4 Tips for Talking Mom to Non-Mom

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“Do you have children?” The question often comes up as an icebreaker when meeting someone for the first time. When the answer is no, there is usually a meaningful pause while everyone tries to figure out what to do next.

Oops, The mother may think I wonder why not? But I know I shouldn’t ask her. What do I do now? Depending on their personal situation, non-moms may feel defensive, discouraged, or hurt.

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Here are some tips for moms to try and reframe the conversation.

1. Let go of your bingos.

Many parents seem to have a stockpile of answers when they meet someone who doesn’t have children. In fact, these comments are so predictable that non-moms often brace themselves for what’s to come, even shouting “bingo” out loud.

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Here are some typical responses that can evoke a “bingo”:

“But you would be such a great mom!”

“You will change your mind.”

“You will never know true love until you look your child in the eyes.”

“Who cares for you in old age?”

“It’s the most important job in the world.”

“You’re not a real woman if you don’t give birth.”

The difficult thing about all these comments is the underlying assumption that a way of being ieHaving children is both the right path and accessible to all. Neither is true, and what appears to be pressure on one’s position leads to a maddening shift in interpersonal dynamics, even (often especially) between friends and family members.

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Fortunately, most people are less confrontational and judgmental. Open minds are curious and accepting. Interested voices have a soft tone.

2. Be considerate of the reactions of others.

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Make a habit of noticing how someone expresses themselves about not having children. People often signal their feelings nonverbally. If you notice subtle cues, like sighs or downcast eyes, you can regroup and respond in a more thoughtful manner. Before proceeding, take a breath and trust your gut.

Possible answers:

“It’s a personal question, isn’t it? Let’s talk about something other than kid stuff.”

“I imagine you sometimes hear insensitive comments about how important people think having children is. Tell us some of the most challenging ones?”

3. Own your experience; be open to theirs.

You don’t have to delete all references to descendants. They play a big part in most parents’ lives, and we know it. See if you can find a middle ground.

Possible answers:

“I love being a mom, but I worry about how I’ll feel when the kids leave the house. Tell me what occupies your time and attention these days so I can see life differently.”

“Raising children was hard, but it was worth it for me. What matters to you?”

“My cousin is under a lot of pressure to have children and I want her to know that I am a source of support. Do you have any suggestions as to how I might do this tactfully?”

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4. Be aware of your airtime.

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Talking about your children is natural, but with a non-mum, the conversation can easily become one-sided. Here are some answers that can balance the conversation and lead to learning more about them.

“Tell me more about you.”

“I promise I won’t show you every kid picture I have. Here are three of my favorites that will give you a sense of who they are. Then I want to hear from you.”

‘Look at me – I’m talking about all my grandchildren again. I haven’t heard what’s new with you. Please update me.”

Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.


Ask if it’s okay to ask questions about not having them.

Notice the responses to your questions.

Express your curiosity respectfully.

Be careful not to monopolize the conversation.

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Offer condolences, suggestions, or solutions if not asked.

Pity, spoil or try to comfort.

Make judgments about their situation or make assumptions about it.

If you intend to ask the child an ice-breaking question, can you substitute another, less personal question? There’s a good chance that if the other person has children and there are no extenuating circumstances, they’ll soon bring them up unasked anyway. And if you later discover that someone has no children, you can decide how, if at all, to approach the issue. Your options remain open.

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Even if you think having children is for the best, your beliefs will likely only serve to frustrate or hurt those who wanted them and bolster the defenses of those who didn’t. Nothing you say is likely to change their reality anyway.

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