my boss is pressuring me to get pregnant

A reader writes:

I was hired into my current job about nine months ago. Good job, great fit, clear-cut responsibilities, all the good things. People are personable and chatty without generally being too pushy or intrusive, which I love. About six months ago, we hired someone I’ll call Fergus — an older gentleman of the managerial persuasion, though it wasn’t immediately obvious what his role was, who was integrated into my team.

It’s a family-oriented office, with lots of parents of all ages, and it’s a pretty common question as I get to know people: “Oh, do you and your husband have kids?” In response I always laugh lightly and say something along the lines of “Nope, not for us. We love our dog though!” Everyone else takes this for what it is — small talk — and then will ask about the dog or change the topic or show me baby pictures, except for Fergus.

Fergus has, at least three or four times, stated that it’s “sad” I’m not having kids, that I’ll regret it, or harrumphed in some way, which I have internally rolled my eyes at and kind of moved on. Except yesterday, he was promoted. He is now a VP here and I report to him directly. He will be in charge of my 1:1s, job responsibilities, reviews, and raises.

I am dreading more of these comments now that we’re no longer peers. It’s inevitable it will come up again (even if I don’t bring it up or comment on it), and I really wish I could say something along the lines of “It’s really inappropriate to comment on this when you’re my boss,” or even point out that for all he knows, he could be pushing on the sorest of subjects for no reason. (Maybe I’m infertile. Maybe my husband is. Maybe we tried for years before giving up. Maybe someone has a genetic disorder we’re afraid to pass on. None of these things are true in my case, but he doesn’t know that!)

So, if it does come up, what’s the best path here? Something in the moment? A more direct conversation in a 1:1? Should I wince internally each time and change the subject? I already axed The Most Sarcastic Rejoinders Ever, sadly, because they’re not professional even if I’d be really good at them.

Agggghh, Fergus.

And agggghh to all the other people who think that it’s okay to comment on the reproductive plans of colleagues, which is a bizarrely widespread phenomenon. It’s also decidedly one-way; there are very few people urging colleagues not to reproduce (although they might think it silently) or telling them how “sad” it will be if they do have children. But for some reason a not-insignificant swath of the population finds it perfectly okay to tell people who don’t plan to raise kids how wrong they are and how deeply they’ll regret it.

Now throw in the fact that Fergus is your boss and it gets additionally weird, because the power dynamics in the relationship mean that there’s built-in pressure for you to be polite, even when he’s being rude. (This is one reason why managers should be especially thoughtful about boundaries with their staff members. They can’t necessarily rely on getting the “butt out” cues that they’d get from people in other areas of their lives.)

Of course, if Fergus were a peer, you could be pretty direct about telling him to cut it out — as in, “Please stop commenting on my reproductive plans. They’re not up for discussion.” And who knows, you may develop the kind of relationship where you can say that to him too. But with a new boss, it’s not the approach I’d start with, especially since you may be able to get the outcome you want a different way.

Instead, I’d at least start out more softly. That doesn’t mean you can’t still convey that he needs to chill out with the comments, though. You can, and you should.

The next time he makes another comment about your intentions for your uterus, say something like this: “I really don’t want to keep talking about my plans in this area. Thanks for understanding.” Given the new managerial relationship, and because it’s the first time you’re telling him to cut it out, say it fairly cheerfully. You’ll still be delivering a clear message even if you don’t accompany it with the more cutting tone that he frankly deserves.

It sounds like you haven’t been that direct about shutting it down in the past, and so it’s possible that doing it now will get him to cut it out.

But if it doesn’t and his remarks continue, then it’s time to get more serious about it, which would mean saying something like this: “Now that you’re my boss, I want to ask you to stop commenting about me having kids. Those comments feel too personal in any work situation, but especially from someone with authority over me, which I’m sure you can understand.”

If he’s pretty receptive to that, you could also add something like, “I know you mean well, but those comments can be really painful for people, especially people who are struggling with infertility or miscarriages. I really would recommend avoiding them altogether, because you just never know someone’s situation.”

You will be doing all of society a favor if you point this out to him. And actually, you’ll be doing him a favor too, because he’s inadvertently pissing people off — and possibly deeply upsetting them — when he probably doesn’t intend to. If this is the first time he’s gotten push-back on his baby meddling — and especially if it’s the first time he’s heard an explanation of why it’s inappropriate — it might actually be eye-opening for him.

Either way, that approach will probably take care of it. But if for some reason his comments continue, it’s perfectly reasonable to shut down any further comments in the moment. You can do that by saying, “As you know, my plans in that area aren’t up for discussion. So moving on to [insert work-related topic here] … ”

(And hey, with Thanksgiving approaching, if you have any relatives who suffer from the same affliction as Fergus, they might provide ample opportunity to practice these tactics before you have to deploy them at work.)

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 471 comments… read them below }

  1. Weekday Warrior*

    I really like that script. Hope it works! People are just so obtuse about this subject though.

    I especially enjoyed the “why don’t you adopt?” brigade who chimed in once they knew or just suspected that there might be reasons biological kids weren’t on the way. A few times I was able to turn the question back on them, i.e. “oh, are you considering adoption?” and then enjoyed the spluttering that followed. Spoiler – no, they weren’t considering adoption for themselves and had no idea what was actually involved.

    1. Candi*

      In a social situation a few years ago, I overheard someone say that adoption line…

      Me, being already known as a fount of information/insufferable know-it-all*, turned around and asked, “Do you know how expensive that is?” and went off on stats, court costs, foreign adoptions…

      Fortunately, the person who was being asked shut me up somewhat politely. (She was and is allowed to do this; I need to be bopped over the head at times due to my difficulty in reading subtler social cues.)

      Then she lit into Mrs. Nosy. You know the social version of icy professionally polite correction? She pulled it off. Beautiful.

      *This is a shot at myself; one of the biggest things for me to learn was I know it =/= anyone wants to hear it.

    2. Pomona Sprout*

      When I was going through my infertility struggle, the “Why don’t you just adopt?” comments irked the crap out of me. A lot of people seem to think you can just drive down to the baby store, pick out one you like, and bring him or her home to live happily ever after. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

      People are never more irritating than when they they think they know all about something that they actually know less than nothing about!

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I find it so insulting to adoptees too. It makes them sound like the next-best option to having biological children – the backup plan. You should adopt because you want to adopt, not because it was the next-best option.

        1. Mary*

          Oh GOD yes, this. Being an adoptive parent requires you to be an adoptive parent and up for all the challenges that implies (especially in the UK, where newborn adoptions are extremely uncommon – most adoptions are of children who have been given up or removed from their birth families after years or months with a parent who isn’t coping.) If you find you’re infertile and you think adoption will work for you, amazing – but infertility is not a qualification for adoption!

        2. Academic Addie*

          I dunno, I’m OK with it. My parents would have rather conceived and birthed a child, but couldn’t. I certainly was a back-up plan, and that’s OK.

          1. KTBoundary*

            This is the other thing – as humans we all go through a process of wanting something (ie a biological child) then if that doesn’t work out for one reason or another we go through a mourning process (hopefully) to let it go before we can move on to another option (ie living childless, adopting a child, etc). We all do this, but we also don’t recognize we do this in the moment that we want someone else to feel better about going through that process, leading to (mostly) well-intentioned comments like ‘why don’t you adopt?’. I think that the best and most productive response to that is to say ‘I’m not ready to think about that’ or in a work context let them know that it’s also none of their business. It lets the person who made the comment know they crossed a line, because, well they did.

      2. Safetykats*

        I have a good friend who has been unable to have children for medical reasons (other than infertility) and she gets the “Oh, but you should think about adoption!” all the time. She very seriously responds “Oh, we never thought of that! Thanks for the suggestion.” It is funny to watch how confused people get.

      3. Dot Warner*

        The thing that irks me most about the “why don’t you adopt” crowd is that they all think they are the very first person ever to suggest such a thing to us, and that we would never, ever, have thought of it without their genius insight to guide us. Do these people really think we have been under a rock for the last few decades and have never heard of adoption and have never met an adoptee or an adoptive parent?

        1. Rainbow Hair Chick*

          Not to mention all the heartbreak while going through fertility treatments! I found after 7 years of disappointment and heart ache that my heart just couldn’t handle any more disappointments. I literally couldn’t muster up the energy to go through adoption process. All of this will take a toll on your marriage and it just wasn’t worth the risk of losing my husband over.

  2. Murphy*

    Ugh, I hate that people think it’s OK to make comments like this. Not just to women either! I have a male friend who had co-workers that would not stop asking him about kids. (After infertility issues, and years of trying, that severely affected his wife’s health.) Finally he said, “Have you seen the movie ‘Up?’ It’s like that, except my wife isn’t dead.” And finally the dude left him alone.

    Obviously that’s not true in your case, and you shouldn’t say that to your boss. I think Alison’s softer approaches are good. I hope he cuts it out.

    1. Myrin*

      Seriously. I believe it was regular poster Mike C. who said that he gets that crap all the time, especially with regards to how impractical his sports car will be when he’ll have kids. People are unbelievable. (Apologies if it wasn’t you, Mike, but it was definitely a regular male commenter on here.)

      1. justsomeone*

        I get crap about my convertible sports car for the same reason! I just tell people that they’re just jealous that I didn’t have to wait to be an empty nester to have a fun car. That shuts them up.

        1. Sled dog mama*

          I have a small (3 yo) child and a sports car. Sssssssoooooooooooooo many people go on and on about how hard it must be to carry my daughter around in it and I’m just like do you see a back seat? Nope she only rides in daddy’s SUV.
          The one I’ve used recently was “yes we decided to save by only buying one carseat.”
          Car predates kid and is paid off, I don’t understand why it is so hard for some people to comprehend that I prioritize certain things and not having a car payment is way more important to me than having to deal with the kid only riding in one car.

          1. Amber T*

            Because HOW DARE you not do things the *RIGHT* way / the way I expect them to be done!?!?! Don’t you know it’s mini vans ONLY???


            1. AKchic*

              *shudder* The dreaded soccermom-mobile. I have never owned a minivan. Never will. Love my suburbans, though. So much space when hauling around multiple teenagers and all of their assorted gear. Or multiple carseats. Or both, as the case may be when you have four kids spaced out over 10 years.

              1. Happy Lurker*

                On our 3rd Suburban! Two dogs, three kids and look still room for friends and luggage – whoot! I freaking love my SUV.
                Plus when have you ever pushed someone out of the snow with a mini van?

                1. AKchic*

                  Exactly! But I sure have towed someone out of a ditch with my 2500! And moved friends out of apartments, towed other vehicles, packed all of our camping gear without needing a second vehicle (or being cramped), brought in all of our ren fair gear (and still carpooled so we saved parking space)…
                  My current ‘burb is an old fire chief’s rig, so it has extra bells and whistles. I love the second battery compartment so I can run a electricity from an outside plug-in.
                  Sorry, totally off-topic.

                  Obligatory: I am not a representative of Chevy/Suburban. Just an enthusiastic used-suburban owner. I am not paid to advertise for them (but I’m not going to turn down an offer… hint hint)

        2. Jadelyn*

          …keeping this in my back pocket for the next time someone comments on my sports car and “you know a carseat won’t fit in that back seat of yours”. (My car does technically have a back seat. I’ve never really figured out why, considering I don’t think you could fit any human ever into it. Adults would be too big, kids small enough to fit would be small enough that they’d need carseats, which wouldn’t fit…who is supposed to sit back there???)

          1. Agile Phalanges*

            My dad has a useless back seat in his convertible. He found the perfect use for it, though–it fits his dog perfectly. He even installed a harness latch thingie when the dog jumped out of the car while parked at Home Depot once. But seriously, whether sitting up or lying down, a dog fits perfectly on those useless seats. :-)

          2. Mike C.*

            Insurance reasons. It makes the car a 2+2 rather than a strict 2 seater and pulls the car out of the same category you find Porsches and exotics in.

            1. Jadelyn*

              …ahh, okay, that does actually make sense. In which case, I’m grateful for my vestigial back seats – my insurance costs enough as it is.

            1. Jadelyn*

              LOL, at the moment I actually literally do have a pair of shoes back there. They’re walking shoes, so I can switch to those after work and get some exercise walking around the downtown and waterfront where our building is, but technically I am keeping shoes in my backseat!

          3. TootsNYC*

            My best friend (who is single) bought a two-seater convertible. So many people were shocked. “What if you need to go somewhere with several other people?” they asked her.

            She said, dryly, “We’ll go in their car.”

            1. Jadelyn*

              I joke with people that I love having a small coupe – I can’t get roped into driving groups of people anywhere because I can only take one passenger. Nobody can argue with that excuse.

                1. KTBoundary*

                  I had a pick up in college that fit ‘1 and 1/2’ people beside myself. Never had to DD. It was glorious.

            2. Red Reader*

              Haha, I didn’t upsize from my Smart until I had a family of four plus 110 pounds of dog. Now I’m the only one in the house who more than a vestigial back seat (my CR-V vs the Fiat 500, VW Bug and Chevy Cobalt), so I drive everywhere. (I’m a terrible passenger. It works out.)

            3. H*

              Ha, I have a stick shift and have had a few people say, “but no one else can drive your car!” and in my head I’m just thinking, “feature, not bug.”

        3. Al Lo*

          My husband and I have two Smart cars, and there’s no better way to indicate to people that you’re really not looking at having kids imminently than having two 2-seater cars.

          Thankfully, we don’t get too much crap about it, but when we bought the second one, it definitely made a statement.

      2. oranges & lemons*

        It’s really beyond me why anyone thinks any of this is remotely their business. I’m pretty sure we’re taught in preschool that not all of our thoughts need to be shared with others.

      3. Mike C.*

        That was me. Funny thing is that my dad had something very similar growing up and in a pinch three of us sat in the back.

        But if I instead spent twice as much on a giant SUV or pickup truck with a crew cab, then I’m “a responsible family man”.

    2. Coalea*

      Having a relationship like the one in “Up” is honestly my dream. I don’t understand why some people don’t realize that not everyone wants the same things out of life!

    3. kittymommy*

      I used to have people ask me this all the time at work. When they wouldn’t accept the “I don’t want them” I started responding that I’m perfectly happy with my cats and dog and the state generally frowns on you just leaving the kid for a few days while on vacay. I mean I’d give them a bowl of food and some water!!

    4. Specialk9*

      I was definitely not expecting to ugly-sob-cry in the movie theatre when I went to see a cartoon about a house flying by balloon and talking dogs. That was not a good surprise. People rag on trigger warnings, without understanding how helpful they can be when one has an actively bleeding wound in your heart that had just scabbed over finally, just barely. Ugh. Thanks, Up.

      1. NF*

        It destroyed me, too, Specialk9, partly because it just seemed to come out of nowhere and it came FAST. I love the way you put it: “when one has an actively bleeding wound in your heart that had just scabbed over finally.” Hugs.

      2. JeanB in NC*

        It was hard enough to watch without having any personal associations – it must have been extremely painful for anyone with the same problem. My sympathies to you.

  3. Michelle*

    Why is it so difficult for people to mind their own business? OP already stated she wasn’t going to have kids, so why does he feel the need to keep commenting about it?!? It’s not like mankind is in any danger of extinction and OP must have kids to save the human race.

    1. Koko*

      Seriously. This line of questioning once is a faux pas. Bringing it up more than once, let alone what appears to be more than twice, is beyond the pale.

    2. anon for this*

      I was in hospital once, with screaming abdominal pain. They’d worked out it was probably gynaecological of some sort. The gynaecology consultant came to see me. He asked me a bunch of awkward questions about my sex life (in a mixed surgical ward), and how many births (none), pregnancies (none), or planned children (none) I had.
      He told me that it was my duty to have children to “breed out the stupid people”, for my husband, and “to pass on those pretty eyes of yours”. He then told me I was being a drama queen about what was ultimately a minor condition and discharged me.
      FWIW, six weeks later my triple ovarian torsion was resolved.

      1. LadyL*

        He told me that it was my duty to have children to “breed out the stupid people”

        …if only his mother had taken that advice

      2. also anon for this*

        One time a co-worker mentioned that she had kids, and another co-worker told her “it’s good to see an educated Anglo woman reproducing for once”. Apparently we’re not yet over 1930s eugenics :-(

        (also, why are doctors so terrible about diagnosing ovarian torsion?)

      3. Lefty*

        Gross. What a total lack of professionalism and compassion… delivered with a huge does of sexism and misogyny, just for measure.

        I’m sorry your consultant said those things to you and I am outraged on your behalf. It’s terrible that he ignored your pain and focused his concerns on what you “should” be doing instead of focusing on your very real, very painful situation! I hope you are pain-free and in a good place now, with a healthcare team that will focus on you when you need it.

      4. Narcoleptic Juliette*

        Almost the same thing happened to me. No comments about breeding, thank goodness, but dismissing my pain and having it turn out to be a double torsion. When the ovary was removed 2 months later, another issue was found, which pretty much means I’ll never be able to have kids. My husband and I don’t want kids, so no problems there, and now I get to respond to the people who comment on my reproductive choices by bringing up infertility and making them as uncomfortable as possible.

    1. Lumen*

      By the time an idiot coworker bemoaned my decision not to become a parent (as though it affected him in any shape, form, or fashion), I had already been dealing with people shocked and appalled at that choice for about ten years, so I’d gotten some of my anger and disgust out of my system already.

      I asked him why it bothered him. It surprised him, because I don’t think he had realized that he wasn’t being ‘sympathetic’ with me or the deep spinster sorrow he assumed I must live with. He ended up saying that it was just a ‘shame’, because I’m so great (or whatever) and it was sad to think of the (nonexistent) children whose lives I would never impact!

      So I asked him what was stopping me from being a positive influence and presence in MANY children’s lives. Then I pointed out that I’d spent almost a decade working in early childhood education and even longer as a babysitter, nanny, camp counselor, etc. I had already positively impacted the lives of many children of all ages, and would continue to do so.

      I don’t think that his ‘think of the (nonexistent) children!’ excuse was the real reason he (or many others) get so startled and upset when a woman says that she is not or does not want to be a parent. I think there’s a whole lot of cultural and personal baggage involved when the Ferguses of the world clutch their pearls and wail about empty uteri. Sometimes just turning it around can help.

      However, that wouldn’t be my advice. In my case, I’d been fielding this garbage from friends, family, churchgoers, bosses, coworkers, and complete strangers for many years. I had the emotional wherewithall and the professional standing to push back on my coworker in this particular way. I think Allison’s suggestion to begin soft and only become firmer if necessary is perfect, especially since Fergus is now the OP’s boss.

