“Do you have kids?” “Do you have my foot in your ass?”

23 05 2011

I spent Saturday, May 21st, the day we all heard would be the end of the world, at my cousin’s baby shower. I thought that I might be hoping for a little rapture action an hour or so in, but it was actually delightful. No gross games involving adults eating baby food or guessing what candy bar has been melted into a diaper (apparently, people do that.) Just a bunch of ladies hanging out, eating too many snacks, and squealing over the tininess of baby clothes every so often.

But then, of course, someone had to harsh my buzz.

“Oh, there’s going to be two babies in the family this summer! That’s going to be good practice for you.”

Naturally, I responded, “Practice? You mean like for football?” I did a little pantomime to get my point across. (Note: SocialJerk does not endorse spiking babies.)

Once I entered my mid-20s, people somehow decided that my uterus and its goings-on were up for discussion. I cannot say that I am tired, hungry, nauseated, or emotional without some helpful soul asking if I could be pregnant. This woman at the shower was a friend of my aunt’s. I did not ask her how menopause was treating her, so I thought it was overstepping a bit for her to tell me that I was planning for babies.

One prize-winner at work brings this up with me regularly. When I explain that I have no plans for children, for a very, very long time (that second “very” is for any family members reading) she will say something charming like, “Well, you never know. It could be a surprise!”

I’m sorry, are you wishing an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy on me? That’s certainly in line with social work values. My responses have gotten progressively more biting. From a simple, “No,” to, “I love my birth control. I tuck it in at night,” to “Surprise pregnancies happen, not surprise babies.” (She had to think about that last one.)

As so often happens, I seem to just be generally ranting. What does this have to do with social work?

Whether or not you have children is of great interest to clients. Just last week a new client asked me about this.

It’s tricky. A lot of times clients ask questions about our personal lives–where we live, how old we are, what we like to do, all of that. I think “do you have kids?” though, is the most loaded question, when one is working with parents. The implication being, if the answer is no, you can’t possibly know anything about raising children.

I usually wriggle around these questions. (Social workers are notoriously slippery, and I am no exception.) Because, really, it’s not relevant. If you want to know about my education or qualifications, you’re certainly entitled to that. If you want to know where I got my awesome new sunglasses, I will tell you, because they were a sweet deal.

But there’s no going back from, “No, I don’t have kids.” I would have to fake a pregnancy like that failed Lindsay Lohan movie no one saw. Including me, obviously. Anyway…

Until you have kids, you can’t understand what it’s like to be a parent. I am willing to acknowledge this. I don’t know what it’s like to have a child, to be completely responsible for another person and have that person consume your every waking thought.

At the same time, this doesn’t mean I have nothing to offer. I have never gone skydiving, but I understand that you should probably have a parachute and an experienced jumper with you. I’ve never gone scuba diving, but I hear that an oxygen tank is rather helpful.

I spent a good portion of my teenage summers babysitting my four much younger cousins on a farm in New Mexico. I did plenty of babysitting throughout college. I worked in a pre school and an afterschool program for a couple of years after I graduated. I have studied child development and psychology. I also spent the first 17 years of my life (and some would say even more) as a child.

Not only do I have experience with kids, but I can assist with sheep herding if you’re really in a pinch.

It might be easier to get around the “Do you have kids?” question if so many social workers with children were a little quieter about it.

“Oh, I know, my son’s school is very similar.”
“My daughter wanted to date when she was that age, I was the same way as you are.”
“I need to get home to cook dinner for my kids now! Start my second job, hahaha!”

That last one is particularly clever. (A rant for another time: leave jokes to funny people.) “My son,” or “my kids” is generally emphasized almost to the point of shouting. Translation: Hear that? I have kids! We’re both parents! So much in common, you should definitely listen to me.

No, I don’t have children. At the end of the day, I have time to hit up the gym, or watch goofy movies (sometimes, A Goofy Movie) with my roommates. I don’t have to pack lunch or do laundry for anyone but myself.

In a way, I think that’s a pretty good example to set. No, I don’t know exactly what your life with children is like. I wouldn’t know exactly what it was like if I did have children, either. But when I have disclosed a bit of personal information to my teen girls, they like what they hear.

“You live with your friends, miss? And you had popcorn for dinner last night?!”

When you spend your formative years caring for your mother and sisters’ children, the revelation that such a thing is possible can be kind of thrilling. We all have aspects of our personal lives that inform our practice and allow us to help our clients in meaningful ways. Focusing on that, rather than one-upping each other, is probably the way to go.

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21 responses

23 05 2011
mjfrombuffalo

I worked in congregate care and one of the group home staff told me I was incredibly selfish for not having kids. I’m thinking it’s selfish to have kids just to make other people think better of you, and it’s pretty selfless to realize you just don’t want to deal with kids and so NOT HAVE THEM instead of having them and expressing your resentment to them 24/7.

Later I was in a position to hire someone for a high position in a technical department at my agency, the name of which included the word “children.” I got a cover letter that said, and I quote, “i have a lot of experience with children, having been one myself.” Too bad she didn’t know anything about setting up database programming to deal with batch files, that would have been more relevant 😉

23 05 2011
socialjerk

Selfish? Because seven billion people on the planet isn’t enough? I definitely agree, it’s much more selfish to have kids for the wrong reasons. I wish more people thought like you, rather than just thinking that marriage and then babies are the next steps in life.

23 05 2011
mozart

I can totally relate. While, I am male and don’t have to deal with questions of childbearing, the token parent move is my favorite in my social work bag of tools. My first year of grad school we were expecting my daughter..and my supervisor would introduce me like, hi everyone this is mozart..he goes to blah blah..and he’s ecpecting a baby!

