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Married Without Children

Countless reasons exist when couples don’t have kids, and being sensitive to the childless will save you face – here are five things to avoid

Happy couple

It sounds like an innocuous question. “Do you and Bob plan to start a family anytime soon?” But according to etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, author of “Business Class: Essentials for Success at Work” (St. Martin’s, 2005), it’s one of the things you should avoid saying to your childless friends, as there are often myriad personal reasons that people don’t have children, making those types of questions an opportune moment for an awkward pause.

So in a world where manners seem passé, here’s some advice about how to save face – and avoid the tricky maneuver of taking your foot out of your mouth – when talking about your brood to couples without kids.

1. Don’t brag incessantly about your children

Cindy Senning, co-author of “Teen Manners” (Harper Collins, 2007) and an etiquette expert at The Emily Post Institute, Burlington, Vt., says aside from the fact that bragging is just never fun to listen to, the implication is that someone isn’t as good as you if they don’t have children. But that doesn’t mean refraining from mentioning the winning goal Johnny scored at his soccer game last week, Senning says. “You just have to find that balance and show that you are proud of them without going overboard with the gushing,” she says.

2. Don’t make assumptions

Whitmore says it’s tacky and rude to say things like, “Your house must be so clean since you don’t have any kids.” All lives are different, and just because someone doesn’t have kids doesn’t mean they live a clean, simple, orderly life. It also could be that the person you just asked “Don’t you like kids?” has been trying to conceive, unsuccessfully, for two years.

3. Don’t dominate the conversation with tot talk

Senning says this is another faux pas that can make your childless friends feel alienated from the conversation. “You want to be able to talk about important things aside from your kids,” she says. Plus, any couple struggling to conceive might be flooded with unwanted emotions in a public setting if the only topic at-hand is kids.

4. Don’t create barriers

Whitmore says that by making comments like, “You have no idea how stressful it can be with kids,” or “When you have your own children, you’ll know what I mean,” can create unnecessary distance between you and your friends without children. The better, and more tactful, approach is to find common ground and allow your friends to relate to your experiences via their own.

5. Don’t play the sympathy card

Senning says that many times the choice not to have children is something people feel very good about. So avoid turning what very well could be a positive decision for a couple into an I’m-so-sorry-you-don’t-have-kids-your-life-must-feel-so-empty comment. Even if you know the friends in question are struggling with fertility, keep your comments positive and upbeat.

Hannah Seligson is a writer based in New York and the author of “New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches” (Citadel Press, 2007).

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