      But I hope that one of these days, invasive questions or comments about this topic become tantamount to social and professional self-immolation. In a perfect world, OP would never even be in this situation because it would be understood that this nonsense is not okay. Sadly, we aren’t there yet. So when and where we have the space and comfort to push back, question, and educate, we should.

      1. Artemesia*

        I think this is spot on. It is about making women submit to their role in life. It upsets some people when everyone else is not just like them and women don’t know their place.

        1. Specialk9*

          “It is about making women submit to their role in life.”

          Boom. This.

          Also, I think a lot of people regret having had kids, but feel guilty about that feeling because it feels like wishing this beloved child dead. Those conflicted feelings seem to squirt out as trying to convince others that parenting is So Great!!

          /I don’t regret having mine, but it’s certainly hard and expensive! If this hadn’t been a choice I made with wide open eyes, I’m not sure I’d be as sanguine.

          1. Lumen*

            I think you’re completely right. And I feel terrible for people who had children without questioning (or being allowed to question) whether they even wanted to, and regret it, but cannot express that regret (much less do anything about it).

      2. Mike C.*

        Also, why are you required to take an active, positive role in the lives of children to begin with?

        1. Jadelyn*

          +a million. I’m not very good with kids, and I don’t enjoy spending time with them, so I generally don’t. There are all kinds of other ways that I contribute to society that have nothing to do with positively influencing children.

        2. Don't Know*

          I married late in life but at around 40, I figured having kids was not going to happen for me and I was OK with it. So now when I’m asked why I never had kids I tell them, “I don’t really like kids” and own it. It shocks the questioners and they don’t ask again.

          1. Anlyn*

            I usually respond with “I like kids, but only for an hour or two. Then I like giving them back.” Usually don’t get any pushback after that.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              I used to know a woman who would respond to questions about not liking kids that she liked them just fine….as long as they were well done! Not a response a lot of people would be comfortable using, I’m sure, but it did seem to do a nice job of stopping people in their tracks, lol.

              1. Laura (Needs to Change Her Name)*

                Someone tried to get me to give money to some kind of organization for kids on the street once. They asked “do you like children?” and I responded “no, thank you, I just ate” and kept walking. Their facial expression was pricelessssss.

            2. Rana*

              Heck, I’m a parent and I feel this way. I enjoy my own child, but spending time with her noisy and lively little peers exhausts me.

            3. SusanIvanova*

              I used to teach karate and that was the best thing about it – I had the kids for an hour *and* they wanted to be there. And then I sent them home.

        3. Lissa*

          Yeah, I often have to restrain myself because I know the “politically correct” response to someone asking about why I don’t want kids is something like “Oh, I like kids but I don’t want any!” and my actual feelings are “I do not enjoy the presence of children, why would I have any?” but I cannot exactly say that without coming off as an evil monster (though if I ever did want to really burn bridges I’d say it and add that I don’t like dogs either . . .)

          There are lots of people out there who DO love being around kids and I think that’s so valuable in part because it’s not for everyone! I couldn’t do it and I wish those who could were more valued because I know how important it is…for other people to do. :)

          1. Koko*

            My honest answer is something along the lines of, “Never felt any particular desire to have them, and they seem like enough responsibility that I feel like there should be some desire on my part before irreversibly changing my life and making another person totally dependent on me for their survival and well-being.”

            For me the question isn’t, “Why no kids?” It’s, “Why kids?” Lack of a reason not to have kids is not the same as a reason to have them.

            1. Ahora*

              Yep, this is my stance too. I don’t have any desire to be a parent, and I know being a parent is a HARD job, so I feel like you should at least like 80% really want to be a parent before you go into it.

            2. Specialk9*

              In the Bujold Vorkosigan universe, citizens of Beta Colony have to take a class on parenting, apply for a parenting license with a co-parent, undergo a suitability screening, then have babies cooked up on uterine replicators. (Everyone gets contraceptive implants as teens.)

              I’m aware of the chance for abuse in reality, but still get wistful both about the idea of kids only being born on purpose, to prepared and vetted parents, AND the idea of uterine replicators. (I dreamed a lot about uterine replicators during my tough pregnancy.)

              1. SusanIvanova*

                If anyone had ever really gotten pushy about asking me when I would have kids, I had the answer ready: “As soon as they invent uterine replicators”.

                (They’ve actually got a working version for lambs. Technology FTW!)

          2. Hornswoggler*

            On being asked why she didn’t have kids, my sister used to raise an eyebrow and say: “No world shortage, is there?”

            I wanted to steal this but now I’m middle-aged, nobody ever asks me.

          3. Kate 2*

            This! Sadly quite a few people think there is something “wrong” with people who don’t like kids. One comment section, normally civilized, actually had commenters saying that people who don’t like kids are sociopaths.

            Definitely a lot of people regret having kids, and take it out on people who are confident enough to withstand societal pressure and be childfree. There was a fascinating article I read a few years ago, about a badly written law that allowed anyone in the country to “surrender their children to the state” without consequences.

            Hundreds of people (so not just a few unusual people) came from all over the country (they could afford to take time from work and travel, so not really poor) to get rid of their children, some kids were preteens even! Eventually they got the law changed so it was only people in-state and kids below a certain age, but it really shocked people, and it showed how many people really wish they had never had kids.

            1. Relly*

              I’ve heard people say that not having kids is Horrible and Selfish, and they shake their heads at me.

              So …. If I’m a horrible, selfish person, why exactly do you want me having kids?

              Same question to those people who said non parents are sociopaths. You’re trying to convince people that you legitimately think are sociopaths to have children?!

              1. Kay*

                This! A million times this.

                Okay, I’m selfish. That is exactly right! My time is very important to me and I would much rather utilize it the way I want without any commitments beyond what I make to my husband, our cats, my job, and my extended family. I want to be able to play video games, binge watch shows, go on vacation, etc., as I like when I like without consideration for another existence that is dependent on me. That’s all I want. So, yes, I’m self-absorbed and stingy. This is precisely the reason I shouldn’t be entrusted with rearing a tiny human.

                I think the most bizarre conversation I’ve been subjected to on this topic was with a nail tech. Inevitably she asked if I had kids to which I answered in the negative and again when she pressed on about when I was planning on having them. She was absolutely appalled that I didn’t want to spawn any crotch droppings! At one moment she said it was selfish not to contribute to society by bringing a child into the world then expounded on how awful it is to be childless and that there would be no one to take care of me in my old age since that’s what kids are for. Yes. Because it’s so selfish of me not to have kids for the express purpose of having them return the favor when I’m too old and feeble to wipe my own backside… Needless to say I did not return to that salon.

                1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

                  Crotch droppings! ROFL!

                  *makes mental note to share this description with my sister who has two kids *

              2. Ahora*

                Because having the kids will automatically make you not horrible/selfish/sociopathic.

                major eye rolls

        4. Tuxedo Cat*

          MTE. I have and do volunteer work with kids, but I don’t think one has to justify their existence by taking on active, positive roles with kids.

        5. Lumen*


          I mean, I love kids. I get a kick out of them. I’m fascinated by early childhood development. I’m trained and practiced in giving care to children of several ages. I value being an active, positive role in the lives of children.

          But I am an individual. Just like enjoying children does not translate to wanting to be a parent, NOT wanting to be involved with children does not translate into being a bad person, or a bad woman, or sad nobody with an empty life.

          A lot of it comes back to asking people “Why do you have this expectation/assumption?” when a lot of people don’t realize they even have that expectation or are making an assumption. That’s… what makes them assumptions. I did not realize for a long time that I didn’t want to be a parent simply because it was always assumed/expected (by family, school, church, tv, culture-at-large) that I would be. Maybe that’s why I understand that many, many people never even ask themselves the question of ‘want to’, when it comes to having kids… them having kids or other people having kids.

      3. Red 5*

        I have found that “I love being an aunt” works as a lot of deflection to people, because I’ve also gotten the “you would be such a good parent” kind of reasoning before.

        I don’t know if I’m just around more enlightened people now, or if my age is showing but I get a lot less of this now. People idly ask if I have kids because A-we’re all of that age where it’s a major thing in people’s lives to be dealing with kids and school and soccer games and B-because when they talk about their kids I’m engaged and interested because they’re friends, I care about their lives. But I can’t think of the last time anybody even asked a follow-up after I said “No, it’s just us” or even “that’s not our plan really.”

        I have gotten some wild ones though. I did have a co-worker who made it a mission for a few weeks to convince me how great kids were and how terrible I was being by not wanting them. I wish I’d been strong enough to just keep changing the subject instead of trying to explain to her. There are only maybe five people I think were owed an explanation, and they’ve all accepted our decision so the rest of the world should just zip it.

      4. Thlayli*

        Actually I think OP might get good results asking Fergus why it bothers him. It might make him seriously think about it like your coworker did.

        1. Lumen*

          I agree. I would love for that to be the outcome. It just sounds risky in this case, since Fergus is the OP’s boss now, and since his expressions of dismay seem… a little more intense than my coworker’s were. There are definitely people out there who will turn “I don’t want to be a parent” into “FEMINISM AND THE PC BRIGADE ARE RUINING AMERICA!!!” and… yeah. I don’t want OP subjected to that if Fergus is the type. :(

          1. Thlayli*

            That’s a good point – OP doesn’t really know Fergus well enough to know how he would react.

      5. YellowWLS*

        We have gotten the “but don’t you want to have an effect on the future?” comment. Apparently many people with children don’t recognize our (purposely) low carbon footprint, animal rescue work or charity donations as contributing positively to the future. The only way to contribute is to have more polluting, consuming humans.

  4. CatCat*

    Ugh, I cannot even with Fergus. Great scripts. I’ve gotten this type of thing a lot in my life. Thankfully, not so much at work.

    “Are you and Mr. CatCat planning to have kids?”

    When someone tries to raise how I’ll regret it/parenthood is the best/etc., I don’t even respond any more. I don’t acknowledge it and just change the topic. Non sequiturs really throw people off their game when they want to debate this.

    1. Beanie*

      At First Real Job I had a coworker who used to constantly question my life choices as in “well don’t you WANT kids?” (when she found out I was single). She also urged me to make that my focus as according to her, “if you wait much longer they’ll be all messed up.”

      I was 22.

      1. Amber T*

        Oooh I got something similar. I was 23 and my (now ex) boyfriend and I had been dating for 3 months or so. I had been talking to one coworker (Jane) about what we had done over the weekend, and another coworker (Gladys) randomly joined into the conversation. Gladys had already been making comments about me getting married, starting a family, etc., which I had largely ignored and brushed off. After I said something about what BF and I were planning on doing the following weekend, Gladys butted in and said “you really ought to have kids soon, you’re eggs are getting old!” I think I just stood there with my mouth open, shocked. Jane (who can’t stand Gladys) recovered from her shock before I did, and tried to recover by pointing out biological facts about the best time for a women to get pregnant is 16, and who recommends a 16 year old getting married anymore… and I just kind of ran away.

        At one point I got so fed up with Gladys I snapped at her to drop the kids talk, which to her minor credit she did, though for a while she felt the need to comment on any and all aspects of my life. There’s one comment which I won’t forgive her for and I think she realized she crossed the line, so now when I see her, I quickly drop whatever conversation I’m having with anyone (our work never overlaps so it’s never work conversations) and leave. Everyone knows she makes rude comments, and I think most people have realized that she picked on me for a long time, so they don’t mind if I up and leave when she appears.

      2. CMF*

        When my mother-in-law found out I was pregnant, she said, “oh, wow, I didn’t know you could still get pregnant when you were this close to menopause.”

        I was 29.

        1. Jaydee*

          Dude, I wish! I had my son when I was 29. Zero plans to have any more kids. My husband has talked favorably about (but not gotten) a vasectomy for about 6.5 years. I am 36 and every month I shake my fist at the ridiculous inefficiency that is human female fertility. And every day I take my iron supplement because this inefficient system made me anemic. Someday menopause will come….

          1. Student*

            If you’re interested in such things and in the US – Essure is a birth control method for you to get sterilized yourself that’s fully cost covered by the ACA birth control mandate, and also faster and an easier recovery than a vasectomy for your husband. It’s an out-patient procedure that you can do over a lunch hour. I was thrilled with mine once my husband and I agreed we didn’t want any kids.

          2. Specialk9*

            Nexplanon arm implant works great – virtually pain free insertion compared to IUD, which itself isn’t that bad. I’ve had 1 mini period in 2 years. (An unlucky small group get nonstop period.) Helped stabilize my post pregnancy mood swings, and not correlated with blood clots.

        2. Koko*

          There’s a bunch of false information that started circulating in “trend pieces” (AKA studies based on an N of 3) in the 1980s pushing the narrative that after 30/35 childbearing becomes difficult to impossible.

          It was basically a societal pushback against women’s lib, part of the, “You can’t have it all [so you better choose motherhood],” line.

          As someone who has never wanted kids, I spent most of my 20s looking forward to menopause so that I could stop dealing with my period and dropping $50 a month on birth control (pre-Obamacare). I’ll take a few years of hot flashes over that any day!

          Imagine my disappointment when I discovered in my early 30s that I was still a good 10+ years out from breaking up with my monthly visitor.

          1. Thlayli*

            Maybe you are talking about something else but there is actually tons and tons of scientific evidence that fertility reduces after age 35, and rates of disability and miscarriage increase, particularly after age 38. It’s not a sudden drop off by any means -it’s a gradual slope and strongly influenced by other factors like health and fathers age – but to imply that it’s all just anti-feminist lies is simply untrue.

            1. Elizabeth*

              There was a story a few years ago about how most of those statistics are based on data from French women from the 18th century (yes, you read that correctly), so I’d take a lot of that with a grain of salt given the health and welfare of women today has dramatically improved, and with it our fertility.

            2. Anna*

              Yes, there is scientific evidence about women’s fertility and age, but what Koko is talking about is also true. It was a backlash in the 80s against women who were putting children on hold to advance their careers. It’s fairly well-documented. It was used to scare women and punish them for going to work instead of starting families.

              1. Thlayli*

                That’s very interesting. And sad. seems like the difficulties may have been exaggerated in the past. However that doesn’t mean the difficulties don’t exist. Here’s just one sound scientific study showing reduced fertility with age. There are many many more, and many many studies showing increased rates of mc and disability of baby also.

            3. Kate 2*

              Yep, they’ve actually found it’s one of the factors contributing to autism. The older you (both parents) are when you have kids, the more likely they are to be autistic. There are other factors of course, but age of parents *is* one of them.

          2. Panda Bandit*

            There was a terrible trend around the 1800s-1900s where people were telling women that going to college would make them infertile. You can guess which option society wanted them to go for.

      3. Lehigh*

        I had a friend who was not planning to have children, whose doctor found out and started in on her about, “Oh, you really must get pregnant before you’re 30. If you wait until after 30, it’s so hard and complicated etc. etc.”

        Friend said: “Well, I’m 33 so I guess it’s good I’m not going to have kids.”

        Doctor replied: “Oh, you must try to get pregnant before 35. 35 is when it really gets difficult and complicated etc. etc.”

        1. Specialk9*

          Well both of those statements are correct. Those are different levels – best before 30, but 30-35 is still totally doable with some extra watching, over 35 needs some very close watching.

          1. Pommette!*

            Both of those statements aren’t actually correct. Pregnancy isn’t “hard and complicated” for women in their early thirties. (Or more accurately: it isn’t significantly harder or more complicated for women in their early thirties than for younger women; it can be hard and complicated at any age).
            (And in either case, the statements are irrelevant. For someone who does not plan to have kids, having kids before 35 is significantly harder and more complicated than not having kids at all!)

    2. Lumen*

      Recently when a coworker’s son visited, I mentioned how proudly his mom speaks of him. A couple of other coworkers (who are closer to this guy’s mom) joked that they heard different stories. My boss said that they had to tell the NICE stories to the people without kids (ie, me) to convince them to have their own kids.

      I let it slide (pretended I didn’t even hear her) at the time, but I was really uncomfortable with that comment. Sometimes that’s all I can do, though, especially at work (and especially with my boss). Just laugh and ignore and pretend I’m not completely squicked out.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Misery loves company, I’m convinced.

        A sister-in-law used to constantly bemoan how difficult her children were and how we just didn’t understand, not having kids, and then would just as frequently turn around and try to convince us to have children. She’d even pull out comments like how you just don’t grow as a person until you have kids.

        Years later, she apologized for that last comment and said you don’t age until you have kids.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I have gotten that one several times; ‘You just don’t understand the world the same way if you don’t have kids,’ or “you never really grow up until have kids of your own” etc. It’s tough because it’s not something you can really argue – how would I know. But what do they think I’m going to say? I usually go for an awkward, confused silence until they trail off and slink away.

          1. Lissa*

            The whole “you don’t understand the world the same way” yeah maybe, but there are tons of experiences that are life changing and nobody’s going to have all of them, and most people won’t have many! You see the world differently after you: travel the world, go to the moon, survive a critical illness, save a life, etc…

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Hehehe this would be such a good comeback (that I would never have the stones to use).

              Them: *sniffs* – I don’t think you can ever understand, unless you’ve had a child of your own.
              Me: (brightly) – so true! It’s like if you’ve never taken a life … it just completely changes your perception of the world and your place in it.
              Them: sidles off nervously.

              1. dawbs*

                ya know…I’d say that having a kid has changed my perception.
                But so has having a dog
                And a cat. (neither chnged it as much as the kid, but, still)

                Know what else changes perception? chronic pain. And intense pain. I’m not saying kidney stones are more mind-blowing than kids–a kid changed my life a whole lot more, but, really, the stones temporarily changed my perception more.

            2. blackcat*

              The only life experience that I 100% believe changes how you understand the world is going to the moon. Not orbiting Earth–getting far enough away you can see all of Earth out one window.

              Intellectually, I *know* Earth isn’t a particularly large planet. I can explain the scale of the universe with fun activities (science teacher skills). But I completely the Apollo astronauts, who have said about seeing Earth like one sees the moon totally changes your perspective.

              Having kids? Nope.

            3. Pommette!*

              Beautifully put.
              And also: everyone who does has children (or travel the world, goes to the moon, survives a critical illness, saves a life…. ) has their perception changed in a different way. In this world, most people who reach the age of 40 are parents. They don’t have much else on common. Their perspectives prior to parenthood, their experience of parenthood, the way those experiences may have changed their perspectives: those things are all different.

