How do we break it to our family members that we’re Child-Free?

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By: EricCC BY 2.0
My husband and I recently tied the knot, and here’s the thing: I love my mother-in-law. She is a super sweet woman… but she also wants more grandchildren. She has one, but she wants more. More, more, more. Odds are, my husband’s older brother isn’t going to have more, and the younger brother isn’t going to have any… so all eyes are on us.

Here’s the catch: we’re not having any children. Ever.

How do we break this news to her, knowing it will break her heart and possibly damage the relationship we each have with her? My parents know my desire to have a Child-Free lifestyle, but they’ve known it for years — this is not the case with my mother-in-law. We’ve tried dropping hints about it, but she doesn’t understand that kids just aren’t in our future. Help? — Haymaker

Comments on How do we break it to our family members that we’re Child-Free?

  1. I never wanted to be a parent. I married quite young and my ex husband and I were on the same page about being childless by choice. In our 20s we were constantly told we we would change our minds. It was maddening. My parents were fairly relentless with their wanting grand kids comments. After 13 years of marriage, my ex and I amicably divorced and the 8 years I was single gave me a bit of a reprieve. I married again a year ago and have a wonderful partner who also doesn’t want kids. This second marriage seemed to mean a second chance at grand kids to my parents (despite me telling them for 20+ years I was uninterested). I finally had to get harshly honest and a little angry when I told them that by being so persistent about the grandkids thing, despite my never flagging insistence that I was NOT going to have kids, was hurtful and insulting. It implied (to me) that despite my college and graduate degrees, an interesting career (I’m an archaeologist) and the fact that I have been self employed for over five years now, all my accomplishments are inconsequential since I am not a mom. Hard work, persistence, and success are nothing since I haven’t used the womb I was given. I applaud all the good and devoted parents out there, but parenthood is not for everyone & it’s tough when you have family members who can’t accept your choice. Good luck.

  2. Possibly the only options are to either let her talk and ask (which can get on your nerves, believe me… we want to have kids eventually, but ever since we moved in together, the BF’s mother has been asking about kids. She only stopped when I threatened for every time she asked, we would wait another extra year.), or tell her straight. Dropping hints won’t work. Make clear it is your decision, and that she won’t get any say in this. If she really likes you, she will come to terms with it eventually.

  3. As the oldest, I got a lot of pressure from my mom who loves kids and who was a doula (labor coach) at the local hospital. I know she envisioned me giving birth as this amazing mother-daughter-grandchild bonding moment. She was very disappointed when I told her I didn’t want kids. Then… my brother had kids. And inherited stepkids. She was really into being a grandma for awhile. Until she learned that it was pretty thankless and exhausting. Now she spends more time with me and my husband hanging out and doing adult things. We show her a lot more appreciation and can have good conversation together. There is no doubt in my mind she actually prefers that.

  4. I apologize if this is off-topic, but it revolves around the issue so I am curious as to any thoughts: has anyone had to have this conversation with their own partner, even after marriage or serious commitment? For example, friends of ours are getting married later this year. He desperately wants kids in his future, she strongly in no way, shape, or form does not want kids ever…ever. Now, he is hoping she will change her mind, she is hoping he will get tired of asking.

    Personally, most of us see this as a potential serious strain on the relationship (among many, many other strains they already have in their relationship) and think they should really resolve this before marriage, but neither is budging or trying to see the other person’s point of view. Has anyone else been in this situation or maybe have seen the outcome, and is there anything we can do as friends to maybe make them talk about this seriously before they make such a commitment, or is it best to leave it be and let them figure it out the hard way?

    • Yikes. I don’t see that situation ending well. I don’t know how close your relationship is to the couple, but this sort of decision is very personal, and it’s really between the two of them. If one or both of them bring it up, maybe gently suggest pre-marital counseling to help them sort it out. Their church (if they belong to one) may offer or even require it.

    • Yes- one of us changed our minds 12 years into the relationship when I wanted to have kids and he moved from “someday” to never.

      One heartbreak later, one break up later, one dating site later, I have one daughter born just on time.

    • I don’t know how close you are to them – but I would bring it up in one on one conversation with the friend your closest with and tell them you have concerns about their relationship. Yes, it sucks to tell, but real friends tell the truth. And, it’s up to them to decide what to do with that information.

