10 Things Never to Say to Childless Friends

mother with a baby carriage and a friend
mother with a baby carriage and a friend

By Charlotte Latvala

When you're an enthusiastic member of the mom club, it's natural to want your pals to join too. But making assumptions about your buddy's baby-making plans can be offensive and invasive-and thinking you know better because you're a parent can hurt your friend's feelings. "Comments about childlessness can be taken as criticism," says New York City therapist Mindy Utay, LCSW, who often counsels infertile couples. Whether a couple is childless by choice or struggling to conceive, prying questions are likely to hit a nerve, she adds. Even if you have good intentions, "A woman without kids may hear, 'What's wrong with you-why are you different?'" Here are some gaffes to avoid with childless friends-and what to say instead.

1. "So when are you guys going to get started?"

Whatever a woman's reason for not having kids, you're heading into none-of-your-business territory by asking the above. "At work, a woman I barely knew told me, 'You'd better not wait too long to get pregnant,'" says Margie, who married in her thirties. "She didn't know we'd been trying a couple years already. I started crying and was so embarrassed." Best to avoid this question altogether, says Laura Scott, author of Two is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice. And not only because of potential infertility issues: "Twenty percent of women remain childless these days, so we can no longer assume parenthood is for everyone," she says. "Even though you have baby on the brain, it's not a top priority for every woman."
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2. "You'll understand when you're a mom."

Sure, motherhood can change your perspective on many subjects, from discipline to healthy eating. But childless women don't come from another universe, says Laura Carroll, childfree blogger and author of Families of Two. "It's a myth that the childless don't know anything about parenting," she says. "They were once children themselves, they may have nieces and nephews or they may work with kids." Instead of subtly putting her down, show genuine interest and curiosity about your friend's opinions on parenting topics, says Carroll. She may surprise you with a fresh and effective approach.

3. "Just relax. You'll get pregnant in no time."

"Relaxing doesn't help when there's a medical reason you can't conceive," says infertility blogger Lori LeRoy, author of The Inadequate Conception-from Barry White to Blastocytes. "Even if you could magically avoid the stress, there's still no guarantee of getting pregnant." A smarter suggestion for your frazzled friend: "Let's go for a run, go shopping or get a massage to take your mind off things."
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4. "It must be nice to have time to read a book/go to the movies/have a romantic dinner."

Just because a friend doesn't have kids doesn't mean she's living a life of leisure, says Carroll. "Many childless adults are as busy as parents, but they spend their time in different ways," she says. "Statements like this also imply that parents have it worse, and there's pressure to feel sorry for them." A better option? Simply ask: "Have you seen any good movies/been to any good restaurants lately?"

5. "I didn't invite you because there will be kids at the party."

Never exclude a couple because you think they might be uncomfortable with pint-sized guests. "It isolates them and treats them like outcasts," says Utay. "They're childless adults-not children-and can make their own decisions." Instead, offer the invitation and subtly make it clear who the guests will be. Try: "We're having a few families over for a barbecue, and we'd love it if you'd join us."
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6. "Have you tried different sex positions/diets/doctors/wearing looser underwear?"

Recently, 30-year-old Hannah told a friend she was struggling with infertility-and immediately got advice on everything from nixing wheat from her diet to using nontoxic cleaning agents. "Her intentions were good, but I didn't need her to troubleshoot through my infertility woes," says Hannah. "I needed a listening ear or a hug." You can be kind and caring without being a know-it-all, says LeRoy. "It's okay to say, 'If you want me to connect you with a doctor or a friend who struggled to get pregnant, let me know.'" Otherwise, just let her vent.

7. "Is your husband okay with you not wanting kids?"

A comment like this sounds like you're questioning your friend's marriage, says Carroll. "It's like you think your friend is depriving her husband of something he must automatically want," she adds. Angel, a fortysomething, childless-by-choice college administrator in Pennsylvania, frequently hears this. "I always respond that my husband and I made the decision together," she says. Best bet: Get a grip on your curiosity, and stay mum.
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8. "Your dog is your baby."

Donna, an administrative assistant who is childless by choice, certainly loves her 10-year-old Husky mix, Rusty. Still, she was surprised when a friend complained that her finicky toddler wouldn't eat veggies and then said, "All you have to do is dump some dog food in a bowl." Donna was taken aback. "I laughed at her comment, but inside I resented it," she says. "Did she believe I thought having a dog was the same thing as having a child?" Elevating pets to human status is condescending and insulting, says Utay, because "it implies that your childless friends don't know the difference between an animal and a person. Also, it highlights what childless pet owners don't have, rather than what they do." So feel free to ask about beloved pets, notes Carroll-most friends welcome your interest. Just don't make "pet" synonymous with "baby."

9. "You'll change your mind about having kids in a few years."

Imagine someone telling you, "One day you'll change your mind about keeping your children and want to trade them in." Making similar comments to your childless friends is insulting, says Carroll, because it suggests that deep down, they want kids-they just don't know it yet. (But you magically do!) Don't go there, Carroll advises: "Accept that your friend has made a different lifestyle choice than you, but you still love her and are committed to the friendship-whether she ever has kids or not."
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10. "Since you don't have kids, you can afford a new car/remodeling project/vacation."

Not every childfree person is merrily jet-setting around the world, says Scott. "Many times the goal is to retire early or follow a passion that may not produce a hefty paycheck," she adds. Angel says that acquaintances often assume she and her husband are rolling in extra money because they don't have kids. "People make blanket statements about our finances without considering that we both work for nonprofits," she says. A less intrusive approach: Compliment your friend's hobby or project ("I love your new kitchen tiles!"), but don't bring money-or children-into the conversation.

Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.

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