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Expert Advice

How to be there on Mother’s Day for friends who don’t have kids—but want them

For many people, Mother’s Day is a time for cherishing the relationships between mothers and children. But when someone is struggling to conceive or wants children but life hasn’t worked out that way, Mother’s Day can highlight that void. With increasing reminders of the holiday in our social media feed and ads for the perfect gift for mom, it’s hard to avoid feeling left out. Dr. Erica Johnstone, a gynecologist and infertility specialist at the University of Utah, says that Mother’s Day “can be particularly painful for those who dream of being a mother. 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 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 baby showers or even spending time with pregnant family members or friends, especially around Mother’s Day, because they so painfully want a baby. Sometimes friendships are lost because of this.”

How to help

If you know someone who is struggling to have a child, you can help them get through a hard day like Mother’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:

1. Talk about it. Again, you can bring up the topic of Mother’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.

2. Listen. If your friend opens up to you about their desire for a baby or their apprehension about Mother’s Day, listen. As Dr. Johnstone suggests, “Don’t give advice. I can’t count the number of my patients who have been brought to tears by a well-intentioned friend suggesting they ‘just relax and take a vacation, it’ll happen’ after years of unsuccessful attempts.”

3. Acknowledge their experience. You might not know how your friend feels about Mother’s Day, but you can acknowledge that it’s not easy for them. This goes a long way at a time when aspiring parents can feel left out.

4. Be sensitive. You can be excited about your pregnancy or that of another close friend, but share that excitement with someone else. It might be too painful to hear for your friend who wants children but doesn’t have them.

5. Invite them to do something that’s not kid focused. 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.

6. Offer to help them plan how to spend the day. If they are close to your family, invite them to your Mother’s Day celebration. If they prefer to be alone, respect their wishes. Offer to check in or drop off a treat at their door.

These tips can help when your friend has been explicit about their desire to have children. We sometimes forget that people all around us might be struggling with the fact that they can’t build the family they want—be it because of infertility, a partnership where one wants kids and the other doesn’t, or something else. There are also people who 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 motherhood—or Mother’s Day.