Things I dislike being asked:

1-Are you pregnant?

You can’t win with this one. Either I am, and for very good reasons I’m choosing not to make it public yet, or I’m not, and I just look especially chunky that day. Either way it’s awkward.

2-So, are you done having kids? Or (this actually happened last summer. I swear I am not making it up.): Are these all your kids? Really? That’s all you’ve got? You don’t have more at home? (I had all my three children with me at the time.)

This is another area where I feel like I don’t want to explain myself. My standard answer to “are you done having kids,” is “we’ll see” or “taking it one child at a time.” Within the last year I have been asked whether I’m done having children by a person I’d met five minutes before at a party, a relative I hadn’t seen in a decade or so, and an acquaintance (not close friend) I hadn’t seen in about fifteen years. Among others.

Every time I’m asked about my reproductive plans by acquaintances (again, not close friends) I’m always a bit shocked, like, really? Really? I hardly know you and you want to know about whether I’m having more kids? Did you also want to know about how I broke my ankle the year I was planning to get pregnant, and then did you want to hear all about my miscarriage the next year, and did you then want to hear all about my ambivalence and many issues towards pregnancy and motherhood too? Because if you really want the full answer, that’s what you’d get, but I try to extend a little courtesy to those who ask by not dumping my life upon them.

After I calm down a bit, though, I start thinking about how uniting, how liberating it is to talk about this kind of thing: at a girls’ night out we had a great discussion on having the next child. But I don’t think anyone asked me what my plans were; I think someone volunteered first, and the rest of us shared, and it was a great conversation. Or I think of having lunch with some of my aunts a few months ago. After chitchatting for a little, my aunt leaned forward and said, “Enough of this. Let’s talk real. How are you really doing?” And we did. It’s healing to talk about real things with people who really care, to know that the personal questions I’m being asked are by people who want to understand my heart, without judgment.

Personal questions are the boundary between the superficial and the real. But it takes a while for me to open up, and it’s hard for me to be real with someone I just barely met. Maybe it’s not the question itself, but the abrupt displacement of what is for me a deeply personal issue to the light and airy framework of just-getting-to-know-you, or haven’t-seen-you-for-ten-years-catching-up. I welcome the talking real, but I prefer to do it more on my own terms. (Um, like blogging for the entire world. Yeah, there’s some irony here.)

What do you hate being asked? What do you wish people weren’t scared of asking? How do you navigate the terrain between getting real and being nosy, and make the transition from superficial chatter to authentic conversation?

February 22, 2011

76 Comments

  1. Janet

    February 21, 2011

    I hate being asked: “What’s for dinner?”

    I usually answer: “We had dinner yesterday.”

  2. dalene

    February 21, 2011

    I love Janet’s comment!

    As to what bugs? I can’t really think of any specific questions, but I don’t love it when people ask things but don’t really care or bother to listen to your response.

    I do, however, love it when I ask someone how they are and they really tell me how they really are (within reason, of course). Because I really want to know.

    So Emily, how are you?

  3. Stephanie Black

    February 21, 2011

    Emily, I can SO relate–what IS it about anything childbearing- related that short-circuits people’s common sense and gets them to ask things that are, at heart, extremely intrusive questions–all in casual conversation and even if they’re a stranger to you? I have five children and don’t live in Utah, so we’re an oddity. “Are you going to have more?” Um . . . we’ll keep you posted on our family planning (come to think of it, it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten that question–must be because my kids are older, so when I’m out, I don’t usually have them all with me. Either that or I’m looking too old. . . ). And the “Are you pregnant?” Grrrrrrrr. I’ve gotten that question multiple times–when I’m NOT. Thank you SO much for telling me I look fat.

    Can you tell your blog touched a nerve with me? 🙂

    I think people need to be very careful what they say to someone when the topic is related to childbearing. You never know what is in someone’s heart, or what pain they might be experiencing (like when a deliveryman advised my sister–then struggling with the pain of infertility–not to wait to have kids).

  4. Laurel C.

    February 21, 2011

    I love it when someone asks me that question in a crowded room. With all eyes on me. Waiting for the answer. Ya, that’s my favorite.

  5. mary

    February 21, 2011

    Several years ago I went visiting teaching in a new ward and my companion actually asked the sister if her pregnancy was planned or an accident. I think my eyes popped out of my head. She made a habit of asking everyone, or asking other people if they knew if soemeone else’s was planned or a surprise, and if they were happy about the pregnancy or not.
    She actually was a really nice gal, just really clueless.

    The worst was the checker asked who me when I was buying pregancy test, “So, are you hoping it’s positive or negative?”
    I lied when I answered her. I really don’t need comments on what I’m buying, especially when it’s personal items.

  6. Andi

    February 21, 2011

    It’s a tough call because people are so different about what they are sensitive about. I had a friend who was always offended if someone asked her if her twins were conceived “naturally” or through “infertility”. And another friend who doesn’t like to tell people her kids are adopted, even if the conversation is about adoption. Whereas, I’m happy to share with anyone that my daughter was conceived with infertility and my son is adopted. Of course I don’t introduce them that way, but if someone asked me I’d be happy to tell them about it. Plus, whenever I meet someone who has done infertility or adoption, I usually feel much more connected to this person.

    Because I’m fairly open about this stuff, I’m sure I’ve offended someone along the line.

    So, sometimes I think people ask too personal questions to see what you are all about. Or they don’t realize you are private about certain things. And sometimes they are just being nosy! 🙂

  7. Rosalyn

    February 21, 2011

    We’re visiting my parents this weekend, and a sister in the ward (I used to visit teach her, so she does know me somewhat) asked me when we were planning on the next one . . . as you know, we miscarried last week. I had no idea how to respond to that, other than, “we’re working on it.” To which she said, “Oh, I suppose you want a break then . . .” I almost told her the truth, but then decided it would be cruel as it would just make her feel bad (and as a woman who was never able to have children, I imagine she’s had her share of impertinent questions). It would definitely be easier if people just didn’t ask!

