The idea of providing the role of grandparents to your parents is a persistent concept, especially in the small context of Malta. It tends to be perceived as embarrassing or disappointing if you had to tell your neighbours that your children do not plan on having children of their own. It is common for people to ask you, “So, when is your daughter planning to get married?”, eventually leading into, “Are they planning a baby yet?”. It is almost assumed that a person will get married and have children. The situation is particularly more complex for both children and parents if the children do not identify as heterosexual, and coming out might be more difficult if becoming grandparents is particularly important for the parents. They might even look at their children as failures, especially females, who seem to be defying their biological, sexual purpose of procreating whereas males are thought to be more susceptible to changing their minds if their female partner wants children (Grate, 2016).
Of course, there are many reasons for not having children, not just revolving around sexual orientation. The concept of self-growth and exploration has become very popular in Western cultures, so raising a child could simply be a result of having other priorities, values and goals in life. The pressures children face with respect to this issue might make it very challenging to tell their parents that they in fact, do not want children.
How can you make this situation a bit easier?
It is important that the issue is handled very carefully and the news is transmitted in a considerate manner, given that it is a sensitive issue.
- Start with the positive: it is best not to start by saying that you do not want children, period or by speaking in a forceful way which dismisses the parents’ feelings and comments. Rather, it is more beneficial to initiate the conversation by highlighting the positive aspects in the relationship with your parents as well as the positive things you have in your life right now and what you plan to have in the future. Then, you move on to mention that having children might not be in the agenda but that it is okay and that there are many other good things that will be present.
- Use a gentle and reassuring tone: talking about this matter can be very anxiety-provoking especially when anticipating a negative reaction. It is good to train yourself not to allow anxiety to manifest itself in a hostile and aggressive tone. This will only lead the parents to react even more negatively, meanwhile using a gentle tone can lead the parents to return the same expression.
- Spread the news across more than one conversation
- Allow them the space to process the information and their resulting emotions: do not expect that just because you use a gentle tone when delivering the message, they are not allowed to feel the impact of the content. They do have control over their behaviour in reaction to the news but they can only accept that that is how the message made them feel.
It’s important that, aside from delivering the message in a way which is more empathising towards your parents, you also highlight the subjective importance of your decision and not allow yourself to internalise shame and guilt.
- Emphasise gains, especially those which will also benefit the parents: Mention that not having children will allow you to have more free time, possibly even more time to spend with them.
- Focus on relationships: Mention that you have more time to focus on other relationships including the one with your parents and perhaps even babysit others’ children.
- Talk about consequences: discuss with your parents the downside of having children – if you wanted children, there would be no need for this conversation and since you do not want children, having a child would result in dissatisfaction for both you as well as the child. It is better not to have at all than raising a child half-heartedly.
- Set boundaries between your needs and those of the parents: present your argument in an empathic albeit clear manner. Make it a point that you would prefer if your parents do not attempt to convince you otherwise as it will only increase discomfort and disagreement.
- Make it a point that it is your decision to take and not your parents’: it is important that you listen to what they have to say but stand your ground and do not allow yourself to internalize feelings of failure and guilt. A big choice like this could only be yours and perhaps with any potential partner’s input.
In the case where you do not want children because of child- bearing reasons, there are other options at your disposal which you could communicate with your parents, such as adoption or IVF and it is important that the benefits of alternative methods are emphasized. Of course, there is a marked difference between not wanting children and the inability to have children. The most important thing is that you first identify your feelings about the situation, exhaust all options available and think of all scenarios that come to mind, make your decision and then communicate it in a way which preserves as much dignity as possible of both your parents as well as yourself.
Grate, R. (2016). Here’s what it’s really like to tell your parents that you don’t want kids. Retrieved from https://www.mic.com/articles/137778/here-s-what-it-s-really-like-to-tell-your-parents-that-you-don-t-want-kids
Griffin, T. (2019). How to defend your choice to be childless. Retrieved from https://m.wikihow.com/Defend-Your-Choice-to-Be-Childless
Luanne Grima is a psychology student who works as a childminder with Willingness. She also forms part of Betapsi.