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You Asked: Do I Explain Our Reasons for Not Having Children?

DearSugar --

I am 27 and have been happily married to my 33-year-old husband for 5 years. About 2 years ago my husband and I made the decision to not have children (there's a lot of reason behind this). We're very content with our lives. We have two dogs and a cat which bring us great joy, and we love the idea of being able to get up and go and do what we want.

My problem is this: Every time I tell people we decided not to have children I feel as if everyone is making me out to be this horrible person. There have been a few select people that have said, "Good for you." But I've gotten, "Why? How could you not want to have children?" And "You'll change your mind." And the mother of them all, "I think that's a selfish decision." I've even gotten, "Don't you want someone to take care of you when you're older?"

My question is how do I explain my reasons for my decision without people jumping all over me? -- Cornered Caroline

To see DEARSUGAR's answer

Dear Cornered Caroline --

Like you, I'm always baffled by the intrusion and obsession around the private, reproductive lives of women. Even if people don't understand that it's ill-mannered, it's still ill-mannered. The grand dame of advice columnists herself, Dear Abby, tells us this is nobody's business (and repeat that fact, if you have the opportunity, Caroline!):

Dear Childless And Happy: There are several ways to handle questions that are nobody’s business. One is to deflect the question by asking another: “Why do you ask?” Or, “Why do you think that’s any of your business?” Alternatively, if you really want the person to back down, you can reply, “If it were any of your business, you’d already know the answer to that question. Please don’t ask me again!”

You asked, Caroline, how to explain your reasons without people jumping all over you. You shouldn't explain, and I hope you won't. This is a private decision, between you and your partner, and no one you don't choose should be privy to your reasons. This decision is legitimate, period, and it's not your job to convince anyone of your truth. Besides, everyone everywhere has an opinion about something, you don't want to spend too much energy entertaining people around their unsolicited opinions, and definitely not when it concerns something so private and important to you.

Try to remember, as well, that when most people react or judge your choices, they're revealing something about themselves, their beliefs or anxieties, even if they seem to be speaking about you (or believe they are). While that sort of behavior can effect you, it really and truly is not about you. Once you start to notice this, life can get pretty liberating.

Run, don't walk, to this website. Baby Not on Board is a great community, and they provide news, information, and wit for people who've decided not to have children. I think it would help you to find a tribe of supportive, kindred people, Caroline. That link sends you into the archives; if you scroll down to January 16, 2006, you'll find some hilarious suggestions for handling the baby question. Here's a sample:

Are there any children on your horizon?

Earnest: Not the last time I looked.
Witty: No, but I think I spot a flock of geese.
End of conversation: not since losing my reproductive organs in a gruesome fly-fishing accident.

Aren't you getting to the age when you should be thinking about kids?

Earnest: Gosh, i really don't think that's anybody's business.
Witty: No, but you're getting to the age when you should know better than to ask.
End of conversation: Actually, I'm getting to the age when my ovaries start producing half-wits.

You sound like a genuinely nice woman, Caroline, but don't be afraid to use a little muscle when the situation calls for it. There's a time and a place for everything, and sometimes people need a little help knowing when they've stepped over the line.

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