  8. Shelley

    February 21, 2011

    I’ll go with the dinner one. My oldest asks me every day and my husband about the same. It shouldn’t bother me, I suppose. But it does. I usually answer, “food.”
    So I am happy to see that I am not the only one who is irritated by this. 🙂

  9. Alison

    February 21, 2011

    I’ve put kids in timeout for asking me what’s for dinner! I hate that question because I hate their reaction to my answer.

    I have three boys, so I get asked a lot if we are going to ever try for a girl. Mainly by store clerks. You know, people I will probably never, ever see again. If my husband is with me I’m always tempted to say something along the lines of, “that’s a good idea, why don’t you excuse us and we’ll go do just that!”

  10. m2theh

    February 21, 2011

    How many kids do you have? None? Well, when are you going to have one?

    After 10 years of not being able to get pregnant for no discernible reason, I’d usually answer “never. I hate kids.” or “We decided to get a boat instead.”

    After miraculously getting pregnant and having one little girl, I now answer “when are you planning to have another one” with “I’m happy with the one I’ve got,” or “I don’t want to get a minivan” or “with one kid there is no fighting in the backseat.”

    I mean really, this is none of their business. So I don’t feel too bad if I say something a little rude in reply. I never ask people if they are pregnant or when they are planning to get pregnant.

  11. JustBatty

    February 21, 2011

    I agree with the pregnancy questions!

    We have 1 miracle child after being told we couldn’t biologically have a child… and adoption has been more than excruciatingly hard.

    So, I have vowed never to ask anyone about their child bearing life. It’s just too awkward and you never know what’s going on with them. If they choose to bring up the subject, that’s a different matter.

    But, I really hate when women talk about hating pregnancy and having children… I just think how much they might miss it if they couldn’t.

  12. annie

    February 21, 2011

    I get that question ALL. THE. TIME. “So are you going to have any more?” Almost always asked by complete strangers. It drives me batty. We have 6 kids, so my next favorite question is “Are these kids ALL yours?”

    When did it become acceptable in society to ask such personal things? Chatting among friends is one thing, but when complete strangers inquire about my personal reproductive decisions it’s just so rude.

  13. Tay

    February 21, 2011

    I hate the dinner question. My response is “I don’t know. What are you making?” And the “are we there yet” question. To that I always answer yes and point to the nearest sign and say “see? We’re right THERE.”

    I never ask if somebody’s expecting or their plans for having more offspring. It’s their business. If we just talking about things and the subject comes up, wonderful. But we don’t know each others’ trials and it’s ridiculous to assume personal questions are always ok to ask.

    And if you ask me how I’m doing, I’m gonna tell you. I’ve decided to wear my feelings on my sleeve more and that people should get what they ask for as a consequence or reward.

  14. Kate H

    February 21, 2011

    I didn’t think the “So when are you going to start having kids?” questions would bother me until I was six months married and the intrusive questions started coming, mostly from family members who meant well but who just made me want to walk out of the room as soon as the teasing/questions started. And I hate that anytime I get sick, someone, without fail, asks, “Wait, you’re not pregnant, are you?”

    On a completely different note, the other most annoying question I got asked when I was working on my Master’s degree was “So what’s your thesis about?” I had to work not to hate my well-meaning friends who were trying to be interested and involved, but I had a really hard time with that one.

  15. Lara

    February 21, 2011

    When asked if I’m pregnant (and I’m not), I finally just started saying “Nope, just fat!” That’ll teach the uncouth to question me 🙂 You can imagine it’s quite the conversation stopper 🙂 I also like to respond to the when/if more kids question with a very flat “I don’t know”–I try not to be rude back, but seriously? If I wanted to talk to you about it I would! And it’s hard to come up with a truly civil answer to a frankly un-civil request for information.

  16. Mendy

    February 21, 2011

    “Are you really Mormon?” Get that one all the time, and it can be a bit annoying. Yes, yes I am, it’s not a joke. Especially because the follow up is something like, “You are not what I expected.” Which is really to say, “I expected you to be horrible and you’re actually not that bad.”

    And the reproductive questions should be saved for your good friends. I know that in general people are just trying to make conversation, but in my mind there are stages of disclosure, and talking about my womb doesn’t come until much later.

  17. Laurieann

    February 21, 2011

    I think we should cut each other some slack. I ask questions to strangers because I want to get to know them better, because I don’t want to remain strangers. I am sure I hit nerves sometimes with insensitive questions but I can’t see inside someone’s heart, that is what the question is for.

    I get it. Trust me. I have one adopted son. He’s 8. And I look pregnant. You don’t think I get those questions all the time? I do. But I’m pretty sure I also ask an equal proportion of obtuse questions when I’m not as sympathetic to the situation.

    People ask for one of two reasons, either they really want to know or they are dealing with something and asking the question has more to do with the pain hidden in their quiet heart than your answer.

  18. christine r.

    February 21, 2011

    i do not mind being asked any question, that i can think of. perhaps i am too eager to “wear my heart on my sleeve”, so to speak. my husband accuses me continually of TMI (too much information). but i think good, honest, connecting communication is a lost art.

    i do not think i have always been this way but i am old enough and have been through enough in my life that i easily open up. i do not expect others to be this way. i try to be tactful and discerning in conversation but if i sense the willingness to go deeper than surface talk, i am there.

    mostly i am this open because it strengthens me to learn from others and i want to share my experiences if i can help someone with the things i have gone through in life thus far. i suppose i am also to a point in my life where i care little for what others think of me (unless i have offended them or God).

  19. Ana of the Nine Kids

    February 21, 2011

    Maybe b/c fertility (or rather INfertility) has never been a problem for me, I’ve not usually minded being asked about how many kids I want. Most of the people who’ve asked just seem curious. However, about a year ago (just after I’d had my ninth child) a gal in a neighboring ward (whom I hardly knew) asked me this question in a somewhat pushy way, like I should be having another one REALLY soon. It REALLY annoyed me b/c it was none of her pushy business! My main memory of that incident (besides her being really annoying) was that I felt near ZERO respect for her and wanted to be rude to counter her intrusive question. I think I just shrugged and said, “I don’t know.” She didn’t pursue it so I didn’t end up being overtly rude after all.

    I also HATE the “What’s for dinner?” question.

