Being happy around kids when you’re struggling to have your own

Hello Internet-land! Eric here again this week with another hopefully-helpful post on “stuff I learned the hard way”.

Let me start by saying that Cathy and I are blessed in more ways than I can count, from work and family to health to a circle of amazing friends. And one of my favorite things about this lucky life we lead is that it is filled with amazing, happy, healthy kids we adore.

Yes, I know (as you all do by now) that we couldn’t have our own, but our life is still rich in cool little rug-rats, as we call ‘em around here. Cathy’s oldest friend is mom to two amazing, beautiful girls, aged four and six. Two of our best friends brought us our two goddaughters, a musical two year old and a head-strong six-year old, against both of whom I am completely, blatantly helpless. I’m smitten, and they know it.

Oh, and did I mention I have twelve (!) nieces and nephews? Yeah. As I said, rug-rats everywhere! And it is endlessly, wonderfully, deliriously fun and often hysterically funny. And I’m not going to lie; for a long time, it was really, really hard.

Some of the hardest days in our IVF experience, indeed in our whole 12 year relationship so far, were the days we spent with some of those same amazing kids. When Cathy and I were struggling to get pregnant, the days we spent with the many wonderful children in our life were simultaneously encouraging, hope-inspiring and joy-filled, and at the same time could be crushingly hard to get through wearing a smile.

I know Cathy and I have both talked about friends getting pregnant when we couldn’t, and that certainly isn’t easy either. They get all the ooh’s and aah’s and attention and happiness and you struggle to feel all those happy feelings for your loved ones without the poisonous infiltration of envy or the depressing ooze of self-pity. But being around kids who are already here is a little different, and for me at least, in some ways even harder.

Why is that? It’s not always easy to parse the details of your own messy, complicated feelings, but I think the difference for me was this – a friend’s pregnancy represents joyous, exciting and boundless potential. What will they be like? How will they grow and change? Who will they most resemble? And on and on. But it’s all speculative.

Kids who are here-and-now are something very different; less potential, invention and imagination, and more tactile, tangible and true. Sure you can dream about what an unborn kid will grow up to be, but when the sugar-fueled lunatics are actually running about screaming and destroying the swing set, you can see who they are and watch what they’re becoming.

Maybe it’s just because I’m such a nerdy, data-oriented guy, but seeing the smiles, hearing the peals of laughter and staring dumbfounded at the amazing, unexpected and hysterical things they say? These were the things that really broke my heart sometimes.

Now if that all sounds unhelpful, fear not! As the title of this week’s post suggests, I did learn a little bit from the process and hope that maybe I can offer a few helpful tips. Here are my takeaways on being happy, or perhaps I should say, being able to be happy, around friends’ or relatives’ kids when you’re struggling to have your own. So, with apologies to Stanley Kubrick, here’s “How I learned to stop worrying and love the little monsters.”

First, remind yourself that those running, racing, giggling squealing beastlets are the point, the goal post, and let their joy and cuteness fuel your resolve to gut through the challenges of infertility, and the uncertainties and discomforts of treatment if that’s part of your process.

Second, try (I know it’s hard, but try) to forget about your own situation and look at that friend or relative who has already been blessed with the little one(s). Remember how important they are to you, all the hard, happy and quiet times you’ve shared. Both psychology and neuroscience tell us that we are emotionally, physiologically and demonstrably more fulfilled when we care about something bigger than ourselves. Remember how much you care for those parenting friends and don’t deprive them of the support and love you have to offer. These things are precious to that other person. Don’t hold that back, even if your own internal monologue is less rosy at that moment.

Finally, and most important, don’t lose sight of the joy and memories you can give to the children themselves. Many of my happiest memories from childhood include not just my own parents but days and activities and adventures with aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors.

There’s an old saying that people may not remember what you did or said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. Those munchkins over there writing on the wall with crayons and smearing jam on the cat? They embody that very sentiment. So go help with the jigsaw puzzle, carve the pumpkin, kick the ball. Remember to them, all that stuff is unadulterated awesome. So go be awesome with them. That’s what they’ll remember, and you might just make yourself feel a better too.

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