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How do I tell my parents I'm not having children?

July 9, 2013, at 8:45 AM

Dear Starshine,

After 10 years together, and a lot of soul searching and serious conversations, my husband and I have decided not to have children. It would have been very difficult to conceive and I'm finally at peace with our decision after years of uncertainty. My dilemma is this: How do we communicate this to our family? Does this conversation need to take place in person? I'm leaning toward the coward's path of email — which seems a bit cruel, like breaking up with someone via text, but oh-so-tempting. I've also considered not telling them at all so they can draw their own conclusions. This is a very private decision so I'm not sure how to take it public. Any suggestions?

Congratulations on giving birth to this weighty decision! It was an excruciatingly long labor, but I'll bet you feel lighter having finally let go of all the pressures and expectations associated with potential parenthood. (It's amazing how many people's hopes and dreams can fit into one woman's uterus, is it not?)

Are you worried that your families will be disappointed? (They will. It's OK.) That they'll judge you? (They might. Let them.) That they won't understand? (They don't need to.)

You're not required to tell them at all — but being honest will spare you all from the awkward, passive-aggressive hint lobbing that tends to happen across Thanksgiving tables, and I promise you they hate that game as much as you do. I like the way you said it above: "We've decided after much soul searching and serious conversations not to have children." There's no need to give reasons. "Ultimately, it just isn't what we want" should do nicely. Reassure them, if you like, that it has nothing to do with their parenting or your own childhoods. (Unless it does, in which case, avoid that line of dialogue entirely!)

But don't do it over email. They'll read it and re-read it forever, torturing themselves by looking for secret meaning in each word, each phrase. If you say it in person, your message will soften in their minds over time. And when they think back on the considerate, personal way you shared your decision with them, they'll remember only what they want — and need — to remember.

Send me your dilemmas via email: ToughLove@TheWeek.com. And follow me on Twitter: @ToughLoveAdvice.

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