Five Things to Not Say to Your Childless Friends

May 1, 2013

fetusI’ve made no secret about it…

We want kids.

I’ve written about it a few times, about the club we unexpectedly found ourselves in as more and more friends became “un-childless.”  My moods have ranged from anxious to depressed to hopeful to patient, but never angry or jealous of people with kids of their own.

Navigating toward parenthood is a stormy sea when nature just doesn’t want to take it’s course.  For many of you, this may one of those situations that it seems dang near impossible to come up with the right words to say to friends who are struggling, grieving or even a little bit secretly jealous of your kids.

While I probably can’t tell you the perfect words to say in any situation, I can definitely help steer you clear of a few common encouragements that actually discourage your childless friends.  Take my advice, especially for the sake of your friends who are more sensitive than I am.

“God Has a Plan”

Maybe that’s true.  But when any of us are in the middle of a trial, time stretches out and it can be incredibly difficult to believe that it will come to an end.  Throw in a few crisis moments and it just doesn’t seem to ring true that any of this is “part of the plan.”  Such a sweet sentiment makes God out to be a cruel, or at the least, absent deity (not to mention, God doesn’t look especially “pro-life.”)

“Just Adopt and You’ll Get Pregnant”

It’s incredibly challenging to navigate the minefield that is the fertility field.  There are incredible amounts of information to absorb and research to do.  Add to all this information, the fact that most of it is not just neutral information, but rife with ethical implications for the couple.  Saturate all of the information and moral quandaries with high levels of emotions, stress, hormones, and the fact that fertility treatment is about the least romantic way to make a baby in the world, and you begin to understand that navigating the massive challenge of pursuing adoption while pursuing pregnancy is just about impossible.

“You Need to Pray / Have Faith / Etc.”


Don’t think we aren’t.

People who are struggling to have kids already know there’s something wrong with them.  They don’t need to be told there’s something wrong with their faith too.

This one is a catch-22.  If you believe God has a plan, then it should not matter how righteously I pray.  God’s plan will happen.  But if you believe that I do need to pray or get holier, then God’s plan depends on my righteousness and faith.

I worship a God who works outside of what I believe He will do.

Better to avoid that one.

Quoting Any Bible Verse

If you are using virtually any Bible verse to encourage a childless couple, then you are probably using it wrong.

Take any Old Testament verse about children.  Any one of them.  All of those verses are directed toward a nation, a nation that existed thousands of years ago, a nation that was under the covenant with God.  Any discussion about children was God promising that Israel would never run out of people.  Abraham would never run out of descendants.  But there were still plenty of individual women who never got to have kids, despite what God said.

Those verses just have nothing to do with suburban couples secretly building a nursery in their home.

“You Can Have Our Kids”

I get it.  Kids are a pain.  When you have them, you get tired.

But joking about giving away your kids is so flippant.  It’s flippant to people who know kids are a pain, but want to wipe butts and fight over bedtimes and step on Legos in their bare feet anyway.

It’s flippant to all the life that is wasted in the world – given up, or not even given a chance.  I know you don’t mean it that way.  But just don’t say it.

Besides, you never know if the next wannabe parent you say that to will actually take you up on your offer!

Do you have any to add?  Has a friend ever tried to encourage you, but just made you feel worse?

38 responses to Five Things to Not Say to Your Childless Friends

  1. A lot of these (with a tiny bit of tweeking in places) could apply to other problems people face like unwanted singleness, unemployment, health issues ect. that attract unhelpful “encouragement”. If I have one more person telling me something to the effect of that being content is the magic solution for being single………

    I think a good rule of thumb is to remember that most problems are more complicated than we think and thus the solutions are likely to be more complicated than we think

  2. Matt, I’m so sorry. We have three boys and we love them very much. We lost one between the second and third, and I don’t know if that pain will ever go away. Even with the crazy house we live in, that memory will always be there.

    I don’t understand why God says no sometimes. May you find shelter in him as you ask him, cry to him, rage at him. He can take it.

    I’ll be praying for you.

  3. So sorry for what you and your wife must be going through. there is a grief in infertility just as there is with a pregnancy or child loss. And it SUCKS. It is painful, tough, confusing and a whole lot more other adjectives that have escaped my mind right now.

