Things you don’t say to couples with few or no kids

We’re often running across the articles and blogs that list rude questions and comments that people get when they’re expecting their third, fourth… sixth… eighth, or more. This one of “snappy answers” from Simcha Fisher is pretty funny. And a simple web search turns up many more like this one from Mindy Peltier or this one from The Stir. I enjoy these answers–and I’d love to have the opportunity to use them, but I receive a different kind of questioning and prodding.

There’s also lists of what not to say to single people. But what about the families with few children? Especially in Catholic circles, tongues wag when you don’t have a honeymoon baby or a new baby every 2 years or less.

Without further ado, here’s some things you may have said to a couple without thinking it through gleaned from my own experience and those of others. We know many of you don’t mean it the way it comes across, but here’s how your comments and questions come across to us.

To the newlyweds (a few months into their marriage):

cradle

Often, we are ready from our hearts to our nurseries, and still we are asked to wait. photo credit: Cory Marchand, flickr.com/photos/marchands

1. “We didn’t conceive our first month. I was crying, thinking I might not be fertile.”

A month?! One month?! Try month, after month, after month, year, after year, and test, after test, after surgery, after test…

2. “Don’t be afraid of having kids; be open to life!”

Okay, some people need to hear this, but for others, it breaks their heart…again. All some of us want to do is scream “We are OPEN! We are TRYING! We WANT children!” But instead, we smile and nod…and fight back a tear.

3. “So you’re waiting to have kids?”

We aren’t, but God seems to be. And also, is it really any of your business? If we had serious reasons to avoid pregnancy, we probably wouldn’t want to share it with you.

4. “So-and-so just got pregnant on their honeymoon, isn’t that great?”

Yes, it is. And I am happy for them, but be sensitive when you say it pointedly to someone who clearly didn’t get pregnant right away. Little do you know, but I already have crib bedding and maternity clothes ready to go!

5. “I bet your mom is ready to be a grandma!” Or: “Give me some grandkids!”

Yes, and I’m even more ready to be a mom. I want nothing more than to have your grandkids; I want them to know their grandparents and enjoy many years with them… What do I need to tell you? We’re trying!

6. “You’re not getting any younger, you know.”

Oh thanks, you think I don’t hear my biological clock ticking? Really?

7. “Just stop trying and it’ll happen”

Now, in this case, you know we’re open, but haven’t a clue what really having to try for years at a time is like. So, thanks, I never knew it was so easy… I guess I didn’t need all those tests, diets, shots, and surgeries…

 

The empty swing we wish could be filled. photo credit: Jenny Downing via flickr

The empty swing we wish could be filled.
photo credit: Jenny Downing via flickr

Think before saying these things to people with only a few children and those spaced far apart:

1. “So you’re an attachment parent? I hear that helps with child-spacing.”

Implied: “so you’re not doing birth control, but trying everything else you can to space them far apart.”

Well, yes, I may be an attachment parent, but it has nothing to do with wanting to space my children. Little do you know where I’m at with trying to conceive (desperately). I choose my parenting based on what works best for my family, and that doesn’t change the fact that I want a large family.

2. “Your baby is almost 2? Time for another one!”

Again, believe me, you’re not the only one who thinks so. I long for children close together and I long for my darling child to have a sibling. What should I do, show you my charts to let you know we’re doing everything we can?

3. “You’re not stopping because you have your boy and your girl, are you?”

Of course, this one is the converse of the question most people expecting their third or fourth are likely to hear a lot. It doesn’t make it less hurtful coming from the other side of the coin.

4. “Kids aren’t that expensive, have another one!”

Oh thanks, you’ve convinced me, I’ll try. (You know what is expensive? Fertility testing, charting consultations, etc., we’d much rather be having the kids!)

5. “Seven years between your kids? I like having mine closer in age.”

Implied: are you crazy? What kind of birth control were you on?

Little do you know, but that woman had three miscarriages in those seven years before finally one of the sweet babies made it to birth. On this front, especially, you need to be sensitive. Did you know that 10-25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage? The odds are pretty good that any woman whom you speak to has experienced the loss of an unborn baby at some point.

6. “The Lord blesses people who are open to life by giving them children.”

Implied: What sins have you committed so that the Lord isn’t giving you a new baby every couple years?