I think she was trying to give me clout in a room of mandated parents, and it worked…and I used it every chance I get. I do believe though that we need to create stronger bonds of shared interests, because those are the cheap seats. Great service and connection goes deeper than.. o yea! I like the Knicks too..funny post. Great insight!

23 05 2011
socialjerk

For a minute, I thought you were telling me that you like the Knicks…and I was confused, as I am not a basketball fan 🙂 I definitely agree, though. That kind of common experience doesn’t mean all that much to me. I mean, I went to high school, I don’t presume to know everything about my teenagers’ experiences. “Being a parent” is just such a broad spectrum.

But I fully support using whatever means necessary as an intern. Thanks so much for your kind words!

23 05 2011
cb

Love the post – as I work with adults, I don’t get the ‘do you have kids’ question too much although as a foster carer, I do. I think some of the other foster carers/social workers find it strange that I don’t have my own kids or can’t seem to understand that I am not unable to have children – yes, they do ask! I just don’t see a foster child as a replacement for my own (potential) child – I thought that was the ‘right’ way, but it is certainly hard for others to comprehend!

23 05 2011
socialjerk

People get very invasive when they find out you may not want biological kids. The assumption that all people (women in particular) want kids is something I would think we would have moved beyond.

And I think that anyone who thinks that you should want to have biological children in order to be a foster carer has a very different idea of foster care than they should.

23 05 2011
Annmarie

Actually, you CAN have a surprise baby. I first read about a lady with PCOS who had a baby without ever knowing she was pregnant 15-20 years aho. In the past few years, there was evev a tv series about all kinds of women like this. And no, they weren’t just in denial.

she w

23 05 2011
socialjerk

Fair enough. I think, given the number of births per year, the “surprise” ones are fairly rare. I was just trying to make the point to this woman that I would not feel obligated to bring a child to term if I got pregnant when I didn’t want to. I think that the, “maybe you’ll get knocked up by mistake!” is pretty uncool.

Also, was there more to this comment that got cut off? Or are you trapped under something heavy and in need of assistance? 🙂

Thanks for reading!

23 05 2011
Social over worker

As a fostering social worker I’m asked this on an almost daily basis. What if I’d had a miscarriage? Or a still birth? What would they do with that information? So freaking annoying.

I actually have a condition which means kids is a very distant possibility, if at all. It angers me that I could be judged on my ability to procreate, because I most likely cannot.

Like you I’ve worked with a LOT of kids, studied child development many times and encounter a lot of the snot gobblers on a regular basis.

The way I handle it? “No, but I’m willing to let you teach me”… they eat that up. 😉

23 05 2011
socialjerk

People give so little thought into what a sensitive subject this can be. And they act like they deserve answers. The woman I work with told me that “statistics show that people who don’t have kids regret it later on.” Really? What studies? Were they peer reviewed? Personally, I have no idea if I can have kids. I’ve spent my adult life actively avoiding the possibility. I think it would be a good idea for more people to consider that this is a possibility.

And I love that method! I just used it this past week. “Oh, I’m sure there’s a lot you can teach me.” This woman is super ready for that!

23 05 2011
Carlos

I suppose since I am just a student, that really shouldn’t bother. So I cannot really object in the matter. It would probably annoy me if the question came up a lot though.

23 05 2011
socialjerk

I think women get it more. People seem to assume that women are trying to secure this settled down life, while men are living it up until someone ropes them into the family life. Or something like that. The question didn’t bother me too much when I started getting it, but now it’s so regular that I can almost cut it off before it starts!

24 05 2011
Carolyn

And then there are the people that, when you acknowledge the fact that you do not have children, feel they have the right to know why. As it was not planned and it was my body that had the issues, this is a more than painful subject for me.

25 05 2011
socialjerk

I’m so sorry that you have to deal with that. It blows my mind that people are that insensitive, as the idea of people being unable to have biological children is far from unheard of. I hope that the message is getting out to people a bit more that it’s none of their business.

26 05 2011
Rebecca

Amen. Amen. Amen. Hallelujah Amen. Having a foster kid, I found myself unconsciously chiming in “MY kid blah blah” and then kicking myself for getting sucked into the ridiculousness.

26 05 2011
socialjerk

I worry that if I ever have kids I’ll fall into that. I’m sure it’s hard to avoid. I hope to some day soon have a cat that I can bring up in those kinds of conversations. “Ah yes, McGonagall also has separation anxiety issues. I know what it’s like.” 🙂

26 05 2011
mjfrombuffalo

I have cats. I’ve tried this with parents. It does not work. It does, however, directly contribute to the wardrobe stuff you were discussing in a previous thread. Social workers wear muted colors to hide the cat hair, the sweaters get stretched out by the cats’ sleeping on them, and the dishevelled look that comes later in a Social Worker’s career comes from deciding to wear whatever looks the most hair-free when leaving the house.

30 05 2011
Nectarine

Hate to break it to you, but unfortunately this line of questioning may not even stop after you DO have a child. I have one daughter, and evidently this is not enough for some people. I still get asked all the time when I’m going to have another one, and get accused of being pregnant if I’m ever nauseous, have a head ache, etc…
Are you kidding me? this one is 7, we are finally getting our life back! I’m totally not into taking 2 steps forward and one step back…

4 06 2011
socialjerk

It’s unbelievable the things that people think are their business. Though I will say, one good thing that comes from this line of questioning–I think it’s made me more considerate of others. Before I ask something about someone’s life, I ask myself, “Is this my business? Does this affect me in any way?” Rather often, the answer is no.

3 06 2011
sarahk

Thankfully I work with adults so I don’t get this question much, or if I do people are just curious. More often my clients ask me if I’ve ever done drugs, or been arrested 😛

4 06 2011
socialjerk

Oh, I get that as well. Those I can usually have a more humorous answer to 🙂

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