    My prayer for you is that in some way, you get to become one of the un-childless, as I’m sure you have so much to give as parents.
    Laura Anne recently posted..Wednesday HodgePodge – Round 28

  4. On adding the unhelpful things, a friend of mine said to me, not long after I was told by my doctor I may never be able to get pregnant again

    “Oh well, if you have faith, God can heal you and give you a miracle baby’

    I wanted to hit him. For me, it wasn’t about unbelief or lack of faith that God could do that if He thought that was right for me or a baby. It was about being able to be content and accepting that I may never become a ‘biological’ mother. That was a journey and took time. Now I’m ok with my infertility, though there are occasional moments of jealousy. I hope one day to be able to foster or adopt, and of course I’d be open to the ‘miracle’.
    Laura Anne recently posted..Wednesday HodgePodge – Round 28

  5. The things people say without thinking can be so damaging. As a mom who had three boys first and then a girl, I heard awful things. The worst was a cashier who looked at my boys and brand new baby girl and said, “Wow, I would kill myself if I had had boys, especially THAT many.” Yep, she said this with my children standing right there, as if they are deaf and can’t understand English. Why can’t folks just stop their mouths if what they want to say isn’t nice? I’m so sorry you both are dealing with this. Most people mean well but don’t think. Praying for you both.

  6. Good ones, Matt. One that goes along with your 2nd one…”just let go and stop trying then it will happen! ”
    Eileen recently posted..Too Perfect

  7. It is too bad that some people feel sufficiently threatened by another’s loss that they need to speak “answers.” We have been riding the “trying to adopt” roller coaster for more than 2 years now, and more often than not, the “reassuring words” of others have so clearly been motivated more by a desire to comfort themselves, because they can’t make sense of my family’s experience.

    Love entails listening, and courageously remaining in the uncertain spaces – asking questions, and making leading reflective statements (eg – “that sounds frustrating!”)

    What I most love hearing? “How can I pray for you?”

    So, at the risk of projecting… How can we pray for you today, Matt?

    • Sarah –
      I won’t risk making a cliched response to your journey, but I am with you. :) It’s got to be challenging. I’d love to hear more, if you are able to share.

      Honestly, my biggest desire is clarity in the minefield of information, and the ability to encourage others.

  8. I don’t think there is much to add to what shouldn’t be said. Few know that heartache of dreams like this which are unfulfilled.

    I don’t have any answers. I have kids, we have fostered kids and were on a path to adopting and it ended in failure. I don’t know what it’s like to be you and your family.

    I can only add that I am with you, I care deeply about your situation, and I am praying that God would give you peace whether he calms the storm, or allows you to get through it.

    • David – I’ve heard from enough people to grasp (though never fully comprehend) the pain of actually bringing another child into your home, only to have to send them off. You’ve got a big heart. We know that – at least at this point – we are not equipped for such an undertaking!

  9. Best thing a friend ever said to me when we were walking this road was: “I will be your constant prayer warrior while you are on this road, I will be the first to celebrate with you when God answers those prayers. Until then, talk to me when you want to cry, vent, whatever, but I will never ask you how it’s going – you will know when you want to talk, I will be here to listen when you do!” Such a blessing those words were at the time!

    • That’s probably the best thing anyone can say! There are so many situations in life where we want to create answers and explanations, but oftentimes those answers are not sufficient. Rather than looking for answers, we should be looking for peace.

  10. Sorry you’re having a difficult time. Let me know if you want me to pray for anything specific!
    Brad Blackman recently posted..What I love about PodCamp Nashville

  11. Well said, Matt! My husband and I wanted children from the beginning. When we were first engaged, our plan was “three would be IDEAL, four doable, and after five, we can wave at each other across the room when the timing is right!” Well, after 17 years, we aren’t even blessed with one. I think I’d rather have a dozen than zero!
    When parents have said the “you can have mine” line, I have responded with “Thank you. When shall I pick them up?” It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humor, but a simple “I’m sorry I don’t know what to say…” or even changing the subject is WAY better than suggesting I’m not prepared for their problems. They wouldn’t trade their kids for anything and they know it! Pretending they aren’t a treasure doesn’t help.
    What does help? Knowing I’m not alone. Thanks for having the courage to post this. I feel less like God is punishing me for some unknown reason when I read your interpretation of children in the OT meaning nation, not individual. My husband is a good man. He deserves the whole “children like olive plants around the table” as much if not more so than any man I know of! I appreciate having a different context to read that from.
    I have to stop now because I’m crying. I wish, since you are so much younger, I could say something wise or encouraging. The best I can do is tell you I truly hope your prayers for a family are answered. I’d offer to keep you in mine, but I feel like about this He just isn’t listening to me.
    Helen recently posted..Life as an Advent Calendar Update 2

    • Helen, I really do feel for you, and wish things weren’t so difficult. You and your husband are not being punished! When I think of the OT blessings and curses, I believe they are both aimed at the NATION, and very rarely at the individual. There were a lot of godly people who had to go into exile because the nation needed cleansing. Don’t beat yourself up! You are not alone.

    • Helen,
      That is so sad, i can’t imagine the heartbreak.
      Your definitely not being punished, because you are in Christ and judgment for curse is taken from you, taken by Jesus. you are redeemed and washed clean in Christ!