This one is particularly hurtful, and more often than not, it isn’t said directly to the parents of one, two, or none, but is spread around the grapevine in even more uncharitable terms. You want to know the truth? Everyone has their own cross to bear, and being open to life but asked to bear the cross of infertility, subfertility, or secondary infertility? That is a huge sacrifice, and hopefully an opportunity to grow closer to God’s love, but we can still use the support and understanding of others.

In the end, we all need to remember not to judge, Family size does NOT equal birth control usage and the Catechism (CCC 2477-2478) reminds us:

Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

– of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

Have your own rude questions you’ve heard or received? How do you respond? How do you keep from judging harshly in return?

MrsF3 and Family is on twitter: https://twitter.com/MrsF3andF and Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mrsf3

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45 thoughts on “Things you don’t say to couples with few or no kids

  1. This is so needed!
    I was only able to carry two of my kids to term (we have nine in heaven). The most painful thing that ever happened to me was the day a well-intentioned person gave me a copy of “Contraception: Why Not?” and said, “You should listen to this.” I couldn’t believe it. I went home and cried away the rest of the day.

    • Can I give you full permission to give them an earful?? That’s horrible! That happened to my friend who is actually the head of our NFP/Creighton Education at our church. She’s actually trying to use it to get pregnant and pretty much encouraged people to do the same. The automatic assumption is that she was trying to avoid pregnancy. Her husband and her have been married 6 years and have tried from the very beginning. Watching her heart break over that was horrendous. And then, I got married and my husband and I are unable to sustain a pregnancy full-term. I understand. I feel your pain. Go back to the person and educate ’em!!! =)

  2. I’m so glad to see this! We’re experiencing secondary infertility, and we attend a church where a family with four kids is considered small. With just one child, we get “the look,” and I’m getting so tired of the “where are your other children?” questions. As the years go on and the chances of conceiving grow dimmer and dimmer, those questions typically just get me crying. The worst was when someone made the comment that the Lord provides only as many children as the parents can handle. That comment still stings to this day.

  3. Thank you so much for the kind mention of my blog post. I learned so much through the wonderful comments people left on that post, mostly that everybody hears hurtful comments. I love when people write posts like yours because I learn how to speak with more grace and love.

    I had seven years of infertility after my fifth child. (I’d never heard the term secondary infertility until today!) However, because I already had “so many” children, anybody I tried talking to that was also going through infertility was offended that I would even try to share in their grief. I learned to not say anything, but the agony of empty arms longing for a baby is a feeling I will never forget. Years later, I had the sixth child I longed for, but not everybody has a happy-ever-after to their heartache.

    I also learned that the infertility could have been caused by thyroid issues. I had undiagnosed Hashimoto’s Disease and my doc wouldn’t run the blood test I asked for. By the time I found a doc who took me seriously (no, I wasn’t tired because I had six kids!) it had turned into thyroid cancer. This is another reason women need to speak out and accept one another with grace and love, so we can share information that may be helpful to one another.

    Many blessings to you and your readers.

  4. Thank you for writing this. I have one child and several miscarriages. After my first was born, I turned in to a walking fibroid cyst. My uterus is a mass of scar tissue and I’ve got cysts all over my ovaries. And my husband is diabetic, which has its own fertility problems. Perhaps I should list these ailments on a sandwich board and wear it to Mass to prevent these comments: “I bet your son is really spoiled because he’s an only child.” “My children cry when they think of how lonely your home must be.” (yes, someone really said that to me) There is one woman who has eleven children and every time I see her she makes a comment about the benefits of having lots of children. Every. Single. Time. It gets old. The most painful was the “friend” who handed me an NFP pamphlet three weeks after my first miscarriage. Sometimes, in my weaker moments, I am sorry that I am Catholic. Of all the reasons why someone doesn’t meet the childbearing quota, why do people automatically assume I’m committing a mortal sin?

    • Did you get the “don’t use this contraceptively” line with the pamphlet? It seems to me that many of these Catholicism to a refutation of modern errors. Quite degrading and unworthy of the Faith.
      Pray for them.

  5. Why do people wish me a Happy Mother’s Day when I am not a mother…and not by choice? Oh, how I have come to dread going to church on Mother’s Day, esp. when the priest asks all the mothers to stand so they can be prayed over – and I am sitting in the pew. Very painful.