  20. Carrie

    February 21, 2011

    I hate it when people ask me to watch their kids… even friends. I just don’t like babysitting other people’s kids. I’ve posted twice on facebook for people not to call saying I want a day to myself and my kids and both times, friends called… what am I suppose to do?

    Having dealt with infertility and still struggling to know when we should be ‘done’, I probably ask people personal questions too soon in our friendship. I like to think that I only ask good friends and only when the conversation is headed that direction, but I’ve probably offended people. I like to ask because if they are struggling with infertility, I’ve got loads of advice and knowledge that has proven to work (I have 3 kids!) and if they are done, I usually want to know how they knew they were done, because I just can’t figure out if I want to be done because I selfishly want to go into the next phase or if I’m really done.

    I agree with Laurieann. We should just cut each other some slack. We let other people’s words offend us without taking into account someone’s intention. Their intention isn’t to upset us and if we take the intention into account, I think we’d all relax a bit more. When we get hyper sensitive about this kind of stuff we create environments that are surface level and relationships that aren’t emotionally rewarding but stalled and stilted.

  21. Carrie

    February 21, 2011

    I take back what I said about cutting everyone slack IF someone is rude when they ask you like Ana of Nine Kids was asked about her family size. If there intention in asking is to share with you their (negative) opinion of your family size, then I think you can say whatever you want back!

  22. Sara

    February 21, 2011

    Motherhood always seems to be an important subject to everybody else when you get married. Unfortunately my first born was born prematurely and only lived for 6 hours. At his funeral I had some rather insensitive sisters ask when we were planning on trying again. Now we have 7 beautiful children (ranging from 20years to 6 months) and the comments still keep coming. When we announced our last pregnancy the comments came thick and fast, ranging from “Don’t you know what causes it?”, through to “how could you even think of having such another one?”. All these comments came from people with one or two children; most were fellow church members. I am left wondering where freedom of choice is?

  23. Ben S

    February 21, 2011

    I was helping a family move in. Two kids, starting graduate school, obviously pregnant with a third, and in shock from having left Provo and arriving in Brooklyn.

    “How long you been married?”He asked.
    “Eleven years.”
    “so, you have any kids?”
    “… No, we have fertility issues and graduate degrees instead.” I answered. 🙂

  24. Melissa M.

    February 21, 2011

    My son asks me daily (around 5:30 p.m.) “What’s for dinner?” I say, “That’s a good question,” or “When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”

    Hate that question.

  25. Krista

    February 21, 2011

    “What’s for dinner Mama?”
    “When are you due?” (Isn’t a problem when I’m actually pregnant)
    “Are all those kids yours?” or, even ruder
    “Do you understand how birth control works?” -or-
    “What did you want, you’re own Kindergarten class?” (Yes, this was a question I’ve been asked. We were living in Europe at the time where 1.5 children per family is the norm)
    “I haven’t seen you at _____ for awhile. Where have you been?” (Isn’t a problem when a real friend asks me this, but if it is someone I barely know I do prickle a bit).
    “Did you lose (or gain) weight?”

  26. Krista

    February 21, 2011

    Oh..and I forgot this gem:

    “Are we theeeere yet?”

  27. Sharon

    February 21, 2011

    So many people lack “filters” – there’s a myriad of things to discover about people without crossing the line of personal information. The key is they feel they know you well enough and have enough affection for you that they want you to know, i.e. pregnancy; marriage; family issues. Its their call what they share – not yours if you are on in a casual non-intimate relationship with them.

    Living in Idaho, I used to be judged for only having 3 children. when people asked me, my response was “I kept 3”. It always left them without a response.

    As for “what’s for dinner?” My response: ” I give up – what is it?”

  28. Amy

    February 21, 2011

    I feel so defensive? protective? about our fertility history and the way our family came to be that I do my best to head off any questions before they can be asked because my daughter is of a different ethnicity and we get comments about the difference from everyone from checkout clerks to strangers walking past us, so I try to be upfront about her adoption to head off any intrusive comments before they can occur. I also have lupus and wish that people when they asked about it would try to under it and how it affected our day-to-day life, instead of wanting some medical definition. I feel like people define me by what they see and assign to the disease doing instead of trying to understand its real effect. (Maybe this an effect of not asking the right questions…_

  29. Kristina

    February 21, 2011

    Maybe since I am a person who is pretty ambivalent about having kids, it doesn’t strike me as a loaded question if I ask if people want more. I guess to me it’s just something to ask in the same vein as “do you like your neighborhood?” Yes, no, maybe…ok, let’s move on. Is it really an issue you all feel that’s a private topic or do you feel judged by whatever answer you give? It’s obvious from the comments on this post that everyone has their peeves and there is a wide spectrum of them and they stem from a wide range of hard experiences or personality types. If I had to take into consideration the potential sensitivity of every stranger that I’ve been forced to share a hallway with, it would be paralyzing. In general, I think everyone needs to calm down and stop being annoyed at people that maybe just don’t know what else to say to you.

  30. heathermommy

    February 21, 2011

    I don’t know if any question really bothers me, except the what’s for dinner question. I am just not sure how to answer sometimes. I mean if they ask about having children do they really want the whole story? I like being open with people but I wonder sometimes if that is really what people want.

    I do like to share a little of our experience with people if only to help people to realize that we have no idea what others fertility issues have been. I know there are some people of my aquaintance who think we purposely spaced our 2nd and 3rd child 5 years apart. But in reality we had 6 miscarriages. I think it is good to share this with certain people because they just don’t seem to get that not everyone has control over when and how many children they have.

  31. Stephanie2

    February 21, 2011

    I broke my ankle one year I was planning to get pregnant, too. (And was so grateful I was not pregnant for the 6 weeks I was in a cast)

  32. cristie

    February 21, 2011

    other than what’s for dinner?…i just love to hear what’s on someone’s mind. i love to get a glimpse of what and how they think. i like any question and if i feel it’s a little too snoopy i enjoy being vague. xox

  33. sar

    February 21, 2011

    Questions I hate: on the topic of my major “What are you going to do with THAT?”

