"When are you going to have a child?" or "Why are you still not having children?" or any variation of this question I strongly recommend avoiding. Why?
Let talk about all the elements of the situation – the people who ask, the question itself, and a childless person or a childless couple.
#1 the question
The question isn't ethical. Not everyone has studied etiquette and knows about forbidden topics in communication, such as politics, religion, money, and health. Social position, beliefs or their absence, income levels, and health status are exclusively personal topics. Child's birth relates to women's, man's, or couple’s health and is part of their personal intimate space.
#2 people who ask
Why do people ask such a question? I want to believe that they have only the best intentions in their mind. People care. People want the best for the person or the couple. Let have a look at the roots of such care.
a. Stereotypes about family life. In the collective unconscious of each person, there is an image of the so-called "normal" family, and for the most part, it is as follows: "Family = spouses or partners + children”. If people have no children or do not want children, something is wrong with them.
b. Stereotypes about timing. If a woman is after 35, she has to hurry up. If she is 40 plus, she is considered a geriatric mother. I find this type of medical terminology quite harmful. No one believes that the psychological readiness to become a mother in some women, if not the majority, matures precisely by this age. Nevertheless, the phrases "the clock is ticking" and "then it will be too late" put pressure on the woman with great force.
c. Stereotypes about woman's roles. The general thinking is that if a woman isn't a mother, something is wrong with her. It sounds like being a mother is the most critical role in a woman's life. It looks like the reproductive function is more valuable than women.
All good, but I think that most people who ask questions about the reasons for childlessness do not even realize that in this way, they cross the boundaries of another's personal space and cause pain with their questions. Such questions generate discomfort, shame, grief, anger, etc. They have the potential to create traumas. Women especially feel emerging embarrassment, awkwardness, and feelings of inferiority. Sometimes the feeling of shame is mixed with guilt and a desire to justify, and sometimes with anger and the need to protect yourself from an incorrect "intrusion" into your personal life. Altogether, such questions create thoughts that "something is wrong with me."
We all must be careful because we never know what is behind people's stories. Asking a disrespectful question, you might find out that the couple has experienced a miscarriage or a number of them. Maybe they went through the tragedy of stillbirth or the loss of a baby. Perhaps they struggle to improve their reproductive material. Or maybe they do not want to have children due to a considerable trauma or as a result of deliberate decision.
Not everyone has to be a parent. Parenting isn't an obligation.
#3 Childless person or childless couple
You would expect me to advocate for people who have no children. I will not. Encouraging people who ask damaging questions to stop doing that, I inspire changing the culture. It is up to us to be tolerant, accepting, respecting other people's choices, stories, and reasoning. We can be gentle with each other and ethical. We can stop labelling and hurting.
I work with women, men, and couples who struggle to conceive. And I hear sad stories about expectations, harmful comments, and unappropriated questions coming from their family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. As a counsellor, I respect and validate their feelings, and in the middle of emotional turmoil, I encourage them to change the culture where such questioning is considered appropriate. And it shouldn't!
Your feelings of shame or guilt come from accepting the stereotypes we talked about previously. Shame and rejection cannot change or heal either a single person or a whole society. As long as each of us considers a family without children to be inferior and wrong, a woman without children will tend to consciously or unconsciously perceive herself as defective or faulty (except for solid personalities). Mother is not the most crucial destiny of a woman. There are many other equally important roles, and the role of the mother can be leading only at a certain point in a woman's life. Focus on inner changes:
a. Build your worldview and your personal approach on this topic. Don’t let anyone shake or question it.
b. Develop emotional intelligence. An emotionally mature person does not depend on the approval or criticism of friends, parents, or society.
c. Cultivate tolerance. The inappropriate question is, of course, an invasion, but it is not necessary to become an emotional mess. You can safely refuse to develop this topic.
I invite my clients who are trapped in the uncomfortable situations created by inappropriate questions to answer calmly but confidently something like this:
"This is a very intimate question that concerns only my husband and me. And I would never want to hear it from you again".
"Even if I knew all the true reasons for my absence of children, I still allowed this topic to be discussed only with my husband, in my family".
"I find it very personal and intimate, not for public viewing".
"You may not believe it, but I am happy and do not need sympathy from the outside. My life is exciting, and there is no place for despair about everything that does not exist. There is joy and gratitude for what is already there. "
In summary, if you are curious about other people's lives, you better avoid questioning and promote a culture of acceptance and respect. If you are childless, doubt the culture of imposed stereotypes and invasive questions.