Enough with All the Happy Talk

Toxic Positivity. Have you heard that term? It’s when people insist you look on the sunny side of things. “Your time will come.” “Don’t worry. You’ll get to have your baby.” “You just need to think positive.” “Look on the bright side.” “At least you have __________.”

So often people who say these things are trying to be helpful, but they are having the opposite effect. They are denying your right to feel however you need to feel. If you appear to be to be sad, angry or hopeless, it makes other people uncomfortable, so they try to put a happy spin on it. You had a miscarriage? You can try again. Your husband doesn’t want kids? He’ll change his mind. You can’t seem to get pregnant? You just need to relax. They make it sound like your negative attitude is to blame for your problems. If you just put on a happy face, everything will work out.

Yeah, sure.

Makes you want to scream, right?

That’s toxic positivity, which was the subject at Katy Seppi’s Chasing Creation podcast earlier this week. Her guests were life coaches Sadie T of Curiously Sadie [@curiously_sadie] and Carrie Hauskens, whose recent blog post on the subject inspired the podcast. I encourage you to read that post.  You’ll be shouting “Yeah!” “I know!” and “Bullshit!” along with her.

“I think it’s exhausting trying to stay positive all the time,” Hauskens said. She tends to be very honest about her infertility journey, which includes a miscarriage and a stillborn daughter. It makes people squirm. Her husband is also straightforward. He notes that the positive commenters have been thinking about this for a few minutes while they’ve been trying to have children for seven years.

“I don’t have to be optimistic,” Hauskens stressed.  

Sadie added that toxic positivity discounts what a person is feeling and what they have gone through. They’re kind of saying “It’s fine. Get over it.”

But grief doesn’t just disappear. It keeps coming back, and we need to talk about it. It’s not healthy to keep it in just to make our uncomfortable friends more comfortable.

The women agreed that in some cases you may need to spend less time with the people who keep spewing platitudes and look for others who understand what you’re going through, other childless people, for example.

So what should people say? It’s fine to just admit you don’t know what to say, Hauskens said. You can say, “I’m here for you” or “What can I do to help?” Just don’t try to correct the person’s feelings.

Just being there is enough, Seppi added.

Bottom line: Don’t tell me how I’m supposed to feel about not having children (or anything else). Let me feel my feelings and find my own way through them.

Does this ring any bells for you? It sure does for me. Have you experienced “toxic positivity?” How do you react? Please share in the comments.

More reading on the subject:

“Toxic Positivity is Real” by Simone M. Scully, Healthline.com, July 22, 2020.

“Toxic Positivity: Don’t Always Look on the Bright Side” by Konstantin Lukin, PhD., Psychology Today, Aug. 1, 2019

Should she stand by her man who doesn’t want kids?

 What is this, 1914?

 A reader asked me that the other day after I advised a childless woman to stick with the man she had rather than get divorced in her 40s in the hope of finding another guy with whom she could have children. I tried to explain that at her age, the odds of finding another Mr. Right and getting pregnant were lousy. She was not happy with my advice. 
I flip-flopped with the next commenter, who was in her early 30s. I told her to go for it.
 Today, I received a comment from a woman whose fiance of 13 years just told her he has decided he doesn’t want kids. I told her to keep talking.
Nearly every day, I receive comments from people, mostly women, who don’t know what to do. Their mate is unable or unwilling to have children with them. They may have said they would be happy to have babies before, but now they don’t want to. Often there are stepchildren who make things more complicated. The couple either fights about it all the time or they can’t talk about it. What should they do?
Dear God, I wish I knew.
My friends, I am not the goddess of all wisdom. I wish I could solve your problems, but I’m human. My views are necessarily tainted by my own experiences and by the fact that I’m Catholic, white and was raised in California by traditional parents of western European heritage in the 1950s and ‘60s. I’m also very practical. I don’t believe in diving out of a boat where you might be unhappy but at least you won’t drown in the hope that another, more beautiful boat will happen along. I also believe that most of us are lucky to meet one perfect life partner in a lifetime. If this is old-fashioned, so be it.
When I was a kid, back in the pre-birth control days, couples who were unable to have children stuck together. Often they adopted, but not always. People who simply didn’t want children either didn’t get married or they sucked it up and had them anyway because if you were having sex it was a lot harder to avoid. It was also more difficult to get a divorce. Things seemed simpler. You fell in love, you got married, and you had babies. Were some people brutally unhappy, feeling totally trapped? I’m sure they were.
But it is not 1914 or even 1954. It’s a new century in which nearly anything is possible. With so many choices, it’s hard to know what to do. I need your help. Feel free to respond to comments at any of the posts here with your own advice and experiences. Together we’ll figure it out.