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I am fully aware that there is a similar question already on this site, but I need help with a specific issue.

I brought up the fact that I have no intention of having children as an offhand comment just to test the waters to see how she would react, and I was expecting the usual "you'll change your mind when you're older" and everything like that, but instead the reaction was very different to what I was expecting.

She told me that she felt like she had been a terrible parent for making me feel like parenthood is a horrifying depressive mess, and appeared to be quite shocked by my comment. Essentially she blamed herself for my decision.

I immediately tried to explain it wasn't an attack on her, and I wasn't trying to say that she looked like a depressive mess as a parent, but her response was that I should be more careful with people's feelings next time I'm saying things like that.

TL;DR: She believes that my decision to never have children is a result of her being a bad parent.

So now that the background for the question is out of the way:

How do I explain to a parent that my decision to not have children is not a result of her being a bad parent?

(Just putting this here to avoid miscommunications which I know are inevitable on the internet: She is not a bad parent and I don't view her as a bad parent, but I understand the way I have worded the question is a little unclear on that front)

  • You might want to tell us the actual reason why you have made that decision, if you feel comfortable with that. E.g. it might be that your parents actually have something to do with it (maybe by illustrating to you what sort of sacrifices can become neccessary if you have a child), although not in a negative way. A connection like this would demand a whole different approach than health or job reasons. – Randolph Carter Jun 8 '18 at 7:27
  • Can you go into a bit more detail on what you already tried, especially on "her response was that I should be more careful with people's feelings next time I'm saying things like that"? Did she take offence at how you worded it or that you said it all? Did she find the simple fact that you don't want kids offensive or something particular you said during the talk? – AllTheKingsHorses Jun 10 '18 at 13:19
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I may be over extending a bit, but it's probably a truism that most good parents have doubts about how they did it, the decisions they made, what they could have, or should have done better... Truely terrible parents don't bother to ask those questions. They either know, or they're too self absorbed to think about it.

It's almost like the most basic psychopath test; have they ever bothered to wonder or ask if they're psychopaths? True psychos generally don't.

I never wanted to have kids of my own because I grew up in a... Less than ideal sort of situation... I ended up raising other people's kids throughout most of my adult life. And, ya, I totally understand your mother's second guessing. There's always that fear that you're doing it wrong. Hopefully that fear leads you to do it right, or at the very least better than your parents did it with you. You do your best, but you're always aware of your shortcomings, those things that you wish you had done better. I've come to realize that just comes with the territory, no matter how hard you try, or how well you've done.

So... What can you do to ease your mother's worried mind when it comes to your decision to not have kids of your own?

Talk to her about it. Tell her how you really feel, and felt about her parenting. And be honest. That honesty part will probably be rather important. Try not to sugar coat, or gloss over the things that weren't great, but be clear that that's not the reason that you've made your decision.

Basically try to both reassure her that you appreciate her and her parenting ability, and that you're really making this decision for other reasons. Be prepared for one of those sappy, heart to heart, tears kinda conversations. Whatever your reasons for not wanting kids of your own are, be honest about them.

I remember having this conversation with my own mom, years ago. Even though my own childhood wasn't the best, making it clear that it wasn't her fault, and that it wasn't the only reason that I didn't want more kids seemed to put her mind at ease.

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    I think "it's probably a truism" might be better as "in my experience" or "given the parents I know..." With our new back-it-up policy, "truisms" are probably something to be discouraged and avoided. Otherwise awesome answer! – scohe001 Jun 8 '18 at 5:08
  • @scohe001 I went on to explain why I thought it might be a truism, and also qualified that I may have been stretching. – apaul Jun 8 '18 at 5:16
  • And that explanation is why I think this is a great answer! But if you have to explain why you think something is a truism, it's not a truism by definition :) – scohe001 Jun 8 '18 at 5:20
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    @scohe001 I explained why I think it's a truism because of the policy ;) The policy is important, but let's not miss the forest among the trees. I've done this thing, I explained how I did the thing, and why I did the thing, and how it worked out for me. Getting overly hung up on wording kinda misses the point, ya'know? – apaul Jun 8 '18 at 5:26
  • Also, it's probably only a truism for people who've raised kids? Some explanation for those that haven't seemed to be in order. – apaul Jun 8 '18 at 5:28
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I also went the route of "off-hand comment to test the waters" when I first brought up not wanting kids to my mom. But that was when I was in high school, and she did give me the "you'll change your mind when you get older" response.

Now that I'm childless in my mid-20s, it's a topic that my parents bring up from time to time. My mom did initially think that she gave me the wrong impression of parenthood, because I gave the same explanation as you for not wanting kids, the idea seems depressing to me. She apologized for the times she complained about raising me and my brother, but reassured me that being our mother was her greatest joy. While that was very sweet of her, it didn't change my perspective.

I already knew she loved being a mother, I never once doubted that, but I also knew that one of her goals in life was to be a great mother, which I believe she achieved. I explained to her that I had completely different goals, and having to give up on them to raise kids would be depressing for me. I think after talking to her about what I want to do in life, she realized I never wanted to nurture another human being. In the end, while she was disappointed I didn't change my mind, she also understood where I was coming from.

I have friends who also don't want kids, but they all have their own reasons and were able to communicate them to their families. While not everyone in our families were able to understand our reasoning, those who understand us do. I believe my mom and I being able to see our differences helped us understand each other more. Try explaining to your mom why parenthood seems depressing to you. I can see why telling a parent that being a parent looks depressing can be hurtful, but explaining why it doesn't work for you specifically is easier to for someone else to understand.

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It's been my experience that arguing people out of firmly-held opinions is a very hard task. Look at how we deal with religious zealots, flat-earthers, or even political opinions. I've seen no amount of reason, compassion, logic, or debate will change the mind of someone with an entrenched opinion.

The answer here is to approach it less like trying to convince and more like a discussion. That will involve listening to what she says, understanding it, and then trying to see her side. (In this day and age, it seems to like too many discussions don't do the first, let alone the second and third.)

In this discussion, the bell's been rung, so there's no retreating from it. She knows you plan on not having kids, so there's no way to have that discussion for the first time again. You can re-open the discussion after things are a little calmer and start off with, "I understand you blame yourself for my not wanting to raise kids. Can you help me understand why you blame yourself for this?" Now you're asking for help, not trying to convince. In my experience, people are willing to help but very unwilling to open themselves to be talked out of their beliefs.

Let her talk. In discussions with my parents, it's become apparent that we have VERY different interpretations of the same events. What may have been traumatic to you may be a non-event to Mom, and vice versa. The important thing is for you to let HER talk, not for you to argue with her or tell her that "That's not how things were". You want to understand her position, not argue her out of it. This may take multiple listening sessions from you.

After, and only after, she has explained her position and you understand is it time for you to respond. When talking with others, I've come to realize that others will only listen after they feel heard. It's not the time to do a point-by-point rebuttal; it's time to sympathize and explain why you don't want to raise kids. If it has nothing to do with how you were raised, then it's the time to tell her that. "Mom, I understand why you feel this way, and I really appreciate your taking the time to talk about it. It's not a question of my childhood or how good of a parent you were. You aren't the same mother that yours was, and I won't be the same parent you were. That's just how things are; we're not clones of each other and times are different.

"I'm not looking at parenthood because..." and then lay out your reasoning. Maybe you are too focused on your career. Maybe you just don't want to raise kids and don't see it as being rewarding. Maybe you think the world is overpopulated and don't want to contribute. Maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster told you not to. It doesn't matter what the reasoning is; you want to first of all ensure that she feels heard and then you want to take the position of helping her and that help consists of your reasoning to not be a parent.

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