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For many people, Father’s Day is a time for cherishing the relationships between fathers and children. But when someone is struggling to become a parent or wants children but life hasn’t worked out that way, Father’s Day can highlight that void. With increasing reminders of the holiday in our social media feeds and ads for the perfect gift for dad, it’s hard to avoid feeling left out. Dr. Erica Johnstone, a gynecologist and infertility specialist at the University of Utah, says that Father’s Day “can be a difficult time for those who dream of being a father. It feels like everyone else in the world has been able to have a child, and it can make feelings of isolation and exclusion worse.”
Infertility can affect a person’s relationships with others. According to Dr. Johnstone, “Many choose not to share their struggles with infertility or desire to have kids—perhaps because it’s taboo, or they don’t want to burden even close family or friends who may have successfully conceived. Couples may avoid spending time with pregnant family members or friends, especially around Father’s Day, because they so painfully want a baby. This can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.”
How to help
If you know someone who is struggling to have a child, you can help them get through a hard day like Father’s Day. This is a deeply personal issue, so it’s important to offer help based only on what your friend or family member has shared with you directly. Don’t make assumptions about what they want or what is happening with their plans to conceive. Here are some tips for supporting them:
You can bring up the topic of Father’s Day if they’ve shared their challenge with wanting children with you before. If they haven’t, it may be best not to go there.
According to Dr. Johnstone, “Men may be less likely than women to share their struggles with infertility with family and friends and may be less open to verbal demonstrations of support. Just listening can help.” As Dr. Kory Floyd, professor of interpersonal communication at the University of Arizona, notes, “Men can have a difficult time coping because they don’t have many outlets to talk about their feelings. It’s particularly difficult for a man to reach out to another man—who is most likely to understand—to discuss infertility.”
You might not know how your friend feels about Father’s Day, but you can acknowledge that it’s not easy for them. Men in couples struggling to conceive may have feelings of low self-esteem or loss of their identity as men. They are often very devoted to emotionally supporting their partner but may not know what to say or do to help. Just acknowledging how hard this is can bolster your friend.
This is particularly important for men who want to support a friend facing infertility. As Dr. Floyd explains, “Society tells men that they need to be ‘fixers.’ Their impulse is to give advice or solve the problem. When a friend shares their feelings, it isn’t always a request for input. It’s really a request to listen and validate their feelings.”
You can be excited if you’re expecting a child yourself, but share that excitement with someone else.
Suggest some adult-only plans so that your friend isn’t confronted with happy families at every turn. Go to a movie, attend a concert, or meet up at the gym.
If they are close to your family, invite them to your Father’s Day celebration. If they prefer to be alone or not recognize the holiday, however, respect their wishes.
The important thing to remember is that not everyone feels the same about being a parent. Some struggle with the fact that they can’t build the family they want—because of infertility, a partnership in which one wants kids and the other doesn’t, or something else. Others don’t want children, and that’s okay too. As Dr. Johnstone suggests, “If someone hasn’t shared their plans with you, don’t ask, ‘When are you going to have a baby?’” You won’t always know what another person is going through, so be mindful and avoid assuming how anyone feels about fatherhood—or Father’s Day.
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