In a China where “married with kids” is the unspoken rule, I’m the ultimate oddity – a longtime married woman who has no children. I love my Chinese husband, and I love living in China. But over the years, it has meant getting used to some awkward comments and questions from curious people.
Here are 4 awkward things I’ve heard in China as a married woman with no kids:
#1: “How many children do you have?”
In China, asking if you’re married and have kids is as common as the question “How are you?” in the West. A way to show people care. After all, the assumption for most people in China is, if you’re married you have kids. It’s filial to give birth to the next generation and carry on the family line.
It’s why people are stunned to discover I’m child-free.
Sometimes, people will leapfrog over the question of whether I actually have kids – thinking I’m just like the average married couple in China – to how many I have. Never thinking, of course, that I actually have no kids at all.
There’s no avoiding awkwardness here. I invariably have to say something like, “Uh, sorry, I don’t have children.” Sometimes leading to an embarrassing pause in the conversation.
But more often than not, this is followed by another awkward question:
#2: “Why don’t you have any children?”
Upon learning that I’ve yet to fall in step with the average Chinese married couple, new friends or acquaintances get really curious. They want answers. They want to understand the “why” behind my childlessness.
Of course, this is super-awkward territory. Any reason always gets pretty personal – so personal I don’t even discuss these things with anyone else except my husband. How could I possibly share something so private with someone I just met? Giving an answer would be akin to hanging my intimates out on a laundry line for everyone to see.
Sorry, no can do.
I don’t fault them for asking. After all, this is par for the course in a China where people will inquire about everything from how much money you make, to whether you believe in God. It’s just a cultural difference between China and the America I grew up in.
That’s why I gently respond by saying it’s not in my cultural upbringing to discuss why I don’t have children. People in China understand that foreigners can do things a little differently, so it’s a tidy and face-saving explanation for everyone.
Still, despite the fact I may have successfully dodged this question, the conversation could lead in other awkward directions, such as:
#3: “You should get pregnant now.”
If you’ve lived in China for a few months or years, then you know how it is about advice. Everyone you meet has an opinion on everything, from how to dress (especially during the winter), to what meds or traditional herbs you should take for your cold, to why it’s bad for you to drink cold water.
Well, sometimes that advice can stretch all the way to what you ought to be doing with your uterus. (Never mind that it’s one of the most personal and intimate parts of your body.)
Oh, how I would secretly love to give a smart-ass response to this one. Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of thing that helps to win friends and influence people, particularly across international borders. It also doesn’t help that I’ve actually heard friends and family urge me to start “getting busy” – you know, people who would probably talk about my smart-ass remarks for years.
In this case, sometimes it’s just better to pull on an uneasy grin (to hide the fact that I’m kind of shocked someone would say this). Or nudge my husband to respond instead (perhaps to prove that the couple who gets embarrassed together stays together).
Still, some people can be persistent, sometimes leading to the following awkward comment:
#4: Everyone is waiting to see your beautiful (mixed-race) baby
“Mixed race babies are smarter and more beautiful.” I’ve heard so many variations on this theme in China, but the premise (or rather, stereotype) is the same. My babies would be so much better. Therefore, if anyone should have children, it should be me.
I understand the strong drive in China to have your own progeny. And I know when people say things like this, they’re just really trying to show they care. But I never thought I would hear someone speak of my hypothetical children as though they were the year’s long-awaited Broadway show yet to be opened.
What could I possibly say in return?
If I’m sitting around the dinner table, I think of this as the perfect moment to shovel a spoonful of peanuts into my mouth or try my hand at cracking a few sunflower seeds open.
Then again, why not counter one awkward comment with another? My personal favorite is, “I really need to pee, would you excuse me for a moment?”