    On my husband’s unemployment: “So what does he do all day?” I got this one only from housewives, who I thought would have known better than to ask that sort of thing. Thank goodness dh has a job again.

  34. MJ

    February 21, 2011

    I have the gift of being a really open person. It takes an awful lot to really offend me. My best friend’s sister has actually asked me when I’m due 2 Sundays in a row, and I’m not pregnant, lol. I told her I’m just fat, thanks, and to stop asking me or next time I’ll ask when she’s due, too. 🙂

    I admit, though, because I’m so open, I ask pretty personal questions. I’ve not caused too much offense, I don’t think, as people answer my questions and don’t get defensive. And I’ve found that people are more willing to have a conversation with people who are willing to share, so the conversation isn’t so one-sided, and there’s not so much judgement.

    I have to agree with Kristina, that I think the “do you want to have more” question is more like “do you like your neighborhood”. I’ll talk about anything that anyone else is comfortable talking about, including childbirth. A whole room of doctors, nurses and some family members have seen 2 babies come out of my coochie, I have no shame. 🙂

  35. NightingaleTamar (Heather B)

    February 21, 2011

    OOO- after three years of miscarriages and repeat inability to get pregnant/carry to term, my fave was, in our early childless years, getting cornered by a well meaning person at a party (after five min intro… same sitch) and getting the “you really SHOULD” speech of how we were SO nice and SO sweet, and dind’t we WANT children and were we WAITING, and……. I made an excuse and fled. really, Fled, the house, the party, everything. She thought I was nuts… but asked someone and found out I had miscarried two week prior.

    And later, she became one of my best friends, actually. But those are the questions I loathe. The Worst.

  36. Jules

    February 21, 2011

    “Churchy” question I get: “Why aren’t you married?” I’d love a canned, pithy response to that one. I usually just stumble over a lame “guess I haven’t met the right guy” kind of response, which always evokes the pity head tilt and triggers a slew of cliches and a reminder that Sheri Dew and Mary Ellen Edmonds are great people, and then I head home for a round of emotional eating. See also its first cousin, “Don’t you want to be married?” The implication that I purposely chose to navigate this life by myself drives me insane.

    Question at school that never fails to ignite a diatribe? “Are we doing anything important tomorrow?” One kid actually backed away slowly from my desk while the others laughed. 🙂

  37. TTT

    February 21, 2011

    I have 2 sets of twins, we do not live in Utah and are quite the spectacle out and about. It bothers me when people comment negatively about how many children I have because my kids are listening. We waited many, many years for these children and I want them to feel like the amazing blessing they are, not a burden. My friend shared with me the best thing to say when someone asks a question that is too personal. You respond with, “Oh…why do you ask?” in an off putting way. Most of the time people get the idea and change the subject.

    I am going to weigh in here and vote for never asking anyone about pregnancy or how many children unless they are a good friend you know well.

  38. Laura

    February 21, 2011

    Questions I don’t like: Why aren’t you married yet? Do you have commitment issues? Are you dating anyone? Anyone you’re interested in? Don’t you want to have children? You know that the clock is ticking, right? You are attracted to men, aren’t you?

    (To clarify: I don’t mind if close friends ask me about my dating life. If I’ve ever shared something with them about who I’ve dated/am seeing/etc., then I feel I’ve given them permission to inquire.)

    Worse than the questions, though, is the advice: You really need to start going to the singles’ activities. Just wait for the next round of divorces. I think you’re just waiting for your husband’s first wife to die. (Really? How morbid!) Men are jerks: you should be glad you’re single. You should try online dating. Your problem is that you’re just too picky. You need to flirt to convert!

    I’m 32, never been married, no kids. But I’d much rather be known for who I am–i.e., a scientist, a pianist, a primary teacher–than who I am not. I’m sure the advice is well-intentioned, but it makes me feel that the advice-giver sees my singleness as a problem that they must help me solve, rather than just a fact of life. I don’t mind in the least, however, if people ask if I’m married or if I have kids–those are important things to know about a person!–but I’m always disappointed when the questions stop there. Of course, I believe that motherhood is a noble pursuit, etc., but I wonder, have people forgotten that there are many other things a woman can do with her time?

    I also don’t like the comments that imply that I must be so bitterly disappointed and heartbroken that I’m not married yet. Frankly, I’m not. I do hope marriage and a family are in my future, and I’m actively looking for Mr. Right. But the timing isn’t the same for everyone, and I’d rather put my energy toward something more fulfilling than moping about my marital status.

    Question about your comments on the impropriety of reproduction-related questions: do you mind when close friends ask about whether you’re planning on more kids? I don’t ask acquaintances that, but I have asked more than one close friend about that. Now I’m worried that may have been impertinent or unwelcome.

  39. Emily M.

    February 21, 2011

    Great comments–thank you. I want to answer everyone today, in batches of ten or so. I’ve been gone most of the day, so I have a lot to catch up on. Here goes:
    Janet–I so hate being asked what’s for dinner too. I wonder why that is? Is it resenting the expectation that I will be making dinner? I don’t know. I usually say “food.”

    Dalene–You are the kind of person who can ask me whatever you want, because I know you really care about the answer.

    And I am doing dandy. I’ve been AWOL from my blog post today because it was my son’s birthday party, which I stressed about, but everyone came and had a good time even though we ran a little late. And whew! It’s over.

    Stephanie–yes, yes–you never know what is in someone’s heart re: childbearing. It seems to me that in Utah, the questions about number of children tend towards the “why haven’t you had any more,” and it’s the opposite outside of Utah. Either way it feels intrusive to me when people like deliverymen feel the need to comment on it.

    Laurel-*shudder* That’s just awful.

    Mary-A checker? Oh my. See, visiting teaching is one thing–it’s a clueless question, yes, but she’s supposed to be friendly and getting to know you. But it’s the questions from random people that floor me every time.

    Andi–That’s something I have wondered about, actually: when I see kids who are clearly adopted I am full of questions I’d love to ask, but I don’t want to be intrusive so I usually don’t. I think, though, that when you are open it can have the effect of relaxing people around you, and that’s a good thing.

