Mommyish’s Guide To Not Offending The Single, Childless Lady At Your Thanksgiving

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If you’re opening your home to single and childless relatives and friends this Thanksgiving, there a few tips you should probably keep close to that defrosting turkey. Despite the growing visibility of childless by choice or child-free individuals, the holidays still can be an irksome time for those of us who don’t have little ones. Primarily because walking into a room full of mothers and fathers generally ignites a countdown until you’ll be questioned as to why you are not yet a mother or a father. For some us, it’s no doubt just a matter of time until we’ll be sitting around talking breastfeeding tips with the rest of you. For others, kids are simply not on the agenda –ever.

Either way, whether you’re inviting your kid sister, a childless aunt, or some friendly neighbors, it tends to be the ladies who carry the brunt of this interrogation. So while you’re awaiting that ice cream to soften or just asking them to carry some dishes to into the dining room, be sure to keep these suggestions in mind.

(photo: Yuri Arcurs/ Shutterstock)

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  • Lastango

    I agree with all of these! Don’t do any of them. There are far better ways to abuse the eligible single lady during the Holidays:

    == Invite her at the last minute. Single people have way more flexibility.

    == Show you respect her. Tell her your invitation isn’t because you think she must lead a pathetic, lonely life.

    == Put her to work in the kitchen. She doesn’t have any other jobs to do, like making the rounds with hubby or minding kids.

    == Can she sing or play the piano? She’ll be delighted to know she’s the entertainment for the evening.

    == Let everyone know she’s single, so all the women will know to keep their husbands away from her. This helps avoid tense moments for the people you care about.

    == If she’s divorced, it’s thoughtful of you to tell a couple of people ahead of time. That way they will have an icebreaker when they talk to her.

    == Hang some mistletoe.

    == If it’s really casual, do not tell her. She’ll really appreciate the way you’ve helped her stand out and feel special.
    == When you take photos, have her pose with the kids — then pass those pics around. She’ll never forget your kindness, and the way you helped her feel included!

  • Nina

    So I know this is a little off topic but I really want to know. I’m a young mom (not teen) and I’m also a stay at home mom so my daughter is with me A LOT. People will make a nice comment about my daughter and I smile and say thanks and usually just to keep the conversation going say “do u have kids?” These aren’t people I really know just some people I have occasional interaction with. If they say no all I say is oh ok and try to change the subject. I know some people don’t want kids and thats great and some have been trying for years or they just don’t have kids now and all of that is fine. Its just sometimes people tell me these things and some people don’t so I don’t want to say something hurtful or offensive but “oh ok” makes for kind of an awkward answer. Anybody have any ideas of a general polite answer to give instead with out knowing full details and with out prying? Also I know what not to say to people who have mentioned they are trying for children but I don’t know what to say either. Should I be asking a different question, if so what? Any ideas would be helpful.

    • lea

      As someone who has been on the receiving end of that question in a scenario just like you describe (several times actually), I don’t really have a problem with it. It does seem a strange thing to ask- I can’t think of another instance where it happens…

      “Your boyfriend is hot”, “thanks, do you have a boyfriend?”….hmmm
      “Your dog is so cute”, “thanks, do you have a dog?”….
      “Your house is lovely”, “thanks, do you have a house?”
      “I love your car”, “thanks, do you have a car?”…. (ok now I’m just being silly)

      It does kind of suggest that you couldn’t have an interest in a child if you don’t have your own, but I’m sure that is not how it is intended, and so that is not how I take it.
      Personally though, I think you should probably try something else. It is awkward for both people after the “oh, ok”. The silence that follows often compels me to volunteer information I’d rather not share to a stranger and then we all lose ;)

      If you want to keep the conversation going, I would offer up some little bit of info about your daughter and then see if they want to engage. Like “thanks, she’s almost 3 now and loves coming shopping with me”. Something neutral and not overshare-y, but enough to get a comment back (if the person is interested).

