Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Pictures of Other People's Children

One of the things I still struggle with as a woman who always wanted kids but is not going to have them is pictures of other people's children. Pictures of newborns, Halloween costumes, the first and last days of school, etc. just kill me on the inside. It makes me sad for what I lost and for what I will never experience.

A friend of mine just texted me pictures of his family vacation. He sent a picture of the scenery; a picture of him and his wife; and a picture of him, his wife, and their toddler. I don't know why he did that. He could have just sent me the picture of the scenery. Or the pictures of the scenery and the picture of him and his wife. He knows I wanted kids and that I'm still grieving. I guess he doesn't know how painful it is for me to see pictures of other people's family vacations with their children.

But am I wrong? I hate to tell people to just "get over it." But do I need to get over it? People have kids. Especially at my age. I can't expect people to constantly censor their experiences for my benefit.

How do I interact in the world that's full of fertile people? How do I participate in life with others when a lot of basic things are still so painful for me?

Do I surround myself with only young people who haven't had kids yet and older people whose kids are already grown?

Do I continue to grieve and blog and work on myself in hopes that things like pictures of other people's children won't bother me in the future? If so, how do I do that? Does anybody know?

I can deal with social media. I have all of my friends with kids hidden. On bad days I'm not bombarded with reminders of what I'll never have. On good days I can check in on my friends' posts and see what they've been up to and chosen to share with the online world.

But unsolicited text messages. Holiday cards. People sharing pictures at work and in social settings. All of these things are very normal things to do... But I am still figuring out how to deal with them.

I'm embarrassed about it. I don't want pictures of other people's children to bother me, to make me sad, or to bring me pain. But the fact is, they do. I like my life. I love my life. I'm working hard to create a life that is joyful, interesting to me, and full of service to others. But I am still trying to figure out how to deal with some things that are simply normal everyday interactions with family, friends, and people in general.


  1. Many great questions with no answers... each of us has to find our own way.

    For me -surrounding myself with young people didn't work... because those young people will have kids within few years and will hurt me then. And surrounding with older also didn't work because within few years they get grandchildren and hurt me with million of baby stories then.

    The only thing that works for me was to grieve, continue to blog & work on myself.

    But still, even so much years later the kids photos hurt me. Luckily not as much as they did in the past.

    sending you lots of love from sLOVEnia,


    1. No, I'm not accepting that. I need you to have the answers! (Hahaha, I am totally just kidding of course.)

      I think that is very wise: "each of us has to find our own way."

      I guess I won't put any expectations on myself. I won't tell myself that I can't let this bother me after a certain amount of time. I will accept that it does still bother me, and I will continue to grieve, blog, and work on myself.

      Thank you Klara. <3

  2. I don’t think you have anything to get over. You are grieving and it’s a process.

    I’m sorry about the surprise text message. I know those hurt. Depending on how close you are to your friend, I would either consider blocking their number for now or reaching out, thanking them for thinking of you but telling them that the family picture was very hard and asking that they ask about sending in the future.

    Sending love

    1. Thank you for honoring my process. I will try to do the same for myself.

      I have asked this friend to not share unsolicited photos of his kid with me in the past. He used to be really sensitive about it. This is also the same friend that I previously blogged about that I think has run out of patience with me.

      Instead of saying anything, I think I'm just going to let nature take its course and let this friendship fade away as it inevitably will as the kid grows up, gets more involved in school and activities, and has little brothers and sisters as well. My friend and I don't live near each other anymore and I think our lives will only intersect professionally. So I can be friendly and polite when I see him, wish he and his family well in my heart, and move on.

      Thank you Cristy. <3

  3. Developing the rolling-eyes reflex has helped me cope with things like this. I can laugh at them - their insensitivity to send things like this to me, or their inability to see how they might come across to others. But that takes time. You are not wrong to feel the way you feel. That's just the way you feel, so please don't beat yourself up.

    Sometimes, seeing children's photos makes me happy and doesn't bother me at all. Other times, I really wince. I don't know why - it depends on who they are, how they're presented their photos and with what words, and my relationship with them.

    It gets better. That's all I can say! That doesn't mean that you can skip the more painful times between now and when it is easier. I'm sorry. I wish I could give a fast-forward button.

    1. Now there's a solution! A fast-forward button!! :)

      Rolling my eyes and finding humor in people's idiocy are good strategies.

      I'm glad to hear it gets better. Time seems to fly faster with each passing year, so I will just hang on for the ride.

      Thank you Mali. <3

  4. Hi Phoenix. Some very good questions here. Although I consider myself 'ok' with not having children and I barely think about it on a day-to-day basis, I still get churlish and peevish feelings when people send me pics of their kids or clog up a WhatsApp thread with children photos. I was only thinking about this yesterday: what it means, how to deal with it, etc. I too have all my parent friends on 'hide' on Facebook, so that's OK, but I belong to communal groups on other media and I often get bombarded with kid pics. My policy is to immediately delete and let others comment: when I feel like my non-participation looks noticeable, I put the odd comment ("Cute!") then clear the conversation. This is like closing a door: it gets it out of my head. But I do worry about the resentful, irritated feelings I get when people post pics. I've concluded it's FOMO, for me - my brain thinks they're happier, less alone, more sorted, more content with ageing because they have a 'family'; all sorts of things, my mind races and spirals. Then I tell myself these are all false beliefs: how do I know they're happier? But then I think: because they probably are happier, objectively, all things considered. I even googled "Dealing with fear of missing out" yesterday to see if I could control all of this somehow. It's something I'm trying to work on at the moment - comparing my (relatively solitary) situation to the images I have of families; combating the fear of the future etc. I can say that it has got much better since my 30s - it isn't visceral, just kind of niggling. So yeah, it's improved a lot - it doesn't keep me awake at night - but I'd like to find a way to deal with the niggles.
    Funnily enough, I'm better with unsolicited things that come directly just to me - if a friend sends a pic of them and their child, I can handle that better than a load of mums commenting on each others' pics. It touches me more when it's direct to me, I feel kind of more included or important; hard to explain. But what it boils down to I think for me is feeling 'left out', different - I'd like to 'own' this and that's what I'm going to work on. Aah sorry for the outpouring! Greetings to you Phoenix

