What age are you allowed to have children? How to deal with family holiday questions

Here's how to navigate awkward conversations about when you're having a baby that could come up while socializing over the holidays. (Photo: Getty Images/Illustrated by Maayan Pearl)

Here are some tips to help you navigate awkward conversations that might arise while out and about with friends over the holidays. (Photo: Getty Images/Illustrated Maayan pearl)

Holidays are synonymous to gathering with family and friends. And catching up, unfortunately, can sometimes bring invasive questions — including those about when (or if) you are planning to have children.

While the family-expansion questions might seem inevitable for adults of a certain age — especially if they are recently married or partnered up — that doesn’t mean there are no options when it comes to maintaining your privacy. Here’s what experts say.

Why holidays are the best time to ask awkward questions regarding having kids

Asha Tarry, a psychotherapist and mental health advocate, points out that the holidays often bring together people who tend not to see each other very often, making holiday gatherings a “fast track for people to direct their questions to you until the next time you meet.”

But it doesn’t mean people have ill intentions.

As Dr. Tamar Gur, a women’s health expert and reproductive psychiatrist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, notes, the holidays tend to be all about updates — many people even send out cards that include details of one’s family life throughout the year. This precedent may make it easier for people to ask about personal details at holidays than other times.

There’s also the general notion that, when we gather with family and friends, we want to check in on certain “milestones,” she says.

“We all remember when we were in high school, people asked ‘Where are you going to go to college?’ or, when you’re in college, ‘What are you going to major in?’ Then, when we picked our major, ‘What do you do after you graduate?’ People have natural curiosity about our milestones in life,” Gur explains. “I’d like to think of it as a natural progression and nothing more harmful than that — when you’re dating, asking ‘Oh, is this the one? When are you going to have children?’ I think as a society, we expect people to reach these milestones — but just like in anything in life, when we don’t reach our milestones on someone else’s calender or someone else’s timeline, it can be very stressful and difficult.”

Tarry points out that while it’s possible many people are “genuinely curious,” it’s important to listen to one’s gut about the intent behind the question.

“We know that there are those people who are simply looking for gossip to share when they go back home or see that person who didn’t attend the gathering,” she shares. “It’s important that you pay attention to your intuition on this one. If it feels like snooping, it probably is.”

Why it feels uncomfortable talking about pregnancy — and why we need to stop asking about it

“In order to have children, you need to be having sex,” Gur points out. “You’re literally asking someone, ‘Are you having sex right now?’ If that’s not someone who you normally discuss your sex life with, that’s an abrupt and incredibly personal question.”

Family chatting, eating traditional food at christmas home party

When it comes to anxiety over being asked personal family-planning questions at holiday gatherings, says one expert, “Boundaries are your best friend.” (Photo: Getty Images)

There’s also the fact that not everyone wants to have children — or, at the very least, on the timetable that may be expected of them.

And for those who do, a healthy pregnancy and birth aren’t always guaranteed.

“One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, and infertility is increasingly common in this country, especially as couples wait to have children until after they have financial stability or finish their education,” Gur notes. “People are taking longer to become pregnant, and there’s the increase of use of things like [IVF to conceive]. It’s really become a medical procedure in many situations.”

Outside of having the ability to conceive, Gur says that asking about children may bring up issues between partners, who might not be on the same page about when — or whether — to have kids.

“All those things can make that question a painful one to be asked,” she shares.

How can you handle awkward conversations around having children?

Gur says that “boundaries” are important to establish when you find yourself in these uncomfortable scenarios.

“Boundaries are your best friend,” she shares. “Boundaries are healthy barriers between you and the next person, to allow you to have a healthy relationship.”

One way to establish boundaries that’s more “confrontational,” she adds, is to inquire why a person is asking about when you’re having kids in the first place.

“You’re calling their attention to the fact that it’s a really personal question,” she notes. “You can say something like, ‘I didn’t realize we traded details about our sex lives like that.’”

Tarry suggests that you can make these conversations more enjoyable by preparing for them prior to the actual gathering.

“I often advise my clients to consider who might attend holiday gatherings, and rehearse in advance of that gathering a few standard and brief statements to use and repeatedly use if you believe someone will ask you about family planning,” she explains. When you’re in the conversation, she advises pausing to give your body “time to catch up to your mind” and what you “might be interpreting or responding to regarding an invasive question.”

Tarry says when appropriate, you can try a gentle response, such as, “I appreciate your being curious about my family planning, but I’m not comfortable talking about that here or talking about that today.” Or, “I’m sure you’re asking me about family planning because you genuinely want to know, but at this time, my partner and I would prefer to stay away from this topic, or at least until we’re ready to discuss it with everyone.”

She adds that it’s also acceptable to make it known the question makes you uncomfortable — and change the topic accordingly: “Pass the pie!”

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