    Rosalyn-Oh I am so sorry. I think my sensitivity to “are you having more children” skyrocketed after I miscarried. Especially in the first couple of month after, it seemed like quite a few people asked me, and I just couldn’t stand to tell them all about it, but it was a question that hurt. A lot. I’m still thinking about you and praying for you.

    Shelley–we have the same answer to that question.

    Alison–Timeout! Good idea.

    m2theh-What does your username mean? I always wonder when I see it. And I think ten years of being asked that would make me develop some creative answers like yours too.

  40. Emily M.

    February 21, 2011

    P.S. to m2theh–if the username question is nosy, feel free to ignore me ;-).

  41. Sara K.S. Hanks

    February 21, 2011

    My feelings on this have gone up and down, and I’ve written a few rants about too-personal questions in my day. Currently, I feel comfortable with receiving ANY question, as long as it’s sincerely a question and not a veiled attempt to pass judgment or communicate disapproval. I, like the author, really enjoy those intimate, real conversations, and I’m down with starting one off with a personal question.

    The big thing I’ve been reminded of lately is that while people have the right to ask me any question they want (whether it’s “appropriate” or not), I similarly have the right to refuse to answer. “You know, I don’t feel like talking about that right now.” “I don’t think we know each other well enough to discuss that.” “I’d rather not say.” “That’s none of your business.” etc. It might seem rude, but I don’t mean for it to be, just like the asker probably didn’t mean for the question to be rude. If people want to ask questions, then they’ve gotta be prepared for answers of some kind or another.

  42. Emily M.

    February 21, 2011

    JustBatty-Yes, for me it’s easier to talk about childbearing when others bring up the subject. Much easier.

    Annie-Complete strangers? Sigh. Why do people think that’s okay?

    Tay-Love your response to “are with there yet.” I’m not always great with telling people how I really am, but despite that I appreciate it when others do.

    Kate-When I was working on my Honors thesis I felt exactly the same, mostly because I wasn’t getting it done fast enough and I had to delay graduation and it was embarrassing to me to explain it to people. And they were just kindly inquiring about my life, but because that part of my life wasn’t going like I thought it should it was hard for me to talk about.

    Lara-Yes, I’ve used the “just fat” one before. Works great.

    Mendy-Interesting question. Way to surprise the world with your brand of cool Mormonness. 🙂

    Laurieann-You are a kind person and I need to be more like that; I am sure I’ve asked my share of obtuse questions as well, that meant nothing to me but were painful to the other person. I think it’s wise to ascribe good motives to others. I also think, though, that there’s another reason people ask, besides really wanting to know or dealing with something themselves. I think sometimes they are just plain nosy, or sometimes phrasing their judgment in the form of a question–how else to explain the checker, or the deliveryman, or the random person?

    Christine- I love talking with you because you do connect so well, and you’re so real. But at the same time, you’re respectful of others’ boundaries, which I think is a perfect combination.

    Ana–Applause for turning the other cheek to the rude lady and for all the curious questions you have answered over the years.

    Carrie- You know, now that you mention it I know I’ve asked people before how they knew when they were done, for that very reason. I hope that I did it in the context of a good conversation, and that it didn’t offend anyone. That’s something I ask because I also want to understand how their experience would apply to me.

  43. Naomi

    February 21, 2011

    It seems to me that these “annoying” questions fall into two categories: 1) the question is about a topic/subject that we may be personally sensitive about or uncomfortable with or 2) the question is something we’ve answered numerous times and are tired of answering.

    And when I am honest with myself, I find that these two types of questions are the most irritating when all is not right with me.

  44. Emily M.

    February 21, 2011

    Sara, I am so sorry. I know it was a long time ago but I picture you being at the funeral and having someone ask you that and it makes me want to cry. And I guess I think that, especially at church, announcing you are pregnant should be a reason for congratulations, not judgment.

    Ben-Love your answer there.

    Melissa-And yours. “That’s a good question.” So many people dislike being asked what’s for dinner. I wonder why. I wonder if anyone likes being asked what’s for dinner.

    Krista-Great list. Do people really ask if you don’t understand birth control? See, I think it’s awesome to assume good motives of each other, but I wonder how you can possibly construe that question as anything but nosy and rude?

    More responses later–thanks so much, everyone.

  45. Barb @ getupandplay

    February 21, 2011

    It’s so rude! I can’t believe that people actually ask women those questions. I don’t think my husband has EVER been asked, “So, are you trying to get your wife pregnant?” I have tried to never ask questions like that. I will run into a friend who is visibly 9 months pregnant and I won’t address it first- I feel like it’s rude and can ignore the person who is the vessel, you know?

    Ugh, I’m dying over the things that people have said to @Laura about being single. Why are people so rude????

    And @Krista, AMEN! I don’t think that “have you lost weight?” is a compliment at all. It’s like saying, “Thank goodness you’ve lost weight.” It’s much better to say, “You look beautiful today!”

  46. Bek

    February 21, 2011

    I utilize the “why do you ask” tactic all the time. We had the fertility stuff, adopted kids who are a different race AND we have special needs kids. That actually works well for the ” what is for dinner question too. :-). I don’t get too offended. Usually people are curious and not meaning to be rude– but turning it back on them helps you know how to respond. If someone says ” I also have a child with DOwn Syndrome” I have a much different response than the person that is just curious. The only one I really hate is if my kids were born addicted to drugs. that is just plain rude.

  47. Laura

    February 21, 2011

    @Jules: if you come up with a witty response, please do share!

    @Krista: A few years ago I ran into a woman at church I hadn’t seen in a while who said, “You’ve lost weight! You look great! How did you do it?” I told her the truth: I’d been ill for months, and eating/keeping food down was very difficult. Oops. I know it’s wrong, but I did enjoy watching her squirm after that. 😉

    @Barb: the comment about waiting for my husband’s first wife to die was from my mother. She’s said that to me TWICE.

  48. Emily M.

    February 21, 2011

    Sharon–Love the dinner response. And it’s true–there are so many things to discover about people without crossing that line. For me, those other things are a kind of preparation, what builds the foundation that helps me feel comfortable opening up.

    Amy–I really appreciate your openness about adopting. You are so gracious about it and about your lupus, too.