          2. Anonymous and Loving It*

            I’d reply by reminding the woman complaining “you just don’t understand the same way” that diversity of point of view and diversity of opinion are good things, and that it’s great that we don’t all see the world in the same way. I’d ask the complainer if she thought diversity was a bad thing? Put it back on her, which is where it belongs. I’m sorry, but I’m not part of some mythical Mommy Borg Army, and I don’t want to be.

            Oh, and BTW, not all mothers see the world in the same way, either. Or does she think a single mom working a minimum wage job with three kids at home sees things the same way a married mom with
            a supportive spouse, a high household income, and one kid cared for by a nanny see things the same way? I kinda doubt it.

            People like “you just don’t understand ’cause ya don’t have kids” woman are just being silly and are stuck in a bubble. I like to prick that bubble for them. It’s very prick-able, actually.

            1. Specialk9*

              Excellent point that moms don’t have uni-vision either! (Ugh if only we did, the Mommy Wars wouldn’t be a thing.)

          3. LadyL*

            “you never really grow up until have kids of your own”
            “Cool, because honestly I find that being immature and irresponsible is preeeetty freaking awesome.”

            No, but seriously, what an asinine thing to say.

          4. Specialk9*

            Not grown up till having kids? Please. I’m convinced half of us had kids just so we could play with toys in public and not look creepy.

            It *does* change world view, but as someone else said, so does going to war, and let’s add being kidnapped or buying a house. For me, having a kid makes me unable to deal with the news (more so than just the Dumpster Fire that is 2017) because any person who is hurt or dead or scared, anywhere in the world, is my kid. I’ve always been mildly hampered by over sensitivity to others’ emotions in person, but now it’s virtual too. Argh.

            But please, I was an adult long before this entrancing chaos demon arrived.

          5. Reboot*

            Ugh, I got a version of that the other day. I’d posted a happy post on my Facebook about how I’d started working out again, how my stamina was terrible but I was looking forward to building it back up, and this guy I know replied with “just wait until you have kids… you have it so easy right now.”

            I’m chronically ill, physically disabled, and medically incapable of having children and not happy about that. I don’t think I have it so easy right now, actually.

          6. Kay*

            Oh how I hate lines like that! First it implies that you are incapable of experiencing a full and rich life without first reproducing. It’s like saying that the person in question isn’t a whole human being simply because they haven’t engaged in a particular societal corner stone. Secondly, it could be quite damaging to say that to someone who has decided that they don’t want to have kids due to them knowing themselves enough to acknowledge that they would not make a good parent, because of infertility issues, etc.

      2. Jadelyn*

        …ew. There’s something really skeevy about that, like, even jokingly, it’s basically saying “it’s more important to make everyone have children than to be realistic about what having children entails so they can make an informed choice”.

    3. Winifred*

      I used to just say “oh, anything’s possible” to queries about when husband #1 and I were going to start a family.

      1. Grapey*

        My go to response is “My husband and I are already a family. No need to “start” anything!”

        1. YellowWLS*

          Although I know people don’t mean it, it is hurtful when they say we should “start a family.” Are my husband and I, and our 3 animals, and our parents and siblings etc. not already a family? Are children really the only thing that makes a “family”??

    4. CatCat*

      I used to mention, “Oh, I have a step son.” But that just seemed to invite, “But you’ll want one of your OWN” comments. Ugh.

      1. DDJ*

        “Oh, we’re not planning on having biological children.”
        “Aw, how come?”
        “We’re just not interested in having biological children. We might adopt, in the future, once we’re ready. There are so many kids who need a good home.”
        “Well, that’s too bad. You guys would be such great parents!”
        “Right…which is why we think adoption might be a good plan for us. Because we can give a kid, or maybe a couple of kids, a great home, when they might not otherwise have one.”
        “Still though…that’s too bad.”

        People can get quite strange and really cling to the idea that kids you didn’t physically produce aren’t your “real” kids.

        1. Vir for Emperor*

          Geez, I have had exactly this conversation with my mother, except she was way ruder about it. All the way from “you’ll regret not having babies” to “you’re selfish for not wanting to have babies” to “obviously you want to adopt kids because you think it will be easier than having babies, and you and your husband are therefore self-absorbed children”.

          The kicker being that I always thought of my mother as being quite open-minded and reasonable… but for some reason this topic seems to bring out all the bizarre in people!

          1. Julia*

            My mother is so against me adopting. Which is ironic because if she had gotten me treatment for my endometriosis as a teenager instead of ignoring my painful periods, we wouldn’t even be talking about this. Argh!

          2. Specialk9*

            People who foster and adopt have to be so much LESS selfish – so much more giving, utterly abandoned to generosity far beyond logic or pragmatism, giving of money and time and live and endless hope – than those of us who grew a baby inside.

            I’ve seen this reality in my friends and family members and acquaintances who adopt. I am awed and kinda intimidated by these badass parents.

            Someone who tells it with humor and pathos is Tanis Miller. Link to follow.

      2. AKchic*

        My husband just says “our kids”. He never mentions which ones are actually ours (just the youngest), mine (the other three), or the fauxdopted renaissance fair (adult) kids that I pick up every season. He works retail and everyone just assumes that because I started young, and we both look young, I must be older than he is and they don’t pry or ask questions when 24 year olds hug him in public and call him “Dad” (he’s 35 and looks about 18).

        1. Red Reader*

          In the past I have told nosyparkers, I have two girls, a little blonde 3yo and a redhead who will be ten in January. They love bacon, carrots, playing tag, and almost never pee in the house.

          (The little one is a boxer-whippet cross, and the older a bloodhound-lab.)

      3. Anononon*

        I have a friend who did have a baby after she and her husband got married because her stepson made her realize she loved being a parent. She talks about her kids and her son and not about her kid and her stepson. She, her husband, and her son’s mother are really a brilliant example of how to do blended families and coparenting the right way.

      4. LadyL*

        As a member of a mixed family that comment enrages me. Step children are your “own,”* and if you don’t see them that way then you shouldn’t be with someone who has kids. Family is about more than blood, but some people are idiots.

        Trust me, if only I had a dollar for every time someone, upon finding out that my siblings have a different mom, has responded “Oh, so they’re not like your real siblings”. Well, they “really” changed my diaper, and they “really” helped me with my homework, and they sure as hell “really” love me, so yeah, they’re my “real” siblings.

        *I do understand that different families have different levels of involvement that works for them, but there’s a big difference between “I let my spouse and the ex handle the bulk of the parenting” and “I don’t love/care for this kid as much as I would if they were genetically related to me”.

    5. Purplesaurus*

      I like to imagine I’m triggering some kind of inner Homer Simpson freak-out about all the un-impregnated women in the world. No, I don’t plan to have kids but everything’s going to be OK.

      1. Anna*

        My husband’s 101 year old grandmother stills makes comments to me about how she’d like to see us have kids. Um…I’m 43 and my husband’s gonna be 50 and we’re totally okay with where we are. I don’t say anything about it because she’s a super old lady and she probably couldn’t hear me.

    6. hhunter*

      I know this probably isn’t the NICEST way to do this, but when I get asked the “when are you having kids” question, I respond with “We aren’t able to have children”. It’s none of their business that the reason we “aren’t able” is that we would go insane.

      Usually, the response I get it immediate embarrassment. I always hope that it keeps them from asking the question in the future. I’ve seen the look on the face of people who have tried for years to have children when that horrible question is asked, so if I can prevent just one person facing infertility from having to field that question, it’s well worth it!

      1. YellowWLS*

        I get that, but I really wish “Because I don’t want to” was just as valid of a response. It should be.

    7. LadyL*

      “You’ll regret it though!”
      *shrug* “Well, I guess that’ll be my cross to bear, won’t it?”

    8. bohtie*

      this is, in my experience, the best possible response. “Nope!” = End of conversation like 90% of the time. I would say that OP is answering a question they aren’t being asked – if the person says “Do you have kids?” then answer the question “Do you have kids?” rather than following up with whether or not they plan to. Not that it’ll save them from Fergus but it might do them a favor in the future when having this conversation with others – I’ve found that an answer like the OP gives can put people on the defensive when they’re maybe just trying to make small talk.

  5. overly produced bears*

    Start documenting.

    Hopefully you’ll never need it, and he’ll knock off without any repercussions, but if you do, it’ll be good to have it from the beginning.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeeeah tbh if you’ve already had some issues with him BEFORE he was promoted, I might keep a little file on hand. It doesn’t hurt later, especially if you find yourself not promoted / no raise / seem stuck while young Chaddington Chadwig the Third gets your office. May you never need to use it!

    2. Tuxedo Cat*

      That’s my thoughts. I hope she doesn’t need it, but in my experience, people who are that nosey and that pro-child tend to do some pretty problematic things that go beyond being annoying and/or hurtful.

  6. Katniss*

    I wish there was some immediate karma for people who get nosy and judgemental about other people’s reproductive choices. As a woman who doesn’t want kids, I’ve heard more than my share of this and it’s utterly rude. When people get really pushy I just ask “why are you so invested in my uterus?”, but that wouldn’t fly at work.

    1. AKchic*

      “Why are you so invested in my partner’s orgasms creating viable human life?”
      Really make it seem like they are obsessed with not your field, but with your partner’s plow. Still inappropriate, but redirected a bit.

  7. Em*

    I am loving Allison’s scripts, particularly with reference to using them for family members. This can be such a painful topic, so it’s great to have ways to shut it down.

    1. Karenina*

      I’m really glad she mentioned Thanksgiving/family too. After I decided I did not want to be a parent, my (ever so problematic) father bemoaned that he would never get to see what sort of child his ‘genius daughter’ would have. Despite the ‘compliment’ in that (and I’m certain he thought it was a compliment), I felt dehumanized, like I was just a grandchild-making vessel for him.

      Oh, and the cherry? He said this on a holiday family gathering. In front of my older sister (also his daughter, but apparently not the one he considered a ‘genius’). Her children were also present, but thankfully too young to understand what a selfish, hurtful thing he’d just said.

      I wish I’d had the backbone then to tell him that wasn’t okay. All I can do now is fawn over my beautiful, brilliant niece and nephew and tell my sister over and over that she is capable of basically anything (because she is).

      1. Artemesia*

        I have a genius child who will probably not have kids and it grieves me as I think he would really enjoy being a father, would be great at it and has those great genes I’d love to see passed on; may lightning strike me if these words ever pass my lips in his or his wife’s presence or in the presence of family members other than my husband.

        1. Lore*

          As a person who finally had to tell my mother that she could be as upset as she wanted about not being a grandparent, and she could share that sentiment with my father, her sister, or anyone else she liked, but she could never tell me again that her happiness was dependent on me reproducing, I thank you profoundly.

          She seems to think it’s a coincidence that they raised two children who have never wanted to reproduce.

          1. Artemesia*

            LOL. Yeah if both of my kids chose not to have kids I’d probably take it personally, but I am lucky to have wonderful grandkids. Parents are entitled to be disappointed by choices their kids make; they are not entitled to lay it on their kids. We have them to live their own lives not to live through them.

          2. YellowWLS*

            My sister and I have also both chosen not to have children despite being in long-term, loving and established relationships. I hope my parents don’t take it personally as I can’t imagine what on earth it has to do with them. They were, and are, wonderful parents. If anything, they pushed us to be too independent, which I don’t think is a bad thing given where my sister and I are now due to that. We both owe them a lot.

            I’m also just not convinced my parents would necessarily enjoy being grandparents. They both busted their a**es and sacrificed a lot working full-time our entire lives, and are now finally getting to enjoy the empty nest, childfree bankroll, worry-free vacations where they get to do wtf they want, and the prospect of retiring in the next few years. Their social calendars are always more full than mine and I’m 28! They dote over their “granddogs” and “grandcats” but we’re the same in that we value privacy, peace, quiet and freedom. None of which is provided by having (grand)kids around. My in-laws’ entire universe revolves around their grandkids, but I just don’t think my parents are that preoccupied by not being grandparents. I guess I could be wrong, but if I am, I’m glad they’ve never expressed it to me or put that pressure on me.

        2. Koko*

          FWIW, I have high intelligence and it’s one of many reasons why I don’t feel I’m suited for motherhood. Because high intelligence is highly correlated with depression and more intelligent people also self-report higher levels of satisfaction the fewer relationships they have (the opposite of the pattern seen in the general population, where more relationships is correlated with more satisfaction).

          I am typical in this, having been treated for depression on and off most of my life, and having difficulty forming long-term relationships. I have to actively work to nurture a small number of relationships because I know it’s good for me the way people work to exercise or eat their veggies because they know it’s food for them. If I were left to my own devices I would probably never leave my house. My worst bouts of depression have copresented with agoraphobia. I know other people like me who haven’t been as lucky/successful with treatment as I have been, and despite my dislike of socializing I’m a fairly empathetic person so I can “fake it” pretty effectively for short periods of time.

          One of my greatest fears would be that I would pass on my predisposition for depression/agoraphobia and that my difficulty forming relationships would impede my ability to provide a loving, supportive environment for a child. Basically that there’s a strong possibility I would produce a child who would grow up miserable both because of the genetic factors I pass on and the environment I created (or failed to create).

          1. Red Reader*

            Solidarity, albeit without the depression. I have an opposite sort of problem, and I can’t figure out how to word it without sounding like I’m humble-bragging. But I just wanted to say that I understand and I feel you.

      2. Red 5*

        Being an aunt is so fun, and so rewarding. That’s what I tell people all the time if they ask about if/when I’m having kids, that I’m having too much fun being an aunt. Then I make a joke about how I get to send them home when they’re too much trouble.

        I’m not actually joking, but people laugh ; )

        I’m glad your sister has you in her corner. I grew up with a relative (not a parent) who liked to say things like that to the kids in the family to make us feel inferior to each other, lord knows why, and it’s way too easy to internalize that junk so it always helps to have somebody nearby agreeing with you that it was a terrible thing for the relative to say.

      3. KR*

        Ugh I went through a period when I was a teen where I was very sure I was not having kids. This alarmed family friends of course. My dad one day made a remark about how me not having kids was inconsiderate of him because it would deny him of grandchildren. Well he has a grandson, he and his mother are just estranged from my brother and just because my brother has decided kids aren’t for him does not mean the burden falls on my uterus! Of course, now I know my husband is interested in having kids and feels a biological pull to reproduce which is fine because I want to give him children if we end up at the right place in life but we have already discussed him staying home with the kids when nessecary so I can focus on work and it’s a decision we talked about and continue to discuss often, NOT some sort of expectation of me.

        1. Specialk9*

          “we have already discussed him staying home with the kids when nessecary so I can focus on work” – YMMV but lots of guys have only the vaguest ideas of what that actually entails, thanks to our society training girls to change diapers and boys to use hammers. You might not want to rely too heavily on hubby staying home with kids. I mean, might happen, but *I* couldn’t do it and I babysat from age 12 onward. As I said, your mileage may vary, but I’m glad we had plan C when hubby was not up to staying home with the kid.

          1. Paquita*

            No kids here but DH and I had that discussion. I don’t have a domestic bone in my body. I told DH I we ever had kids he could stay home and I would go to work! We kept his niece for a week when she was <2. He was between jobs at the time. I went to work (third shift) and he kept the kid. He had NEVER changed a diaper before! He did a great job with her. But, he was happy to hand her over to her parents at the end of the week.

  8. Bend & Snap*

    On behalf of infertile myrtles everywhere, thank you for planning to address this head on. I dealt with this garbage for 7 YEARS, mostly from clients, and I couldn’t just say “pound sand” in response. People do not freaking take social cues when asking about your uterus.

    Now that I have a kid it’s a lot better but it was SO HARD to dodge those questions from persistent people, and of course if you protest you’re the rude one. Thanks for the salt in the wound, have a nice day!

    Clearly I have baggage in this area…

    1. Colorado*

      I have a lot of baggage in this area too, like you, 7 years’ worth of a lot of pain and heartache. I absolutely dreaded this conversation. I also lost an infant son so I didn’t know when to say I did have a child or when to just say nothing. It was hard. I never ask people that question. But I have a wonderful 6-year-old daughter now and when people ask her if she has any siblings, she looks at them deadpan and says “yes, I have a brother but he’s dead”. Out of the mouth of babes.

      And that stock photo, I cant even..

    2. MerciMe*

      Yeah, it was so hard for us to conceive our daughter. I would love another kiddo, but it’s just… saddening having to repeatedly explain that another kid probably isn’t in the cards for us. I know people genuinely wish me well, it’s just…..

    3. Lumen*

      Having watched both my siblings and their spouses struggle to conceive, I now SEE RED whenever I hear someone tell a woman/couple to “just relax!”

      But again, you’re right… if you point out to anyone that their questions and comments about your reproductive organs/sex life/personal tragedies are a teensy bit invasive or inappropriate, YOU’RE the rude one. *SMH*

    4. EddieSherbert*

      My very good friend (and former roommate) ended up having an emergency surgery at age 19 that resulted in her losing both ovaries (one was lost in the surgery, and the other was reconstructed followed by years of medication/uncertainty before knowing that one was lost too).

      There were days she’d come home from work crying during the “wait to see if your other ovary is dead” stage because of comments like Fergus’.

      OP, you really would be doing a lot of people a favor if you reminded Fergus that this is a sensitive and inappropriate subject to bring up!

  9. Aurion*

    It took ten years of repetition for my mother to finally believe that I am not ever having kids. And because my livelihood did not depend on her opinion, I could get away with being pretty flat and harsh about it too.

    Coming from a boss is even worse because of the power differential and the fact that work is a very different sphere than personal. Ugh, Ferguses of the world, cut that out!

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      My mother’s the same except I’m only on year five. It seems as though as soon as I left university, I was fair game for “when am I going to get grandchildren?”

      I’ve deliberated on it since and only in the last two years have I really come down on the side of no, absolutely not, I never, ever want children. Not because of fertility issues, simply because I don’t actually like children, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life raising one.

      Apparently though, that makes me selfish.

        1. Artemesia*

          And whether it is a ‘selfish’ choice or not, calling you that is not likely to change your mind. People need to butt out of other people’s important personal choices and this is as personal as it gets.

          1. Foreign Octopus*

            If anything, pressuring me makes me dig my heels in more.

            After 27 years, you’d think my mother would know that about me by now.

        2. Kelsi*

          Yeah, this.

          For sure I’m the selfish one, choosing not to bring children into the world when I know I can’t be the caregiver a child deserves!


