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Hey Readers!

This week, I give you Father Knows Best first ever crowd-sourced column. I hadn’t actually been planning on writing with a bunch of my friends. But the last 24 hours have changed that. Here’s what happened.

On Sunday eve I posted a status update on Facebook that went like this:

I find it curious when folks assume that our third child was a mistake or a surprise. And I find it positively bizarre when folks feel permission to share that assumption with [my wife] Phoebe or me. Our cultural norm says that speculating with people about their sex lives is generally kind of creepy. For the record: I would be just as glad if we didn’t make an exception to that norm around the question of whether or not a couple meant to conceive a child. 

I wrote that update in response to a conversation earlier in the day that had left me a little startled, a little amused, and a little annoyed. I guess I wanted to vent to the interwebs. And I guess I expected that a handful of people would “like” what I had to say or post a jocular comment or two.

I have rarely posted anything on Facebook that has generated so many comments.

My friends Anne, Georgia, and Dan (I have erred on the side of changing names) wrote that they have had similar experiences — that their colleagues, friends, and passing acquaintances have simply assumed that one or more of their children were the result of contraceptive slip-ups. Faith, the mother of a boy and a girl, spoke of people making the strange declaration that, “oh, you have a boy AND a girl: how perfect, you can stop now!” Rebecca, who has one son, told of enduring endless inquiries about when she would be having a second baby and, indeed, about how selfish it is to parent an only child.

Then there were my friends who don’t have children or who waited a while after settling down with their partners before having kids. Both Miranda and Sara wrote of reproductive nagging from their parents or other family members. (Huge kudos to Sara husband, who stopped his mom’s relentless inquiries after grandkids by saying that they “wanted her to have perfect grandchildren, and since practice makes perfect, [they] were ardently practicing.”) Karen, who does not have children, spoke of how hard it is when people assume that she is childless by choice. Some people, she told us, even go so far as to congratulate her for not having kids.

My friend Jennifer is in a same-gender marriage and the mother of a developmentally atypical son.

“Seventy-five percent of people we encounter,” she wrote, “ask how our son was conceived. Then they ask my partner if she knew he was disabled before she adopted him.”

And Doug had this to say: “What possible good could come of [knowing that a pregnancy was unplanned]? To know that a person was a mistake? If so, what then? As a mistake myself, I’m of the mind that all people are lucky to exist and how they got here is their own business.”

While none of my friends mentioned it in their comments, I will add in the experience of those women whose pregnancy or labor was traumatic and who now must endure their trauma being trivialized by people who tell them that “the important thing” is that they and their children are healthy.

I don’t know why we say these things. The most charitable explanation that I can come up with is that we are well-intentioned but thoroughly clueless. The other explanation that I can think of is that we are those things that rhyme with the phrase “gas poles.” Whatever the reason may be, here’s my advice: stop it. Stop assuming that someone did or did not intend to conceive a child. Stop engaging in the gross pomposity of telling people they have too many or too few children. Stop nagging for grandkids. Stop implying that no one would voluntarily parent an atypical child. Stop asking how a woman got pregnant. Stop belittling women’s birth stories.

There may be times within the context of a close friendship when it is appropriate to gently and empathetically and without assumption ask after someone’s reproductive experience. As a general rule, however, proceed under the assumption that, if someone wants to talk about this subject, he or she will. Let that person initiate the conversation. If he or she does not choose to do so, take that as an invitation to shut up about babies and everything to do with them.

Because, after all, it’s really none of your business.

The post Father Knows Best: “Stop assuming someone didn’t intend to conceive” appeared first on Father Knows Best.

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Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

4 Comments

  1. […] Father Knows Best: “Stop assuming someone didn't intend to conceive” Our cultural norm says that speculating with people about their sex lives is generally kind of creepy. For the record: I would be just as glad if we didn't make an exception to that norm around the question of whether or not a couple meant to conceive … Read more on Religion News Service […]

  2. […] Father Knows Best: “Stop assuming someone didn't intend to conceive” Our cultural norm says that speculating with people about their sex lives is generally kind of creepy. For the record: I would be just as glad if we didn't make an exception to that norm around the question of whether or not a couple meant to conceive … Read more on Religion News Service […]

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