You may not believe this. I have friends who are parents. Here I am, a childless thirty-something, friends with other people who have children.
But how can this happen, I hear you ask? Don’t childless people get put off by parents and vice versa?
Not all of us. Some of us are very open-minded. In fact, some of my best friends are parents.
Ok, that was pretty tongue-in-cheek. But seriously, a lot of childless people have raised this issue of getting along with friends who are parents. And those who are parents have questions about how to talk to childless friends about being childless. It can feel a bit awkward and taboo.
There is no one right answer for how to deal with this tricky issue, simply because every friendship is different. I have some friends who can ask me directly about my childlessness and I will happily go into the gory details for them. There are a host of other friends with whom I will give a simple and broad answer.
If I am meeting you for the first time and you ask me about my childlessness, I will tell you squat.
Please understand, this is not because I mistrust you by default. It is simply that childless people often feel judged or misunderstood by others. Many childless people have spent years having their reproductive decisions scrutinised by family, friends, doctors and strangers. Being asked about their childlessness for the five-hundredth time can get a little old.
Childless people often feel judged or misunderstood by others.
The other difficulty is some stories of childlessness can be complicated and deeply personal. Some childless people are childless because their bodies do not work as they ought. Some childless people have undergone invasive and painful procedures. Some childless people have had their sex lives examined by expert strangers, a process which has eroded any last scrap of privacy.
So when you ask a childless person about having kids, just be aware they may change the subject. They may not want to go into details. They may be grappling with childlessness decisions as we speak. They may not even know what they are feeling.
When you ask a childless person about having kids, just be aware they may change the subject.
I have found some responses to childlessness more helpful than others. Here are some things that may be helpful to say to a childless person when you don’t know what to say:
– Do you want to talk about it?
– I’m sorry to hear that.
– I have no idea how that feels.
– I honestly don’t know what to say.
– I want to listen to what you have been through, even if I can never understand.
– Is there anything I can do to support you?
– I’m here for you.
At the end of the day, treat your childless friend like you would any other friend. Listen to them, respect their boundaries and be available to support them should they ask. Be honest with them. Don’t worry about not having all the answers or not having the magical right words to say. Sometimes words are not needed anyway.
Treat your childless friend like you would any other friend.
My friends and I do not need to have the same life experiences in order to be friends. A little grace, a little open-mindedness and a whole lot of honesty can keep a friendship real in the face of vast difference.
As a parent, do you have friends who are childless? What supportive things can you say to them? As a childless person, what sorts of responses from parent-friends would be helpful? Leave a comment below to start a Countercultural Conversation.