        3. strawberries and raspberries*

          I think it’s more inherently selfish to have children than not to, because after all, the child had no say in being born. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being selfish either way, but it is pretty selfish to bring someone into existence for no other reason other than because you can.)

          1. Foreign Octopus*

            This is my argument completely.

            1. I don’t like children (no fault of theirs, I’m just not patient enough to connect with them and understand them).
            2. I don’t want to do it just because I can.
            3. Overpopulation is a serious and real thing and I’m sure as hell not going to contribute to that.
            4. The thought of being pregnant freaks me out. Like my body will stretch to accommodate a baby. How weird is that? I’ll have a little human in me (literally another human being), kicking at me and making me nauseous. It always makes me think of the scene from Alien (we all know the scene) and I get cold sweats just thinking about it.

            If there ever comes a day when I feel ready and able to give a child the love and attention it needs and deserves, then I’ll look into adoption but I won’t be pressured into having a child no matter what route I might take.

            I just wish people would stop with the personal questions. If you’re not raising a child with me, you get absolutely 0% say in the matter. Just like I don’t get to tell you how to raise your children when they’re in the world, even if I think never saying no is an awful parenting technique, particularly when you’re in my house.

            (That last one might have happened once, but I plead the fifth.)

        4. chocolate lover*

          Seriously. Especially when it’s them asking for something, a grandchild. Doesn’t that make THEM the selfish ones?

          1. Anonymous and Loving It*

            It’s just weird. As if you’re some sort of grandchild-dispensing device…like a gumball machine. They put their nickel in by raising you, and now they expect their gumball grand-baby. Just seems so odd, transactional, cold, and, yes, selfish. And rude, of course. Being a parent doesn’t give a person a license to be rude.

        5. oranges & lemons*

          I mean, it seems ideal to make reproductive decisions for selfish reasons. I don’t know why some people are so comfortable with the idea of harassing others into making life-changing decisions.

        6. Jadelyn*

          I like to just own the hell out of it. “Yep, I’m selfish as hell! I love being able to go where I want, when I want, without worrying about getting kids into the car or finding a sitter. I can spend my money on frivolous upgrades for my car and remodeling my house instead of having to buy kids new clothes every six months. My vacation choices aren’t constrained by finding something child-friendly. And I would deeply resent having to give that up to put a child’s needs first for the rest of my life, so I just acknowledge I’m too selfish to be a good parent and am going to be happily childfree instead.”

          If they persist after that, I start asking why on earth they would want to send a child into a situation where their parents will resent them. Wouldn’t it be better that a person who genuinely wants children has them, rather than someone who feels pressured to but then resents the resulting child for ruining their life? Don’t they care about the child’s quality of life?

          1. YellowWLS*

            I find the direct answer is also best. I get that it’s sometimes easier for people to diffuse the situation by saying “I just really love being an aunt” or lying about being infertile (???? which honestly is such a disservice to people who are ACTUALLY struggling with infertility ???), but I find no reason to sugarcoat anything. That only perpetuates the issue by implying there are legitimate and illegitimate answers to this question, which there are not. “I don’t want to” is just as legitimate as “I would but I can’t.”

      1. Red 5*

        I always told people that almost every decision everybody makes every day is motivated by selfishness, so really, what else is new?

        Of course, what they mean by you’re being selfish when it’s a parent or relative isn’t that you’re being so terrible to this potential child that you could be so lovingly raising. They mean you’re being selfish by not providing THEM what THEY want, which is a baby to play with, an authority figure role they can revel in, a chance at “revenge*” etc. Which is so, so selfish, but try telling them that.

        *I honestly do not for the life of me understand this common theme of “I’m going to fill him up with sugar and make him hyper so you have to deal with him to get back at you for all the sleepless nights you caused me, haha, so funny!” Babies and toddlers aren’t easy, you signed up for it, you shouldn’t be putting up with it on the hope that one day your kid will experience the same “torture.” But what do I know.

        1. Anonymous and Loving It*

          You know plenty. I’m the oldest of six kids. My mom didn’t like kids. But she was Catholic and wouldn’t use birth control. As the oldest, I was diapering the younger ones by the time I was nine, and an expert by the age of 10. Ditto bottle feeding, dealing with teething, bathing, you name it.

          In high school, I worried I’d develop curvature of the spine because I always had the youngest straddling my left hip, held on by my left arm, with my right hand free for chores. I knew at a very young age how much work kids meant, how much they cost, how much they limited your freedom. I knew I didn’t want kids. Liked ’em, but didn’t want any of my own.

          I have very little patience with people who stick their noses into that area of a woman’s life. It’s very personal, and they should know better than to ask at all, much less badger a woman about it. I try not to be rude in return, but I make it a point to ask people why they feel they have the right to delve into such a personal issue, especially when the person they’re quizzing is usually someone they don’t know all that well. It’s totally unacceptable. I’ve never had a boss ask me that, and I’m glad. I’ve worked with some imperfect bosses, but never anyone that out-of-bounds. I would have risked a firing rather than humor such insensitive idiocy.

  10. all aboard the anon train*

    I like Alison’s language of ““I know you mean well, but those comments can be really painful for people….”, and I want to gently remind anyone in this situation to never resort to lying to teach someone a lesson. I’ve known a few women who have said they were infertile when they weren’t to either teach the offender a lesson or make them realize how personal their question was. As someone who is infertile, it’s a kick in the gut to hear people lying about it because after their lesson is over, they don’t have to deal with the pain and grief of being infertile.

    (It’s the same sort reaction I have toward straight people who lie about being queer for similar reasons – it does more harm than good and you don’t get to appropriate someone else’s pain or situation for a teaching moment).

    1. Amber Rose*

      I sometimes use this lie, I’m sorry. But it’s not to teach or anything, I still can’t have kids, so I still do have to deal with that at the end of the day. It’s just easier to say I’m infertile than go into the complexities of my actual situation. :(

    2. AK*

      To be fair, unless someone actually admits to lying you don’t actually know if they are. People can deal with infertility privately and then end up with a baby suddenly. Someone’s dating history doesn’t always reflect their sexuality. I don’t doubt that some people do this, but I’d be careful about assuming it in any particular case. To be clear, I don’t know that you didn’t have concrete reasons to think this of specific people, just that people don’t need to provide evidence of their sexuality or health issues for others, and it sucks to be told that you’re lying based on not having any outward signs of this. Entirely agreed that you shouldn’t lie about pain or marginalization etc. to prove a point though.

      1. Mints*

        Yeah, I’m sure people lie, but I don’t know anybody personally who does. But I do have a couple of bisexual friends in hetero relationships who feel like they have to constantly prove their sexuality in a way that’s unique to bisexuals

      2. KT*

        This is so true. I had two children rather young and then suffered from secondary infertility for nearly a decade. After going through countless fertility treatments with no success I would often tell people I was barren just to put a stop to the questions without having to explain things that were none of their business. I was as shocked as anyone else when I finally got pregnant again on my own.

      3. Julia*

        And then you have people who have health issues like endometriosis that could prevent them from becoming pregnant, but who don’t know it yet because they’re not yet trying for a baby. I might well give birth to a healthy baby in the future, or I will forever be unable to, I don’t know, so I hate being asked “when are you having kids???”

    3. ErinW*

      If the lie shames the jerks into not prying, isn’t it for a good cause? My husband–when he was married to his first wife, who is not me–used to get hassled by his coworkers about having children. Finally he told somebody, “Well, we’re barren, we can’t have any.” And the lady gaped, “Is that true?” And he goes, “No, but maybe you’ll never ask anybody that question again.”

      1. CMart*

        I had multiple losses before I had my daughter, and I fully advocate people lying about this, personally. It’s still very painful for me to be asked if I have kids/how many I have/asked when we’re having another which pales in comparison to how it felt to be asked before I had my daughter and some time had passed.

        I don’t have the emotional fortitude to tersely say “actually, that’s a very painful subject for me” (or a variation) without getting weepy. So I say more power to the folk who don’t have a personal stake in the game who can give someone the withering stare and flat response those questions deserve without being shattered for the remainder of the day.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          As one who went through an infertility struggle of my own and was lucky enough to finally give birth to a beautiful daughter, I agree completely.

        2. TeacherTurnedNurse*

          I had a hysterectomy in my late 20s due to a medical condition. I had never planned to have kids, so while it was still a difficult decision, it didn’t leave me as emotionally wrecked as it might a woman who actively wanted bio kids.

          When coworkers or acquaintances press me about “starting a family”, I ALWAYS tell them, very frankly, “I had a medically necessary hysterectomy when I was younger, so I can’t have bio kids.” I do this specifically because it’s not too emotionally difficult for me to say – but it might be difficult for some other woman somewhere. My hope is that I’m raising awareness in the asker and maybe preventing them from putting another woman in the same position. I’m in the unique position of being able to raise awareness by giving an honest answer, yet remaining largely unscathed by the discussion.

    4. OlympiasEpiriot*

      The thing is, I don’t think people who do this *do* mean well. I think they have narrow ideas and think that their opinions should be listened to.

      1. Anonymous and Loving It*

        I’d go further than that. I think these people believe their opinions should be used to govern your life. They’re wearing blinders. The only thing they seem to see is their own point of view, their own needs…and yours be damned.

    5. Flossie Bobbsey*

      As a woman who needed help to conceive because of male factor infertility, I fully support anyone who means well lying about their own infertility in order to teach nosy people a lesson. In my view, that serves the greater good, and I don’t feel like our pain is being appropriated whatsoever.

      I also want to note that many people (including probably my in-laws) immediately assume female infertility is the issue. We know several other couples with male factor infertility, but almost universally, we’ve all experienced people jumping to the conclusion that it was the wife with the issue. People just don’t know a lot about it until they have to.

  11. Lily in NYC*

    This is not pressure. It’s intrusive and rude, but it’s not pressure. Still, there’s no reason not to ask him to stop next time – just tell him he’s making you uncomfortable and he’ll probably realize he was out of line.

      1. Stardust*

        It’s really not. “You won’t be promoted to that role you’d really like to have and are qualified for unless you’ll have kids” would be pressure. Just observing that you find it sad that someone doesn’t have kids is inappropriate and misguided (and can also be very hurtful), but it’s not pressure, even if it’s your boss who says it.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          Pressure doesn’t have to come with a consequence. Passive aggressive comments qualify. Constantly hounding someone about the fact that they should have children is pressure.

        2. k.k*

          I would say that since he’s her boss, it adds pressure. He’s making it clear that he has a negative opinion of her life decisions. Even if he never directly says something, there is still the underlying vibe that the guy who controls your job and pay thinks badly of you.

          1. Kate 2*

            This, this , this! It’s the same reason why people don’t feel comfortable being honest about their religion, their sexuality, or sometimes their nationality or race at work. There is a pressure, to preserve your livelihood.

        3. fposte*

          I think if it would be pressure from your mom it probably counts as pressure from your boss. And I would consider this pressure from a mom.

        4. Em*

          It’s not direct, but it could mean that he’s going to view her/her performance in a certain way if she doesn’t have/doesn’t want kids.

          Something doesn’t need to be crystal clear to be pressure.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        No, it’s a passive aggressive comment. I stand by what I wrote. It’s fine if people don’t agree.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I mean, he’s not getting her and her partner a hotel room and handing them a bottle of Jack and a Seal CD*, but repeatedly telling her that it’s “sad” that she’s not having kids and that she’ll regret it is pressure, at least in the colloquial sense. I suppose you can argue it’s not pressure in that she’s perfectly capable of ignoring his input, but his comments are clearly being made with the goal of changing her mind.

      * I would like to get that letter though, and also that bottle of Jack.

    2. Observer*

      Once it’s your boss saying this, it is pressure. Because your boss gets to decide a lot of things about your livelihood, and if he (or she) thinks you are making a “sad” choice, it’s likely to be reflected in the decisions he makes.

  12. Ahora*

    Ugh, I used to work with an older man who was just disgusted that I didn’t have kids. I’m pretty sure the second thing he said to me was, “How many kids do you have? You don’t have any? Why not?” It’s nobody’s business and I get so upset at people who try to counter being told it’s rude to ask why people don’t have kids with “It’s just small talk! People get offended about EVERYTHING!” Asking if I have kids is small talk. Asking why I don’t have kids is rude.

  13. 2 Cents*

    As someone who went through a devastating miscarriage, I’d be tempted to punch Fergus in the face. Clearly, OP, you’ve been handling this much better than I would. This is SO clearly NOT HIS BUSINESS that I hope you saying Alison’s suggestions to him wake him up.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          I’m so sorry. Take good care of yourself if you can manage it. It can take a long time to bounce back.

        2. RVA Cat*

          I’m so sorry about your losses.

          I had a miscarriage last year. Thankfully I have a healthy preschooler, and I’m making peace with the fact we’re probably one-and-done.

        3. Artemesia*

          The grief of miscarriage is much under appreciated. We lost a grandchild to miscarriage last year and it is a very real grief and there is sort of no real ‘place’ for this sorrow. Yes it is common. Yes it usually is ‘for the best’ in the sense that the most common cause is a mishap with the early stages of the development. But it is still the loss of hopes and dreams and painful. And for someone who is experiencing fertility issues and many losses it is excruciatingly painful. We had fertility issues in conceiving our first and I remember how long I had my fingers crossed and ‘held my breath’ and didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant in fear that it would not be real.

          Fergus needs to be wised up before he stomps all over someone’s heart.

          1. Observer*

            I’d be willing to bet that he has already stomped on someone’s heart. But, it wouldn’t hurt to keep him from doing it again.

    1. Roz*

      I just lost one too, and I am with you. It was so traumatic. I would have snapped back something that likely would have gotten be in trouble. People are so rude and lack awareness. It’s horrible.

    2. einahpets*

      I had a miscarriage about two years after my first was born, and I remember all the people at that time who were generally just trying making small talk that asked about when we were going to make my daughter E as sister, don’t we think it’d be nice to have kids who are similar in age, etc. I kept it together (barely), but if I had had someone shaming me about the fact that my daughter was an only child? I don’t know what I would have done.

  14. LSP*

    Ew! Why do people think this is ok?

    I already have a son, so I’m sure that makes people think nothing is untoward when they say things like, “It’s time to try for number two!” like it’s just that easy. My husband and I DO want another kid, and due to a series of medical issues on my end, things have been delayed, and have culminated in revealing a previously undiscovered fertility issue on my part. And so, as much as I want another kid, medical intervention will be needed to do so, and frankly, that’s not something I want to discuss with co-workers.

    Not for nothing, but maybe if women’s reproductive health is going to be at the forefront of political discussion anyway, maybe it could at least be factual, and include information about the myriad of fertility-related issues that can exist and that people should just butt out!

    1. Tin Cormorant*

      And so many people are fine with only having one kid! My daughter just turned one, and I already get comments from people asking when we’re gonna have another.

      I’m so so so done with the helpless infant stage and don’t ever wanna do that again, but thanks for asking. We don’t really have the money or sanity to spare to raise another. No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being an only child, but thanks for your concern. Blah.

      1. DecorativeCacti*

        One of my coworkers brought her new baby in to meet everyone (while still on maternity leave) and got asked when they were having another. She didn’t hide her death glare.

    2. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      I stopped at one child by choice and got the “number two” comments all the time in my late 20’s and 30’s. Even when I would try to shut it down with, “Well that’s not happening since I had my tubes tied when I was 27 “, I couldn’t believe how many people would respond that I should consider having my tubal reversed!

      Now that I’ve more or less moved out of childbearing age (46) and my daughter is an adult I don’t have to deal with it, but my sister-in-law asks me nearly every time we visit if I regret our decision. No matter how many times I tell her I’ve never even wondered “what if?”, she keeps asking. She’s also convinced I’ve unfairly deprived her brother of multiple children, but he was always 100% on board with the surgery. I’m not sad she lives 600 miles away.

      1. Look What You Made Me Do*

        I think I would have to lose my sh** at someone who ever dared to suggest I should have my tubal reversed. But then I have three children already so I’m probably in the camp where people would be going “Again???” if I got pregnant. People want to be judgy about everything.

        1. Rae*

          1 kid = when are you trying for another?
          1 girl = next time you’ll get your boy.
          1 boy = next time you’ll get your girl.
          1 boy + 1 girl = you have a matched set!
          2 boys = aren’t you trying for your girl?
          2 girls = aren’t you trying for your boy?
          3+ = haven’t you ever heard of birth control?

            1. Ayla K*

              It really skeeves me out how many people treat and talk about babies like they’re collectibles rather than people.

          1. MashaKasha*

            I came to visit my hometown* with my 2.5 yo when I was 7 months pregnant with his brother, and judging by people’s reactions, you would think Michelle Duggar had paid them a visit. I lost count of well-meaning friends, relatives, and acquaintances who had pulled me aside and informed me that I’d made a big mistake and my oldest would be messed up for life and I should’ve just let him happily be an only child. Stopped by my best friend’s workplace to visit her and to make evening plans, and she turned out to be sharing an office with a former colleague of my mom’s. The minute I left, Former Coworker told my friend, “I can’t believe Masha is pregnant again! I thought she liked to work??” (this to my friend, who also had two children, so, I guess, also disliked work?)

            But honestly none of that surprised me after my own father responded to the news of us expecting again with “why are you telling me this?”, “you mean you’re going to keep it?”, and “don’t you guys know what causes this?” “It” ended up being their favorite grandson, so joke’s on me.

            * not in the US, I admit. But people are people everywhere.

            1. TiffIf*

              informed me that I’d made a big mistake and my oldest would be messed up for life and I should’ve just let him happily be an only child.

              On the other side, my mother is convinced that the optimal distance between two children is about 2 years–that way they can entertain each other and leave you a lone when they get a little older.

              1. Red Reader*

                When my brother and I were in high school we figured out that he was born almost exactly 9 months after my first birthday, and that our sister was born almost exactly nine months after HIS first birthday.

        2. You're Not My Supervisor*

          That’s the most frustrating thing of all. When you’re single it’s “when are you getting married?” When you’re married it’s “when are you having babies?” You have a baby or two and it’s “when are you having a more?” You have three and it’s “why do you have so many kids? You’re not thinking of having more are you??”

          1. You're Not My Supervisor*

            Looks like I should refresh the page before commenting as someone said this above :)

          2. Lil Fidget*

            Yeah the fact is that pushy people gonna push, no matter what anybody’s life choices are or aren’t. May we all find ways to get them to back the heck off.

        3. KT*

          You really can’t win with some people. I’m pregnant with my fourth (and last!) and since they’re all boys I get alternating comments of are you going to try again for a girl and wow, what were you thinking?

