The very busy forum Mumsnet currently features a thread about how not to make a dork of yourself when talking to women who don’t have children (by choice or circumstance).
Think before you platitude
“What things have childless women on here had said to or in front of them … that really hurt or upset them?” a Mumsnet user posted.
The responses to this important question are flying in thick and fast and it’s brilliant, because not only does this conversation raise awareness of how different humans make different choices, it also highlights the fact that many don’t have the opportunity to make a choice.
More ways to keep feet out of mouths:
- 9 things NOT to say to someone who’s struggling to get pregnant
- What NOT to say to a sleep deprived mum – and four things you should!
- 8 things expecting dads should NEVER do or say (we mean it!)
Here’s a curated list of some of the things you should never say to a childless – or childfree – people. Women, men or otherwise!
1. Your life isn’t complete
“I’m childfree by choice,” one woman said. “I get annoyed at ‘your life isn’t complete until you have children’; ‘you haven’t known real love until you hold your baby in your arms’ and that sort of rubbish.”
And honestly, that seems fair enough because diminishing people due to their parenting status is never okay.
2. You don’t know what tired is
Lots of women found the assertion that parents are more tired than other people infuriating.
“As someone with chronic fatigue, one of the worst things is: ‘You wait until you have children, then you’ll know what tired is,'” one woman explained. “Funnily enough, I don’t ever remember my mum being so tired she couldn’t lift a cup to her mouth, and she had 3 of us!!”
3. You don’t know what love is
“As someone who is struggling with recurrent miscarriages at the moment the ‘you don’t know what love is until…’ comments really sting,” another woman posted, reminding readers that this sort of chatter is acutely painful for many.
4. Isn’t that a bit selfish?
The perception that those who don’t have children are self-centred or unfocused upset many childless and child-free people on Mumsnet.
“Why the f*ck does childlessness by choice imply lack of understanding of responsibility or selflessness?” a respondent pointed out. “Even if it does, it’s a bloody rude thing to say to someone.”
5. Did you have a difficult upbringing?
One woman, who went on to become a parent later in life, said “did you have a difficult upbringing?” was a question that really irked her … but that there were countless others too.
“I had my children after the age of 40, so I had years of crap comments,” she explained.
6. You are so lucky
Sometimes things slip out and people don’t consider the broader implications – “You are so lucky you don’t have kids!” – for instance.
“I’ve had this said to me more times than I can remember, once just after a failed IVF attempt which was particularly bad,” one woman recounted.
7. It suits you!
For some, an intended compliment fell very, very flat.
When people say, “‘It suits you!’ when holding a baby. What does that even mean??” one woman wondered. “I should carry a baby as an accessory every day?!”
8. Nobody depends on you
Perspectives between (insensitive) parents and those without children often varied wildly.
“I once had a work colleague say – before I had children – that my life wasn’t as important as a parent’s life as parents had someone who depended on them …” one woman remembered.
9. Life must be easy for you
There were other possibly unintentional jabs in the disguise of compliments too …
“I was told by a relative once that the reason I looked young for my age was because ‘you’ve never had the worry of children,'” one woman commented. “I felt like saying ‘you’ve never had the heartache of not being able to have children.'”
10. Your work is your life, isn’t it?
Upsetting attitudes very often made their way into the workplace too.
“When going through an especially stressful time at work I was once told I was so affected by the stress because I didn’t have anything else, such as children, to take my mind off it in the evening,” one forum user wrote.
11. Welcome to the world!
Sometimes a line was so clearly drawn between people who were parents and people who were not that it deemed those without kids as not even really LIVING.
“I had someone congratulate a new father in front of me (we were all chatting in a group) by saying ‘Welcome to the world!’ To the parent, not the child.”
One commenter summed this whole practice of diminishing and excluding people who don’t have kids pretty perfectly.
“It doesn’t matter if a woman/man is childless by explicit choice – as in they really don’t want children – or for medical reasons it’s just f*cking rude,” they posted.
“Its nobody’s business why someone doesn’t have children and to imply that they are lesser an adult or without responsibility by not having children is wrong small minded and rude.”
The first step to doing better is KNOWING better, and with the help of these commenters, we now do!