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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 1:47 pm 
Hi. I'm a married mother of 3 young kids. In my office, I work with 8 other people - 5 men and 3 women. All of the men are parents. Among the women, I am the only parent -- my 3 female coworkers are all married, range in age from mid-30's to early-50's, and are childfree. We have all worked together for 6-10 years. Although we do not socialize outside of work, we have very friendly cordial workplace relationships and talk about personal topics, not just work topics. I feel I know a lot about their lives -- when their animals are sick, when and where they vacation, about their parents (living or not) and siblings, when they are hosting houseguests or having a party or going out for dinner, food preferences, when they go on diets or start new exercise regimes, etc., etc. We have known each other through personal events in our lives, such as death of parents, illness, celebrated each other's birthdays, and in my case, my pregnancies and the births of my children.

Yet, in all this time, we have never discussed the childless status of my female coworkers. The 3 of them choose their words very carefully when talking about their families. They never say "we can't have children" or "we don't want children." They simply say they "don't" have them, period, matter-of-fact, and no hint of anything more. I have taken this cue for what it is -- the clear line that I am not to cross. It tells me, politely and clearly that this is all the information I am entitled to know about the situation. To inquire further would definitely be crossing this line, and I respect and like them too much to do so.

But, it seems strange to me that despite the openness in the rest of our relationships, this part of their lives is so strictly off-limits. After so long, it is starting to feel like the elephant in the room that we all walk around and pretend isn't there. I know it is absolutely none of my business, but I am human and curious. The clarity of the social "line" that has been drawn only intensifies my curiosity. Also, since the 3 of them are childfree and I am the only mother, I wonder if this line applies only to me. When the 3 of them are alone, away from the rest of us parents, do they let down their guard? Do they speak more freely about their CF lives?

I am aware and ashamed of the offensive biases upon which my curiosity is based. I know I am more curious about my female coworkers than I would be about men because of the cultural bias that presumes women to be naturally nurturing and maternal toward kids. I know that my desire to bring up this question is rooted in a completely false and insulting premise that somehow being a parent is a "normal" state that requires no explanation and that being childfree is an "abnormal" state that must be explained. But, being so enlightened doesn't satisfy the curiosity.

So, in the protective anonymity of this post, I want to ask this group.... is it ever okay to inquire about a person's childfree status? If so, what are the situations or circumstances that make it okay, and how should the inquiry be phrased so as to not be off-putting? If no, why not? I would not be offended if someone asked me why I chose to becomre a parent, so why is the reverse so wholly unacceptable?

Sincere thanks for any thoughtful and honest replies.


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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 1:54 pm 
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Hi Lynne_H! You seem like a very nice person :)

The reason your female co-workers are so guarded about the subject is probably one of two things:
1) They're childLESS and the subject is too painful to talk about with a parent.
2) They're childFREE and assume since you're a parent that you will "bingo" them. (Say things like "Oh, but it's different when it's your own," or "You were a child too, you know!")

A safe question might be, "Have you ever thought about having children?" - this implies no positive or negative to having or not having kids.

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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 2:03 pm 
I respectfully disagree with Lynn. If your co-workers wanted to talk about having children they would. I would leave it at that. If they haven't brought it up, why would you press the issue?

Obviously you are trying to be sensitive. But while you say it's none of your business you confess to still being interested and want to know how to ask. I imagine this vibe comes across to your co-workers. It may make them uncomfortable and want to withold information even more.

Just shelve your curiosity. If they wanted to tell you/discuss it, they would.

If I worked with you and you asked me about this, I would be offended and consider it to be prying into my personal life. But in my case, being child-free is no one else's business. Many child-free people are like me while other people may have different opinions, especially those who want to spread the word about over-population and different life choices for men and women.

I'd say the best approach is not to ask.


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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 2:29 pm 
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Hi Lynne,

You said that you wonder why your co-workers don't talk openly about their childfree lives. But you also wrote:

Quote:
I feel I know a lot about their lives -- when their animals are sick, when and where they vacation, about their parents (living or not) and siblings, when they are hosting houseguests or having a party or going out for dinner, food preferences, when they go on diets or start new exercise regimes, etc., etc.