    Kristina–It’s true, I don’t think it’s realistic to take into consideration the potential sensitivity of every stranger. At the same time, though, there are some questions that seem to strike a nerve with a pretty wide spectrum of people. For me, and especially after I miscarried, asking me if I want more children if we’re not already good friends feels really intrusive, not a benign do-you-like-your-neighborhood question. I don’t think you need to take into account obscure sensitivities, but this does seem to be a pretty common one.

    Heathermommy-I think that when you’ve been through that many miscarriages it’s a blessing to share your experiences with others who are facing it too. And I also wonder if people want the whole story, and do I want to tell them.

    Stephanie–Broken ankles are rotten. I had surgery and two titanium plates and a long recovery.

    Cristie–Yes, the art of being vague and changing the subject are good ways to politely deflect snoopiness.

    Sar-I got that one too. A lot.

    MJ-I think openness is a great gift–I feel more open with open people. You and Kristina both see the having more kids question as a do-you-like-your-neighborhood one, and I honestly have never seen it like that in my life. It has always felt like a more private discussion to me. So it’s good for me to understand a little more where people are coming from when they ask. And I don’t mind childbirth discussions at all–I’ve already had my kids, and I’ll talk birth stories just fine.

    Heather B., oh honey, that’s terrible. See, the judgment that’s clearly implicit when some people ask if I want more makes it very hard for me to not assume judgment in everyone, even those who don’t think asking is that big of a deal.

    Jules-Yet again I’m amazed by what people think it’s okay to ask. Sigh. Also, I am interested in your diatribe.

  49. Emily M.

    February 21, 2011

    TTT-I will add “why do you ask” to my list of responses.
    Laura-Again, people really ask? The first wife death question, the do you like men one? Wow. On your question: I don’t mind when close friends ask, because they know me and I know they are asking out of real interest in my life. I do like talking real with people. It’s when nodding acquaintances or strangers or people I haven’t seen in a really long time ask. Or, um, deliverymen (that wasn’t my story, but still).

    Sara-I like the idea of a right to refuse to answer. And yes on sincere questions–it seems like some questions are attempts to pass judgment, and I really hate that. But sincere questions are good.

    Naomi, that’s a really wise insight. I am insecure about mothering, and I think that is definitely one reason I balk when asked about my plans. At the same time, though, I don’t think that someone who has experienced miscarriage or infertility, especially recently, has something “not right” in the sense of guilt or wrongdoing that makes them react strongly. It’s just a pain that has yet to heal, and that makes it especially challenging to deal with this kind of thing.

    Barb–Ha! Men don’t get asked as much, do they? Or do they? We did have a male commenter earlier who had been asked.

    Bek- What a good point–if you know that someone has a similar life situation, it totally changes the response you’d give.

    Thanks so much, everyone–I have gained a lot from this discussion.

  50. Johnna

    February 22, 2011

    A silver lining to getting older. No one asks intrusive childbearing questions anymore.

  51. michelle

    February 22, 2011

    It seems to me that in Utah, the questions about number of children tend towards the “why haven’t you had any more,”

    Interestingly, I’ve actually seen the opposite more than once. Sometimes I’ll get the “Oh, three is the new six” when someone finds out I “only” have three children. That’s a different kind of awkward, imo, because my response (“actually, we have wanted more but couldn’t have them because of my health”) can sound like a retort or even condemnation of that point of view. But it’s my standard response when this comes up (it’s rare when I don’t say that) and it usually works for me.

    Personally, I think it’s good to have a standard response, because it *does* come up, perhaps more often than it should. I figure honesty helps others have compassion for the variety of situations that are so real and often so poignant in others’ lives.

    But the sociologist-wanna-be in me still wonders about why it is that tender subjects like pregnancy and marriage are often approached in such teasing or casual ways, when most people know they are tender and personal and sometimes pretty sensitive issues for many.

  52. Sage

    February 22, 2011

    Great discussion. I appreciate that people sometimes are just clueless. My fil once told me he had said “you’ve got your hands full” to a woman. I explained to him that that comment is never appreciated.

    I also say “food” when asked what’s for dinner and my son gets mad. But really, making dinner every night gets old even when you like to cook and love nourishing your family.

    I was asked three times, by friends at church, in the same week if I was pregnant. I said “just fat” every time. (i was probably just bloated from my period ironically-tmi).

    I also get asked if I’m done having kids-we have five and I’m almost 44. But it’s always by people I barely know. I just say I don’t know because I don’t!

    And I hope I never say stupid things to people who are struggling, but once in my lack of knowing what to say to someone who wasn’t married I said “at least you have a nice house.” Boy did I feel dumb the second it left my mouth.

    Thanks for the good discussion!

  53. Jennifer

    February 22, 2011

    My husband’s response to the “When are you going to have more kids?” question: “We tried several times last night!” That always seems to end the conversation.

  54. Jennifer

    February 22, 2011

    I hate being asked exactly what you hate being asked. It’s a personal boundary that should never be crossed unless you’ve ACTUALLY invited someone to do so. I think your response “if you really want the full answer, that’s what you’d get, but I try to extend a little courtesy to those who ask by not dumping my life upon them” is exactly what your answer should be–the full story. I always wish I had the guts to delve into the full answer because I would hope to make the asker as uncomfortable as she has made me. And maybe the asker would clue in.

    There was a time when my answer to “When are you going to have another child?” was: “As soon as people stop asking. Thanks a lot.”

  55. Melanie

    February 22, 2011

    @Jules and Laura. In response to “Why are you still single?” I’m not sure, why don’t you tell me.

    Sarcastic and snarky, yes but the question is usually asked as a veil for “what’s wrong with you?” rather than with genuine care.Although with a response like this we do run the risk of someone taking it literally and then proceeding to tell us exactly why they think we’re still single!

  56. Paula

    February 22, 2011

    After reading the post and the comments I can only think of one thing. Mind your own business! Is it really your concern that my private life be aired out by complete strangers? I also shudder at the insensitivity of close family members too. Come on people use your brain to be supporting and positive. All those nosy questions are just plain old RUDE!