      2. Health Insurance Nerd*

        My cousin had a baby after years of struggling, and a second baby was not happening. For years people made comments about how she should have another, and how sad it was that her daughter was an only child. When she politely responded that a second child wasn’t possible, she’d get “Oh, miracles happen, I bet you’ll get pregnant again”, until she finally started saying “that WOULD be a miracle, since I no longer have a uterus!”

    3. Hunger Games Summer*

      I’m sorry you are going through this – my kids are 6+ years apart from a combo of choice/sadness and the comments my DH and I have heard about why they aren’t close are outrageous.

      1. KT*

        My second and third are 9 years apart thanks to a divorce and secondary infertility. The number of comments I have gotten about my third being an oopsie baby (when he was very much wanted) are astounding.

      2. CheeryO*

        This totally puzzles me. I’m 6 years older than my brother, and while my parents have never come out and said it, I think they weren’t sure if they wanted another and then had trouble conceiving when they did decide. There is literally nothing wrong with that age gap. He’s one of my best friends, and we were far enough apart in life stages growing up that we didn’t fight as much as some siblings do. A cousin just had her second baby 6 years after their first, and she was talking to my parents about people giving her a hard time, and it just blew my mind. What the hell is wrong with people?!

        1. Hunger Games Summer*

          Yeah our circumstances were exactly what you described – unsure at first, then a loss. But yeah we love the gap – and all the positives/challenges that comes with it. Just as we are sure kids close in age have positives/challenges. But I have had people flat out ask if we had lost pregnancies between the two or tell us they will resent the gap.

        2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

          My sister and I are five years apart. At some point in my teens, my father absently told me that she was an accident, as I was more than enough child for them.

          Occasionally, we will say to each other “I love you even if you are adopted!”* but she now responds “I was an accident! You can’t adopt by accident!”

          *Usually she says it to the cat, and then I say it to her.

    4. AMPG*

      A woman in a volunteer group I was in used to make comments like “It’s about time for you to have another!” At the time we were struggling with secondary infertility. Finally I just said, “Yes, but sometimes things don’t work out the way we want.” She never mentioned it again. (I did get pregnant again a couple of years later, after treatment.)

  15. Not My Real Name*

    My wife and I are hoping to get pregnant, and while it doesn’t come up very often, I’ve started just leaning into it completely. Whenever someone asks if we’re “trying” (which is the WORST euphemism ever), I’ll respond with “Are you asking me how often I have unprotected sex?” It makes for some fun sputtering on their part.

    1. Beanie*

      Where’s the applause button on this website? :) Also surprising how often this is brought up in a church setting…

    2. grasshopper*

      Are you related to me? I know that the exact same response has been used at my family gatherings to similar effect.

    3. paul*

      Yep. I eventually adopted a similar tactic (although not when my wife was present; she said it made her more uncomfortable). Hell of it was have two kids; had massive trouble trying for the first then an oops even with protection. Life is strange.

      Not 100% effective but very close!

    4. mugsy523*

      I’ve done something similar. My nosy aunt always asks my husband and I about kids (typically after she comments on whether or not my weight has changed since the last time she’s seen me, but I digress…) and I said “I don’t know, but we sure do practice making them all the time.”

    5. anycat*

      oooh thanks – that is good. we are at 18+ months of trying and looking at ivf very soon. i appreciate that reply.

    6. Jadelyn*

      I saw a comment once, something to the effect that “It’s socially unacceptable to tell a woman’s parents you’re doing their daughter without a condom every night, but telling them you’re trying for a baby is perfectly okay.”

      I mean, if people want to ask intrusive questions, they deserve to get awkward answers.

      1. LeeGull*

        “I mean, if people want to as intrusive questions, the deserve to get awkward answers” – yes!!! Love this!

        My mom shared her favorite response that she used in the 70s and I used it happily in the 5 years between our wedding and our 1st kid:

        “Are you trying for kids yet?”
        “Not yet. We’re still practicing. When we get good enough to make a baby, I can let you know.”

        A nice friendly reminder to uncles, mothers-in-law and colleagues that you are, in fact, inquiring about my sex life when you ask.

  16. Bend & Snap*

    Oh and you know what? I’ve seen men shut this down without blinking. I have a colleague who is late 40s, never married, no kids, and same for his twin brother.

    So it goes:
    Person: Oh are you married?
    Coworker: No.
    P: Do you have ki-
    C: NOPE
    P: Does your broth-
    C: No and he’s not married either

    the subject changes pretty quickly after that.

    1. Lumen*

      This. Also, I don’t see men even getting asked about their home life, marriage, or kids all that often. But when they do, they can shut it down quickly. People don’t push back as often with BUT WHYYYYY. And even if they do (and some will), men aren’t given the cold shoulder and gossiped about forever more. It’s forgotten.

      Because men are not expected to care about family or children (and are often mocked if they do), but women are required to expected to care about family and children (and chastised if they don’t).

    2. seejay*

      My aunt seemed really interested in whether or not my mom was going to be a grandma soon when two of her three kids produced grandkids for her (when they were still both in highschool of all things). The conversation went something like this:

      Her: when are you going to be a grandmom??
      Mom: Not soon
      Her: why not? K’s married!
      Mom: she’s finishing her masters degree
      Her: and C?
      Mom: she’s not married and just started university
      Her: but…
      Mom: apparently they want to finish school first?
      Her: …

      My sister didn’t have her first kid until 10 years after she was married and had finished her phd. I didn’t get married at all *and* didn’t have kids ever because I didn’t want them. As far as I know, my aunt has at least four grandkids at this point but none of her kids are speaking to her since the whole family is just a mess and one of the kids didn’t finish highschool. :/

    3. Oilpress*

      Yes, it happens to me and the best approach is to be positive and firm about your choices. I own my choices, and I have no problem defending them with a simple declaration of how much I love my life and cherish my situation. Problems only really develop when you start criticizing other people’s choices rather than building up your own.

  17. Emi.*

    And agggghh to all the other people who think that it’s okay to comment on the reproductive plans of colleagues, which is a bizarrely widespread phenomenon. It’s also decidedly one-way; there are very few people urging colleagues not to reproduce (although they might think it silently) or telling them how “sad” it will be if they do have children.

    This isn’t true, actually–once you start edging into “big family” territory, people get all up in your business with their “Aren’t you done?” and “Don’t you have TV?” and “How can you stand it?” and “That’s so irresponsible!” and “Don’t you care about the environment?”

    When my mother had twins, someone told her “If I had twins, I’d slit my wrists,” and when she was in labor with #4, the nurse said “All right, let’s have a boy, and then you’ll be done!” I know a woman whose OB tried (unsuccessfully, thank God) to browbeat her into getting her tubes tied while she was still exhausted from labor and not thinking clearly. When I was in college and said I wanted to have kids before 25, it was “Don’t you want to do anything with your life?” People are jerks.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        I’d also say that telling people not to have kids is more common for people who don’t fit the societal “norm” – so, anyone who isn’t a white middle/upper class heterosexual. I grew up in a poor area and there was a lot of talk about how “the poor shouldn’t reproduce”. I had a former colleague who would tell my Muslim colleague she shouldn’t reproduce because of her religion and who would tell me that it’d be bad if I ever could have kids because I might corrupt them because of my sexuality.

        So it happens, but it’s just a different focus and intention.

          1. Hunger Games Summer*

            Yeah isn’t that the saddest part of this whole question? It doesn’t matter how big or small someone’s family is or for what reason.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Ick. I had hoped we killed off Eugenics after it contributed to the Holocaust, but no, bad ideas just keep rising from the grave.

          1. Red 5*

            Sadly, aspects of eugenics were being actively used in the U.S. to justify forcibly sterilize women (often without their knowledge) up until only a couple decades ago. It’s alive and well in a lot of places here.

          2. Thlayli*

            90% of foetuses with disabilities caused by genetics are aborted nowadays. Eugenics has not gone away, it’s just shifted focus.

        2. Nolan*

          Yes, I was going to point this out as well. I’ve definitely heard these sorts of statements, and they’re always said with malice against some kind of “undesirables”. In its tamest form it’s a dig at someone’s intelligence, at its worst it’s eugenics.

        3. OlympiasEpiriot*

          Ah. My response to that REALLY shuts people down: “No, rich people’s kids all have a much larger carbon footprint than poor people’s kids. Richer families need to be limited to one or fewer children.”

          It doesn’t necessarily make me any friends, but, ffs! If any stupid statement deserves a verbal slap in the face, it is that.

    1. LSP*

      It’s fair to say that people are jerks all around, but I think with big families these days being the exception and not the norm, and with more people choosing to not have kids, I think Alison’s comments are fair too.

      The point is: People are jerks. Someone else’s reproductive/sex life isn’t your business. And people are jerks.

    2. Catherine from Canada*

      Same here. I got sh*t from strangers in grocery stores! for having “too many kids” (got spat on once for “endangering the planet”), had a doctor refuse to see me because I had “too many kids” in the waiting room (my 12 year old was taking care of the other three very nicely thank you very much), got snide comments from fellow parishioners, neighbours, family, my hairdresser, basically everyone had an unfavourable opinion about my having six kids. And yes, I was given papers to sign, while in labour, that would have given them permission to tie my tubes.
      The funny thing is that now, that they’re all grown and I have nine grandchildren, I get “Oh, you’re so lucky!”

      1. Anonygoose*

        I’m sorry, you got SPAT ON because somebody thought you had too many children? What is wrong with people?

        Also, six kids was the norm just a couple generations ago – my great grandparents had 18!

        1. Catherine from Canada*

          Yup. By a man who could have played Santa Claus at the local children’s hospital.
          I was so shocked that I walked out of the store. Left the basket standing in the middle of the aisle and everything.

    3. Mike C.*

      Maybe if the person started by browbeating someone else about the environmental impacts of their own life choices would pointing out that the person speaking has children be even marginally appropriate but any other situation is (especially when the topic of kids comes first) really gross.

    4. President Porpoise*

      I come from a family of 9. My dad’s response to ‘why did you have so many kids?’ typically involved awkward comments like ‘My wife can’t keep her hands off me!’.

      That being said, my brother’s doctoral advisor tried to get him kicked off their program when my sister-in-law got pregnant with baby#3, because she didn’t like that they were having a big family. This was in Europe though.

    5. I'm anonymous.*

      YES! I have had three miscarriages and four healthy births. I can’t win either way. I have had all sorts of comments but the one I can’t counter is “I don’t know how you do it” sometimes it’s nice and sometimes it is heavily laden with subtext (on your income/with those kids/with you being a shit mum and all). My youngest has autism and it is all “lucky he’s the last one” or “you better not have any more, you’ve got your hands full”.

    6. Stinky Socks*

      Oh. Gosh. Yes. It is such a thing for large families. Random comments from *so* many strangers.

      I can’t even imagine all the guff my husband gets in the office. All I know is that when I happily announced my engagement while still an undergrad, and explained my hopes to stay home and raise a houseful of kids to those who inquired about it, my enlightened feminist friends pretty much all asked why I had bothered going to college in the first place. Yeah.

  18. Dawn*

    I always just say my dog doesn’t want to share his room. It’s funny because it’s true, he literally has a queen size bed with his own blankets, pillows, and teddy bears. He also gets disgruntled if someone goes in there and messes with his bed, nothing but daggers when I have to change the sheets. Usually startles people too much to reply.

    1. Brandy*

      Yep. My Riley said “No Kids”. I told Riley he has no reason to worry, but he has big ears (Papillion) and cannot stand the sound of babies on tv. Hes too jealous to share me.

      1. Coalea*

        I have a pet bird and have just recently noticed that she does not like the sound of crying babies on TV. One more reason for me to remain child-free! :)

    2. Amber Rose*

      My cat also has his own room with a double bed. It’s not so fancy because he pees on anything fabric so he only get a plastic tarp, but he gets mad when I go in while he’s sleeping.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      You just made me feel so much better about my dog co-opting the guest bed. Guests are allowed, but they have to sleep with the hound.

    4. Dawn*

      My dog is soooo spoiled. Besides his room, he has his spot on the couch, a custom outdoor bed, a top of the line dog bed in our room, and still sleeps with us.
      I would get him him own fb page, but mine is basically all about him anyway.

      1. Anlyn*

        I’m exactly the same. My dog also has at least three blankets and two coats that she’s claimed.

    5. Rincat*

      That’s hilarious! My big doggo doesn’t like to share the bed either (unless it’s with my husband – they are inseparable), and keeps trying to claim the toddler’s bed for himself. He loves my toddler but definitely doesn’t want to share the bed with her. I don’t blame him, she’s very wiggly!

    6. Red 5*

      I have used the “no, my cat doesn’t like children” joke before.

      It’s totally true though, she hates kids.

    7. KR*

      My cat has her own room! It’s a spare room that has the litter box, some storage, and her toys and her carrier which she likes to lay in.

    8. LadyL*

      On a related note, after college I lived with my mom for a bit, and eventually she felt that I was coasting not thriving and essentially kicked me out (although very kindly, we’re good), and told me it was because she “really needed [my] room”. The next time I came over to visit, the only thing that she had gotten around to using the room for was her cat’s litterbox. Cue my delight at now being able to tell people that “my mom kicked me out of the house so she could turn my bedroom into the cat’s private bathroom”. Never fails to entertain me.

    9. YellowWLS*

      The best response I’ve seen, but have yet had the cajones to use, is “Nope, can’t, the cats are allergic.”

  19. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

    I can’t stand people prying on that topic and wish that it became socially inappropriate to bring up. My partner and I have a go to response where we laugh and say, “No, I’d be a terrible mother/father. No kid deserves that!” It tends to stop people in their tracks. The few times I’ve had people push back, I just double down with a laughing, “Trust me on this. I know myself. I’m not mommy material”. People may walk away thinking I’m some kind of monster, but atleast I’m a monster who doesn’t have to answer that question anymore

    1. anon24*

      Every time I’ve tried that the person has just stood and argued with me. “no, you’d make a great mother, you’re a hard worker, etc. etc.” So me being a good employee = good mother? Just… no. I started telling people I can’t have kids because I’m the crazy cat lady and that ends the conversation every single time.

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        I usually counter with a laughing, “Ah, if you only knew me in my private life and you wouldn’t say that”. The key is to make it sound joking, but maybe not really joking. Downside is you end up with people thinking you might have some unsavory habits

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      It sucks that we have to do this kind of thing. Kids should be WANTED. I think I would make a serviceable mom, even a good-ish one, but I wouldn’t be a happy one.

      1. Alex the Alchemist*

        EXACTLY. Everyone tells me what a great mom I’d be, and I think there are many things I can do that would be good to pass on to a kid, but I would only be a great mom if I actually wanted to be one!

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      Definitely this.

      I know the type of mother I’d want to be if I had kids, but I also know the type of person I am and the two just don’t connect. I don’t have a lot of patience with stupidity and doing the same thing again and again and pretending that I care about things that are just so boring. Kids are tiny little human beings who are learning everything in their little sponge-like brains and I would be devastated if I made them feel awful, or belittled just because I was having a bad day or I lost my patience/temper with their innocuous behaviour.

      My time teaching children taught me that. They’re interesting tiny humans that I can spend about an hour with but anything more than that and I’m about ready to Harry Potter them and stuff them into a cupboard under the stairs just to get a bit of piece and quiet (because if I hear that stupid song Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen, I will lose my mind).

      I’m a decent human being who is kind to people, and the children that I meet, but I know for a fact that I just can’t be around them 24/7 dealing with everything that comes with having a kid.

      But trying to explain that to people gets me the “oh, no, not you, you’d make a great mum”, completely ignoring everything I’ve just said.

      Trust me, I live with myself every minute of every day. I wouldn’t.

    4. Health Insurance Nerd*

      I have kids that are older, and am remarried to a man with no children. When people ask if we’re going to have kids together, we laugh and say “oh HELL no!”, which has been surprisingly effective!

    5. Tuxedo Cat*

      I wish that would work for me. I’m decent with kids and enjoy them in small doses, but I love not having kids.

  20. Amber Rose*

    Dear people who do this: you suck. The list of concerns I have around pregnancy and parenting is about 50 pages long, and while in the past I’ve mentioned a couple of them, I was getting the most ignorant, privileged BS in response, so I don’t bother anymore. My usual strategy now is to say “Ugh, kids are the worst, I loathe them” with as much disgust as I can manage to squeeze into my voice, because the nasty tone of voice usually puts people off enough to change the subject.

    I don’t think that’s very work appropriate, unfortunately. So an alternate version is “I love my nieces/nephews/godchildren/kids in general, but I like giving them back to their parents more.”

    It doesn’t invite argument as easily. It still might not work on your boss, but it’s worth a shot.

    1. ErinW*

      So an alternate version is “I love my nieces/nephews/godchildren/kids in general, but I like giving them back to their parents more.”

      I always say, “Kids are great, but I don’t want to share my house with any of them.”

    2. Kelsi*

      My version is “You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child? I’m part of that village for other people’s kids.”

      (This is mostly a lie. There are very few kids that I want to be around for longer than a few minutes. But it sometimes makes people drop the subject.)

    3. Red 5*

      Yup, my standard response if people push is “I just love being an aunt.”

      My husband usually goes for the “ugh, kids, yuck” defense, but guys can get away with that a little more.

  21. justsomeone*

    My boss is great. I was complaining about someone bugging me about kids again and she suggested I respond with “Oh, we’re having lots of fun practicing and that’s enough for us right now.” Deadpan. I died of gigglefits when I got home and relayed this to my DH.

    1. animaniactoo*

      My SIL tried that on her mom who is *forever* after all of us about grandkids. She thought she’d trip her mom up “We’ve been practicing and practicing!” and that would be good enough to get her mom to stop. Nope.

      “I don’t care about practice, I want results!”

      Fortunately, it is all (relatively) good-humored. And hey! My SIL is pregnant now!

      1. Agent Diane*

        Also, is Fergus doing the same routine with the men in the office? If not, that’s another thing to note, because he’s treating you differently due to your Womb of Potential.

        So maybe ask “Fergus, do you ask your male reports this?”

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I’m no lawyer but think OP would need to show some kind of adverse effect of these things (denied promotion, fired, taken off project), due to a protected class – unless she wanted to try and claim a hostile environment based around discrimination on the basis of protected class. It would be very uphill. Personally I might document but this wouldn’t rise to the level of lawsuit to me, not even CLOSE, sadly.