      I don’t really know what to say… I wonder if dealing with it as a very legitimate grief and loss issue could help? I work for an organisation that facilitates long term foster care, and one of the things they suggest for couple who are fostering due to infertility, is that they have comes to terms with their grief over infertility, as infertility is such a legitimate grief and loss issue. There are brilliant grief and loss counsellors.. and other resources around…..I also read a book by Rosaria Butterfield, who is infertile and talks about that towards the end of her book. It is fascinating, and God has brought her to a point where she is experiencing peace in her life……

  12. The “comforting” things people say to the grieving are truly idiotic sometimes. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this, Matt. My prayers are with you and your wife in this season.
    bethany recently posted..What We’ve Been Through.

  13. Grief is a tricky thing, especially when you haven’t technically “lost” someone – just the hope of someone. Even with miscarriage among people who all claim to believe that life begins at conception, it’s like it shouldn’t matter to you that you lost a child simply because you didn’t get to experience a full pregnancy – there’s some magic point at which a “missed carriage” is devastating and you’re allowed to grieve, but before then, what did it really matter? Well, that child, however unexpected, was _MY_ child and mattered a great deal to me and to the God who formed him or her in my womb.

    For those who are in the throes of singleness and desire to be married, they’re given horror stories of how hard marriage is, how much more free they are, etc. (or worse – “if you’d just be content in your singleness, you’d find someone” – which was true, I was content with me and God when I met my husband, but it was FAR from the _only_ time I’d been content in my singleness….it was just the LAST time…) And those who are married and desire children – again, horror stories of how hard it is to be a parent (and worse). I remember going to a Women of Faith event when I was single and unhappy about it, and their “comedienne” had this whole (LOOONG) skit about all the hats (married) women wear – wife, mom, chauffeur, cook, maid, etc., and it took everything in me not to shout out in the middle of the Verizon Center that I would give ANYTHING to have the things she’s complaining about.

    God calls marriage a good thing. God calls children blessings. It’s not only ok, it’s _right_ to desire these things, and it’s HARD to deal with wanting something that you KNOW is good and not getting it. It’s a grief all of its own. And yes, God does have a plan, and yes, reducing your stress may make your body more capable of becoming pregnant, and yes, we’re commanded to pray, so clearly praying is good……but throwing truth in someone’s face…..well, it’s clashing gongs and clanging cymbals. And throwing out things like “if you start to seek adoption, you’ll get pregnant” is equating irony with the Gospel – and it makes God into a supernatural vending machine. Has that happened to people? Sure. Does that mean it’s God-ordained truth? Absolutely not.

    May God grant you contentment where you are, wisdom as you travel this path of so much information and so many choices, friends who will build you up and encourage you while you’re on this journey, and the strength to withstand the “advice” and “well-wishes” of those who are too wrapped up in themselves to understand.
    Melissa Jones recently posted..MommyBee Designs

    • Melissa, I think I see what you’re saying in your first paragraph, but the rest is amazingly well said. We shouldn’t try to comfort people by telling them that the thing they desire is actually crap and they wouldn’t want it if they had it. It’s baloney! If all these things were so bad, then we’ve all been tricked (and you’d think we’d figure out to stay single, to stay childless, etc.)

    • Hi Melissa
      You’re so right. I struggled getting pregnant and after 2 early miscarriages I was told that ‘luckily you didn’t know them, it was so early’. Well, I DID know them, prayed for them and grieved when they were lost. Then, I fell pregnant again – with twins this time! And I thought, Thank you God, for giving my babies back to me, only to have them still-born at 6months. I was devastated! This was 21 years ago and I still miss my little angels and think about them every single day. Don’t say “well, just try again” or “it will happen when you stop stressing” or ‘maybe you’re not meant to be a parent” or worse “lucky you!!”

  14. The sad truth is that I know I’ve said 3/5 of that list to my friends when they were having problems, back when I was younger and more foolish. In retrospect, I’m thankful no one punched me in the face, as I probably deserved.

    Well-meaning comments like those are only a back-handed way of telling someone “You have no right to be having these feelings.” Coping with infertility (or a death, or loss of a job, or lots of other major life stuff) takes a little bit more than just trying to snap yourself out of a funk, and nobody (Christians especially, it sometimes seems) is very well-equipped to deal with someone else’s pain.

    • Absolutely! I know that when I have said thoughtless things to a friend in need, it has been rooted in my own pain or fear that made it too difficult for me to be there for them in the moment. Hopefully I do better now.
      One of my friends, Elise, wrote a book about the experience of miscarriage called “What was lost,” and I reviewed it (and repented of my own hurtful behavior) in a blog post:

  15. I can relate to these as a single woman. I REALLY REALLY hate hearing any variation of “everything happens for a reason”. Oh and my other favorite “it will happen when you stop looking”. Awesome.

