kids early, while some will have them later in life. All of these are different paths and there’s nothing wrong with them.

For me, we eventually decided to have a baby and we now have our beloved baby girl. Yet other people’s comments and nudges on when I’m having kids didn’t make me want to have children; it only irritated me and made me want to avoid these people, because having a child is a personal decision and has nothing to do with them. It was after my husband and I enjoyed married life without kids, and had the space to actively pursue our goals and interests, that we finally felt ready to have a kid.

In the meantime, I hope all of you are doing well. There are things that I’m working on that I look forward to sharing in time to come! Sending lots of love to you, and remember that whatever life challenge you’re facing, you have it in you to overcome it.

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