          1. fposte*

            I would agree on the legal side, but I think the question might still bring Fergus a moment of illumination.

            1. Anna*

              Agreed. I think if he’s asking everyone it would get a hard look; if he were only asking women it would probably get a harder look.

  22. Helpful*

    Since pregnancy discrimination is illegal, is there any standing here for the inverse, if OP was discriminated against in the future due to her family status?

    1. Anna*

      I think it would fall under gender discrimination in that case. It’s similar to giving a man a raise “because he has a family to support” while a woman doesn’t get a raise because the assumption is her husband is actually making more money to support the family.

  23. Knitting Cat Lady*

    Ugh, some people…

    I can’t remember a time in my life where I ever wanted kids.

    I’m also on two teratogenic medications.

    And my sexuality isn’t compatible with getting pregnant.

    Also I’m barely capable of taking care of myself. Mental health is fun that way.

    So I don’t want kids, and I really really shouldn’t have any!

    My parents understand this. They say it’s my life, my decision and they’ll support me whatever I do.

    My grandma not so much.

    Whenever my parents have some big news, like my dad getting a great deal for gradual retirement, her first guess is ‘You’ll be grandparents!’

    It pisses me off.

    1. Boötes*

      I’m so sorry you have that “Hey I totally mean well and am joking hahahahaha–but no, really when are you having kids?” family member in your life. I often start a conversation involving good news with “Great news!” but stopped doing so toward my mother when she replied “You’re pregnant!” for the umpty-first time. So I can relate <3

      I wish they could realize that such tone-deaf attitudes can easily be interpreted that they're unlikely to be trusted with sensitive material. I mean, I'd rather learn that earlier than later, but it's sad when someone in your life you'd like to trust indicates you probably can't come to them with heavy issues.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        The last time my grandma did this I replied without thinking.

        ‘Not in a hundred years!’

        Rather forcefully at that!

        Are you named for the constellation?

  24. EmilyAnn*

    People really suck, but people can also be really ignorant. When I was 21 I had a co-worker going through infertility treatments and because I didn’t know any better I said at least one thing that was idiotic and probably a few others that were insensitive. Now I’m almost 30 and I’ve had many friends and acquaintances go through IVF and other treatments to get pregnant and seen the pain and emotional toll infertility can take on a couple. I’ve had a family member lose an infant child. I am more aware of the all the terrible things that can befall a person during the course of life. I wouldn’t say the same things. All this to say, yes Fergus sucks. If Fergus is completely ignorant about these things then someone should educate him. I doubt he says these things to be intentionally malicious.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I agree, when I was younger I think I once tried to console someone going through infertility treatments with the suggestion of adoption. That is considered a very thoughtless thing to say by most (surprise, most people have thought of it already), so I am still retrospectively apologetic :( Would not do so today.

      1. Julia*

        When I was young I told a friend who didn’t want children because she “hated kids” that that was stupid because she had been a kid herself. (I still think no one should “hate” kids. Dislike them, sure, but hate?)

  25. AnonEMoose*

    I’ve had some success with variations of ” Nephews are awesome. I get to give them back and go home to my nice, quiet cats.”

    But yes, people are jerks about this. When I got married, so many people assumed that kids were in the near future. Even one or two of my close friends. The only reason we’re still friends is that, when I got angry about it, and let her know that she was pissing me off, the worst offender actually thought about it and realized she was way out of line. And became supportive.

    I was lucky that my parents at least realized that it wasn’t their choice to make, and they have never pressured me. A few coworkers were a bit taken aback when they mentioned something about me having kids soon, and I was like “nope! Kids are fine…as long as they belong to someone else!”

    1. Anna*

      That’s what I say when I’m asked. “I don’t, but I have a ton of nieces and nephews that I adore!” I don’t mind if people ask if I have kids. It’s one of those innocuous getting to know you questions. I have on occasion run into the person who absolutely does not know what to say to me when I say no. Like the ONLY thing we could possibly have in common is children and since I don’t have any, they can’t figure out anything else to talk to me about.

  26. animaniactoo*

    I like the idea of generally addressing why the comments are a bad idea. However, I would also address that it keeps coming up.

    “Fergus, you’ve made your views on this clear and I understand that you have concerns. However, I would prefer not to discuss it again. I understand that you’re coming from a place of concern, but there are so many reasons why some things are right for many many people and just not right or don’t work out for others. In those situations, it can be very hurtful to hear these kinds of comments. Can we agree to leave this subject and any other about personal choices alone unless I express some concern to you?”

  27. stitchinthyme*

    I’m a childfree-by-choice woman, and anyone who’s known me more than five minutes generally figures this out and realizes that it would be totally useless to try and persuade me. Of course, now that I’m in my 40s, I don’t get those types of comments anymore, but when I was in my 20s, I’d regularly have people saying things like, “You’ll change your mind!” (to which I’d respond, “I guess we’ll see, won’t we?”) or if I’d say I am not all that fond of children, “But it’s different when they’re your own!” (yeah, it is — you can’t give them back!). I don’t think any of my bosses ever saw fit to comment on my choice, but I’d have said the same things to them as I did to anyone else: I don’t really like kids, and I have no interest in having any, and unless you’re married to me, it’s none of your business anyway. (I never had to say that last. Everyone else I knew who ever commented was wise enough to let it go after the initial back-and-forth. But I would have if they’d persisted.)

    I’ve also seen (but never had occasion to use) a great response: “I can’t bear children.” I love the double meaning.

    As an aside, I once asked my husband (who’s just as adamantly childfree as I am), “If I ever changed my mind and decided I wanted kids, what would you do?” His answer: “I’d miss you.” :-)

    1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      Likewise. One of the best things about being over 40 is that people pretty much overnight stopped asking me “when” I was going to have kids. Although the late 30s were a bit of a trial, with all those “time’s running out!” comments. Ugh.

      1. stitchinthyme*

        I had my tubes tied when I was 30. While I don’t go around broadcasting that fact, if someone was persistent, I’d just say, “Can’t have kids since I had the snip.” That generally shut down the conversation quickly.

        1. YellowWLS*

          I have used “Actually I won’t, I’ve made sure that it’s impossible” as a response to “You’ll change your mind.” Some people are too persistent.

    2. Red 5*

      I once had somebody get defensive on my husbands behalf and ask me if I deigned to tell HIM I didn’t want kids before I got him to marry me (apparently through trickery and lies I guess?) I just looked at them confused and asked why in the world they thought I would marry somebody who wanted kids in the first place, obviously we talked about it before we got married.

      It was a real eye opener to me about how often people do get married without talking about anything with their future though.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        And if you didn’t discuss it or changed your mind, so what? I don’t think it would be a prudent move to not discuss whether the two getting married want children, but it’s not the end of the world. IMO, both parties have a responsibility to themselves and to each other to have this conversation.

        1. Anna*

          Seriously. Husband and I talked about it before we got married, changed our minds, changed them back, changed them again, and landed finally on not having kids. If you’re talking to your partner and have good communication, it’s not a big freaking deal.

      2. Red Reader*

        I found out two years after my previous marriage that even though we had discussed it and agreed that we, collectively, neither wanted kids, ex-husband had conducted the entire series of discussions assuming that I’d eventually change my mind. See also, “previous” marriage and “ex-husband”. :-P

  28. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Luckily, people in my sphere seem to have finally accepted that I am not having children and I don’t get intrusive comments anymore.

    But my instinct is to start talking really in depth about sex. Like “What position do you recommend for the best chance of conception?” “Should we be doing it three times or is once a day enough?” “Do you think it’s true that there’s a better chance of conception if the woman has an orgasm?”

    Don’t actually do this. This is why I don’t have an advice column :)

  29. Agatha_31*

    Completely not possible, but my god, how I want to give guys like this the Mike Pence treatment. “Good morning! Just a quick update on the status of my period for you since you’re so very interested in my reproductive system. Note the various color illustrations, graphs and diagrams.”

    1. Yas Queen*

      “I’ve brought a fresh sample of vaginal mucus for your inspection. Can you check the viscosity and confirm that I’m fertile enough to conceive?”

      1. Agatha_31*

        “What I’m getting from your statement of ‘tick, tock!’ is that I should feel free to leave early, go home and bang my SO into a merry oblivion. … oh, I misunderstood? Well, damn. I guess I should have clarified that *before* I did exactly that. Or maybe next time we can just skip discussions revolving around activities that may or may not be occurring involving my reproductive system. Oh, and SO said to say ‘thank you’.”

        1. anonintheuk*

          The last time anyone said tick tock to me, I asked if he was pretending to be the crocodile in Peter Pan.

  30. Dysana*

    When completely fed up once I have said, “Well, let’s just unpack exactly what you’re asking here because I’m not sure you realise. You’re asking about my sex life. You’re asking about my reproductive health and that of my partner. You’re asking whether I’ve miscarried or maybe can’t have children. You’re asking about my genetic history and whether there might be anything I’m scared to pass on. You’re asking about my relationship. You’re asking about whether I can afford a kid. You’re asking some huge, incredibly personal and inappropriate questions, all while refusing to acknowledge something I’ve already told you, which is that I don’t want to have kids. I appreciate that your questions comes from good intentions but that’s not something I’d feel comfortable asking anyone, given all the things I’d be asking with it.”

    Or, if it’s not your boss and is someone you don’t mind ruining your relationship with: “Oh, no kids for me. No, hate the little buggers. But anyway – how are you? Any erectile dysfunction lately? Since you’re of that age and all…”

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I would love to the other person’s face during that rant.

      I can just imagine a big fake smile slowly dropping off their face as they stare blankly while trying to process what you’re saying, followed by sheer panic as they realize (oh crap) you’re STILL TALKING and (holy shoot!) now people are WATCHING.

    2. Nita*

      This is awesome. And IMO, quite professional and it would not be out of place to say that to Fergus. Not out of place at all.

    1. Lefty*

      My previous boss recoiled at any mention of medical terms for parts of the female reproductive system (which were sometimes required for our job!), so this would have been especially enjoyable for our office!

  31. all aboard the anon train*

    Ugh, why are some people like this?

    I am lucky in that even though I live in a really religious/conservative area I have never had this issue (probably because I am single and so religious conservatives assume not married = no sex/no kids).

    But I am also in a situation right now where I am dealing with the fact that I will likely never be able to have children–it was always a long shot, but my doctor now is not really able to offer any additional solutions. He’s trying to get me referred to the freaking Mayo clinic, but there may not be a whole lot that can be done in general because of some very complex medical issues. I have always wanted children. And I may in the future consider adoption, but right now it is too painful.

    1. Lumen*

      I’m sorry you’re in this situation. Infertility is incredibly painful, especially when options are limited and prohibitively expensive. I hope the best for you, but for now just know you have my sympathies. :(

      1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

        Wouldn’t it be great if those of us who don’t want kids could give our uterus & ovaries to someone who did? I would have handed mine over in a heartbeat when they were young enough to work.

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I have weirdly never once in my life gotten any questions along those lines (although I’m not in a religious or conservative area – I actually figure that it’s part cultural since people here aren’t as invested in having kids and part not that they’ve figured out that I’m asexual exactly but that they at least know that I’m not interested in a relationship). I honestly can’t imagine what would happen if I did because my own thoughts on the topic are inconclusive and not very satisfying – I don’t really care either way. I like children just fine and know that I would enjoy having them but there’s a lot of independence (in very small things, mostly, just things that I can decide to do or not do which wouldn’t be possible with children anymore) that I don’t really want to give up.
      The only conclusion I can come to is that I need a strapping and dedicated-to-childrearing househusband.

      1. Girasol*

        I did work in a very religious area once and was moved under a boss who seemed to take an immediate dislike to me. I was puzzled until one of my more clueful coworkers said that I had one mentioned I did not plan to have children in New Boss’s hearing. So? “You’re married. He’s from and believes that the purpose of marriage is children, like always says. He thinks women should only work to keep them occupied until they have a baby.” I knew about that old argument against gay marriage but had never realized it might be applied to a child-free straight couple as well. It sure gave me a new perspective on what my gay coworkers were up against! These days when people ask me if I have children, if I don’t know them well enough I try to look sad and bereft and shake my head to convey “just don’t go there.”

    3. Agatha_31*

      Sorry for your situation, that’s a really frustrating process to go through even separate from all the emotional hardship. I’ve known a couple of women who have confided in me about their own problems having children and oh my GOD the amount of awkward painful times they’ve had to deal with thanks to people who won’t mind their own business JUST WHEN I’M STANDING AROUND. (And yes, I tended to try and change the conversation fast.) I kind of wanted to start buying them duct tape for Christmas presents, handily pre-cut to “conveniently sized to shut big mouths” size.

      RE: getting asked, I also grew up in a religious environment. For us, the question was still asked, just differently phrased if you were single, changing from “so when are you having kids?” to “so when are you getting married?” “I don’t want to get married” was met with “you’ll change your mind!” (ugh) and “but you’ll want a family!” (no I won’t) and other insipid unimaginative assumptions about what my future entailed based solely on what genitals I was packing.

  32. DC*

    My office this morning ended a meeting with a 20 minute chat about breastfeeding. I’ m all about parenting choices, but can we please keep all of this out of places where people are forced to partake?

    (NOTE: Not a comment on breastfeeding. That was just today’s topic. Past topics have included natural births and ob/gyns)

    1. Lumen*

      I feel you, DC. Sometimes my meetings at work devolve into chit-chat (which is generally fine with me), but sometimes the discussion is about parenting or schools or, as you experienced, breastfeeding and natural births and ob/gyns. And it seems like there is no polite way to excuse yourself and get back to work.

      I do know what you mean, too. It’s not about whether breastfeeding or natural births or whatever are right or wrong, or whether people have a right to talk about these things when it’s appropriate. It’s about other people who just want to do their jobs feeling forced to participate in conversations about personal matters… which is what the OP is dealing with, come to think of it.

    2. stitchinthyme*

      Well, seems like there’s at least some advantage to working with almost all men. I’m betting your office is more women…while a lot of the guys I’ve worked with are fathers, few of them talk much about their kids when they’re not with them, while it seems to be all some women can talk about. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never fit in all that great with other women.

      1. Jessica*

        Not in my office! A few of the men were expecting their first child within a month or two of each other, and the discussion ran the gamut from cloth vs. disposable to good brands of baby Bjorns and car seats. I had to pipe up a couple times and ask them to wrap up the discussion about baby poop.

      2. Lumen*

        Sadly, when I have worked with almost all men, I’ve usually been subjected to OTHER conversations that I have no interest in or which are deeply uncomfortable, and then I feel even more backed into a social/professional corner because “no one likes a nag”, “don’t offend Lumen! LOLOLOLOL!”, et cetera.

        1. stitchinthyme*

          Yeah, cars and home improvement are favorite topics among my current coworkers. I pretty much just tune them out and read Facebook on my phone when that happens. At least it’s not sports!

  33. AndersonDarling*

    I must live in the Bizzaro Universe because no one has ever given me trouble about not having kids. But after saying that we don’t want kids, I have had two people admit that they wish they didn’t have kids- in a “I love my kids, but if I could do it again…” kindly way.
    It may be how enthusiastically I answer the question. “God no!” and “Oh hell no, we aren’t having children!”

  34. SS*

    His constant harassment about your lack of pregnancy falls under one of the legal definitions of “Hostile Work Environment” and you can try bringing it up lightly that he should be careful especially in his new role if he continues to bother you (and any others) about their pregnancy plans that he crosses the legal line for official harassment.

    The important part of the harassment clause for you is the part about constant comments based on pregnancy status. The status of NOT being pregnant falls under this. Direct from the EEOC government website – “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), ”

      1. SS*

        If he continues after being asked to stop, then that qualifies as pervasive according to the all of the harassment training I have been through. If it’s just an isolated comment, then it is not.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Just the existence of a second comment after asking someone to stop doesn’t make it harassment in the legal sense. (It certainly makes it rude though.) It depends on the severity of the comment(s).

          1. Nita*

            It may not be harassment, but if the company has a working HR this is absolutely something they would get involved in. Ours has pulled people aside for a friendly chat for things that aren’t lawsuit-worthy in any way, but just affect others’ quality of life. It usually works. Sometimes we just need to hear from someone we consider “in a position of authority” that we’re being obtuse jerks.

  35. Mike C.*

    So at what point is it ok to respond to “Do you regret not having children” with “Do you regret having them?” ala Robin Wright in House of Cards?

    There’s this weird sense to entitlement(?) that comes with these questions – an undertone of “well I have to pay and take care of children and make choices I’d rather not make and boy would I love to just decide to go out for brunch so you should have to make those sacrifices as well”. As though if you’re choosing not to have kids you’re somehow shirking your “responsibility” to, and these are real things I’ve been told, “your family name”, “society at large”, “your parents” and so on. That and it’s seen as a personal insult by perfect strangers for some reason.

    The more I think about it, the more screwed up it really becomes. I like getting out of bed when I feel like, never having to watch programming made for children or never changing diapers. I don’t want that responsibility.

    That doesn’t make me a misanthrope, that makes me a responsible adult.

    1. Venus Supreme*

      YES! My attitude towards children is that I currently do not want kids. If I change my mind and want them later in life, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. I can see some value to having children, and at this point in my life I don’t think it would enrich my life, nor would I be able to responsibly care for a kid (AKA I have no money…)

      Haha, when I’d babysit my nephew when he was younger we’d fight over the TV. It was Real Housewives versus Mickey Mouse Club. Quite funny, actually. Luckily now he’s old enough that I’m introducing him to classic movies — ET, The Goonies, Jaws, Stand By Me…

    2. NaoNao*

      I’ve given this a lot of thought, as a woman who is child free by choice, and I think it’s about people wanting validation for their life choices.

      Having a child is a valid choice, but it’s also a “default”. Many people may have misgivings, or feel that they perhaps could have done more/different stuff with their life, or perhaps they feel they were sold a bill of goods about being responsible, carrying on the family name (!! as if any of us have a philanthropic, manufacturing, or social legacy to attend to!), or contributing to society, and actually parenting is hard, thankless, and isolating work a lot of the time.

      It’s similar to the reasons that meat-eaters clutch pearls over “protein!” at vegetarians or vegans moan about animal rights to omnivores.

      People want society “at large” to say “You’re okay. The choices you made were the right ones. Look, I’m making the same choice, so you’re not weird, left out, or wrong!”

      Those who have the courage of their convictions to withstand the constant appeals for approval by these people have my admiration.

      And guess what? If you DO become a parent, the questions, rudeness, unsolicited advice and assorted nonsense increases tenfold!