    • I hope your friends will go see a couples’ counselor (if they don’t like the first one they try, see another one) for a few months. It’s becoming pretty standard as a pre-marriage thing, and believe me, it’s awesome to have already established a relationship with a counselor so that *later*, when things get bad or crazy or tragic, they’ll be able to pop back into counseling.

      “neither is budging or trying to see the other person’s point of view. ” If they can’t see the other person’s point of view, they shouldn’t be getting married. Not because of the having children issue —which is HUGE—but because of communication and empathy issues.

      My husband and I married after years of shock and disagreement over whether to try having a biological child. Years of counseling, too! We absolutely had to see each other’s POV in order to get married. We went in knowing that we didn’t see eye to eye on something huge and fundamental, but that we loved each other, that things might change, that we don’t have complete control over the world, our fates, or the changes we might go through in the future.

      It was awesome. Took a whole bunch of work, though.

    • I would be careful since it’s very much their business, but if they ask…. What worked for us was logic. First and foremost we decided that children could not, would not be a deal breaker. Our wedding vows were to protect our relationship at all costs and this may mean, not having children. Second, childbearing by nature can be something completely out of your own hands. We never ever wanted to be the couple who divorced over infertility. Third ( gets very personal for us) I’m the one who does not want them, he still does, but he wants them on the terms of his social circle. Dad works full time, mom works full time too and does major primary parenting, while dad free time is spent at bowling league. This was NOT happening. My terms are: motherhood, planned or unplanned mean I quit my very well paying job. I work in corporate America and I absolutely know that the corporate mom routine is not for me. I do not feel I could perform either role very well with my energy divided. So if he is the one who really wants the kids, I’ll have them, I’ll care for them, and i’ll do a good job, but he is responsible for creating the environment for me to do so. Because I’m going all in…. I feel it’s a fair trade. But once those terms were set, he was far less intrested

  5. Ugh, this is not unlike my conversations with my mom about how I don’t want children YET. I do want them someday (my husband and are are both 27), just not NOW. Not until we’ve bought a house and are have it at least mostly fixed up. Still…she keeps making comments about fertility, and about how old the grandparents of my future children will be, etc. *sigh*

  6. The bottom line is that the decision of whether or not to have kids is between you and your partner. But I would discourage a confrontational approach. Instead, try to understand why she wants grandkids. I’m not a grandparent (yet), but I think grandparents get a lot of joy both from being around children and from be able to pass on a legacy to a younger generation. There are many opportunities for your mother-in-law to get her ‘grandparent fix’ by volunteering at a school, daycare, her local Boys and Girls Club, or other organization that benefits children in her community. And there are a lot of at-risk kids out there in need of someone to love and care about them.

  7. I think this was mentioned further up, in reference to someone’s own mother. Maybe along with telling her you are going to be childfree, you could try to encourage her to activities that will help satisfy the vision she has of her future. There are many opportunities to volunteer with children. Maybe this could become a win-win situation for her and children in need of some loving adult attention.

  8. My boyfriend and I went to visit his mother recently. She’s been harping on us about grandkids since before she started harping on us about getting engaged. (No, I don’t understand why she was going on about grandchildren while we both still lived at home.)

    Anyrate, before our most recent visit we prepared a script for the boyfriend to use should any uncomfortable/annoying topics be brought up:

    “Mom, I feel I have made my feelings clear on this point in the past. In the interest of a mutually enjoyable visit, I would rather not discuss this further. [Subject change]” If she continued to push we were just going to start talking about how cute our cats are. 😀

    If you want to use this script, you have to make sure that she’s clear on the no-kids thing beforehand, but you might want to keep it in your back pocket for just in case.

  9. I am in the same position, though my MIL is not bugging us regularly. My own mother understands my choice, even though it breaks her heart. We have not directly addressed it with my MIL because our strategy has been, as others suggested, to ride the waves of our relationship with her. To bring it up unprovoked would be useless.

    My MIL is a prickly one. I love her! But she’s very strong-willed and will probably give me the old “you don’t mean that” once we do discuss it. It hasn’t been too much of an issue since my sister in law has three boys. They might move out of state and then I’m sure we’ll get some attention in that area.

    My plan is to simply say “we don’t plan to have children” just as someone else suggested. It’s not in my life plan. I understand that she might not understand it, but I sincerely hope she’ll respect my decision. I’m 35 and she has to know I wouldn’t have THAT much longer to do it anyway!

