We childless might end up okay in old age

My mind is a bag of mixed M&M’s this morning, so that’s what I’m giving you today.

I finally finished reading Rachel Chrastil’s How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life without Children.  I have mentioned this book a lot here lately. I could glean a dozen posts from what’s in this book. It’s not easy reading—lots of big words and footnotes. The second half goes deep into philosophy. For me, the gist of the whole book is two-fold: Childlessness is not new; there have always been people who for various reasons did not have children, AND, whether or not childlessness is a tragedy that you will always regret depends on how you look at your life. Being a mother or father is only a small part of who you are, Chrastil insists.

A few other tidbits from How to Be Childless:

* Pre-20th century, a lot of people who did have children still wound up alone in old age because so many people died of illnesses and injuries that people survive now. So giving birth was no guarantee the parents would have someone to take care of them.

* Scientists are looking at some wild ways to extend fertility to age 50 or 60 or 100. For example, a company called OvaScience is working on cultivating new eggs from a woman’s “egg precursor cells,” which are actually stem cells. These eggs would be more viable than the ones getting old in the mother’s ovaries. Scientists are also working on creating artificial wombs in which a baby could be grown outside the mother’s body. Can you imagine that?

* We worry about being alone—and broke—in old age, but Chrastil writes that childless people often have done a better job of making friends and building support networks all along than people who spent most of their lives focused on their children. As for finances, she tells stories of childless people who wound up with more money because they had more time to develop their careers and more freedom to invest, so hey, we might be just fine.

***

A couple years ago, at the NotMom conference, I got to watch a preview of Maxine Trump’s (absolutely no relation to our president) movie “To Kid or Not to Kid.” It is fabulous. The completed movie has just been released to theaters and will be available online on Dec. 3.

***

I have updated the Childless by Marriage resource page. There are enough websites and books to keep you busy for . . . possibly forever.

***

My music director job at Sacred Heart is over. Not a word of goodbye from our pastor. I’m sure he’s a good person inside, but he does not relate well to people. We were blessed with a visiting priest last weekend, Fr. Amal, who, although he had just met me, thanked me for my years of service. Then I joined my fellow ex-choir members for a party. It was so much fun. No mention of kids.

After a break in California, I’ll be taking my music south to St. Anthony’s in Waldport.

Meanwhile, my father’s house, the place where I grew up, has just been sold, my poetry chapbook Gravel Road Ahead is out, and I just read the galley proofs for my next book, Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic, coming out next March from The Poetry Box. I’m having work done on the house, giving my dog Annie four different medications for her arthritis and an ear infection, and I’m writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m also going through all of the posts and comments here at Childless by Marriage from 2007 to the present in the hope of compiling an ebook. I’m up to September 2015.

So yeah, mixed M&M’s. I don’t know when I’d find time for children.

***

Thanksgiving is a week from Thursday. Look out! Family time! I’ll be at my brother’s house, where it’s going to be all about his grandkids. It’s going to be so weird without my father, who has been my sidekick for these events for many years. I really miss him. We’ll all survive the holiday. Pet the dogs, hug the kids, eat the turkey and pumpkin pie. Let’s try to be grateful for everything we have. I’m grateful for you.

 

Our Biggest Childless Fear: Regret

Regret: defined in the Urban Dictionary as “A feeling often accompanied by sadness, shame, and guilt; regret is when you wish you had done things differently in your past.”

Other dictionaries talk about regret as wishing things had turned out differently—whether or not you had any choice in the matter–but to me, regret is looking back on a choice you made and wishing you had made a different choice. You said yes when you should have said no. You bought spiky shoes when flats would have been a lot less painful. You decided to paint the house green, and now it looks like a leprechaun lives there.

The word “regret” comes up a lot at Childless by Marriage. Mostly we’re worried about future regret. Will we regret our choice if we never have children? Will we regret staying with this person? Will we regret leaving him? Of course, we have no way of knowing. We can list the pros and cons and know how we feel about it today, but who knows what’s going to happen in the future?

In her book How to Be Childless, which I mentioned last week, Rachel Chrastil cautions readers to be wary of the “fear of regret.” It may cause us to focus too much on what we lack instead of what we have. It may cause us to think that having children is the only way to be happy. It may cause us to miss the good things we have in our lives right now.

On page 113, she writes, “Fear of future regret suggests that we will not figure out how to cope with life’s disappointments, that our older selves will not be wiser than we are now, or that the wisdom of age entails a rejection of the person we are today rather than compassion for our present selves.” No matter what choices we make, she adds, there will be regrets. “Our decisions bear consequences, and some of them will carry sadness.”

“Instead of worrying about making the right choice, we ought to make the most of our choices,” she concludes.

I thought about this in the hot tub last night as the clouds gathered to hide the full moon. What do I regret in life? Do I regret marrying Fred and staying with him? Definitely not. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. I do regret not putting more effort into getting closer to his kids.

Do I regret marrying my first husband? No. It was probably a dumb thing to do. We had troubles from the start, but we also had a lot of fun. Do I regret divorcing him? No. The marriage was over. Do I regret dating the abusive guy I spent three years with between marriages? Yes. I knew he was bad news. I should have dumped him.