    • It happens at my parish as well. My husband and I have no children and not by choice. I have friends who have kids and they roll their eyes when the priest does this for Mums Day. He not only asks them to stand up — but he also asks them to come to the altar. What the ???? It’s loud and disruptive with hands waving and socializing in a place of reverence. People we are not at a picnic!!!! My friends with kids never walk up. They think it’s silly. Bless mums, pray for those who want to become mums, without a big show.

    • Oh my goodness, I can relate Linda. Mothers Day is THE worst day of the year for me. I insist that my husband and I travel every year, even if it’s just down the road to a different parish. I refuse to attend mass in a place where people know me. That way when I remain seated during the blessing, I won’t have anyone say anything to me. This year we were in Cuba…and don’t know spanish so it was perfect. I couldn’t understand a word of anything and had hot and sunny weather and a beautiful beach to “comfort” me.

  6. Thanks, although we often find ourselves feeling guilty by just being in public around people with little or no children, especially when they are past their bearing age, some give us compliments, most of them offensive comments and some just a sad look. We are only in our mid 20s with 3 in a row and are not anymore blessed than a family of 0 – 2 children…
    God blesses all of us in a different but personal way when we are open to His Divine Will…

    Being open to life doesn’t only mean being open to children you can bear, there are many children in the exact opposite state, starving for loving parents, many are even killed through abortion…

  7. We frequently hear, upon being ogled at with our obviously adopted children (who have a different skin color)…

    “You know, we have a friend who tried and tried for a baby and finally gave up and adopted, and then they got pregnant right away!”

    Grrrrrr…

    A) Adoption is not “giving up”.
    B) Adoption does not cure infertility (neither physically nor emotionally).

    I could go on, but I’ve already gotten somewhat off topic, and elevated my b.p….

    People just have terrible manners, and it should be easier to ignore them, but it still hurts sometimes.

    • My husband and I adopted four children who are obviously of a different race than us, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the line about, “So and so adopted and then got pregnant!” (Even from our social worker! Gag), as if our precious baby(ies) are a consolation prize. I never think of our children as a “second best option.” They are what the Lord had planned for us from the beginning, and we would not change a thing.

      Even if a couple doesn’t adopt, people should never, ever, try to “helpfully” suggest such a thing. Most adults are perfectly aware of their options. It is an incredibly personal family decision which the Lord does not ask of everyone.

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  9. I was blessed to have one sweet baby girl. She came 2 months early. The night I had her, my body began to shut down. I was rushed to ICU where we found out that my liver enzymes were elevated, my red and white blood cells were fighting each other, my platelets were dangerously low, and my kidneys had completely shut down. They gave me 6 units of blood and placed a temporary port for dialysis treatment. A few days later, not much had changed and my vision went away. This caused my hematologist to diagnose me with aHUS (rare disorder). They were worried with how bad I was doing so they “broke protocol” and brought my sweet 3 lb 15 oz baby up into ICU so I could hold her. She was 6 days old by this time. She smelled so wonderful! I ached to be able to see her but my vision was gone. My doctor ordered Soliris infusion but our hospital didn’t have it so it had to be driven overnight from Tennessee (I believe) and it arrived at 2am. After receiving my first infusion my counts started looking better. I stayed in the hospital for 21 days. I was only on dialysis for another month and a half and was able to be off by the time my daughter came home. A week later my port was removed. I still have to do infusions every other week for the rest of my life. However, my husband and I were told that I shouldn’t get pregnant bc the chances of the baby and me dying were too great. This was a punch to the stomach since my husband and I had already picked out the names for the other three that we planned on having. Sometimes people need to take into consideration that maybe someone isn’t able to get pregnant bc they don’t want the child they already have have to grow up without their mom. I am extremely blessed to have my one and my husband and I are mulling over the idea of adoption. However our princess is more than enough!!

  10. Oh yes. People don’t understand the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll infertility takes on a couple. I’ve heard all these and more. Even after (finally) having our triplets we *still* get comments about if/when we’re having more. It can be painful and I always just say “Hey, it’s up to The Lord and He hasn’t sent any more kids to our family.” I know people aren’t trying to be mean, but it still hurts. I wish more people understood.

