Most of the time, it’s an offhand comment.
Your child did something disgusting, or frustrating, or terrifying, so you fling up your hands, sigh deeply, roll your eyes, turn to the person next to you, and groan, “Don’t ever have kids.” It’s uncomfortable; it’s hard; it’s exhausting. You don’t like being a parent right now, so you tag your personal anecdote with a thoughtless piece of advice.
Sometimes the words hold deeper meaning.
You and your child are facing real trauma. You can’t bear the pain. You’re desperate for an escape, so you wish, briefly, that you’d never become a parent at all. Then you might have spared yourself the agony of watching them suffer. Unable to cope with your circumstances, you whisper a raw warning to a friend: “Don’t ever have children.”
Your Story vs. My Story
Never try to make your experience a principle for others, but allow God to be as creative and original with others as He is with you. – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, June 13
I genuinely want to hear about your problems because I care about you. I will gladly share your burden if I can. You don’t need to pretend everything’s OK. Give me your honest updates. It’s alright to share the gory details of your life because yes, parenting is insanely difficult. I’m not confused about that. I believe you when you say that it’s tough.
I know it’ll be tough for me, too.
Honestly, I’m terrified of becoming a parent. I’ve heard enough about the sleepless nights, the vomit, the urine, the diarrhea, the tantrums, and the inevitable strain on the marriage relationship to understand that having kids will not be a fun experience. However, I also believe that dreading the future does not serve any good purpose.
Include me in your struggles, but don’t confuse your story with mine.
Present vs. Future
Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matthew 6:34 (ESV)
Before I got married, I heard a lot of people talk about how “hard” marriage would be. I took their words to heart–so much so, in fact, that I dreaded getting married. It’s possible that I blew their words out of proportion, but I felt certain that marriage would be a miserable, horrifying experience. Maybe that’s part of the reason I delayed so long.
Once I actually got married, though, I discovered (much to my astonishment) that I loved being married. It’s my favorite. He’s my favorite. What purpose did all of that premarital anxiety serve, then? None! It’s not like worrying about it ahead of time made the fights any easier, and it robbed me of the chance to anticipate the fun parts of married life.
I feel the same way about having kids. That’s why it bothers me so much when someone tells me, “Don’t have children.” Let me experience my own failures and my own victories in my own time. Don’t try to burden me now with pain that God will carry for me later.
Empathy vs. Advice
Sometimes, we do not know what to say; the mere act of sitting with this person and keeping them as the focus of our intention can be as powerful as words. – Sybil MacBeth, Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God
It’s a very difficult practice to tell a story with no moral at the end. I’m guilty of it, too. Just the other day, on the phone with my sister, I kicked myself for telling her to pray about her finances instead of merely listening and caring. It’s easy to want to turn your experience into a piece of advice. It’s also not generally what other people need to hear.
My sister recently shared some wisdom about how to support a friend with depression. She reminded me that people who are struggling don’t need our help. They just need our love. Writing this blog post has deepened my conviction that I should pause before converting a conversation into a lesson. Remove the plank from my own eye, right?
Still, I get frustrated when people project their problems onto my future.
Most of the time, shared burdens become lighter.
Don’t stop sharing your struggles because we were designed to support each other. Hearing about another person’s difficult circumstances can actually be an encouraging experience! You deserve the chance to process your situation, and you just might provide some much-needed perspective to a friend who feels mired in their own problems.
Keep talking about your kids. You don’t need to sugar-coat the process of parenting. It’s OK to acknowledge how hard it is right now … but please don’t tell me not to have kids.
The Reluctant Bride
P.S. Has anyone ever told you not to have kids? How did their words affect you? Have you ever told someone not to have kids? What prompted the advice? Leave a comment!