    I also agree with not lying about not being able to have them. That’s not right. It also makes you look as though you do want them so it changes the conversation and you’ll have to live with that.

    Good luck!

  10. I got sterilized, we told grandma, and we’re setting up a plan for my husband (who has some clotting issues) to safely get sterilized as well. We told grandma about that as well.

    There’s no question that we will be limited to the one child we already have…and there’s no more drama over it.

  11. I agree with the be direct consensus. And just wanted to add that maybe thinking over your reasons for not wanting children so they are clear in your mind. You may choose not to share with them but it will help you to remain confident and may help her accept that this is for real. I know personaly when I let my significant other’s mother in on our no kids plans. really why not? was her response and she was very accepting when she heard that we had several well thought out reasons

  12. I got this question from everyone when I was engaged, but telling them that “I reserve the right to change my mind” seemed to preempt any attempts to argue with my decision. Maybe it’s just because I’m still relatively young that people accept this answer, though. =/

    Btw, I leave my husband out of such discussions because he thinks of children as something that might theoretically happen in the remote future, if at all.

  13. I like people’s suggestions about asking your MIL questions, and taking the time to try to understand where she might be coming from. However, prescribing her a volunteering-with-kids solution could be hurtful and seem condescending. I’m sure it is meant in a positive way here, and I’d bet that volunteering with children really does help some people in the long run.

    But if you’ve deeply wanted to have children and faced insurmountable (or seemingly) insurmountable obstacles, you’ve probably heard the “You should join Big Brothers/Big Sisters!” and that sort of well-meaning advice. It can be angering, seeming to belittle the realness of your pain and mourning. In my work on this subject, I also heard from would-be grandmothers who experienced feelings very similar to what I and other would-be moms experienced.

    She may experience shock, denial, anger, and grief. You don’t have to prescribe any course of action to her. She’s a grownup. Perhaps if you have specific resources for this issue, such as a support group or a book that might help her get through her would-be-grandmother-again grief, or a book that might help her understand childfree choices in contemporary life… to me that sounds nice. If she reads in one of those books, “Volunteer with children,” she may be early in her grieving and hurl the thing across the room, but then it isn’t about *you* giving her the advice. And later in her grieving process, she might think, “I really oughtta volunteer with those kids.”

    • I’m not suggesting they say “hey mom, we’re not having kids, go volunteer.” But it’s still a good idea and there may be a more tactful way to suggest it after the initial bomb and grieving process has occurred.

  14. The automatic assumption that marriage=children has always annoyed me. Yes, for some people (myself included- I had a honeymoon pregnancy) it is the natural route to go, but it isn’t for everyone.
    I agree with a previous commenter that it can be extremely hurtful for family to push for you to have children when you don’t want to. It really makes you feel that your other accomplishments are not enough.
    I would encourage you to be frank and forthcoming. Any side-stepping or beating around the bush will only encourage the belief that there is a change that things will change. While there is certainly the possibility that you could change your mind, it doesn’t sound like you will, so I wouldn’t leave that window open.
    Mostly, I wish you good luck. For some reason human reproduction seems to be a subject that everyone feels they should get a say in, when in fact it is something deeply personal.

  15. Let’s try and look at your situation from another point of view:
    Don’t you think it’s a little rude of her, to keep asking you to come up with grand kids?
    The decision whether to have kids is such a personal one, that I feel it’s entirely out of place for some one else- even if it’s your husband’s mother- to put pressure on you. Obviously, it’s not something you and your husband have decided overnight; you have chosen this way of life (as did I). In this day and age we are lucky enough to be able to choose whether we want to raise a family or not.

    If she is so eager to babysit, perhaps you could suggest her to do voluntary work and babysit children of working single moms.

    All this being said, it is possible that my advice is out of place in this case because of a difference in culture. I was born and raised in The Netherlands and I am not sure what is regarded as rude or out of place in your part of the world.

    Wishing you the best of luck and always remember that you should listen to that little voice inside yourself; it’s never wrong.

    • Yes, to repeatedly request something so huge from someone is rude. But the issue here is about much more than simple etiquette. This woman can’t have grandchildren by herself, and it’s something she desperately wants. If the conversation is set up as “you’re being rude by having this desire” they’ve only created confrontation, rather than a space for everyones needs to be heard. Ultimately, as everyone here has said, the goal is to get MIL on board and supportive of the child-free choice. I think it’s much better to try to do that lovingly than to shut her out of the conversation. After all, I think that a grandparent who said “I don’t want to have anything to do with my grand kids – I didn’t choose to have them” would be seen as kind of heartless. If grandparents are supposed to love their grand kids after they’re born, why is it so unreasonable to want some before they’re conceived?

