What do you do for a living? Do you have kids? That seems to be the natural sequence of questions when you first meet someone. What happens when you say “no” to the kid question? If you are a childless woman you know how it goes, usually something like this: 

Person: Do you have kids?
Me: No
Person: Ah, well, you still have time.
Me: No, that ship has sailed.
Person: Well, you could always adopt.
Me: I don’t want to be a single mom, I like my life the way it is.

Awkward silence.

How many unspoken messages can you spot in this exchange? 

What many childless women hear is that something needs to be fixed or that we need children to be happy and fulfilled. It makes sense that people step into this exchange because they are trying to connect. But on the other side of the exchange is the childless woman who may be left with a whole lot of churned up feelings of grief or the feeling that she needs to “fix” her life or fix herself or that she doesn’t have a place in our culture.

If you don’t live in the childless camp, specifically the childless not by choice (cnbc) camp, you are most likely without any frame of reference for what it is like. From subtle cultural hints to overt comments, cultural unconscious bias against childless women is a real thing.

How many times have cnbc women heard, “What I wouldn’t give to have your freedom, your life” or “I envy your life.” While well intentioned, those comments hurt. Many cnbc women would trade their “freedom” for the life these people seem to be referring to as some sort of “imprisonment.” 

So what if we approach childless women as whole people whose lives don’t need fixing?  What if we start shifting how our culture views childlessness? What if we start a new conversation?

What is that new conversation? It involves making small shifts in how we relate to other women, how we engage with every new woman we meet. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  1. Change up your list of conversational defaults. Take the “Do you have kids?” question off the table. It’s an intimate question. Let a woman bring it up herself. Yes, say nothing at all. Or, save it for people you have a closer relationship with. Would you ask someone you just met, “Are you happy in your relationship?” Yet people have no problem prying into the reproductive lives of women.
  2. Show curiosity about women as individuals not as baby makers. Re-frame how you approach conversations with women you’ve just met. Challenge yourself to shine a light on her uniqueness and walk away with one new tidbit about her.
  3. Ask permission. Even if it’s a close friend, give the person a choice to step into the sensitive conversational space. If the person hems and haws to give an answer, probably best to move on. On the other hand, you may be surprised that your sensitivity could create a space for some real dialog.

With just a little bit of awareness, you could be the person to bring some acceptance to a cnbc woman.  Just taking the time to read this and to consider the above tips, you become part of the minority of people who are even aware of this cultural unconscious bias. Thank you.

If you are ready for the next step, start paying attention to the cultural messages related to children. See how many you can collect. Better yet, consider educating others around you to be sensitive. If you hear someone asking the “kid question”, take a few moments to educate them on the potential impact it can have. 

In a world where messages to be sensitive run rampant, you may be thinking, “Not another group I need to pay attention to!” Consider that cnbc women have centuries of stories to tell and just now, at this time in history, a significant groundswell of voices are speaking out in a way that challenges the status quo, voices that say women are valuable with or without children.

Which camp do you fall into? Are you just now waking up to this bias or are you someone who lives it everyday? Either way, I would like to learn about your experiences. Please do not hesitate to reach out at bethrivellicoaching@gmail.com.

If you would like to read more on this topic, I will be adding more content soon on Medium.com!

Content provided by Women Belong member  Beth Rivelli