  11. Good posting. I have probably heard it all. I was fertile when young and had my first child – then went through 8 years of infertility. I even went on fertility pills to help, but to no avail. I had to reconcile myself with the fact that I would have one son. Then I got pregnant – at 35. All of a sudden I was high risk due to my “advanced maternal age”. I then had two more children at 39 and 41. I have lost five babies in between all those years – 3 just since last year. I don’t judge anyone anymore or feel hurt for all the comments I hear. I used to when I was younger. Most people honestly just do not think – they don’t know what to say. They think they’re helping or initiating conversation. I try to be a positive role model in my community. For “Anastasia’, feel blessed you’re in such a wonderful thriving parish. Where I live, 4 children is definitely considered weird. Parents of 3 or more are probably psychotic. I get a LOT of weird stares and interesting comments (some funny) when out with my four. Two is a lot here – one is “just right”. Just know that the Lord has you right where you’re supposed to be. We don’t always know why at the time, and I completely understand the frustrations and hurt. I’ve been there. I just know that each baby I carried in my womb – whether it was to term or only five weeks – made me a better person. Waiting those 8 years was also part of the plan. God needed me elsewhere and needed me to follow his lead. Trust the Lord in all situations. God bless you all! 🙂

  12. You know, it’s been my experience that people say these things because they are truly “un-okay” with suffering – their own suffering and/or other people’s suffering. They cannot just sit with a person and suffer with them, but flail around and say the first stupid platitude that comes to their head in order to “fill” that space and silence. They’re repeating stuff that’s been said to them, and sometimes they’re just plain ol’ judgemental. For me, after 10 years of unexplained infertility and no children, I think what I’d like to hear when I meet new people or chat with friends is, “Oh that really stinks. I’m sorry to hear that. That must be very painful.” And then leave it at that. That is just the truth my friends. Most people are sorry to hear it, and they can imagine how painful infertility is. But instead they say something like this (which is a retort I get a LOT): “Oh, you can’t have kids? Well I’ve got a few you can have. Seriously. Take mine.”

    Yeah. Getting right on that.

    • THIS IS EXACTLY IT. People are too immature and/or selfish to “suffer with” someone. If a friend says, “I was wondering where to find chicken breast on sale this week,” you can solve her problem in a ten-second exchange and feel like a hero. If she says, “I just had my fourth miscarriage,” a ten-second brush-off is not called for. I have developed a (tiny, tiny) repertoire of appropriate responses for hearing examples of people’s SERIOUS suffering, along the same lines you offered: “I can’t imagine how hard that must be.” “I’m so sorry.” And – ONLY IF you think it will give comfort to the person hearing it; you don’t get brownie points for saying this just because it makes you seem holy – “You’ll be in my prayers.”

  13. Thank you. And thank you to the people who commented as well. So many good points and it’s always reassuring to know we’re not alone in our struggle.

    God bless.

  14. Infertility is one reason why couples may have few or no children… But let’s also reminder that even Catholic couples are called to responsible parenthood. Being Catholic and married is not about confusing and giving birth to as many children as possible… It’s about being open to life… So, yeah, no birth control… But there are valid reasons to have normal fertility and still have what is considered to be “few” children… God calls all of us differently and calls all those using NFP differently. I wish others would just stop being so curious about why families look the way they do ( big or small)… If it was planned or not , etc, etc…Trust in the Lord and assume good will on the part of your brothers and sisters… Once that happens we will all be able to talk about something else.

  15. I personally have four times as many children in heaven as I have here on earth. I know the pain of loss, and I know the pain of waiting. Infertility is a very heavy cross.

    But I have to disagree wholeheartedly with this Article. This burden that we all have is ours, not the burden of the people who talk to us. Posts like these make it the responsibility of someone else to know our history without knowing us. We burden them and blame them for not knowing what in the world it is they can and cannot say. We will never have a conversation or get to know others if they cannot ask questions!

    Clearly, some questions are rude. But others are meant to get to know us in whatever awkward way they come. No one knows us until we tell them, and we won’t offer the information until they ask a question!

    This article blames pain and discomfort on the questioner, when the reality is that we are uncomfortable and in pain because we aren’t getting what we want–children. This isn’t the fault of the other person. It is our cross, and we have no right to expect them to know we carry it.

    Our job is to do exactly what the quote at the end of the article says– assume the other person means well!

