A couple weeks ago I talked with some young mothers about inappropriate questions that they have had to answer. I’ve had the same questions, and though answering them has not caused me any grief, they easily could have. Questions like, “Are you pregnant?” “Do you guys have a hard time getting pregnant?” “How many kids do you want?” “Is this one a surprise?” “Why don’t you guys have (more) kids?” These questions are different than learning how to think through an issue like family planning by asking someone for their thoughts. Genuine learning questions are in a separate category.
But inquiring into very personal matters out of curiosity, a desire to know, an inability to make conversation on other topics, or as a misapplied expression of care, is a bad idea. Such questions, and any like them, are ones that only very close family and friends should ask, and even then with caution, forethought, and not in the church foyer. If you are not a very close family member or friend, it’s a good idea to stay away from this topic. Why? Because:
Are you pregnant? There are three possible answers to this. (1) No: the woman has just gained some weight and/or looks awful and is now painfully aware of it. (2) No: she was pregnant but lost the baby before she told anyone. Now she has to try and put on a brave face while her husband takes over the conversation. (3) Yes: and she hasn’t made it public knowledge. She will tell you after she tells her parents and siblings.
Do you guys have a hard time getting pregnant? There are many possible answers to this, but the best one may be that seeing as you are neither a medical professional or spiritual advisor whose counsel the couple is seeking, it’s profoundly inappropriate for you to inquire.
How many kids do you want? There are a couple problems with this one. First, the couple might not be able to have “as many kids as they want”. In that case, asking just rubs salt in a very deep wound. Second, it implies that a couple has control over how many they will have. While a couple can certainly influence the number of children they have, it is God who opens and closes the womb; couples and would-be inquirers would have a more biblical view of family planning and propriety if they kept this in mind.
Is this one a surprise? Well, since we don’t put records of our sex life into the church bulletin, I guess it must be a surprise for everyone else. What’s surprising to us is the sudden awkwardness that this question creates in our relationship with you.
Why don’t you guys have (more) kids? Maybe they can’t conceive. Maybe she can’t carry to term and has had half a dozen miscarriages and your question is irreparably damaging your relationship with her. Maybe she is so ill during pregnancy that, though they would love to have more, they are following medical advice and stopping where they are. Maybe they can’t afford to have more kids and you should hand them a cheque instead of embarrassing advice. Maybe they will have more and just aren’t telling you first.
So the next time we feel that question coming, let’s stop ourselves. We’ll save everyone some awkwardness, tears, and possibly a damaged relationship. If someone wants us to know, they will tell us. Our culture doesn’t have a problem with telling. It has trouble with keeping secrets and being appropriate.