There’s a situation that happens every so often and there just isn’t any way to avoid it. You run into a friend from the past and then you begin exchanging the customary greetings and pleasantries. The all too predictable questioning begins.
“How are you?”
“Where are you living now?”
“Are you still working in the same job?”
“How’s (fill in husband’s name)?”
And then (here it comes) the question you dread. Not that you mind answering it, but it’s what follows that is so painful. It’s the pause, the hesitation, the uncertainty of the other person in how to respond to your answer.
“So, how many kids do you have now?”
Whether you say, “We don’t have any children,” or “We still have just the one,” the awkward pause, or more likely the surprised “Oh…” that the other person uses to fill in the awkward pause, is still very uncomfortable. You know your friend is scrambling to try and find something to say in response, but she and the others before her have rarely done it gracefully. And come on, can you really blame them? The art of conversation in every culture has certain rules to it and you’ve just broken one. You’ve thrown off the other player and now she doesn’t know what move to make next.
A similar awkwardness happens to each of us when we are shocked to find out that an old aquaintence lost a husband or child or has cancer. But when I hear this news I am absolutely certain what my attitude should be. I should express sympathy and share how sorry I am. This is always the right move. But the thing that is different about sharing your barrenness is that others are not sure whether the news you are giving them is supposed to be good or bad .
You see, your old friend has other friends who have chosen to be childless. They dreaded the thought of a painful labor, whiny kids, and sleepless nights. Their unburdened lifestyle is carefree and spontaneous. They seem to be very happy. And in a split second your old friend has to try and figure out if you are one of them, too. Should she try and admire your freedom or pity your fruitlessness? She doesn’t know what is expected of her. And so she freezes.
So what’s the answer to this dilema? Love your neighbor. Show her what her next move should be. Be prepared for this question at all times and give an answer that expresses both your level of comfort with the topic and also paves the way for the conversation to continue on safe ground.
Here are some possible responses you can make:
“We haven’t been given the gift of any children yet. We still pray for them. We’re looking into adoption right now, though, and that’s exciting. What about your kids? What are their ages now?”
“We haven’t been gifted with any children so far. We manage to keep pretty busy, though, with _______ and ______. What seems to take up most of your time these days?
“We still just have the one. He’s ____ now and is such a blessing to us. He loves ________ and ________. What have your kids been involved with lately?”
Whatever you do, don’t just throw out a statement and leave it hanging there, expecting her to continue the game without a fumble. Always end your answer with a question that shows sincere interest in her life. You’ll skip right over that awkward pause and at the same time be able to share the gifts God has given you now.