    1. Shores! I've missed you. :)

      I'm glad and I'm sorry that other people can relate to what I'm thinking and feeling. Everything you wrote makes total sense to me. The photos shared directly with me are more personal. Fortunately, I haven't had to deal with any sharing of photos among the masses (yet). That would drive me crazy.

      Part of it IS the fact that I'm missing out. Yes, I'm missing out on all the temper tantrums and costs associated with child raising, but I'm also missing out on all the fun parts. No matter how I choose to incorporate children into my life (work, family, volunteering), I will never have that parental bond and it will never be appropriate for me to snuggle with them and read bedtime stories. So yeah, the photos do bother me. They're exclusionary. And it's just another way that I feel invisible in society.

      I don't have any answers either. (Which is why I wrote the post, haha) But I appreciate everyone's advice. I will find my own way in my own time. Now that I have moved I am going to try to meet other women without children (and who will not be having children). I may or may not meet other women like me, but I am going to try.

      Other than that, I just try to limit my exposure. I mean, no one is making an effort to understand my world... Why am I always expected to live in their world?

  5. Hello Phoenix.. I'm not writing much lately... I actually drafted a post yesterday based on your post above, about people's photos - but then I didn't publish it because I felt better afterwards! So thanks for that...
    I do want to find a way to deal with my feelings of being "different" and feeling left out. Actually, hearing you describe it as exclusionary is very helpful to me (sometimes I just can't find the words and I like the way you write!) - it IS exclusionary, in its way, and this helps me to process it and move on without feeling 'guilty' and without feeling like I should have a better response. What I mean is, I will glance at the photo, respond in a perfunctory way and DELETE, without thinking twice about it. I often judge myself on my response, but why should I: I'm not part of that family unit, so why do I have to seem more gracious, involved, interested than the average person - it's probably because I'm sensitive about being seen as a child-hater or something. But no, I don't send loved-up couple shots of me and my husband around... so these pics can go in the bin... thanks again, sorry for the rant!
    I do think I'll write on this topic soon, as it's one of the remaining things that bothers me (FOMO, and fear of ageing are probably the only two things that worry me on the topic of not having kids. Big themes, though)

    1. You're welcome! Other people's posts often help me process things as well. Hearing/reading other people's words and their perspectives can help me understand what I am experiencing. Other people's books and blogs have been immensely helpful.

      Seriously. I just can't do it. What I mean is, I just can't continually comment or converse about how cute/adorable/talented/wonderful someone's kids are. They ARE all those things, but it is not good for me to immerse myself in their world. It makes me feel lonely and unreciprocated. There is no equal opposite that people wrapped up in parenting can offer me. It astounds me that no one makes an effort to understand my world/my reality, but I now accept that that is how it is.

      I have stopped nurturing these relationships and it has left me time to deal with my classes and moving. Now that I am done with those things, it will give me time to focus on my clinical rotations (my last requirement for school, yay!!). When that is over, then I suppose I'll have time to invest in my job, hobbies, and volunteering. Hopefully, over time I will make a friend or two.

      But yeah, I just cannot be a part of the majority. I cannot join my peers in all the kid-centric talk and activities. That's not my life, and, since it is the life I wanted, it is just too painful for me to be around. I do like my life now and I like where it is going. But I had to leave behind how I thought my life was going to go and how most of my friends' lives are going in order to get to a head space where I could learn to love the life I have.

  6. Oh, that's hard. I think these are the questions that no one really has answers to, because they have to come from you, in your own time. Everyone's grieving is different, and it is NOT linear whatsoever. It's a crazy scribbly mess where you can be really great one day and the next something totally innocuous throws you into a sobbing fit. You could tell your friends that you would appreciate not receiving family pictures until you feel okay, that they are a bit of a trigger and it's not that you don't want to know what's going on in their lives, but that receiving a picture text that reminds you of what you've lost can send you into a spiral and you're in a healing process, to have patience. For me, it's hard because my best friend is a stay-at-home mom of three, and her kids ARE her life, so if I don't connect with that part of her I risk losing her as a friend, and that is something I do not want. I do not have a whole lot of other friends with kids, though. Either because they are younger teachers who aren't yet married or committed, or people my age who don't have kids by a variety of circumstances. I am actually surprised by how many childfree people I know. I have a few friends who were successful where I was not, but the ones who stuck are incredibly sensitive, like my friend who surrounds each photo card or invitation with "caution and love" tape that she draws and highlights herself. Or people who are brutally honest about the difficult pieces of parenthood. People who idealized it and didn't get how I felt didn't really stay friends, or relegated to acquaintances.

    I hope that helps... healing is a long and twisty journey, and so, so personal. What works for me isn't going to work for you necessarily, and vice versa, but I think coming up with strategies that help you deal with the triggers is a smart way to go, and writing about it is definitely, definitely helpful. <3