      Otherwise, a thanks and a smile is perfect :)

    • competitivenonfiction

      I totally ask people if they have a dog when they are interacting with my dog. This happens quite regularly and I can say with certainty that if they don’t have a dog, they’re dog people because otherwise they wouldn’t be approaching me to pet my pup.

    • lea

      Do you? I guess it just never crossed my mind to ask people who come over to meet my pup :)

    • competitivenonfiction

      It never occurred to me that that’s weird. However, I would totally ask someone if they wanted a dog or if they had one, but I wouldn’t ask the same about children. One is a loaded question that involves speculation about how someone is meeting societal expectations, another is whether or not you’re into pets.

  • Nina

    @lea. Thanks. And I don’t mean the question in a negative way, so thank you for not taking it that way. I just don’t to be one of those people who talks too much about there kid. Is there something that I could say that would lead in a different direction in the conversation w/out seeming rude? And does anyone have any ideas if someone says they have been trying for kids? The medical assistant at my daughter’s pediatrician said this to me and I wasn’t sure how to respond I just said oh sorry and it was awkward around her until she got a different job. I knew it couldn’t have been easy because at the time my daughter was maybe a week old. I honestly wasn’t expecting that information and I want to have a better answer prepared if I experience this again. (Something I could use for both sexes because I had a male boss tell me the same thing)

    • lea

      For those who say “we’re trying” or whatever, I would go with something like “oh how exciting for you, good luck!”. Then if they want to bring up that they have been trying for ages without success a simple, genuine “I’m sorry, that must be hard” will do. Don’t try any “what worked for us” kind of thing, I’m sure they’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt. And nothing trite like “it will happen when the time is right” or any of that crap- it’s so patronising, especially from someone who already has a child. And the “have fun practicing” type comments make me want to vomit ;)

      I wouldn’t worry too much about being a person who talks about their child too much in this instance, because they have brought it up. By making comment on your child, I think it is only reasonable that they expect an answer having to do with said child.

      You sound like a very considerate person, Nina :)

    • Lastango

      You’ve given wise advice here. I really like your tone, and your approach of having a continuation that acknowledges and validates their experience, and doesn’t trivialize their situation.

      In these sorts of interpersonal exchanges with people we don’t know well, I think it pays to start with a clear conception of what is actually going on. For instance, it’s important to understand that it is neither necessary nor appropriate for us to take on the responsibility of solving their problem. That frees us to be supportive without feeling trapped.

      Sometimes we meet someone who is in pain, and needs someone to talk to. If we’re interested, have the time, and also the confidence and skill to extricate ourselves, we might choose to respond with, “How has that been for you?” or “How do you feel about that?”. They do the talking. At the end, we might say something like, “I hear you saying that it has been difficult for the two of you. I hope everything works out for the best.”

  • bumbler

    Do single, childless women really need to be tip toed around? I get the common courtesy of not being TOO nosey, but if they’re in your family and you’re trying to scrounge up small talk, these are pretty common topics. If you have to have a 10 bullet point list of off-limit questions to hand out to people at christmas, maybe you’re being just a tad unrealistic and over demanding.
    I think a more helpful post would be responses that single, childless women can make to these questions, since grandma isn’t reading this blog and is going to ask them anyways. Then again, is it really SO HARD to say “I don’t want kids” “I don’t know” “I don’t want to talk about that” “Oh, let me suddenly change the subject without answering” etc. The people who matter will likely already know the answer to these questions, and it’s fine to give dry, generic responses to everyone else.

    • K.

      Well, it’s kind of awkward to set your own life choices (presumably, marriage and children) up as a standard and to quiz single, childless women as to how they are striving or not striving for that standard–which is what a lot of these faux pas are about (setting up a friend at Thanksgiving = come on, find someone and get married!; “practicing” with your children = come on, don’t you want children?!).

