How To Talk About Others’ Reproduction

by Jessica Martin-Weber
How to talk about someone's family size

There have been a number of articles and blog posts written about what to or not to say to families with only one child or a number of children and maybe even a few to people without children (not many on this one). Yet it seems like there’s always another one. Apparently the message isn’t getting through. I’ll probably write my own on what not to/what to say to a family with many children since that is my reality, but at the moment what’s really striking me is that at the core it’s all really the same.

Which is why I decided to write a guide on what not to/what to say to anyone regarding their reproduction! Just to make it easy, this would apply to just about everyone including:

  • The individual of any age without children and not currently in a partnership.
  • The individual of any age with children and not currently in a partnership.
  • The individual(s) of any age without children and currently partnered.
  • The individual(s) of any age with children and currently partnered.
  • The individual(s) of any age with one child of any age and not currently partnered.
  • The individual(s) of any age with many children and not currently partnered.
  • The individual(s) of any age with one child of any age and currently partnered.
  • The individual(s) of any age with many children and currently partnered.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s all recognize that when it comes to someone’s reproduction choices, there are a lot of factors that you just can’t know and frankly, are none of your business. In fact, the only reproduction choices that ARE your business are… your own.

With that in mind, regardless of the situation, here are a few points that apply when speaking about someone else’s reproduction.

Don’t insult their intelligence. A good number of comments about other’s reproduction seems to assume they aren’t informed or they lack intelligence. Either that or the commenter is just insensitive and feels they have to say something when in fact, they don’t. Yes, they probably know that their “clock is ticking”, they took biology too. No doubt they do in fact know how “that” happens. Yes, they likely are aware that having only one child means that child will grow up without siblings. Stating the obvious isn’t helpful, you’re not informing them of anything they don’t know, you’re just invading their privacy and insulting their intelligence acting like their reproduction is up for input from you.

Don’t make assumptions about the family’s happiness. They may be crushed they can’t have more children or they may be happy they decided not to. It is possible that the number of children they have is overwhelming and depresses them but it is also possible that they are thriving. The sex of their children may have been a disappointment to them or they may absolutely be delighted. Or maybe they don’t care. Maybe love is all the need and you’re assuming their level of happiness based on how you think you would feel if you were in their situation. Which leads me to my next point…

Check your pity. It says WAY more about you when you pity someone that hasn’t asked for sympathy or expressed that they are in any way distressed. Pity that dad with “all those girls”? Maybe that’s because you would have something against having all those girls or maybe you believe some sexist stereotypes about boys/girls/men/women but you’re not him so stop projecting. Feeling sad for the child growing up as an only child? Just because you would feel lonely in that situation doesn’t mean that child does or that their parents haven’t made sure their child has deep and meaningful connections. Grieving for the woman that is childless and single? That may not have been the reality you would have chosen but she could be perfectly content with it.

No doomsaying. Predictions of financial ruin for that large family and dreading all those weddings or college tuitions; a “concern” for the parents of an only child should that one child tragically die; warning the single person with no children that they’ll have no one to take care of them in their old age, etc., really just aren’t kind or respectful or anything positive. It’s a form of concern trolling and it’s really hurtful. Don’t do this.

It’s not about you. Curious about someone’s reproduction choices? What if I told you, it’s not about you or your curiosity. Want to know which uterus is going to carry that lesbian couple’s baby? Well, too bad. It’s not about you! Dying to know how someone’s going to afford yet another baby? Tough, it’s not about you. Feeling shock at someone’s reproduction? Fine, but it’s not about you so you don’t have to express it. Don’t understand why that family only has one child? Wait for it… it’s not about you! Your curiosity does not superseded respecting one’s personal right to privacy in their reproductive choices. Worse, you asking those questions to satisfy your curiosity dismisses the fact that these invasive questions may be very painful for the person you’re asking.

Don’t do it. That’s right. It all comes down to this: just don’t comment on someone’s reproduction. Unless they invite you into a conversation about their reproduction your input is not required or likely even wanted. So often we say something because we feel we have to but it’s ok not to remark on everything you encounter. I’ll be ok not hearing “WOW, 6 girls” when I share about myself and my family and we’ll find something else to discuss easily.

I hate lists that are all “what not to say/do” and here I’ve totally gone and written one. Since I don’t want to leave on a negative, I’ll throw in one thing you can say about someone’s reproduction (these don’t work so well for someone without any children- so just stick with not commenting):

You have a beautiful family. This one is safe and always true and really nice to hear.

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