07 Mar What Not To Ask
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 14.3.22
We’re all a bit edgy in these Pandemic times, so I’ve been asking around for samples of the things we might be saying to each other than tip us over that edge. Turns out, you don’t have to bring up the virus or vaccines to ruin a conversation – pregnancy and parenting can do it, too.
It’s weirdly comforting to remind ourselves we’ve been saying dumb stuff to each other forever. But since we are living in what is objectively a Very Difficult Time, a chat about what not to ask each other is timely.
In terms of frequency, my survey says top of the list of Worst Questions People Ask is, “When is the baby due?” It’s a sweet enough enquiry if you’re planning to knit booties and want to know how fast to get the needles flying, but it’s a truly terrible thing to ask of someone who is, you know, not actually pregnant. Looking pregnant when not pregnant is not aspirational. Nor is being reminded you’re not pregnant if you quietly aspire to be.
We should agree right now on a fundamental rule: do not mention someone else’s pregnancy until they do. If they’re actually pregnant, they’ll probably bring it up so wait for that. Even if they’re having something that might be contractions and you think you can see a baby’s head crowning, I’d still keep it subtle and maybe gently ask if they’d like you to boil some water and grab some towels.
It may seem counterintuitive but, as much as people love talking about their kids, let them take the lead on what gets covered. Definitely do not ask “Was it planned?” (we always say they were, regardless), or “Do your kids know they are adopted?” followed by, “How much did they cost?” (Not kidding, real question asked of a real parent.)
Also, we need to keep our sticky beaks out of when people might have another kid, and out of asking people who don’t have children why not. Though the opportunity to say, “Because we don’t breed well in captivity” can be very welcome.
Also, we must not ask, “Have you had your baby yet?” While it can be hard to tell because normal women don’t go back to their pre-pregnancy shape … like, ever … this is going to be awkward if her response is to call over a toddler as Exhibit A. Instead, maybe try, “What you been up to?” and see if a recent birth is at the top of her news.
When we a see a woman out doing her career, let’s not immediately ask her who’s looking after the kids – it suggests that’s her real job and she must have done something strategically and logistically amazing to wriggle out of it. Plus, right now she might want to exist in the world as something other than a parent.
We should not, at any point, ask if her partner is “babysitting”. Fathers don’t like it either. That thing dads do when they spend time with their kids is just called “parenting” and you don’t get paid for it by the hour or get a lift home afterwards, and you make your own supper.
Best thing to say to parents? One person told me they’ve never forgotten being told by a stranger, “I love the way you talk to your kids!” And a mother overhearing grandma say to her daughter, “You are a strong woman, and you come from a long line of strong women”. Gold.