    It was heartbreaking to spend 5 years trying to have child number three. I had people think I was selfish for having only 2 children. Little did they know I had had 3 miscarriages during that time. It was awful when people would ask if I had ONLY two. When people would ask I’d just say the Lord will give us another when they are ready. Oh and child number 3 is a handful! He needed that extra pre-mortal instruction time and I needed that time to be ready for him.

    What I really hate is when people ask if you are pregnant but you are just a bit over weight and you are carrying it in you belly. I usually say no and they blush.

  57. ashlee

    February 22, 2011

    If you aren’t witnessing the baby falling out, don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant.

    From the moment i got married, the questions about my reproductive plans have been rampant. Are you trying? What’s taking you guys so long? When are you having another? Are you going to try for that all-important girl? I’ve been asked by a new visiting teacher if my third pregnancy was planned or a surprise. I can’t tell you the number of times i’ve been asked if we’re having more kids by near strangers. (can i just be grateful for the three healthy kids i do have and call it good? Can it be acceptable that three is definitely my limit physically, emotionally, spiritually; etc.?). I used to be surprised. Now i just find it annoying. The fact that i’ve had multiple miscarriages and my pregnancies are high-risk and terrifying is none of your business. If my pregnancies were easy and i’m still done, that’s also not up for debate. We all have our personal reasons and i have no interest explaining or justifying myself to people i barely know (or my MIL thankyouverymuch).

    Most shocking to me was the girl (woman, i guess) in my ward who asked a married and childless friend if they were “trying.” When the response was that this friend had just had a (horribly painful and devastating) miscarriage, the girl asking responded with, essentially, “what a relief! You’re at least doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

    But, i don’t know why any of it should surprise me. People seem to have fewer and fewer boundaries and clues these days.

    And i need to stop my rant. Evidently hit a nerve!

  58. Anonymous

    February 22, 2011

    Many years ago when our son was three, his primary teacher came up to me and told me that he wanted another child in the family.Then she asked, when are you going to have one for him.

    I had read in Ann Landers that when a personal question is asked, to just say, “Why would you ask such a personal question.” And that should end the inquisition.

    Little did I know that this older primary worker had a response. “Well, I’m your sister in the gospel and I’d like to know.”

    My response, “Even my biological sisters would not ask such a personal question.”

    She came right back with, “That’s just because they are scared of you!”

    So much for Ann Landers advice

  59. JennR

    February 22, 2011

    I thought the “when are you going to have a baby?” question would end when I had one. Now it’s “So, when are you going to have the next one?” I decided the only time you’re safe is when you ARE pregnant. I hate that!

    We all hate these questions for reasons based on our personal situation–which are sometimes because of opposite pains, like one woman feels like she has too many children and one feels like she has too few. I most often fall into the latter situation. Sometimes I feeling screeching at people who mention “trying”: “We don’t plan babies in this family; that’s up to God, so, please, just leave me alone!”

    And while we’re on soapboxes, can I just say that I really having a hard time not pulling out my hair when I’ve heard someone (who I don’t know very well) say, “Oh, yes, we had a hard time getting pregnant. I took us a whole three months.” There are clueless people out there, but, even more, why are your sharing this with me anyway?

    Blah. But does ranting even help? How do we get over these frustrations?

  60. m2theh

    February 22, 2011

    My user name means mom to the Heather. H is her nickname. She is my miracle unexpected baby–I was actually 10 weeks along before I figured it out. I don’t know where she came from or how we got her, but I am so happy I have her. And I do sometimes respond to “when are you having another one” with “H is the perfect child, I don’t want to tempt fate.”

    I like to ask people what kind of things they like to do, if they like to read, what kind of books they like, or what tv shows they watch or what movies they like. Then you see if you have something in common.

  61. Angela

    February 22, 2011

    You know what? After thinking on this subject, I’ve realized that hardly anyone asks me if I’m having more kids anymore. Does this mean that pretty soon I’m going to have to start buying reading glasses? Sigh.

    But maybe it’s not because I’m getting old (ha!). I also think that people don’t ask me much because I have four kids, and as we discussed in a previous Segullah post, 4 is the “magic number.” If you have five or six, sometimes I think people ask if you’re having more because what they’re really thinking is, “Are you ever going to stop having kids?” which, of course, is none of their business and extremely impolite.

    There’s a big difference, imo, about asking such questions of close friends and family members vs. acquaintances and virtual strangers. I’m a pretty open person w/ my close friends, so I don’t (didn’t??) mind at all if they asked me, even when I was dealing with infertility and miscarriage. But not so much with acquaintances. Especially post-miscarriage, that was hard.

  62. Roberta

    February 22, 2011

    The question I hated the most was “You Homeschool? Aren’t you afraid of your kids not getting socialized?” And I would respond with a modifed quote I read once: “I don’t let my children attend public school for the same reason I don’t let them drink from the toilet.”

    As if public school is the proper place for kids to learn how to socialize.

  63. my-clbg

    February 22, 2011

    1. My friend says you should never ask a woman if she is pregnant unless you see a baby coming out of her. (love it)

    2. When asked about additional children, my husband says: It took us 17 years to have our first child, we figure we’ll wait 17 years before the next one.

    😉

  64. Cindy

    February 22, 2011

    Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your Segullah article that you linked to. My experience with having children had some similarities to yours, and for YEARS I felt inadequate because I couldn’t pop out a baby every 18 or 20 months. I handled it so poorly and my sisters and girlfriends were afraid to tell me every time they were pregnant again because it made me so irrational.

    In retrospect I am so grateful that a loving Heavenly Father did not require me to be what I was not–that he gave me time between my kids so that I could recover and be truly ready before another one came.

    As far as questions & comments, I’ve had my share. But I’m sure I’ve also asked/said my share, and I’m always grateful to those who handle my verbal missteps with graciousness.

  65. Natasha

    February 22, 2011

    I really dislike being asked you:
    “When are going to get married?”
    “Do you have commitment issues?”
    “Do you want children? Because if so, you better get a move on to find a husband, you’re not getting any younger.”

    I feel like responding, “when you’re going to pay for it” to the first question but I know that would be just as rude.

