Ban the baby talk

Let’s all agree never to ask, “Do you plan to have kids?”

Here comes the holiday party season, when cocktails and small talk run wildly across our tongues. When meeting new people, we lean hard on the usual questions: What do you do? Where are you from? Where is the wine?

This year, I suggest we banish one question from all introductory chitchat. Let’s agree to never ask, “Do you plan to have kids?”

As a 39-year-old childless woman, I’ve fielded this query for nearly two decades from dozens of people I’ve met only once. I’ve been polite, but it’s time to acknowledge that fertility decisions aren’t party conversation.

Here I am, gray hair in my bangs, obviously aging out of the childbearing game, and I tell you I don’t have children. You ask if I want kids. You ask if my partner and I have talked about it. You might point out that I don’t have much time or, conversely, mention some woman you read about who had a child at 60.

What can I say?

Leaving aside the implication that women without children are making an invalid lifestyle choice, let’s consider things from a Miss Manners perspective. We engage in small talk to help each other feel comfortable and included, but when you ask a new acquaintance when she intends to have children, you might be treading into sensitive territory.

Maybe she can’t physically have children, even though she wants them. Perhaps she and her partner do not agree on whether to have kids, and the conflict is testing their relationship. Her past might include an abortion that left emotional trauma, a recent miscarriage or a child who has died. Maybe the necessary financial resources and emotional support never lined up, and now she fears she’s lost her chance at parenthood.

Or maybe, just maybe, she’s totally fine with not having children, but sick of being hectored about it.

How can any of this be shared honestly with near strangers over appetizers and Chardonnay? A woman without children might be delighted by that choice, or it might be a situation fraught with pain and loss. Whatever her reason, it’s definitely not because someone at a party forgot to remind her to breed.

So let’s change the subject, kind party-goers. You are off the hook.