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Friends of mine recently wrote me that they would really have liked to have children but unfortunately can’t. I would like to express my sympathy for them while avoiding hurting them more than they already are.

I was considering something like

I’m really sorry. I’m sure you would have been wonderful parents.

but I worry that it would cause more pain.

How can I express that I understand that this situation involves grieving for what could have been but they will never have, and that it probably hurts when they see happy families?

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    Welcome! I've made some drastic edits to your question to keep it in line with our question policy here. We can't really guess how your friends will react to your statements, so as written, your question would have been closed. I hope this version still meets your needs. Feel free to add more details, if you feel they will help us answer your question more effectively. – Catija May 19 '18 at 3:13
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I have a close friend who, for various reasons, can't have kids. We've talked a lot about this, because it's a hard thing to have to go through.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that while you mean well, everyone is going to be telling them this (or a variation) - or at least that's how it will feel for them. Telling them they'd've been great at something they can't do (yes, there are other options for parenting, but they're likely going to need time to grieve this before they think of tackling any of that, if they choose to) is likely to be difficult to hear. Think of it similar to other times of grieving, that might help your approach.

I understand you mean it as a sort of supportive thing, like you want to honour the fact that you think they're great people who would help a child grow to be an awesome person. That's super commendable of you.

Perhaps instead, try avoiding mentioning how good or not of a parent they would have been, as you likely want to avoid making them face the hard fact that regardless of how good they would have been, that particular opportunity is gone. Telling them you support them, that you are there for them, that you are willing to be a listening ear if they need to talk (if you're close enough that that makes sense), checking in to see if they need anything (for some people, it can feel almost like a death in the family in terms of the pain and sadness).

Be prepared for the fact that they might not want to talk about it, and they might not want you to do anything in particular for them - give them the time and space to sort out their feelings on it. But if you just are patient, and kind, and so on, it will work out.

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It's hard to say what will and won't be. Some people would find that supportive; some will find it rubbing salt into their wounds.

I think your second option is equally bad, since you don't really know what they will feel.

I'd suggest saying something like "I'm really sorry to hear that. It doesn't seem fair. What can I do to help?" That way you're not making pronouncements on what might have been, you're not saying how they might feel, and you're offering to walk with them through their pain.

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    It occurred to me that "what can I do to help" in this particular situation can be misinterpreted really badly. – gnasher729 May 19 '18 at 11:13
  • @gnasher729 i am presuming bald Prussion doesn't have a womb to offer, so wanting sperm isn't that much of an ask is it? – WendyG Jun 11 '18 at 12:29
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As someone in that very position, I applaud you for caring enough to ask this question. The answer to your question is:

"I'm sorry to hear that. I love you and I'm here for you if you ever want to talk about it."

Then, if they take you up on it, just listen. Do not interject your thoughts or opinions. Be especially sensitive around Mother's Day and/or Father's Day.

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