Hello Social Introvert,
My husband and I are deeply introverted, and it has become a bit of a problem with our families. We both think about every interaction we have and how it might affect others; however, no one seems to think about how their treatment of us will make us feel.
We’ve decided not to have children due to my health issues. I found a way to gently tell my family, and it worked out. My dad was the hardest to face, but I told him first, and he has been very supportive of the decision. My husband has told his sister; however, she keeps telling him that we will change our minds because his family does not believe that I have health problems. I look fine, so therefore I “must be” fine.
My husband is also afraid that his mother is so invested in having grandchildren that she might fall into a deep depression when she finds out we won’t be having any. I told my husband to tell her the truth—my health would make carrying a baby very difficult and extremely painful.
But part of it is that we also have other passions we want to spend our lives pursuing. However, his mother has blown off my health conditions before, and our life ambitions are nothing compared to her desire to have grandchildren or children who are traditionally successful. Her worldview is very conservative, and we do not fit the bill even though we are financially stable. We have even helped her and all of our family members financially.
So, how do we address family members trying to bully us into having children? I have told my husband I would talk to his side of the family since I have had this hard conversation a dozen times now. However, he wants to handle this and knows that his family will blow off his dreams and concerns for my health. He is very anxious about it because it was a hard decision to make in the first place. He really does not want to hurt his mom’s feelings, but she is constantly harassing him about it, and it is bringing him down. I want to step in to save him this anxiety, but he doesn’t want me to.
We do love our family, but this has been making us both miserable for years now.
Childless by Choice
There’s A LOT to unpack in your letter. You and your husband made the decision not to have children, and you’re still coming to terms with the repercussions of this choice—both separately and together. But your note struck a chord with me for a different reason. While you mention your introversion in the first sentence, you never bring it up again. Did you notice that? I see this happen in a lot of the letters I receive, and I think it’s important to address it now.
Your letter is not really about introversion. It’s also not really about relaying news to family members. And it’s not about other people accepting your decisions. It’s about you accepting yourself.
You told me that dealing with your husband’s family has been making both of you miserable for a while now. But I sense it’s because you need them to approve of the decisions you’ve made. My question is: why? Why is it so important for your sister-in-law and mother-in-law to say, “You know those health problems we’ve been doubting? We understand them now! And it’s okay you don’t want to have children! We made a fuss in the past, but now we get it!”? Of course, this would make your life easier, but think about it. Is this really something you need? Is it going to fix your health issues? Or change your mind about having children?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe we all have a deep, primal desire to be liked. And I think you mentioned your introversion—even though it’s not the focus of your letter—because it’s consistently reiterated to introverts that we’re not ENOUGH. We need to be more social. We need to be more outspoken. We need more friends. We should be more ambitious. We always need to be more SOMETHING. When really all we want is for someone to say we’re fine and wonderful and perfect just as we are.
Sadly, most people aren’t capable of extending this type of grace. It’s pretty difficult, after all. It requires a lot of maturity and wisdom. It’s much easier to shout, “YOU. OVER THERE. You act exactly how I wish and make life easier for me! Much obliged!” If I had it my way, everyone would obey my every whim at all times. Luckily, I have a smidgen of conscience and decency, but even those don’t stop me from acting like a 2-year-old on occasion.
Childless, I am going to tell you something, and I hope you’re ready to hear it.
You are enough.
You are an introvert, and that is enough. Your life ambitions are enough. The choices you’ve made for yourself are enough.
I want you to repeat these phrases over and over to yourself. This is your new mantra. Every time someone asks when you and your husband are going to have kids, every time your sister-in-law questions your health issues, every time your mother-in-law calls…you remind yourself that you are enough.
You asked me how to address the family members who are bullying you into having children. The answer is you don’t. Give your husband a minute to gather his thoughts, and let him deliver the news. (But if he’s still dragging his heels in six months, drop me another line, and we’ll talk.) It’s generally best for each partner to take on tough communication with their own family. Then you let those family members react however they’re going to react while you and your husband figure out your next amazing, child-free vacation spot.
And now, I’d like to share a story with you.
When I was 12 years old, I announced I was never having kids. Naturally, all my family members told me I would change my mind. But you know what? Now, I am a 34-year-old childless woman who wants to stay that way. And my decision is partially related to health issues as well.
Several years ago, I was gardening with my mother when, by accident, we stumbled into a very serious conversation. I finally said to her, as straight as I could possibly muster in my most adult voice, “Mom, I really don’t want to be a mother. It’s not important to me.” Now, you don’t know my mom, but she was meant to be a grandmother. Basically, she’d be the best grandma in the world. She was born for the role. And it killed me to confront this issue head-on because I knew she’d be very disappointed. I knew I was denying her a dream. Instead, my mom kind of sighed, shrugged her shoulders, and told me, “I know. You’re very independent. I understand.” It was one of the most beautiful gifts she ever bestowed upon me. It completely blew me away.
Childless, as much as you can’t expect greatness from people, you also have to give them room to surprise you. Sure, your mother-in-law may act badly and disappoint you when she hears your news. But the truth is you don’t know that yet. Also, her disappointment is 100 percent not personal. She has to learn to say goodbye to the dream of holding and playing and getting to know her son’s children, and that’s a huge dream to give away. It’s one that’s got a very tight grip on our collective consciousness, both biologically and culturally. While my mom understands my decision and gave me her blessing, that doesn’t mean it didn’t cause her pain. It doesn’t mean she wasn’t hurt by it. I know she was, and likely still is, but that has nothing to do with me personally. It’s just the circumstances.
Is it possible that a part of accepting yourself could also be forgiving your mother-in-law if she doesn’t react well to the news?
Because when you start to accept yourself as you really are, you have not only fewer expectations of people but also less attachment to their reactions. You don’t need them to behave a certain way anymore. You don’t need them to say you’re enough because you already know. You don’t need to address their reactions—it’s no longer your problem to be handled. And this will give you more space to forgive them when they’re not at their best.
It is not easy to choose a childless road, whether you are a man or a woman. You’ve decided to abandon the regularly scheduled programming and see what life is like outside the typical script. I’m so excited for you! There are so many different things that could happen next. This is more than enough.
And you don’t need me, or anyone else, to tell you so.
Sending you all my best thoughts,
The Social Introvert
Have a question about a personal or professional relationship problem? Email the Social Introvert at [email protected]!