Lamenting Childlessness

“It’s God’s will.”

“Maybe God doesn’t want you to be a parent.”

“You need to get on with your life.”

Society is good at handing out advice to childless people. It tells people how they ought to feel and for how long. Those of us who are grieving do not need a pat answer or a grieving deadline. Grief does not always do what we want it to do. It does not necessarily have an end date.

Some types of grief can morph over time, changing form and popping up where we least expect it. Some kinds of grief shift to the background of our hearts but never truly disappear. Some forms of grief can be lifelong.

I have learned, through interviewing other childless people and through my own experience, that lamenting childlessness is an important part of grieving. A few things can trigger our lament:

Being asked about children – or not being asked any more. I don’t mind telling people that I don’t have kids but sometimes there are follow-up questions. Not every childless person wants to discuss their reasons for being childless, especially when it concerns their reproductive organs. It’s not exactly dinner table conversation. Those who are no longer questioned can feel passed over, as though their value as a person has dissolved along with their chances of having children.

Being around children. I love watching kids play. I love hearing their chatter, their squeals as they chase each other about and their laughter. But some days it can be too much. It can serve to remind me of what I will never have.

Being in conversations that revolve around children. I like hearing about the lives of others and that includes the lives of kids. The difficult bit is when the conversation goes on for hours and you have nothing to contribute. It is also tough when others assume you have children and ask for your insight. “Uh, no, I can’t recommend a good paediatrician.” “Sorry, I haven’t tried that brand of formula.” “No, I don’t have graphic and enthralling tales of childbirth.”

Being told that time heals all wounds. Actually, no. Sometimes the relentless march of time only serves to remind us of the things we are missing. We think of milestones that have not been celebrated, ages of would-be children that have not been reached, legacies that will not be passed on. This is grief without end.

Being told it’s God’s will. This can create a lot of confusion, doubt and hurt for childless people. It can be a shock to the system to discover that one’s dream of being a parent will never be, let alone the horror of being told that God wants it that way. In truth, none of us really know the full extent and complexity of God’s plans. But I know is that God does not want to throw us into confusion, doubt and hurt. God empathises with us, joining us in our suffering, entering our world.

When I get asked about having children or told that any element of suffering is “God’s will”, it helps to share how I feel with people I trust. It is good to know I am not the only person lamenting. And I can rest in the knowledge that God cares about my confusion, doubt and hurt.

Because God laments too.

Do you have a story of childlessness? What things trigger your lament? Do you find it helpful to share your experiences with others?

2 thoughts on “Lamenting Childlessness

  1. I am blessed to have children and really feel for those who don’t/can’t/won’t. I know now what not to say. But what to say when told “I don’t have kids?” Sometimes I ask if they are an auntie. Is that helpful? Please give us some clues Steph!

    • Hi Suz, what a great question! I think it depends on your relationship with that person. If you know them well, you can enquire if it is something they are happy to talk about. If you don’t know them very well, I’d suggest asking something unrelated like, “What do you do with your free time?” Give them the chance to avoid the topic of kids if they want to. Some people may be happy to speak about not having kids because they may have chosen to be childfree; but others who are childless may find it a difficult subject. I definitely would not probe any further if it is my first ever conversation with that person. I like your question about being an auntie; lots of people, including myself, are childless aunties! Perhaps this whole area should be the subject of a future blog. . .

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