  16. Fantastic blog idea! Very helpful in knowing how to care for others…

    a.) you should do a series of ’5 things not to say to…’ could do singleness, terminal illness and divorcees. Its just a really helpful topic for those who haven’t experienced what you are experienced, leading to us learning to love others so much better!

    b). I can’t believe people tell you to adopt and you’ll start having kids! So silly and medically incorrect. ‘They’ (adoption agencies) advise infertile couples to have come to peace with their infertility before adopting, otherwise they may still have a lot of un-dealt with grief and baggage that they are taking into the adoption process. Infertility is such a difficult and full of grief thing, that couples have to deal with that before considering adoption…….


  17. My wife and I got a bunch of these in our first three years of marriage, in addition to the general quandary of, “When are you guys going to pop out a kid?!” None of them really bothered me until we had a miscarriage. For a few weeks afterward, every little toe-dipping into the baby field brought me close to spouting off. I don’t think people who haven’t been through these issues understand what a tricky, sensitive field it can be for some people.

  18. I have heard so many of these ‘encouraging’ remarks. My favourites…..’just relax’ and ‘why don’t you adopt?, I know that often when you adopt, you fall pregnant.’
    Not helpful. At all.
    Infertility is so painful. and I think that some well meaning Christians spouting the platitudes of ‘children are a blessing’, and ‘maybe God doesn’t want you to have children’ do so much harm.
    Thinking of you as you move through this tough season. It is hard.

  19. I feel your pain for sure, Matt. We had one then couldn’t have another for some reason (still no certainties on why). We tried and then not tried, prayed, and everything in between. We’ve now been foster parents and adopted 3 more. I do agree that what people say is usually just a reflection of them. They don’t want to wrestle with the uncomfortable question so they pat you on the back and make a dismissive comment. They may feel better about their “helping” but you feel like crap. Takes time and compassion to mourn with those who mourn and very few will give it. Heaven hears and knows. It’s hard, but He is there for sure.
    Jason Stasyszen recently posted..Looking out for #1

  20. My daughter got sunburned shoulders last Saturday.
    My sympathetic pat on the back wasn’t well received.
    When friends are in pain,our words can be as welcomed as that.
    On behalf of those who aggravated your pain, I apologize.

    I pray that God fulfills the desire He placed in your hearts.

  21. Didn’t mean to post anonymously, tweaked send while typing on phone.

  22. Didn’t mean to post anonymously, tweaked send while typing on phone.

  23. Stupid phone.

  24. We had 3 early miscarriages in the midst of our infertility. It was the most difficult season of my life. Insensitive comments by those closest to me made it worse. “Just relax”, “Trying is the fun part”, “I don’t know what to say to you, I have what you want”, “I’m disappointed in you” (when I didn’t attend an event the day after a miscarriage), “I don’t like to be sad” (when I was “taking too long to get over it), and “Are you sure you were even pregnant?” and so many more. Needless to say, that particular friendship didn’t make it and I’m healthier now for cutting ties. Of course, it came from someone who had two surprise babies and no concept of the pain of infertility.

    While some were terrible “friends” in that season, the blessing was a whole new community that built in that season of friends who knew how to empathize and just be present. It was often the silent hug and crying with me that was the most comforting.

  25. We have been there. I have PCOS and a thryoid issue that created my infertility. We realize that we got very lucky. Injectibles worked with my first. Metformin and getting through several losses was the process when we tried for our second. We were one of those couples though in which we decided we were done trying for our second and that we should just feel blessed with one child not knowing that when we made that decision I was pregnant.. Someone once told me that if you knew the end result of infertility it would not be as difficult and that is so true. It is hard relating to someone who has infertility issues if you have never been in that situation. Honestly it was the hardest and most time consuming process of my life but I have no regrets. No one knows the outcome, no one knows the right things to say and I suppose that is just part of the stress of the situation.

  26. This is really well done, Matt. I’ve journeyed through infertility stuff alongside some dear friends, and we would echo a lot of what you’re saying. Sometimes all people need is to know you’re there. Presence is always more helpful than unsolicited tidbits of “wisdom”.

  27. Very well said! I’m sorry to hear that you are in the CLUB. I’ve been there/am still there? I am now a parent after 5 years and multiple losses and can still feel the sting of those comments that though well meaning, are not helpful. One phrase I think should be removed from all vocabulary is “Time heals all wounds”. It implies that eventually you will get over it, glosses over the painful journey toward healing, and ignores the fact that scars may forever remain. What is true is that over time you learn to cope better.

    I pray that you have great support from people who strongly hold HOPE for a child for you when you may not feel hope for yourselves.