Monday, July 7, 2008

"simple" questions

I remember getting ready to graduate from college, bombarded by questions from everyone wanting to know "what are you going to do now?" Then, once I had a job, the question was "when are you going to date?" You know where this is going.... Next was "when are you getting married" and then of course "when are you having a baby?" It seems that we are always looking to the next possible stage of life, and always "encouraging" others to move to what we perceive to be that next stage. After our miscarriage (our first pregnancy, so no other kids), people continued to ask when we would start our family. It had become a painful question, no longer small talk between two aquaintances. One of the worst questions was on Mother's Day, when lighthearted "jokes" were made.

I have two main problems with this kind of questioning. First - why the pressure to do the next thing? I am no more whole as a parent than I was as a spouse; no more whole as a spouse than as a single...etc. The questions, while seemingly innocent, give off an assumption that someone is lacking, missing out, incomplete, if they have not moved to the next stage (whatever that is) or are at least moving in that direction.

Secondly - of all the various stage questions to ask (college, degree, job, spouse, kids, etc), asking about a baby is perhaps the most painful. We need to THINK before asking this question. Perhaps the couple is waiting before starting their family - this seems to be the assumption most people make when asking the question. Perhaps they do not want kids at all (for a variety of reaons) - for those who really want a baby, this option is almost unfathomable, but it isn't a wrong option. Perhaps they have tried but have been unable to conceive. Or, perhaps they have lost one or more babies to miscarriage or stillbirth. Asking when they will start their family just jabs at the already painful place in their hearts.

Let's stop assuming. And stop expecting that everyone else is on the same path, with the same desires and goals. I realize that we ask because we are interested about the other person, and don't really know what to talk about. So we ask about the future, or about what we think the future does or should hold. Let's be creative here. Think of questions to ask that don't immediately hit on possibly painful areas. Share something about yourself, or strike up a conversation about the weather. Or ask what they're looking forward to in the near future, or where they see themselves in five years.

Just think. Don't assume. Imagine different situations and how your questions/comments could affect the other person. Be sensitive. And remember - these aren't "simple" questions.

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