They are talking openly about their childfree (or childless) lives! As a parent, it's probably hard for you to imagine life without children, and so you wonder why they don't address what you perceive as a huge void. But it sounds to me that their lives aren't defined by a lack of children, and they have lots of other interesting topics to discuss. :D


Last edited by Minergal on Thu May 03, 2012 1:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:08 pm 
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It's a difficult thing. You are curious, but at the same time they have answered in such a way that suggests they don't want to discuss it further. I would say in this situation, the normal social rules apply. If it were another topic that they were unwilling to talk about (for instance their siblings or parents) I imagine you'd still be curious, but would you try to find out more? The answer depends on you, and on how strong the message was from them, but the answer to that question is probably the answer to your question.

As to whether it is ever okay to ask, sure, there are times when it is fine. Some people are quite open about it and don't mind discussing it (as long as the person isn't trying to change the mind of the person being asked!).

I would say that if you want to encourage them to share details with you that they maybe share with each other, you need to be sure that they know that you're not going to look down on them or try to change their minds if they confide in you. Obviously you shouldn't be false about it, but there may be opportunities for you to get this point across, for instance, if you are all talking about someone else who doesn't have children, etc.

Be prepared for the fact that you might not like their views. They might pity you for having children, or think that by having so many you're contributing to overpopulation. You might be happier not knowing about their views on children and maintaining the relationship you have... (Not all CF people share these views, it's just a risk.)

Oh, and I'm not saying that you do this (probably you don't, since you're on good terms with them), but don't expect to leave early and have them cover your shift, at least not often, and if they do be grateful and do the same for them. It's a big complaint in the workplace about how parents with children seem to expect those without children to take up the slack for them. It's a very quick way to get people to harbor resentment towards you, even if their outward behavior remains unchanged.


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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:14 pm 
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There are times when it is okay to discuss it but since your childfree/less co-workers did not offer more, they are politely telling you that they probably are not interested in giving further details. Like someone else said, they are talking about their CF status when they talk about what's going on in their lives. If you're wanting to ask them details beyond that, they may not appreciate it.


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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:18 pm 
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I'm never offended when people ask me. I would only be offended if someone came back with a bingo to my response -- which has only happened to me once.

I'd say a lot depends on the relationship you have with them and if the right opening ever presented itself.

However, I used to be more in the closet with my CF status and when someone would ask, would say something along the lines of "my husband had surgery as a child which probably rendered him infertile" -- which is true in our case, though we weren't taking any chances and I was still on BC.

Now, I'm open about it, though not preachy at all. If someone asks if I have kids, I usually just respond that we don't -- I don't go into details about the fact that it was a choice not to or that we never will have any. Only if someone asks more questions do I open up because otherwise I feel they won't be interested and I don't want to come off as judgmental. I only have one coworker now (he has 3 kids) and he even knows about my husband's vas last month!

So my answer probably isn't very helpful, especially as it is essentially contradictory to Guest's response above.


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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 3:35 pm 
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A couple, who are good friends with my parents, are either CF or CL, we don't know which. The reason we don't know? Mum and Dad never asked. And this couple once told my parents how grateful they were that their non-childed status had never been questioned, never judged, never even brought up in conversation by them.

I know I don't particularly mind being asked as long as it doesn't turn into the third degree, but perhaps your colleagues feel like my parents' friends. I guess if someone really wants you to know their reasons for not having children, they will offer them, since your relationship seems to be an open and positive one. And if they don't offer, I wouldn't ask.

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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 4:30 pm 
orchid wrote:
A safe question might be, "Have you ever thought about having children?" - this implies no positive or negative to having or not having kids.

Sorry Orchid, this isn't safe at all. You never know who's been trying for decades and can't have them so I would avoid saying something that might cause a lot of pain.

Lynn, why do you want to know? As you say yourself, they have made it clear that the subject is not up for discussion, so I would say just don't bring it up. Usually if you know people that well, it will emerge if they wish to talk about it.


Last edited by Minergal on Thu May 03, 2012 1:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 4:59 pm 
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I would err on the side of caution and not ask. They might not take offense, and it may be that the only reason they haven't talked about it is that they are afraid of offending you, but there is a slight risk that it is a touchy subject for one or both of them -- such as if they have fertility issues.

As someone who's divorced, I kinda see it as similar to asking someone if I'm married. If someone asks me, l will usually just say "no," b/c I get tired of dealing with the "What happened?" question if I say that I'm divorced. If someone who didn't know I'm divorced ever asked me "Have you ever thought about getting married?" I would probably be annoyed.


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