  16. Otter Mommy,
    You are correct if the other people are asking you diverse questions besides children number. If they are trying to get to know you, they will also ask about your favorite books, films, vacation spots, recipes….your choice of employment…are your parents well etc. If they are only…only commenting on your family size in a passing introduction, that’s not a good sign. Catholicism has a high degree of clarity which ironically can bring out the rash judgemental side of human nature. Hence look at the Latin Mass/ NO Mass internet duels that keep erupting. Check our history…it is festooned with Catholics fighting Catholics. St. John of the Cross was imprisoned by his own Carmelites who wanted no part of his reform of the Order into more strictness. He was lashed every week. After nine months he escaped through a window and the order was eventually split into two groups by Rome. Dominicans denounced Franciscans for usury for fees in their pawn shops until an Ecumenical Council settled it in the Franciscan favor. We have clarity ( or think we do) but then use it against each other.
    Fill a hall with a thousand agnostics and you have no one judging anyone because they all feel certitude is impossible and the other may prove correct in his differences.

    • Mr. Brannon,

      These are all interesting details, but not one changes the fact that we are still called to assume the best of people, not write or say scathing things about their “insensitivity.” The cross we bear is still our own. We are called to bear wrongs patiently, not talk about how awful people are because they don’t know our story, thus commenting in a way that silently offends us. We cannot and should never act in a way that presumes another person is behaving maliciously, especially in these situations. Christians are specifically called to be better behaved than that, regardless of how poorly behaved our ancestors may have been.

      • OtterMommy,
        Check Luke 7 in the 40’s verses. In a quick one time meeting, Christ senses the less than best from Simon the Pharisee who had been internally judging the woman of ill repute and Christ tells him so…but not based on the omniscience but on external factors that we as observers could see:

        ” Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
        45
        You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered.
        46
        You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment.”

        The lead essay above is following Christ in being annoyed at quick judges who will signal their judging often by asking nothing else about your life just as Simon signalled his less than the best level by rudeness to Christ.

  17. Thank you so much for this. My husband and I have been trying/not trying whatever you want to call it for over 3 years now and are still waiting for the blessing. This past Mother’s Day seemed to bring on the stupid questions and implications again though this time I was not nice in my responses. My favorite follow up questions are “have you guys been tested” to which I reply “nope we just assume everything is a ok” of course we have been to doctors and non of them have answers. All we can do is pray that in God’s time we will be blessed. The next question is almost as stupid “have you thought about adoption?” Most of the time they make it should like you can walk I to a store pick out a baby and go home happy. If only they did the research that we have done they would realize that for a second that it’s not easy or quick or even financially possible for some of us.

  18. And just on a side note to others commenting, I think the article is aimed at balancing many peoples attitude that “more kids = more Catholic” which truly is not the case. As Catholics we should support our fellow families with all their crosses. Solidarity in Faith and acting with true charity. Most of the things the author has listed aren’t malicious- and I think she recognises that. But it is good to be aware of how we can be more understanding of the cross of infertility. I’m blessed I do not have to carry it, I am I awe with the grace with which so many I know do. And those carrying it the Catholic way are heroic. As are those able have children and generously doing so.

  19. At this point, after so many years and hearing this crap so many times, my response (if I feel I need to give one at all) would have to be, “Complain to God.” Hey, maybe He’ll listen to you!

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  23. Good Afternoon,

    My name is Cory Marchand, I am the photographer/copyright owner of the photo you have listed here:

    “Empty Cradle”

    You can see the original here:

    Empty Cradle

    I am asking that you please provide photo credits for this picture on your website, or use the image I have provided to you in the link that provides credit on the photo itself.

    I am asking kindly for compliance within 30 days.

    Let me know if you have any further questions or comments.

    With sincere regards,
    Cory Marchand

    • Happy to know the owner of the photo and give proper credit. I tried to give credit based on the info I could find. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  24. We have zero living children. It took a long while for people who know us to remember that they do. know. us. The judgement factor seems to come from people who need affirmation for their own choices, much of the time. They are selfish questions, because they don’t take into consideration the heart of the other.
    My spiritual director once said that Mary & Joseph had ONE child. It’s a good thing to remember. Also the marriage vows are “OPEN to life”, not “give birth to children”… they’re related, of course, but let’s stop making up rules in Catholicism where they do not exist, yes?
    Natalism is not part of Catholic doctrine, and we need to be careful not to create the Holy Spirit in our own image.
    This is a well done article- thank you for it.

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