Should we be asking this question, it’s a question, we ask quite naively and innocently, it’s a question we don’t mean to cause harm with, it’s a question that can stir up so much emotion in the person it is asked of, it’s just a question …. often one we ask this question in a woman to woman situation as we seek to find a point of connection and grow deeper in friendship. So what is this innocent question …. “How many children do you have?” When we ask this question, it is to appear interested and show our desire to know someone more. How ever, you answer this question you can feel judged, you may perceive the other party to be wondering why you had just one, or the supposedly ‘perfect two’ or five. Depending of course on the age of the youngest, the question is often followed by a subsequent question “will you have anymore?”. Whatever, you answer to these questions there seems to be questions that follow, sometimes unspoken questions, sometimes these revolve around why that number of children, why the age gap etc.
Last week, an exceptionally precious friend of mine posted on Facebook her battle with this question. You see she lost her second child in an incredibly tragic accident some five years ago now. Whenever she meets someone new and they ask how many children she has, she always weighs her answer, can she cope today with the sympathy that immediately arises when she mentions she lost one at age two, or does she simply respond that she has three (the living ones). She really struggles with this one because it’s denying her lost son ever existed. It’s a daily battle in her life and grief process. The unspoken question, she sometimes feels compelled to answer is how did her darling son die? and further subsequent questions.
My personal story is somewhat different to my dear friends story. I had two bouncing bundles of joy with an almost minimal age gap. Often I get asked why I stopped at two, I love to fill my home with extras, I always welcome my children’s friends into my home. We may look like the picture perfect family, Mum, Dad and the “perfect’ boy then girl family, however, we would have loved to fill our hearts and home with more children of our own. Life had other plans and my body performed two unexplainable miracles … I have had major physical health battles and pregnancy issues which meant, after my treasured daughter arrived, it was strongly recommended we do not have anymore. While I outwardly give the impression I am content with just the two, and feel I have come to terms with the situation, there are days when I really struggle with this still, particularly when certain friends who have children of a similar age to mine have produced babies number three and four. My youngest may be 11 and I may have moved on in my head, but every now and again my heart drags my head back to my dream of having at least three.
Meanwhile, another friend who has not met her life partner and now advanced in years grieves for the fact she will never know the joy of motherhood. Because of her age, she is sometimes asked if she has any children, she doesn’t but she’s an amazing aunt to two darling little later in life blessings to her brother and sister-in-law. For this precious friend there is the grief of life not panning out the way she dreamed it to be during her younger years, a dream that included a fabulous husband who happily allowed her to be the stay at home mother she dreamt of being to three gorgeous wee children. We have had many conversations about being content with what we have, acknowledging that God’s life plan for us is not our life plan.
For all three of us, the question is a minefield, depending on our circumstances we answer accordingly. It’s always honest, but the depth of honesty depends on where we are at on the day, where the conversation is headed and whether we believe it to be a one off meeting or the beginning of something deeper.
I firmly believe we should be asking the question, but we need to be sensitive in how we ask it. We need to be prepared to listen because for many women the number of children they have is firmly rooted in their life story. We also need to be prepared to understand we may not get the full story first time or that it might just all come flooding out.