      1. Kelsi*

        This hits the nail on the head.

        So often, I find, when people are pushing me about the kids issue, it’s because they interpret my disinterest as JUDGING THEM. I’m not! You made your choices, I made mine, we’re different people who are allowed to choose differently! But it’s like…if I don’t make the same choice, I must disapprove of theirs, and they can’t rest until I validate them by agreeing that they’ve convinced me.

          1. Emi.*

            And it’s a terrible vicious cycle, because this defensiveness is in part born (ha) of people telling them that kids are just the worst, and don’t you regret all that lost sleep, and too bad you didn’t get to do anything worthwhile with your life. So then they take it out on someone without children, who goes and takes it out on someone with children, and then everyone’s mad at each other. :(

      2. Victoria, Please*

        That’s a really good point, that people want their lives and choices validated.

        So maybe that’s the way to handle this at least in the moment to make it go away. Say very kindly the to person who’s bothering you, “You did have kids, right? What a wonderful choice. It’s so great that you did that. I think my choice is pretty wonderful too, since everyone’s different and contributes to the world in different ways. Your kids are grown now, right? That’s great. You must be so proud. How about those Astros?” …at least it might confuse them into silence.

    3. Gandalf the Nude*

      – An actual conversation I had with my cousins –

      Cousin: You need to dump Partner and find a man who will force you to marry and have kids.

      Me: Wow. Do I have any agency in this?

      Cousin: Nope. It’s your family duty. If you’re not gonna be responsible about it, you need to find someone else who will.

      And yet, even more infuriating to me is that they are already saying similar things to my 16 y/o cousin. SIXTEEN. And they’re telling her she’ll have to have kids if her husband wants them. Just… FFS, making a different choice is not an indictment of your choice!

      1. Ahora*

        God, I remember my grandmother once being on my case about not having kids and telling my husband to “hide her pills”. I looked her dead in the eye and said, “And then what, rape me? Because I’m not having sex without birth control.”

        No answer, of course.

      2. Mike C.*

        What in the hell?!

        Women aren’t baby machines. No one has a “duty” or “responsibility” to have children. I don’t care if you’re marrying the crown prince of a nation, it’s not your job to have children.

      3. Victoria, Please*

        Eeerrrrrmmmm…. to that one I might have skipped the kindness and just said “F8ck you, authoritarian pig” and walked away.

  36. Venus Supreme*

    Not sure if it’s the industry I work in or the people I surround myself with, but I noticed that the majority of the Under 40-Years group of women are childless by choice. And it’s such a relief for me, as a young woman who prefers not to have children either. I’d say my (small) office is about 50/50 on people with children and people without, and neither group scoffs at the other for their family choices. It’s quite refreshing, actually.

  37. Candi*

    One of the best comments I ever heard on the topic came from a Not Always Working story a couple months ago:

    Summary: Submitter is married, but she and husband have decided not to have kids. One of her coworkers can NOT comprehend this and will not shut up asking about the issue.

    So one day, after they’ve left the building and work for the day, they’re in the parking lot, and he starts in AGAIN.

    At the end of her rope, she asked, “Why do you care so much about what’s in my uterus?”

    Finally he shut up on the issue.

    Back. Off. Nosy Neds and Nellies. Better yet, don’t comment. (Minirant: These are the same type of people who accused me of being a single mom, with the definite leaning toward nasty words concerning promiscuity and lack of marriage ever. The word, twerps, is “divorce”. Argh.)

  38. Hills to Die on*

    “It’s also decidedly one-way; there are very few people urging colleagues not to reproduce (although they might think it silently) or telling them how “sad” it will be if they do have children.”

    I have a couple of coworkers who each have triplets (one is 62 yo and she has 4 kids in elementary school. FML! I cannot imagine) and I really feel bad for the control issues and dysfunction that they probably deal with on a regular basis.

    Good for people who don’t want kids and freely acknowledge it! I get that it’s not for everyone and you should never bring a life into this world to appease a sense of social obligation.

    1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      Totally agree.
      Some people should not spawn. (I am one of them.) Whether by choice/lack of interest or medical reasons (mine), I refuse to explain that to folks. Too many people do reproduce out of social obligation…thank goodness some of us don’t cowtow to that nonsense! If I don’t *want* kids, why are YOU, NOSY ANNOYING PERSON, trying to tell me that I should? Recipe for disaster!

      *Insert any DO NOT WANT cat meme here*

  39. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

    I can get away with this, I think, as a woman who works in construction…

    Nosy rude person: “Kids blah blah blah?”
    Me: “Murder.”

    The matter of fact tone, deadpan face with maybe a few daggars thrown in, and holding eye contact shuts them up quick. (It’s not my fault they assume anything..)

    If they still don’t get it and press on for details,

    “That’s what I’m going to do to you if you ask me that question ever again.”

    *Drops the tuck point tool, calmly walks away.*

    1. Venus Supreme*

      I want to note that I absolutely love your username.

      Signed by an employee whose department relies heavily on the Meyers-Briggs personality types *eyeroll*

      1. Emi.*

        Meyers-Briggs is just the Zodiac for people who don’t like to think of themselves as superstitious.

  40. CJ Record*

    I had success with the “Wow, what a bizarre little personal question!” and change the subject, followed by “huh!” and topic change every time after.

    1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      Yea unfortunately that has rarely , if ever worked for me. Some people are way too thick.

      1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

        Same here. I had a similar retort, and with some people that doesn’t even phase them, they just keep right on going. Can you imagine that an old friend of mine (she’s really just an acquaintance now), called me during my recovery after my hysterectomy asking, “well, I guess you’re not having your own kids (ya think??) now, but are you thinking of other ways?” People just don’t think.

  41. Hannah*

    I’m a woman and have been working in a job for the past two years where, thank goodness, everybody is really into letting people live their own lives. On the flip side, though, my husband has started getting this from his coworkers! One woman actually pulled over his boss the other day to ask, “Isn’t it sad that Tyrion doesn’t want kids? He’d be such a good dad!” His boss just shrugged and said, “Not if he doesn’t want kids, he wouldn’t.” People get SO weirdly nosy about this!

    1. Observer*

      Bossman gets a star! But seriously, someone actually pulled his boss into this?! It’s gross enough when the boss sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. This is just another whole level of crazy!

    2. chocolate lover*

      Saying that to your husband is bad enough, but pulling his boss aside to say that takes it to another creepy, inappropriate level.

  42. party pants*

    People often do this without really thinking about what they are asking. Eight or so years ago a co-worker commented on Mother’s Day while we were working about it’s “barren women don’t care day” as a joke. I walked away but later told him that it was insensitive and he didn’t know people’s circumstances. Let him know that my best friend had just shared the news that she lost the ectopic pregnancy she didn’t realize she had a day ago and that the Dr. had advised that she would be putting her life at risk if she got pregnant (this was not her first lost pregnancy); she & her husband and I were all pretty upset over the news as she had really wanted to be a mother. I too was currently dealing with the possibility of never having a child despite desire.
    He was sufficiently appalled at his crude remark in light of the current situation..

  43. peachie*

    I know this is a broader societal point, but it REALLY weirds me out that our culture considers becoming a parent ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt-in’.

    1. Elisabeth*

      I could not agree more. I would love to start shifting to a culture where we ask people quizzically, “So…why… did you want kids?” I’d love to hear an answer that didn’t border on general self-absorption. (And I’m saying this as someone who *does* want biological children!)

      Relatedly, I always adored that scene in Frances Ha where she’s at the dinner party saying “I always love when people say, ‘Oh before kids, I was so focused on me and now I’m totally not.’ It’s still you! It’s half you! It’s a mini you! I mean, you made it!”

      1. peachie*

        Ha! If anyone starts getting rude at me about this*, I’m just going to turn it back on them:

        “Wow, you have kids?! How do your parents feel about that?”
        “Yes, I know you have children, but aren’t you afraid you’re going to change your mind someday?”
        “Awww, you have kids? I’m sorry, that’s so sad, is everything okay?”

        *Only if they’re rude, of course. :) I have nothing against kids or parents, and I’m not even adamant that I won’t have children myself–I just know they won’t be biologically mine if I have them, and it’s bonkers how much that’s apparently up for discussion. And I’m adopted, so the “Don’t you want REAL kids?” BS does not work on me.

    2. FD*

      I think a lot of is is that until a few hundred years ago, between death rates and low productivity, society did kind of need a pretty good section of the population to reproduce.

      1. FD*

        I’m not justifying the attitude BTW, I just mean that I think it makes sense when you consider that a few hundred years ago, a large majority of the world’s population were farming by hand and the childhood mortality rate was 20%+, and the world was like that for a very long time before that, it makes sense that we haven’t quite reset yet.

        1. peachie*

          That makes a ton of sense! If your parents’ generation has the “Of course we’re going to have children!” mindset, there has to be a larger, slower cultural shift before people, broadly, don’t take that for granted.

          (Agreed that it’s definitely not an excuse for being rude and pushy about it, of course. But it occurs to me that many people who AREN’T pushy and may not even have kids themselves still think the decision as ‘opt-out’ because that’s the societal consensus; that’s interesting to me.)

    3. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      Yes, this.
      Now I want to wear a shirt, with a uterus and OPT-OUT. In big block letters! But then again I’ll probably get asked about it, so…

      1. Grapey*

        I for one am more than happy to talk about my choices.

        I do it anyway with my older relatives…not to change their mind or stop their judgement, but to let my younger relatives know that it’s ok to go against the lifescript and be happy doing it.

        1. peachie*

          That’s great! I have a large family, and while the status quo is DEFINITELY on the “having kids” side, it meant a lot that one of my older cousins and her husband simply chose not to have kids. She wasn’t ostracized, no one has ever bugged her about it, she’s fully part of the family, and she’s never regretted her decision (that she’s spoken about, anyhow). She loves kids–she’s a 3rd grade teacher!–but she and her husband just prefer their life without them.

          It was never something she talked about, but it did (and does) make me feel like there are other options out there. My cousin has a great life; she and her husband have a lovely house, lots of friends, and travel all. the. time.

    4. Foreign Octopus*

      I remember Katherine Heigl talking years ago about the process she went through to adopt her first child. She was talking about all the paperwork she and her husband had to fill out, and the questions they were asked. I.e. do you plan to raise them with a religion? What type of schooling are you considering? etc, etc. She said that she felt it should be the norm for anyone planning to have kids (through whatever means) to sit down and answer those questions because it really made her and her husband think things through and talk things over.

      1. peachie*

        I love this! It really, really should be a thing. (Of course I don’t mean like a legally mandatory thing; that gets into dicey territory. But folks should absolutely be this intentional about it.)

      2. LadyKelvin*

        So we got married in a Catholic Church because of reasons even though neither me nor my husband subscribe to a religion (I’m a former catholic so could be married there and it was *expected* by our families we get married in a church) and we had to go to premarital counseling where we had to discuss all these questions (and more!) about having children. Primarily because it is basically required that you have children if you can because of the whole no contraceptives thing. But it was really useful! We made sure we were on the same page. We had already discussed most of that stuff but saying it aloud and explicitly answering those questions was really useful. It was the best part of the whole process and I recommend marriage counseling to anyone thinking of getting married.

        Also, the church we were supposed to get married in was my family church and I would have been the third generation to get married there. It was beautiful 100+ years old, marble, stained glass, and full of emotional connection for me. Then the roof caved in 6 months before we got married and the building was condemned. So we moved to a neighboring church but I was really really disappointed by the whole thing.

  44. OlympiasEpiriot*

    While I have plenty of personal opinions about reproduction and the overall capacity of the planet to deal with this odd animal who randomly developed opposable thumbs (unlike dolphins, who have language, culture, family-rearing practices, etc, etc) THIS KIND OF QUESTIONING IS TOTALLY OUT OF LINE. So is telling someone they’ve got too many. So is telling someone they are too young, too old, too whatever.

    So is castigating them for family decisions like having or not having: a television, video games, formula, a car, gender-specific clothes, baby showers, pets, church, crazy big birthday parties, presence of certain family members, the list goes on and on.


  45. Greengirl*

    When I was 24 or so I was still in my first full time job. After a colleague announced her pregnancy, one of my older colleagues who had founded the company, made a comment about ” I was just asking you when you were going to have a baby.” Without thinking much about it I said in a “Fergus, you’re not supposed to ask people that. What if she didn’t want kids? What if she was trying and having troubles?”in a friendly tone of voice (we had a great relationship). Fergus then said “You’re right Greengirl, I didn’t think of that. ”

    I got two great takeaways from that. One, if you correct people in a gentle way , you can correct someone who is older and in an authority position over you. And two, he set a really great example for me of how you take correction graciously from someone, even if that person is almost forty years younger than you.

  46. nnn*

    A script that I find useful in some contexts. (Probably not for LW, but posting it in case anyone googles their way here):

    Imagine someone asks you if you have any brontosauruses. You’re not sure you heard them properly, so you pause, look at them baffled, and say either “I’m sorry, what did you just ask me?” or “Did you just ask me if I have any brontosauruses??”

    Once they’ve confirmed that they did in fact ask if you have any brontosauruses, your reply is probably something like “Of course not!”

    Now swap out “brontosauruses” for “kids”, and use exactly the same tone and delivery.

  47. Bigglesworth*

    I might have mentioned this story before on here, but I’m not sure so I share it again.

    While working at a small, religious university, I was one of four young women who worked as admins. The chaplain of our dept. constantly asked us if we were going to have kids soon. But he couldn’t limit it to just us. Oh no – he had to ask every woman under the age of 50 about children. Unbeknownst to him, at least two of these women were having trouble getting pregnant in the first place and he was so socially idiotic that he never noticed that asking the question was causing an emotional response.

    Well, my first big vacation was a two week camping trip in TN. In front of several coworkers, he told me (and all other women nearby) to be careful outdoors this summer because we might get the Zika virus, which would affect our potential pregnancies. My temper flared and my very sarcastic response was, “A guess that would be a concern if one could get pregnant.” He never asked me about children again.

    I later apologized to the others nearby, in case I offended them or was being incredibly insensitive to a situation I did not know about. All of them said I was fine and that one comment really stopped him from ever asking that again.

    The thing is that I am open to the idea of starting a family in the future, but I have other things I want to do first (like finish my JD). Plus, we need to get my husband’s mental illnesses taken care of and only then will we start thinking about maybe starting a family.

  48. BlueWolf*

    Seems like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Either you’re discriminated against for having kids and being out of the office on maternity leave or for other kid reasons, or you’re discriminated against for not having kids as if that makes you less of a woman or something. My guess is people who ask about a woman’s reproductive plans are the same ones petting her stomach without permission when she is pregnant. Just a complete lack of boundaries and common courtesy. It’s fine to ask people if they have kids, and if they say no you just leave it at that.

    Personally, I’ve never really felt a strong desire to have kids. Most likely I won’t have them, or maybe I would consider adoption, since our planet has enough people on it already. I also don’t feel financially stable enough for kids at this point, and honestly would rather be able to travel and have my time for myself. I’ve got nieces and nephews and that’s enough kid time for me.

  49. Blue Dog*

    I have a friend who always had to deal with this. Hated people always telling her she was making a mistake by not having children on their timeline. One time she just really quiet, looked down, and said, “Pray for us.” There was an awkward silence and the topic was never brought up again.

  50. Recruit-o-rama*

    My husband is 49 with two adult children and I am 42 with 2 teenagers. We got married 3 years ago. People ask us all the time if we’re going to have kids together. I tell them we DO have kids together, 4 of them, and they gang up on us, why would we add to the gang?? Plus, we’re looking forward to pushing the last two out of the nest so we can have some peace and quiet. I even had someone tell me last week that “it’s a shame” we don’t have one “of our own” like biology is sooo important. What’s a shame? That two people in their 40’s who already have 4 kiddos between them don’t want to start all over with the strollers and diapers and sippy cups? No thanks! People are so pushy and judgey!

  51. Liz T*

    I’m a receptionist, and the Friday before Mother’s Day the mail man wished me a happy, yknow, Mother’s Day. I thanked him and said “You too” and he looked at me like I was a little crazy and said, “I guess I could be a mother…somehow…”

    That’s how I discovered that 1) he only said “Happy Mother’s Day” to actual mothers and 2) he had for some reason decided, on literally no evidence, that I am a mother. I am not, and I have no personal photos or finger paintings or anything at my desk.

    I now think of this mailman as kind of creepy and genuinely hate talking to him.

    1. BadPlanning*

      Isn’t it weird when people decide such big things about you? Apparently I had a friend who started telling my other friends I was an atheist (I was not). It was such an odd thing to decide and then tell other people.

  52. Louise*

    This is like… the OG of concern trolling. It’s absolutely about judgement/power/control and it’s so icky, even more so at work!

  53. Corporate Cynic*

    If any of you are a member of the Dollar Shave Club, their irreverant monthly newsletter recently had the perfect comeback to people who ask if you’re planning to have kids/try for kids:

    “Um, did you just ask me if I’m having unprotected sex on the reg?”

    I want to try it, if only to see the look on their face….

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I actually responded that way to someone who asked if my pregnancy was planned. “Wow, did you just ask whether I unintentionally had unprotected sex?”

  54. Cruciatus*

    A guy I’ve known for most of my life was visiting my house where I live with my parents (I’m working on moving out! That’s a thought for another thread). He had brought his sons, one just 6 months and the other 3 or 4. He had children in his 40s (though I think his wife is in her 30s, like me). Right in front of everyone he asked me about if my parents were ever going to get grandchildren. I replied a little testily back to him and he was like “Oh, Cruciatus is mad now!” Damn right! It’s just not something you need to ask a person, ever. A spouse/significant other, sure. A person whose decision to have/not have kids doesn’t affect you in any way? NO! It was the first time I’ve really been asked that so point blankly and it was infuriating.

    1. Observer*

      Well, he doesn’t sound old enough to have kids of his own. That response is something I’d find suitable to a middle schooler, not a mature adult.

  55. Jan Levinson*

    Ugh. I’ve mentioned this on the open thread before, but my supervisor frequently tells me how my husband and I “should wait until we’re at least 30” to have kids (we’re 24). She occasionally sends me articles on why it’s beneficial to wait and have kids, and even once email me a gif that said “Mothers over 30 tend to have kids with higher IQs, less psychological issues, and are better behaved than children to younger mothers.” The subject of the email was just a smiley face (as if to say, I know this is totally inappropriate and line crossing, but I’m attempting to soften my message with a smiley face).

