DEAR ABBY: I'm a 42-year-old divorced woman with no children. My ex-husband has a son whose life I was a part of for 18 years. When people ask if I have kids, my reply is, "Yes, I have a stepson."
Why do people think it's OK to say things like, "That's not the same as having your own," or, "That doesn't count"? Then they usually go on to ask why I don't have children of my own.
My response is a big fat lie. I say, "It just never happened." The truth is my ex didn't want any more children. What can I say to these people to let them know that they need to stop and think about what they say and ask, because their word choice in this circumstance is hurtful to the point of tears? -- STEPMOM IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR STEPMOM: A person who would downplay your role as a parent is rude, thoughtless and not worth your time. As to asking why someone is childless, I have addressed this subject in my column before. While many folks start conversations by asking whether someone has children, it can be a dangerous question.
I learned my lesson and stopped asking after having received an answer from one man that his son was doing life in prison as an accomplice to murder. Another man told me he had two children, a daughter and an estranged son who was also serving a long sentence -- for selling narcotics. Neither person was happy to have been asked. After that, I stopped asking.
I see no reason why you shouldn't simply tell the truth about why you are child-free. Not having (or wanting) children is nothing to be ashamed of -- it's a personal choice that an increasing number of couples have opted for without regret.