Next week is World Childless Week, this is a week that aims to raise awareness of those childless not by choice (CNBC). As with many events that are held around the year, they offer an opportunity to focus on a topic or issue where more awareness is required and the stigma around the subject challenged. It also presents the chance to highlight the support and community that can be accessed should you or someone you know need help to manage their unique situation.
And it will be unique, every journey to this point will be different.
The vast majority of people are childless by circumstance, not through choice and the stories shared by staff members identify some of the complex reasons. Often people might think of childlessness in terms of people who ‘do not want’ or ‘cannot have’ children. Whilst childlessness can be due to medical reasons such as infertility, it is much more commonly due to circumstance.
Research indicates that almost one in five women reach midlife without children and Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women online community, writes about fifty ways not to be a mother. Robin Hadley identifies that research on men who are involuntarily childless is less prominent.
Coming to terms with being childless not by choice involves loss and grief. Jody Day explores the ‘disenfranchised grief’ or ‘living loss’ of childlessness. Because the grief is unseen it can cause a real struggle when it comes to putting on a brave face to carry on with life, which in turn can have a huge and long term impact on mental health and wellbeing. Disenfranchised grief, also known as hidden grief or sorrow refers to any grief that goes unacknowledged or unvalidated by social norms. This kind of grief is often minimised or not understood by others, which makes it particularly hard to process and work through.
Colleagues affected may choose not to discuss childlessness in the workplace as sometimes life at work can feel like a ‘safe zone’ compared to time outside work where interactions with peers or family can feel overwhelming. However if you feel someone might like to talk consider these do’s and don’ts.
- be there to offer an open ear, an opportunity to be heard, a friendly smile, a shoulder to cry on;
- ask if there is anything you can do to support them;
- let the individual open up only if they feel comfortable;
- suggest searching for online support groups, in person and online;
- be mindful of using children as a ‘conversation starter’;
- think about how you discuss family, children and grandchildren at work.
- push to start up a conversation;
- offer advice;
- comment “have you tried….”;
- offer the person ‘your kids’ as a joke;
- try and fix the ‘problem’.
There is support available both internally and externally to the University.
- There are Wellbeing Champions with shared experiences who can provide support and a listening ear. If you would like to talk to someone or refer a colleague, this can be arranged through Heather Girling on firstname.lastname@example.org
- At times we all need some extra support to balance the demands of our everyday life, find out about how you can access the University’s Employee Assistance or counselling services.
- We aim to be an inclusive university, where staff are respected and encouraged. Explore the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion resources available.
To find out more about being childless not by choice and access additional information and support external to the University, visit https://www.bath.ac.uk/guides/being-childless-not-by-choice/ and also read about the experiences of some of our staff members.