    When she gets off on tangents about why I should wait, she always ends her spiel with “that’s my 2 cents!” I want to say, “excuse me, YOUR 2 cents? You have literally no relevant input on my husband and I’s reproductive choices!”

    1. fposte*

      What, WTH? Your supervisor sends you articles about how you should plan your family? That is horrifically crossing the line. It sounds like you’re choosing not to tackle this, which is a fair choice, but you’ve got plenty of good suggestions today if you want to push back on this ridiculousness.

  56. cornflower blue*

    I’ve only ever had peer Ferguses, not boss Ferguses, which changes the dynamics and the formality of the response. The most successful version I used was saying in a rueful tone, “It’s starting to make me feel a little weird, how much you seem to focus on my reproductive organs.” (I may have told a different Fergus that it was a waste for me to have a kid, since I’d promised my firstborn to a witch.)

    As to why people do this? In my observation, people content with their lot in life tend not to nitpick the decisions of others. Having kids is really, really hard, and it’s also usually the default. You got a memo that he didn’t, and Fergus doesn’t think you should be allowed to cheat the system like that. His misery demands your company.

  57. Plague of frogs*

    People used to tell me I *must* have kids (it’s infrequent now, one of the great benefits of aging!). I would point out that you shouldn’t say that because infertility etc. This would often result in people asking me about my fertility. Unfortunately, rude people don’t become polite just by having the obvious pointed out to them.

    I had a boss who constantly told me I needed to have babies. He also told me I had to buy a house immediately (it was 2005). He wasn’t the worse boss I’ve ever had, but I sure wouldn’t work for him again. I just don’t need the aggravation.

    I had another co-worker who told me it was “sad” that I didn’t plan to have children. Her toddler son was being raised in another country by her in-laws. I broke every law of courtesy I’ve ever followed to tell her I thought it was much sadder to have a child you never got to see. We did not talk much after that.

  58. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Ugh, when will people stop doing this??? I am remarried, with two teen aged kids from my first marriage, and people STILL ask if/when my husband and I are going to have kids because “we’d make such cute babies”; yes, we would, but that is a pretty crappy reason to bring a human being into the world, and also, I already made two cute babies, isn’t that enough?!
    One coworker even went so far as to tell me that I should “give that man a baby”. Um, excuse you, but “that man” doesn’t want a baby, and neither do I. It’s like a marriage is somehow invalid if you’re not adding more people to the population.

    1. Victoria, Please*

      Give…that man…a b…. A massive wave of rage-induced nausea rolled over me upon reading that.

      The *f*? Why the *f* is your body to be devoted to someone else’s self-aggrandizement?

  59. Kelly*

    I had my kiddo when I was 15. Nope, not ideal or planned (I was on the pill, and it was my first time having sex, topic for another day).

    For years I got nasty stares, comments etc about being an UNWED TEENAGE MOTHER. GASP! The horror.
    As kiddo got older people asked if I was going to have more kids. NOPE. One and done over here. As I got older, I got so many rude, intrusive comments. That I would regret having an only child (I don’t), that it wasn’t fair to deny her a sibling (she would have hated it), and the best one, that if I had a kid as an adult I could “do it right this time”. What the actual f.

    Said kiddo isn’t having kids. Now I’m defending her choice to not make me a grandmother (insert eye toll here). Why why why do people think it’s any of their business??

    1. Grapey*

      Thank you for being awesome about not getting grandkids. I’m also an only daughter that doesn’t want kids and my mother ~generally~ is supportive about it all…but I do hear the sadness in her voice when she talks about her friends with grandkids.

  60. TokenArchaeologist*

    Ugh! Just reading this makes me sad. But I am going to file this script away somewhere useful for when the busy bodies I work with start asking inappropriate questions again. My husband and I want kids, but he got laid off right as were getting to a point where we were ready. Financially, we haven’t gotten to a place again where we feel like we could responsibly start a family. There is a snarky part of me that wants to reply, “I’d love to if employer wants to pay me more!”

  61. Anonymous and Loving It*

    When people asked me questions such as “Why don’t you have kids?” or some variation on that theme (I’m 68 now, so nobody asks, and it’s nice), I’d turn it around.

    “That’s a really personal question, and I don’t know you very well (or at all, as the case may be). Why do you think you have the right to quiz me about that?”

    If I was feeling really fed up, I’d tell them that if it were any of their business, they’d already know. Never used this one at work, but I did use it a couple of times outside work. And, dammit, it’s true.

    Yeah, I’m a woman. No, the state of my womb is not a public (or your) concern. Stand down.

    1. BananaRama*

      I like the response of “that’s a really personal question,” because it turns the tables on the person asking and makes them consider how it’s personal. Then again, some people can be really obtuse. I think your response is succinct enough to be used with a slight frown without anyone taking offense. I liked Allison’s script too.

  62. cheluzal*

    My husband works in a female-dominated industry. Ever since we married they bug him about a baby. He finally told them, “Get out of my testicles!”
    I’m 3 months pregnant now and he’s refusing to tell them, rofl. Wants me to walk in at about 6 months just to see their reaction.

  63. Argh!*

    Perhaps contemplating how to fill your shoes when/if you disappear for a few months & need FML for pediatrician appointments afterward will change his mind about your fertility.

    If he doesn’t shut up you can shut him down by saying you carry a very bad gene in your DNA. (Mine is the “don’t want to be a mother” gene)

    Good luck! As someone who has remained childless by choice, the few times I have mildly regretted it are far outnumbered by the times I’ve gone to Wal-Mart.

  64. 2ManyBugs*

    OP here. I can not believe how common this issue apparently is! I’m definitely keeping the scripts in my back pocket…and I’ll probably end up sharing them with some other people before I’m done. Thanks for all the support!

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      Hi OP! I’m glad you’ve found it useful. Please let us know how it goes and if he backs off. We love updates around here :)

  65. Frank Doyle*

    I have never received a ton of guff from strangers/acquaintances about not having kids (my dad is another story). For those of you who have, here’s what worked for me: when someone asks if I have kids, I say “we have a dog!” When someone asks if I’m *planning* on it, I say “not really, but never say never!” This seems to shut people down because there’s nothing to argue about, since I have admitted that I MIGHT someday do that thing (the only way I would have kids if it’s a post-apocalyptic situation where we need to re-populate the earth, but they never ask a follow-up). I say all of this brightly and cheerfully. Works for me!

  66. Hobgoblin*

    I had a coworker who could not seem to shut up about this. Every time he saw me, he’d ask if my husband and I were planning to have kids. I tried all sorts of responses but the thing that finally did was responding that I preferred not to discuss my uterus at work. I think he was horrified I might say “uterus” again that he avoided the whole topic.

    Oh, and I asked my husband if the coworker ever mentioned it him since he also works at the same place. Nope. Not even once. Sigh…

  67. Going anon for this one*

    I’m queer and I’d thought this made me more or less immune to this kind of question, but then got a team leader who was a gay parent, and wow, the pressure they put me under! They absolutely wouldn’t take no for an answer, and were always extolling the virtues, telling me I still had time, coming up with ways I could parent (without me ever indicating I wanted it!), inviting me to a LGB parents’ group and so on.

    It was ridiculous! Luckily I could push back a bit harder, and use the “wow, WHY are you trying to enforce gender norms onto me?” option, but the only thing that stopped them was when I left.

  68. Anon anon anon*

    I get this too. I’ve thought about where it comes from. Sometimes it’s from people who haven’t met anyone who was childless by choice, and it’s fairly innocent. Other times, there seems to be a jealousy/projecting sort of thing going on where the person had kids instead of doing something else (art career, sports, going to fancy parties, starting a business, whatever they would have done) and they get jealous of people who are doing that other thing and want to enforce their own choices on them. Sort of like reassuring themselves that they made the right decision. And other times, it’s a religious thing. Or a gender stereotype thing (women are only happy if they have kids). None of that makes it ok. But I think next time someone does this, I’m going to scratch the surface a bit and ask why they’re asking.

  69. Chickaletta*

    Ugh, Fergus. I have a six-year-old son and occasionally get asked when I’m going to have another (never). Last week someone asked me when my son was going to become a big brother, and I responded something plain and non-committal. I didn’t have the energy to explain to him that I was getting divorced, remind him that I’m in my 40s, and even notwithstanding all of that, would choose to not have any more children anyway. Basically, reproduction: noneyas.

    1. Andrea*

      I also am a parent of an only child. When people ask when I’m giving my teenager a sibling, I say, “I got it right the first time, why would I do it again?”

  70. Junior Dev*

    “It’s also decidedly one-way; there are very few people urging colleagues not to reproduce (although they might think it silently) or telling them how “sad” it will be if they do have children.”

    Doesn’t it often happen when they decide you’re having kids “wrong”? Eg via in-vitro fertilization instead of adoption, while unmarried, etc.

  71. Sparkly Librarian*

    I have used (socially, when the topic of adoption came up) “Well, my wife and I have been married for 5 years and neither of us has turned up pregnant…” with a cheery shrug. My current coworkers would giggle too much at the faint allusion to sex, so not for work use.

    Generally the library patrons a)assume I have kids or b)ask me directly and are okay with me saying, “No, not yet” without details. (I am also okay with discussing our adoption plans.) My coworkers don’t push the topic at all. I did have an amusing experience last week when I mentioned a potential adoptive situation and a coworker who had not known that we were hoping to adopt kind of had her thinking-out-loud moment and said, “Well, I guess it’s harder because you’re both…” [she’s the kind of person who would say “ladies” even though that’s so not a gender identity either of us claim, but she trailed off there]. I was not quick enough to respond, “Seeing as we’re humans and not, like, Komodo dragons, parthenogenesis is not an option.”

  72. Ess in Tee*

    Oh man, what is it with some people and their insistence that other people have children? What do they get out of doing that?

    I had a colleague sulkily tell me “well *I* think you’d make an *excellent* mother.” My reply of “I don’t” didn’t seem to please him much. I’ve since learned he’s a clod in other ways. Can’t say that came as a big surprise.

    After being in too many of these situations, I’ve begun replying with a flat “that’s none of your concern” and letting them sit in the awkwardness.

  73. Pommette!*

    I have been dealing with a situation that is superficially different of the ones described by commenters who are getting pressured to have children (superficially, the exact opposite), but that is, I think, ultimately related. Two of my (otherwise lovely) coworkers have taken to telling me how lucky I am not to have children.

    I am a childless woman in my mid thirties. I would actually love to have children, but, for a whole host of reasons that I would never want to discuss at work, can’t.

    They spend a lot of time talking about parenting (which is fair: it’s a big part of their lives) and most of their conversations on the topic end with an exclamation about how hard parenting is (“a mother’s job is never done!”). If I’m there, one will add a comment about my luck, or an injunction never to have children.

    It feels really insensitive and harsh (how do they know that I haven’t lost a child? that I’m not pregnant right now? that I’m not infertile, or haven’t suffered from repeated miscarriages while trying to get pregnant? All of those things are possible!). But it’s clearly not meant as an insult. I think that it might actually be intended as a way to include me in the conversation.

    I don’t know how to respond without making a huge fuss.

    1. zapateria la bailarina*

      i completely agree. i wish people would just not talk about it at all. i mean, go ahead and talk about your kids, but no one aside from me and my husband should have an opinion on whether or not i have children. i have a coworker who frequently tells me not to have kids, usually after she spends several minutes bemoaning the fact that hers are unruly. it drives me bonkers.

  74. Curious Cat*

    One of my favorite lines from television, ever, is from House of Cards when a woman asks Claire, “Do you regret not having children?” and Claire responds, “Do you regret having them?” Shut her right down. Positive it would work in real life, as well.

  75. boop the first*

    I’m so lucky that the only commenters on this subject I get are random coworkers or acquaintances who hardly know me. One said “…oh.. you’re really going to live your life that way?”
    I mean, I’ve been living my life that way for 32 years is there a problem? I’m pretty sure a friend has given me the “you don’t even feel love until you have children” line. But now everyone has been asking her why she isn’t having “MORE kids” so I think I’m in the clear now, heh.

    I don’t think family has ever mentioned it. These are the same people who drilled it into me for YEARS that having kids is the worst thing that could ever happen to you, so stay in the house, no boys allowed kind of thing. That, and knowing that if I had a kid, I would be destitute and alone with zero people to help me out and zero earning power to support myself let alone a child… people would HAVE to be complete strangers to think they could have this kind of conversation with me.

  76. Miri*

    Currently 7 months pregnant with my second but in the dim and distant past:

    “When are you getting married?”
    “It’s not my turn yet – I have a big brother”
    *blank stare*
    [When the time was right for me and my husband to get married the fact that my brother is in a long-term committed relationship but neither he nor his gf particularly want to get married so haven’t done so wasn’t an issue”

    Before getting married:

    “So when are you two having children?”
    “We can’t have children yet – we’re not married!”
    “… You do know it doesn’t work like that right?”
    “What do you mean?”
    “You don’t have to be married to have children”
    “What do you mean?”
    [Apparently telling me that if I had unprotected sex I could make a baby wasn’t something they were prepared to do in social situations… strange that, when hinting at it was fine]

    After getting married:

    “So when are you having children?”
    “It’s not my turn yet – I have a big brother”
    [Quite liked this script… ;-) Their eldest is 10 months younger than ours is]

    I did go off-script a bit when I told my grandmother I was pregnant and her response was “about time – I was just talking to your mum and sister the other week about how much we all want you to have children” with “well, we had kind of assumed I was probably infertile…” (I had actually had preliminary tests done a year previously – turns out it just took well over 2 years for my hormones to sort themselves out after years of birth control.) She was very apologetic but is also a close enough relation for me to feel OK talking to her about it when it came up.

    I suck at being pregnant (but thankfully not apparently in ways that prevent me from successfully doing it). Today was my 53.5th day off sick this year (thankfully I am in the UK and my company will give me up to 65 paid sick days a year). Between migraines and a shoddy immune system, even though I don’t have HG this time around (just run of the mill morning sickness that hasn’t ceased yet), plus a toddler not yet sleeping through reliably, I’m exhausted and run down. Oh, I also have hypermobility which causes back issues anyway so add relaxin to my system loosening up my ligaments and I really do feel decrepit. This one is more active in utero than my first was and is large enough now that this is often uncomfortable.

    Being pregnant made me fully understand why for some women this is total body horror territory. Feeling your internal organs shifting because somebody else inside your skin is pushing them out of the way is bizarre and not really pleasant (those early little flutters? In a wanted pregnancy those are lovely; I appreciate when that isn’t the case, not so much).

    I adore my daughter and find patience I never knew I had because she needs me to have it. I love being her Mummy and really do enjoy it. But it is bloody hard work at times. And it is relentless. I have rocked her to sleep while vomiting in a big bowl. I have sang to her with laryngitis. I have needed my husband to half-carry me upstairs because I physically collapsed pushing myself to meet her needs while ill. Parenting really isn’t something people should consider half-arsing. If you don’t want kids or the idea of not being able to put yourself first in your own life sounds stifling – don’t do it. If you’re not at a stage in your life where you can see it working – again – you are the one who should be making that choice!

    People’s fertility choices really should be their own – there are so many ways that asking people about them is awkward and rude, before getting onto those times when they aren’t choices and this is actually a source of deep pain. And “incompatible with my lifestyle” is a totally valid reason to not want them.

    I have a good friend at work who doesn’t want kids – she doesn’t want to share her living space with a partner let alone somebody who would be legitimately reliant on her to meet her needs long-term, plus body horror squick for her. She is high metabolism with low body weight. If she was pregnant and had HG like I did – I lost 15% of my body mass in the first half and ended up 9 months pregnant in my pre-pregnancy unelasticated trousers. She would have been seriously ill and repeatedly in hospital. (If she had a pregnancy like my first I could actually see her being ill enough to miscarry as a result even though HG usually just does a number on maternal health.) Occasionally I tease her (“woken up 10 times overnight… you sure this doesn’t sound like the right lifestyle for you?”) but this comes from a place where we both know she knows her own mind and her decisions make sense for her – and the fact that we have made different decisions to each other is totally fine because we are different people living different lives and that there are times that the choices I’ve made are gruelling even if they are also rewarding (for me), and her choices are ones she’s happy with and that work for her. She doesn’t dislike children and my toddler has probably visited her more than any of my other friends. She understands babies and little kids but prefers them when they’re older and a bit more rational – but my sprog matters to me so has an affectionate space in her life…

    I don’t ask people this sort of question personally. Closest was when I told my two best friends, “we’re vaguely thinking about maybe starting to try for number 2 in a few months. [To one of my best friends who I know does want children but is in a less-than-stellar relationship where it won’t happen – he had a vasectomy behind her back… She does want to call it a day but it’s complicated] That probably doesn’t give you enough time to get to a place where you can, [And to the other lady, who had only been married a year or so and was trying to sort out various job/long-term living things, but who I knew was also hoping to have them in the not-so-distant future] and I’m not sure how that would work out for you and Husband – but if it were to work out for you guys we could have a batch of babies approximately together and that would be pretty nifty”… The second lady is expecting their first about 10 weeks after me but it is basically pure coincidence and I hope to goodness neither of them thought I actually expected for a second that they would make a decision like that based on “having kiddies about the same age would be cool” – as it was, it was more an “I’m saying a thing but don’t really expect a response because so many variables”.

  77. Bean Pole*

    It took me 47 years to figure out how to deal with these Fergus types – there is a short question to be asked in response to ANY inappropriate/intrusive question … “Why do you ask?”

    Why don’t you have kids? WHY DO YOU ASK?
    Why aren’t you having kids? WHY DO YOU ASK?
    Can’t you have kids? WHY DO YOU ASK?
    Why do you drive a black car? WHY DO YOU ASK?

    And always state the question evenly and pleasantly. Rinse-repeat as long as necessary.

    Why aren’t you having kids?
    Why do you ask?
    Oh, well I wondered if something is wrong with you?
    Why do you ask?
    Well there are things you can do to fix those things.
    What things.
    (you get the point)

  78. Punk Rock P.A.*

    This is a question that I’ve had to deal with my entire adult life. My cousin once made the “She’ll change her mind” comment about another cousin who is in her early 20’s. I just looked at her and told her that just because she changed her mind that everyone else would. I had known by the time that I was eleven that I never wanted kids, and at 33, nothing has changed. My husband yelled at his parents when they immediately asked us about having kids after we announced our engagement. In work settings I usually respond to the kids question with “We have dogs.” If pushed, I respond that I like kids, but only in small doses and if I can give them back when they annoy me

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