      I mean, I get that the writer is a bit tongue-in-cheek and really what it comes down to is why does anyone’s romantic or reproductive life need to be a point of conversation? What’s wrong with “have you seen XYZ movie?” or “I read the most fascinating article in XYZ newspaper” or “how ’bout dem XYZ sports team” or just, “how’s work”?

      But I DO like your suggestion of an article about how women can respond to such questions–that’s an opportunity for some fun.

    • lea

      “Then again, is it really SO HARD to say “I don’t want kids” “I don’t know” “I don’t want to talk about that” “Oh, let me suddenly change the subject without answering” etc.”

      No, not the first time. But when you get asked these types of questions at every social event you attend, it gets old very quickly.
      I don’t think it matters so much if it is great aunt Ethel, or grandma asking the questions- you give your family a little leeway, it’s more for friends and acquaintances.

      Are we really that socially inept that the level of our conversation making ability has stooped to asking personal questions as a matter of course?

    • Scarlette

      I’m glad I have family that doesn’t include a nosey busy body like you. How about, I don’t ask you why your kid is a horrible brat and you’re feeding him three glasses of Mountain Dew, and you don’t ask me about how I live my life?

      Maybe you should be asking yourself more questions and other people less.

  • Helen Donovan

    What disgusting person discusses potty training or anything feces related while eating??!!

    • Nerdy Lucy

      You’d be surprised.

  • firefly1399

    FYI: Not all single and childless women are suicidal at the holidays (or any other day!). Some women have – gasp! – chosen to be single or don’t want children. Not every woman is dying for a man and kids. As someone who is single, I still love the holidays because I don’t need a boyfriend to be happy… I have tons of friends and a wonderful family to spend my holidays with. Would I like to have a boyfriend to bring home for Christmas? Yes, but I’m not going to burst into tears if an aunt I only see a few times a year asks if I’m dating someone because she wants to catch up on what’s going on in my life. As for children, watching all the moms have to deal with feeding, changing, and entertaining their kids all day while I sit back and enjoy myself just provides another reason why I don’t want kids.

    • lea

      “Some women have – gasp! – chosen to be single or don’t want children. Not every woman is dying for a man and kids.”

      Wasn’t that the point? That it is rude and/or offensive to suggest that a single woman must be in need or want of a man and a brood of kids.
      Or did I miss something?

    • firefly1399

      I felt like the whole article had a tone of “it doesn’t matter why a woman is single/childless, at the holidays she will be upset and being at your house and seeing you with your husband and children will make it worse.” I mean, the article talks about how she will have topics that she might like to discuss that doesn’t involve kids and to go ahead and let her do that.

      If a woman has chosen to not be in a relationship or to not have kids she will most likely not be offended if someone asks her about it. She will also not mind hearing others talk about their kids. I guess my point here is that single women don’t need to be “tip-toed” around at the holidays… you can treat them just like you would treat any other guest at your home.

    • lea

      “If a woman has chosen to not be in a relationship or to not have kids she will most likely not be offended if someone asks her about it.”

      See I think the opposite. I think that by asking whether a person is in a relationship or wants kids it can be construed to imply that those are the next logical steps in a person’s life so thereby assuming that of course that is what she is aiming for. Which is offensive.

      But I agree that single women don’t need to be tip toed around during the holidays. What usually happens in social settings though is that it seems to be perfectly acceptable to ask those kinds of inappropriate questions to a woman- but you’d never see, for example, a single man face the same kinds of interrogation. I thought that was the point the article was getting at. I guess we all read it a bit differently depending on our own experiences.

      I’ve been married for about a year and a half now and I cannot believe how often I’ve been asked by random acquaintances it we’re having kids soon. It drives me up the wall, I think its so rude. Hell someone asked me on my wedding night, I’d be married for 6 hours. (And before that it was when are you getting married, ugh). On the other hand, my husband has been asked maybe a handful of times.

