Psychologist ANNIE GURTON explains how to cope when you learn your kids won’t be having children of their own
Keep your cool on the back to school
For many, being a grandparent is one of life’s greatest joys. But what happens when you don’t get that opportunity? Whether your children choose not to have kids or they’re medically unable to, this can have a huge and potentially devastating impact on would-be grandparents.
Psychological therapist Annie Gurton says it’s OK to feel disappointed. “It’s very natural to want grandchildren and to feel deeply hurt if you’ve been deprived of having them,” she says.
Here, we look at how to best handle this topic with care.
IF THEY DON’T WANT KIDS
Hearing your child doesn’t want to have children can be a shocking blow. While you may feel disappointed and sad, it’s best to keep those emotions to yourself initially.
“You might be tempted to argue, plead, maybe even to try to manipulate them with a bit of passive-aggressive reasoning, but at the end of the day it’s your child’s choice,” says Annie. Bear in mind this isn’t a decision made lightly, so criticising their reasoning behind it could be insulting.
“Take pride in your child’s honesty and respect them for making a choice which is difficult,” advises Annie. “Acknowledging this will ultimately make the decision easier for you to live with.”
IF THEY CAN’T HAVE KIDS
If your daughter or son tells you they’re not physically able to have children, the announcement should be greeted with all the gravity and sensitivity of a death.
“For most people, to be told they’re unable to have children is deeply devastating news and could take months or years to come to terms with,” Annie says.
“It will require all of your maturity and sensitivity to support them without patronising them, and comfort them without using platitudes.”
WHAT NOT TO SAY
“Avoid trite reassurances and just try to imagine yourself in their shoes and what they’re going through,” says Annie.
Steer clear of phrases such as, “You might change your mind”, “There are already plenty of children in the world to adopt”, or even, “I can still live in hope”.
Instead, say things like, “That must make you feel really sad” or “If that makes you happy, then I’m happy for you”.
Even if they’re content about choosing to be childless, it’s better to say, “That’s a brave decision to make” rather than “You’ll regret it when you’re old”.
IT’S OK TO GRIEVE
The first step to coming to terms with their decision is to acknowledge your own pain and any injustice you may feel.
“The second step is giving yourself permission to grieve,” says Annie. “There’s nothing wrong with indulging oneself in the pain and sadness, even crying a little, provided you can then put the thoughts to
one side and get on with things.”
When we’re hurt we often turn to our nearest and dearest for a shoulder to cry on. “It’s always best to share your feelings with your family,” says Annie. “Just make sure that once you explain how you feel you let it go – don’t harp on and on about it.”
Now that you’ve acknowledged your feelings, it’s time to comes to terms with the decision. If you find yourself longing for a connection, look for outlets where you can use your grandparenting instincts.
“Try and connect with a family who lack a senior figure,” says Annie. “Your local social services, council or primary school may be able to help.” While this might not be what you imagined, it’s possible to have a life without grandchildren that is very happy and satisfying.
“There is only a void if you allow there to be one,” says Annie. “If you’re still struggling, surround yourself with other grandchild-less people and think about getting involved in activities... for adults only.”