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Health & Spirit

Not many know my son died, and now I need help in handling comments about being child-free

Carolyn Hax on

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I am a 45-year-old man. In my early 20s I had a wife and son who were killed in a car accident. My second wife and I have now been married for 15 years and we do not want children.

Many of my wife's relatives don't know my past, and a lot of my current friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. don't either. How do I deal with comments about my child-free status? Some are positive, like, "You're lucky not to have kids so you can travel when you want." Other times they're more negative, as when I recently told someone I hadn't been sleeping well and she replied, "You don't have kids. You have no idea what sleep deprivation really is." I'm never sure how to respond.

I'm happy with my life now, but I certainly don't consider myself "lucky" my son died, and I actually do know what it's like to care for a baby who cries all night. Should I just inform everyone I know about my past? It would be such an awkward conversation to have with every single person I come in contact with, but I can't think of any other way to ensure people will stop. Those comments are painful.

-- "Lucky"

 

Oh my goodness, I am so sorry.

Your wife is best positioned to spread the word discreetly among her relatives that your history is not as it appears. Presumably you had your reasons for not sharing this information more widely 15 years ago, but it's not unusual for your reasoning to change as your life changes.

Your wife can, in this process, ask these relatives to be mindful that seemingly harmless assumptions about your not having children are in fact acutely painful for you.

You can also choose to say something on a case-by-case basis to people who make these comments: "I actually do know what it's like"; or, "No, 'lucky' isn't the word I'd choose." Each is enough to tell an alert person to back off this line of reasoning with you -- and someone slower on the uptake will have a chance to ask a follow-up, which you can then answer or not, as you wish.

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