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Childfree by choice: How to respond to prying questions

While the number of people who choose not to have children is growing,1,2 many still face stigma, shame, and invasive questions and comments about their decision. How should you navigate conversations with family members, friends, acquaintances and strangers? What should you say if you need to shut down rude comments? These tips may help.

Being childfree by choice is more common than you may think

Researchers have long researched fertility, but only recently have studies begun to look at why people don’t have children. And guess what? A 2022 study of 1,500 adults in Michigan found that 21.64% of adults simply don’t want to!1 Interestingly, this study also observed that women in their late 30s reported deciding in their teens and 20s that they didn’t want to have children. “The large number of early articulators, together with women’s reported persistence in their decision not to have children, could point to changing norms toward parenthood and increasing recognition of the childfree choice as a viable alternative.”1

Also of note: A 2021 study of non-parents ages 18 to 49 found that 44% were “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to have children someday.2 The reason why? Of those respondents, 56% said they just don’t want to.2

Common scenarios you may encounter and how to respond

Even though being childfree by choice is common, you may still find yourself in awkward, uncomfortable or even anger-inducing scenarios instigated by questions from family members, co-workers, friends or even strangers. Whether the question was asked with good intention or passive-aggressively, there are various ways of responding: boldly, subtly or with humor. Every person and scenario is different, and how you may wish to respond in any given moment may change on any given day (and that’s OK!).

“When are you having kids?”

  • “I’m not having kids.” This response is honest and to the point. You don’t owe anything more.

  • “I hope you understand that this is not something I want to discuss.” This is a great response if you wish to keep the answer private. Just because someone asks doesn’t mean you’re obligated to reveal personal information. This response also is a gentle way of letting them know that this is not an appropriate question to ask.

  • “You’ve asked this before. Why is it important to you when/if I have kids?” If someone is repeatedly asking you this question, reframe it and turn it back on them.

  • “I’m focused on my career/travel/hobby right now.” It’s OK to be vague, avoid confrontation and/or redirect. After all, just because you choose to be childfree doesn’t mean you have to be the voice of the childfree by choice movement! Sometimes simply changing the conversation is a win. 

“But you would be such a good parent!”

  • “Thank you!” Accept the compliment and move on.

  • “I know — I’m an amazing aunt. Just ask my niece!” This response serves as a reminder that parenting and caregiving skills can be used in many different ways (with a sprinkle of humor as well).

  • “I also make killer cupcakes, but I’m not giving up all my other dreams to open a bakery.” Just because someone is good at something doesn’t mean they need to devote their life to it. That’s one of the things that makes life so fun and interesting — there are endless possibilities in the doors you choose to open and the ones you choose to keep closed.

  • “No. I would not. Have you seen the last houseplant I bought?” Make them laugh and steer the conversation in another direction.

“Wait until you have your own kids. It’s totally different. You’ll see!”

  • “You don’t need to try out everything in life to know whether or not it’s something you want to do.” People choose to be childfree based on many different factors, including their own observations or their own childhoods. Firsthand experience isn’t always necessary when it comes to making a sound judgement.

  • “My decision has nothing to do with liking babies or kids. There are many other personal reasons I don’t want to have kids.” Many people don’t realize that being childfree by choice isn’t just about liking or not liking kids. People may choose not to have kids for many reasons, including their career and education goals, travel aspirations, social and economic concerns, and more.

  • “I really don’t like kids. Seriously, why would I risk that?” On the flip side, contrary to what society may lead you to believe, it’s OK to not like babies or kids — and therefore not want to have them! Not liking kids does not make you a bad person.

  • “Um, I’ve been watching you with your kids for years. I’m pretty sure it won’t be different, but nice try!” This is a bit of humor that may go over well with a close family member or friend.

“It’s kind of selfish, don’t you think? If you can have kids, don’t you think you should?”

  • “The work/volunteerism I do betters many lives, and I wouldn’t be able continue the way I am now if I had kids.” Let’s face it: Kids take up a lot of time, which you may want to spend on other pursuits — and that’s OK! All that free time could afford you more bandwidth to better the world in other ways.

  • “It is selfish! Isn’t that wonderful? That I’m able to choose how I want to live my life?” It wasn’t always like this for women.

  • “I think it would be more selfish to have a child I don’t really want and not be the best parent I could be.” This is another great way to flip the argument around.

“Aren’t you worried you’re going to regret this later, when you’re too old to have kids?”

  • “I love the life I’ve built for myself and the future I foresee. My life doesn’t have to look like yours for me to be happy.” Happiness can mean many different things and is highly personal.

  • “I’m very comfortable with my choice.” Make it clear that you’ve given this a lot of thought already.

  • “If I do, there are so many options, including fostering, adoption or hanging out with your cool kids!” You may not ever change your mind, but if you do, there are lots of wonderful and creative ways to parent.

  • “OK, and if I have kids and regret it — then what?” Flip that question around.

“I was really hoping for a grandchild.”

  • “I know you loved raising me and you want me to have that same experience. But just because you loved being a parent doesn’t mean I will, too.” Your parents or in-laws may need a reminder that even though you’re related, you may want different things out of life.

  • “I love you, but this is my decision.” You may at some point have to set clear boundaries. This is not their decision to make.

  • “I know you always want me to be happy, and this is what will make me happy.” Gently remind them that this is a highly personal decision about you, not them.

  • “You’ll just have to borrow someone else’s!” Don’t let them guilt trip you! A little bit of humor here can help, too.

Taking control of your reproductive health looks different for everyone. Setting boundaries in conversations surrounding your choice to have children or not is an important step. While people in your life may have questions about why you choose to be childfree, you may find comfort in knowing there are thousands of others navigating these scenarios right along with you. And you may find power in knowing that when you get asked, you get to control the narrative.

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  1. Neal ZP, Neal JW. Prevalence, age of decision, and interpersonal warmth judgements of childfree adults. Sci Rep. 2022;12:11907. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-15728-z. Updated July 25, 2022. Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-15728-z
  2. Brown A. Pew Research Center. Growing share of childless adults in U.S. don’t expect to ever have children. Updated November 19, 2021. Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2021/11/19/growing-share-of-childless-adults-in-u- s-dont-expect-to-ever-have-children/