Most people find meeting strangers is hard work. Over time, we come up with a variety of questions we use to get conversations going. Questions about the weather, a favorite sports team, some current event. We're hoping to connect, find common interests.
For some, "Do you have kids?" gets added to the repertoire. Typically after you've had some yourself. Non-parents rarely pose this question.
Odds are, about once every five times the question is asked, the answer will be "No." Followed by an awkward pause. The questioner might want to know why, but also knows that's rude to ask. The responder tries to come up with some answer that will shift the conversation to something else. The pause is weird.
I say the question offers a golden opportunity for non-parents to steer the conversation wherever you want it to go. Because when you don't have kids, you know for sure you'll have to answer this question over and over for the rest of your life. You're in control. But only if you're prepared.
You know what's going on in your life vis-à-vis parenthood. That's your first indicator of an appropriate response. Say you're tender about not having kids or simply not in the mood to talk about it at the moment. Choose to evade the subject.
1. Bait and switch - Since the person asking is highly likely to have kids, inquire about them. Then quickly shift to a different topic. Example: "You're a mom, right? How many kids do you have?" Follow up with something like, "I think role models matter. Not counting parents, who are yours?"
2. Use humor and shift - If it fits your personality and the situation, humor offers a quick exit from the awkward pause. Example: "My siblings made me promise not to have kids. Obviously, I'm the eldest. What about you?"
3. Cut and run - It's wise, not rude, to take care of yourself. Sometimes you can tell someone's apt to render judgment or argue about why having kids is so important. Example: "Gosh, please excuse me. I need to go to the restroom." (The restroom is one of my favorite places of mental respite.)
If you're in the mood to be frank, engage the questioner and skillfully welcome them to talk about the topic. I cover specific strategies in a separate post.