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How to handle bad conversation starters about having kids

How to handle bad conversation starters about having kids

You’re at a family get-together, maybe enjoying a holiday or a birthday party, when you sense a change in subject in the air. You might know it’s coming and dread its inevitable arrival. You brace yourself emotionally.

“So, when are you going to have kids?”

So many questions about family planning are well-intentioned and come from a place of care and curiosity. People in your life are invested in your future and want to know what’s next. But the impact of those questions can be frustrating at best, and devastating at worst. In case you start to feel trapped in these conversations, we have some ideas on some alternative talking points.

Bad conversation starters and what to ask instead

Do you have kids?

If their kids are present or they come up in conversation, this is a safe question to ask. If the topic comes out of the blue, it can actually be a harmful inquiry. One in eight couples (in which the woman is younger than 30) trying to get pregnant in the U.S. experience problems conceiving their first child.1 Odds are, you know someone who has struggled with infertility — or is going through it at present. Asking this question risks bringing up painful reminders of a hope that hasn’t been met yet.

What to ask instead:

“Tell me about your family” still opens the door for people to introduce their kids, but stays general enough to avoid offense. It also leaves room for them to share about their partner, siblings or pets.

When are you having kids?

This question is often directed at people who don’t have kids, and many times, it comes from someone who is thrilled at the prospect of a having new baby around. Though it may seem innocent enough to ask, it’s an incredibly personal question. It’s possible that they’ve been trying and it’s taking longer to get pregnant than expected. They may be childfree by choice, in which case this question could make them feel like they have to defend their reasoning. It’s also very possible that they just don’t feel comfortable discussing the topic. Having children is a personal choice that is dependent on many other tough-to-talk-about personal matters — including finances, career choices, relationships or health issues to name a few. And those are just some of the reasons many people don’t want to talk about the subject casually.

What to ask instead:

Try asking about what other things are going on in their life. Even a simple “So what have you been up to lately?” will often do the trick! They might not be intending to have children, or maybe they are but really don’t want to talk about it. Asking this will allow them to talk freely - they might be finding fulfillment or joy elsewhere, such as through their career, hobbies or recent travels. When in doubt… it’s always safe to talk about the weather.

When are you having more kids?

This might feel safe to ask if you know someone has already has a child, but the same infertility or uncertainty in family planning concerns can still exist for people who are already parents. It could be something they’re still deciding for themselves, and it’s always a personal choice for them to make for their family.

What to ask instead:

The kids they already have probably have a lot of exciting things going on, whether that’s taking first steps or starting new activities. What are their kids up to recently? How has parenting been for them lately? Focus on how things are going at present instead of hypothetical future children.

Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?

The main potential sticking point with this question lies in the word “hoping.” This implies that one gender might be preferred or desired over the other. Many parents are simply thrilled with the arrival of their newborn and might not even know how to answer this.

What to ask instead:

You can easily use “are you going to find out the sex?” or “do you think it’s a boy or girl?” instead. Some new parents still like to be surprised, but even before they can find out the sex, they might have predictions of their own. This could lead to more conversations about how an expectant mother is feeling in her pregnancy, or how a parent-to-be is feeling excited for the upcoming adventure.

Wow, you’re so big — are you having twins?

Society may have evolved from asking strangers if they’re pregnant, but it’s safe to assume any comments about an expectant mother’s size are unwelcome. Every body is different and there is no one-size-fits-all appearance for how a pregnant woman should look. No matter how someone looks during their stages of pregnancy, it’s best to keep those speculations private.

What to ask instead:

“How are you feeling lately?” is a good alternative that includes the physical and emotional well-being of the person you’re talking to. It lets them control what they share and doesn’t make them feel inadequate for looking a certain way.

Bonus: How to respond to bad conversation starters

Odds are, someday you might be on the receiving end of some of these questions. We have some advice for how to respond on those occasions, too.

The humorous approach

To keep things light in a public setting, a humorous answer to “when are you having kids?” might help divert the conversation. “At least not in the next nine months” or “I’m not sure, but I assume that means you’re planning to babysit” can elicit a laugh and hopefully imply that the topic isn’t a good one. Following up with a question that shifts the topic can further help re-direct the conversation.

The educational approach

As we mentioned previously, difficulty conceiving is common. Armed with a few stats, you can use the conversation as an opportunity to gently talk about how it’s a personal question that can be hurtful for a surprising percentage of people. Or better yet, send them this article for a detailed explanation.

The straightforward approach

If you’ve heard a particular question a million times before, or a certain person in your life frequently asks questions you don’t want to answer, it might be appropriate to be firmer in your reply. “I don’t know.” “That’s really personal and I don’t feel comfortable answering.” “I would rather not talk about that.” Ultimately, it’s important to set boundaries with the people around you and being clear in your discomfort can help.

Getting pregnant, having kids and planning a family can be joyful, but preparing for pregnancy can also be emotionally-charged. It might seem like a small change, but adjusting conversations to make room for those emotions is an easy way to bring more empathy and understanding to your relationships with those you care about.


  1. “Infertility” (2019), Office on Women’s Health, https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/infertility#:~:text=Most%20cases%20of%20female%20infertility,polycystic%20ovarian%20syndrome%20(PCOS)