    Ironically these people will probably be the last to know if/when I ever do get married.

  66. Laura

    February 23, 2011

    @Emily B–the “death of first wife” comment came twice. The first time I said, “I have absolutely no response for that.” The second time I said, “Please don’t ever say that again.” Let’s hope there’s not a third!

    The “attracted to men” comment was actually phrased more like, “Well, perhaps you’d find it easier to be a lesbian.” As if people chose who they’re attracted to based on convenience?

    My list was a compendium of questions/comments received either by me or by a friend, although I’ve gotten most of those at one point or another. I’ve gotten less of these as I’ve gotten older, but that could also be because I’ve been in Northern California for the last four years. 🙂

  67. Laurie

    February 23, 2011

    “Are you still working” is the question that plagued me during my most recent pregnancy. I have 3 kids from my first marriage, and after my divorce I went to law school, where I met the man who is now my husband. I graduated from law school and have a job that I love, and when I got pregnant fairly soon after we were married, I can’t tell you how many women at church asked if I was “still” working. What does that even mean? That because I got married and am pregnant I automatically will stop working? That my new husband has to bear the financial burden of children that are not his? That he also has to pay back my student loans? Really. Yes, I am still working. My baby loves day care, he has a room full of friends, and his mommy is not insane with worry about money, and suffering from crazy depression from sitting at home not using her education. Yep, still working.

  68. Martha

    February 23, 2011

    I don’t mind questions. 99.9% of the time people have no intention of being rude so why should I take offense. When I was younger perhaps I read into questions more and saw something that wan’t there. Now I am pretty secure with who I am and my life choices and would rather not feel any ill will if I needn’t.

  69. Conifer

    February 23, 2011

    I actually like being asked whether we’re having more because the answer is no. Since we only have two, my confidence and happiness in telling them my answer as though it could be perfectly normal to be happy at two and be done having kids halfway through our twenties helps people realize that it is normal and acceptable and they can be happy for me instead of worries (or at least these are my goals).

    I think trying to type while having kids shriek in your ear makes being coherent harder. Sorry if I don’t make as much sense as I mean to. Not that you would know how much sense I mean to be portraying. Yikes.

  70. Vennesa

    February 23, 2011

    When asked the dinner question I always respond with “Probably something you hate.”
    And I’m usually right.

  71. Patricia

    February 24, 2011

    The dinner question doesn’t bother me, because it’s on the calendar, all they have to do is look.
    I have one natural child and one adopted; they’re almost 8 yrs apart. Most of the family knew we were going through and adoption process, but it took almost 4 yrs to get our 2nd child. All the time, this sil would ask the same question ‘when are you going to adopt.’ You don’t know that. It was annoying. I just said ‘we’ll let you know when that happens.’
    However, that’s not the one that gets me all prickly. You see, I wasn’t born in the US, and I look different. I like what Amy said ‘I feel like people define me by what they see.’ I’ve been here almost 25 yrs and I still get asked by strangers or members (they’re all equal opportunity offenders) what my background is. At the beginning I was polite and answer questions (there’s a progression on my responses). Later I answered the question and turned it on the other person (usually the question comes with another attached ‘how did you two meet’, since my husband was a missionary when we did). Now I’m not polite, and if someone wants to play the rude game, I’m there.
    The latest question that got to me was ‘what are you?’ Holy cow! I wonder sometimes how is my race important to this person. Somebody told me to just say I’m a Child of God, and I really like that one.

  72. Michelle Glauser

    February 27, 2011

    Basically, I don’t like any questions. That’s why I have become anti-social. Why can’t people just mind their own business?

  73. Michelle Glauser

    February 27, 2011

    Basically, I don’t like any questions. That’s why I have become anti-social. Why can’t people just mind their own business? In retaliation, I throw so many questions at people that they don’t have time to ask about me. Bwa ha ha.

  74. DeniMarie

    February 28, 2011

    I know I am chiming in here really late, but since I kind of have the opposite view of many posters, I’ll speak up anyway.

    I think it is a cultural mindset that forbids us to talk about our reproductive plans. Those questions certainly wouldn’t be taboo in other cultures I’ve experienced–even for a total stranger. (Although I can’t speak for all cultures, obviously.) But my grandma tells me when she was little you weren’t even allowed to talk about a woman having a baby until that baby was in the woman’s arms!

    This aspect didn’t occur to me until recently when I started to have problems. I am now trying (failing) to come to terms with the fact that my family may very well be complete, and my body may never be able to carry another child.

    My ward has many Hispanic families, and since I speak Spanish many of them are friends, or at least feel they can talk to me. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that Latinos were able to ask me questions, and I was able to work through a lot of that pain by making people aware that I was even hurting!

    My Anglo friends have no idea I’m suffering because they aren’t going to ask me if I want more children. They are just going to assume I don’t. I know I could bring it up, but around people who aren’t even going to tell you if they are pregnant until they are about to have the baby, you can’t exactly answer a “How are you?” with “I just had a miscarriage.”

    I honestly think if the taboo was lifted and people were asking out of curiosity more often that out of “judgment” most of us wouldn’t hate the questions either. Except we might still think they were implying we were fat. 😉

  75. Johnna

    February 28, 2011

    I’m still laughing for poor Anonymous (58) who quoted Ann Landers to her nosy ward member, and it didn’t stop the questioner. I know I’ve tactlessly asked questions of people I didn’t know well enough before, but at least I stopped and apologized at the first reality-check. So, yay for me, not the worst out there.

    My grandmother answered the “what’s for dinner” question: Pickled Pig’s Feet. I was shocked when, years later as an adult, I saw them canned, a real thing. Pickled Pigs Feet is a good answer.

  76. Jo

    March 7, 2011

    After we had twin girls (#5 and 6) we got alot of rude inquiries from people we hardly knew. I loved it when my husband really put someone in their place…a dad at a team get together at the end of one of our son’s baseball seasons who asked “Haven’t you two figured out what causes that?” (pointing at our 2 little girls) Response: “Yes and we were just practicing until we got it perfect!” The guy was speechless.
    We have 3 sons and 3 daughters and all 6 were perfect….

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