Like many people, I get nervous in situations where I'll be meeting lots of new people. I used to dread the inevitable "Do you have kids?" because I didn't know how to respond, and I was always surprised to be asked the question.
Being unprepared is weird, because when you don't have kids, it's guaranteed you'll hear the question for the rest of your life. And we already know there will probably be an awkward pause when we say "No." Since we know the high probability of being asked, why not have a number of responses at the ready?
These days I love the question, because I get to talk about my non-moms project. If the other person is game, we can easily start comparing and contrasting our experiences, regardless whether they have kids or not. It's interesting, and most people seem relieved to be able to broach the subject.
Sometimes I even ask the kid question first as a way to buy myself some time to feel less defensive and get better prepared for the rest of the exchange. I know it's highly likely they'll soon ask me if I have kids, and I remind myself, we're just trying to find something to talk about.
You can steer the conversation wherever you want it to go. You're in control, as long as you're prepared.
In my post about evasion strategies I mentioned that it's always appropriate to evade the question as a means of self-care. But if you're in the mood to try having a more frank conversation, engage the questioner and invite them into the topic.
1. Talk about talking about the subject - It's easy to talk about how awkward it can be to talk about not having kids. Example: "How often have you talked openly about the topic with someone who doesn't have kids? Why do you think that is?"
2. Share factual information - Armed with a few facts and figures, you can open up topics you're interested in. Example: "One-in-five women will never have kids. That's a lot of women, and I heard projections that the next generation will be one in three. Did you know that?"
3. Talk about someone else's experience - It's so much easier to talk about somebody else, especially when we're getting used including the subject. Example: "I heard about a woman who's starting a scholarship for homeless women who don't have kids. I hope to do something like that someday. What about you?"
4. Offer a tidbit about your own experience - If you want to bring the conversation to a more personal level, take the initiative and share something about how not having kids has impacted you. Example: "I didn't know how to stay involved with my best friend after she had kids. Have you had that experience?"
The hardest part is taking the risk to start up a conversation in different way.