The term “childless stepmom” sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? In this case, it refers to one’s lack of biological children. (I promise, it’s not some deep, dark reference to disowning one’s step-children.)
For childless stepmoms, small talk can take a very uncomfortable turn. Getting chatty with strangers often results in the one particular question that so many of us dread: “Do you have children?”
What follows is a refined elevator speech about how many children one’s husband has, to which said stranger replies, ”Oh, that’s nice! Do you have any of your own?” It’s a common follow-up question, not at all mean-spirited, but can still take the wind out of our sails just the same.
Now, each childless stepmom will answer this differently, based on life experience, which will either lead to a subject change or send the conversation down a rabbit hole these poor strangers never saw coming. For me, it’s usually a TMI-laden rambling explanation about how grateful I am for my step-children because they are my only chance to be a mom. My ex-husband did not want children, and after an argument over whether or not we should have pancakes or oatmeal one sunny Saturday morning, I realized that we would never want the same things in life.
I now enjoy eating whatever breakfast food makes me the happiest, my second husband can no longer have children (by choice), and my intact lady parts are both a blessing and a curse of being a woman who is childless (biologically), by circumstance.
Sometimes there is a tamer version of my elevator speech, depending on alcohol intake and whether or not this exchange happens at a professional event. However, the facial expression of my company is almost always the same regardless of the person: equal parts pity and wishing they had never asked.
To my ex-husband’s credit, he always knew that he didn’t want children, and he was also very honest with me about it. He had his own elevator speech down pat; shame on me for thinking it would ever change. I do find that the more time passes, the easier it is to answer this question without the underlying sadness I once had.
And there is a silver lining to all of this: my own experience with this question has made me far more thoughtful in my own small talk routine, because you never truly know what someone else’s story is, children or otherwise.
So how’s about this weather we’re having?