By Lisa Manterfield
Recently, Jane P reminded of this article by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman that I posted some time ago. It’s a good reminder about how not to say the wrong thing to someone in crisis. I wish it was mandatory reading for everyone, and I especially wish it came with a note explaining that it applies when talking to infertiles and the childless-not-by-choice.
The gist of their Ring Theory is that the person in crisis is at the center of the ring and those next closest to the person occupy subsequent rings. In the case of someone coming to terms with not having children, she would be at the center, her spouse or partner on the next ring, perhaps closest family and friends on the next, and more distant family, coworkers, and acquaintances beyond that.
The rule is that that if people have something mean or insensitive or opinionated to say, they say it to someone on a bigger ring. When speaking to someone on a smaller ring, they can only listen or—if they must say something—offer help, support, or comfort. No advice, no miracle stories, no blame or shame. No offering of their kids, no suggestions to adopt. “I’m sorry” is all that needs to be said. If they want to dump, dump outwards, not inwards.
I wish people would understand that someone who has just acknowledged she won’t ever have children is in crisis, and what she needs more than judgment and unhelpful help is for people to say to the right thing.