  • Zeta

    Do people’s brains fall out the instant they have kids/fail to have kids? S/he’s an adult, you’re an adult, just make conversation! I am single and childless but I effing love kids and would be fine if somebody asked me any of these questions-I’d think they were bizarre heteronormative jerks but I wouldn’t be offended, just sad. If people need these kinds of lists then maybe it’s *them* who are easily offended!

    • lea

      “Do people’s brains fall out the instant they have kids/fail to have kids?”

      A quick visit to my FaceBook news feed, and STFUParents would suggest that the answer to this question, for many but not all, is YES. (although at least a few of them were probably like that before they had kids too)

  • Nina

    @Lea thanks again!!!!! That “How exciting good luck” comment is perfect I’ll be sure to remember it.

    What if it’s a friend that has been trying for over a year? She was my husband’s close friend growing up and we get along pretty well but we’re not close and don’t see each other often. Her and her husband have both been tested and is on medication to make her more fertile and she’s not quite to the point of doing IVF. A few years ago she was told she wouldn’t be able to have kids but now there’s a small possibility. Shes SUPER focused on having children and that fine to each their own but is there some way I can comfort her? Are there things that I may not realize that could be unintentionally hurting her so I can avoid them? I’ve never struggled w/getting pregnant so I’m not sure how to help and support her. I just want to be here for her. Thanks in advance for your help.

    • lea

      I think that most reasonable people will not expect you to be on eggshells around them. That said, I think being tactful and not gushing too much about the joys of motherhood etc would be wise.

      Remember that people going through a hard time can feel equally bad if people aren’t “normal” and just themselves around them, as when people are insensitive. Your best bet is to keep it light and brief when discussing your kids (and pregnancies, if it comes up, don’t bring it up yourself), and then let her set the tone for the conversation. If she asks questions, and wants to talk about it then do, but like Lastango suggested above- try to refrain from anything resembling advice or suggestions and just use supportive reflective statements like what Lastango suggests, e.g. “That sounds like it has been tough for you both, how are you coping”.

      I tend to try to make light of situations to make people laugh a bit too- but you have to be careful with that, unless you know the person well enough I suppose. I sa things like “I’ll bet you’ve been approached by all crazies with their wacky theories for how to get pregnant, those assholes”, allowing the person to let off a bit of steam about all the annoying, unsolicited shit “advice” they get on a regular basis from every expert and his dog ;)

      Honestly though, as I said before, you sound super considerate so I bet that you are actually more help than you know (if only by not being another one of those nosey assholes!!!)

  • Faye

    I’m engaged and childless but I’ve made it pretty clear that I have no interest whatsoever in having children, so I don’t get questioned. I like kids, so I just have fun with the ones that are there and (hopefully) we all have a good time. (I am counting on getting a lot of, “Do you have a date set?” questions, but that one is easy I just smile and say “After I graduate.”)

    My “how to” on not offending the single and childless, just be tactful. If you accidentally step on someone’s toes, hopefully they are adult enough to respond just as tactfully.

  • Heather

    The thing about questions like this is how they are asked. A relative with whom you aren’t in very close touch may ask if you are dating anyone just for the sake of catching up. Same type of thing as “where are you working now,” “how’s school going,” “how is your dog,” etc. any casual question has the potential to turn awkward (got laid off, couldn’t afford to stay in school, had to put the dog down, for example) but that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t catch up with small talk about each other’s lives. The problem comes when people are judgmental – my boyfriend and I have been together for a year and a half, and I hate it when acquaintances imply that he has to “step it up” and put a ring on it soon. We are doing well and do hope to be engaged and married someday, but just because we’ve passed your “too soon” guideline doesn’t mean we have to hurry up. It will happen when it is right for us.

  • Appalled

    This article was only mildly disturbing, until I got to the last page. Please tell me this is a joke. Please.

  • Kathrin Lacey

    Or, the childless woman might be infertile, and your stupid questions and comments are punching her in the gut all night.