  16. Thankfully my parents and my husband’s parents are all on board with us not having kids. We’re still in our mid-20s, but I’ve known forever that children are not for me. I run into more issues with extended family and people I meet in other ways (through work or friends, etc).

    My cousins all had kids almost immediately after getting married or engaged, leaving me the odd one out. As the only girl on one side, that makes things a little bit tense when the family gets together. Inevitably the pestering starts, and almost always from my grandmother’s sisters and my aunts. I have always firmly told them that I do not plan to have children. About two years ago, my mom got fed up with people asking her about it and told a gossipy aunt that I can’t have kids and it shut her right up. While I don’t advocate this approach, it does work for us because a) my family is careful not to talk about children anymore and b) we have agreed that if we ever miraculously change our minds, we will adopt as my body and pregnancy are not BFFs. Even so, we do still get the odd “oh, well, when you’re ready, there are some great agencies out there!” type comment, but they’re easy enough to dodge without creating drama.

    When it comes to the people I meet through work or friends, it’s generally a case of “oh my, you’re so young to be married!” “I’m actually 26, I just look 19” “Oh wow, so do you have any children yet?” “No” “When do you think you’ll start?” “We’re not planning to have children” “Oh, I see. Well, once you’re a bit older and your clock starts ticking, you’ll see ;)” — If I haven’t already politely excused myself from the conversation, I do so at this point. With strangers or casual acquaintances, there’s no need to stress over making a point. With friends, I have been firm about it. One of my best friends wrongly assumed I would change my mind when I got older, and I corrected her. I was careful to make it clear that I respect her decision to have kids, but that they’re not for me. I’m much more suited to being a Cool Aunt and she gets it now.

  17. My mother has been after me for *years* to have a kid — even though I’ve told her that I don’t want kids, and for eight of the past ten years, I didn’t even go out on dates. It got bad enough that one day she actually looked at me and said, “You know, some people never get married or have kids, and they live perfectly normal lives.” Completely out of the blue. I wasn’t even lamenting being single or anything like that.

    I took two steps that my mother couldn’t really argue against:

    One was passive agressive. I told her that my younger brother could give her a WHOLE BUNCH of grandkids all at once. She got insulted and said, “He’s just a kid himself.” I responded with, “I’m only two years older than him, and not dating anyone. Would you prefer if I got knocked up by the next door neighbor, or the one across the street?”

    The second one was very explicit. I grew up hearing stories about how my parents pushed back having me because of so much pressure for a grandkid from my father’s side of the family. When she started up one day, I just smiled at her and said, “Remember why I’m born later than you’d wanted? I *am* a lot like you…” That’s gotten her to shut up about it, aside from a snide comment around Christmas every year or so.

  18. You may just have to bite the bullet and tell her flat out that children are not in your plans. She needs to understand it’s not about her and she doesn’t get a say in how the two of you decided to carry out the rest of your lives. However, aside from telling her you guys aren’t planning on having children, you don’t owe her any explanation after that. It’s really not any of her business. My guy and I have been up front about our no kids plan from the very beginning. My father is still pressing for it and every time he does, I remind him that 1. it doesn’t concern him and 2. Even if we did decide to have children, he wouldn’t be entitled to them. It may sound harsh but that’s how I see it.
    Tell her flat out once, and then don’t discuss it with her anymore.

  19. We started off by telling our families that we enjoyed being “selfish”. We are so very content together that we don’t feel like our life is lacking anything. Being very straight forward has worked out well for us. We tell them that we enjoy children and want to be active in the lives of our nieces. I get a lot of grief from my large Cuban family over our choice not to have children. Explaining that we are not opposed to babies, but we have NO desire to raise a toddler, adolescent and teenager helps them to understand. I don’t think they will ever be 100% accepting of our choice, but they have become more accepting of it. Being open and honest about our desire to be CFBC (Child-free by choice)was very important for us recently when I had to undergo a hysterectomy due to cancer. My parents were upset, of course, but I feel like they weren’t crushed by what happened because they had the time to wrap their brains around our child-free choice.

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