My kids are constantly pestering me about adding another child to our family. It ain’t happening, but that doesn’t stop them from asking the question, offering their two cents, and generally annoying the hell out of me. But as annoying as my kids’ questions and comments about family size are, they aren’t nearly as annoying as fielding these questions and comments from other people.
What is it about parenting that seems to give others carte blanche to inquire about and comment on issues that do not affect them at all? Why does parenting (and the decision to become a parent in the first place) invite such strong opinions from other people? And how in the world can we make the incessant questions, comments, and judgments about family size stop?
Innocent questions like “is he your only child?” or “are these all your kids?” are normal and understandable, but follow-on questions like “have you thought about adoption?” and “do you not believe in birth control?” are intrusive, insensitive, and just a teensy (or a lot) bit asshole-ish.
Whether a family is bursting at the seams or petite and tiny, it is none of our freaking business. Not only is someone else’s family size none of your business, but sometimes there is a world of heartache and complexity in those decisions.
For instance, when I was struggling to conceive my second son, every time someone asked whether we planned on having any more children, my throat tightened and my heart clenched. What I wanted to say was, “You have no fucking idea how much I want another baby! I’m terrified I can’t have any more kids, and I’m sick of waiting and wondering, and when will the questions end?!” Instead, I said, “Yes, I hope so.”
One of my best friends has one child. When she and her husband were discussing whether to have another child, she was diagnosed with cancer. Several rounds of chemotherapy and a decade-long prescription for tamoxifen slammed the door shut on any more children. It was a difficult decision (it still is), and the questions and comments she gets are like salt in an open wound.
I wish I could say these are isolated incidents, but opinions and advice on how many kids to have — or whether to have kids in the first place — seems to come from all angles and in all forms. Strangers on the street ask personal questions and offer procreation advice (which is just all kinds of weird). People on the Internet try to persuade people to have children or criticize others’ family size decisions. People talk about “ideal” family size as if there were such a thing. Open conversation among close friends is one thing, but we seem to have crossed a line between helpful advice and derogatory judgment.
So here’s a novel idea: Why don’t we just stop commenting on family size?
Why don’t we stop trying to convince childless couples that they need to procreate? Why don’t we stop telling parents of only children that they’re depriving their kids of something because they don’t have a sibling? Why don’t we stop telling people to “just adopt” or try essential oils to aid with fertility? Why don’t we stop assuming parents of large families need a lesson in birth control? Why don’t we just stop interjecting our own opinions onto other people, period?
Families come in all shapes and sizes for a variety of reasons. We can’t know the depths of complexities that contribute to a family’s size, whether it’s a family of two, three or 10. Who are we to judge a decision as personal and emotionally fraught as procreation and family-building? Maybe we do it because we’re nosy AF and need to get up in everybody else’s business. Maybe we do it because we are prone to cases of foot-in-mouth syndrome. Or maybe we feel the need to comment and opine because we aren’t completely comfortable and confident in our own decisions, and are looking for validation through the choices of others.
And maybe — just maybe — if we stopped questioning the decisions of others we would be able to focus on getting comfortable with our own.