Do I regret that when the magazine option at my college was canceled, I wound up shunted into a career in newspapers? No. It wasn’t what I thought I wanted, but I was damned good at it, and it prepared me well for the writing I do now. It also gave me a way to earn a living when my first marriage ended. If I hadn’t gotten that degree, and if I’d had a child or two, I’d have wound up still divorced, working for minimum wage and living at my parents’ house.

Do I regret not having children? I feel bad about it, but I don’t regret my choices. I’m shocked as I write this. Do I really believe this? I’m pretty sure I do. My life is full of so many other things that I barely have time for my dog. So maybe this is the way it was supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong. I really would love to have children and grandchildren, but you can’t everything. Chrastil makes that point, too, although I should note she is childless by choice, a choice made firmly and at a very young age.

Will you regret your choice? I don’t know. We’re different people. If all you ever wanted to be was a mother or father, then by God you should be one, if at all possible. But if you’re also sure that you will never find another partner as good as the one you have, I don’t know what you should do. I want to say go for the kids, but I didn’t, and it turned out all right.

Did you hope I’d have an answer? I wish I did. What do you think about regret? Have you already made choices that you regret? Are you afraid you will regret the choices you’re making now? Can we live our lives in the present without worrying about future regrets? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

 

 

Childlessness is Not a New Thing

Childlessness is not a 21st-century aberration. It turns out couples and single women have gone without children for as long as anyone has been keeping track. The Baby Boom was an anomaly that made us all think the way our parents did it was the standard by which all things should be judged.

Oh Lord, you’re thinking. Sue has lost it now. Big words, history lessons. Bear with me. I am reading a new book titled How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life Without Children by historian Rachel Chrastil. As you might guess, it’s the kind of book that’s slow reading, with lots of charts, footnotes and a source list that goes on for days. But I am learning so much.

As early as the 1500s, Chrastil writes, women delayed marriage for varying reasons. Some were trying to save up for a sufficient dowry to attract a husband. By putting off marriage and childbirth, women then, like now, could work, save money, and claim a place in society. Of course, if they waited too long, they might end up childless. Some decided they did not ever want the constraints of marriage. In those days, married women gave up all their rights to own property or manage their finances to their husbands. So-called “singlewomen” had more independence.

In the early 20th century, wars, the great flu epidemic, depressions, and other problems also caused couples to bear fewer children. Couples who suffered from infertility did not have the options available now. But those were not the only reasons. Women were claiming more rights, more autonomy. Remember, the suffragettes were marching for the right to vote.

Chrastil charts a drop in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Like now, one in five women did not have children. Why have we not heard about this? The answer is simple: They had no children or grandchildren to pass on their stories. “They fade out of our family history,” she says.

Even those who did have children were having fewer because they wanted more out of life than motherhood. But people didn’t discuss any of this in public. Even as recently as the 1960s, when I hit puberty, folks didn’t talk about pregnancy or periods or why “Aunt Jo” never had any children.

What about being childless by marriage? I’m halfway through the book. In the parts I have read so far, Chrastil doesn’t address the subject head-on, but she does note that there are “many gradations of voluntary childlessness.” Among fertile couples, she classifies couples as those who agree to have children, who agree to postpone having children, or who do not agree on the subject. I assume most of us here fall into that third category. I hope she writes more directly about this in the later pages.

Meanwhile, did you know birth control did not start with “the pill?” It might not have been as easy, but people had ways to prevent conception–besides pulling out before ejaculation or the ever-popular “Sorry, not tonight.” In the early times, women also used various herbs and prolonged breastfeeding to space out their children.

In the 1800s, couples used soapy douches, dried gut condoms, diaphragms, vaginal sponges and pessaries (a device that blocks access to the cervix). They were illegal in some places, but people used them and didn’t talk about it. Check out this website for more on early birth control. 

None of these methods were as reliable as today’s birth control pills, but they did slow the process, especially when combined with the “rhythm” method of timing intercourse with the woman’s least fertile periods. If those failed, there was abortion, not legal but definitely done. Chrastil writes, “In the United States in the early twentieth century, estimates range between 250,000 and 1 million illegal abortions a year.”

The baby boom, which happened in a period of economic growth and post-war happiness, was not the norm.  Looking back on those “Leave It to Beaver” years, we’re likely to think that’s how it always was. June and Ward got married young, bore their standard two children, and raised them in a big house with a white picket fence. Ward never said, “I don’t think I want children,” and June certainly didn’t rip off her apron and declare she’d rather have a career than bake cookies for their sons. But that’s not the way it always was, and it’s certainly not the way it is now.

We have more factors to consider these days. We have reliable birth control, and abortion is legal. Far more couples divorce and remarry, creating blended families and situations where one spouse has children and the other does not. Women have more career options. Both men and women are inclined to delay marriage and childbirth until they have finished their education and gotten their careers established. It’s a new world, but it’s also an old one.

We’re not the first childless generation after all.

So, what do you think about that? Your comments are welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving the Mom and Dad Talk

Well, miracles can happen. I went to a party last night with my church friends, men and women in their 60s and 70s. They spent at least an hour talking nonstop about children and grandchildren, and I didn’t mind.

Maybe it’s because I know and love these people so much. I was truly interested in their stories: the grandson who was expected to read in kindergarten, the adult daughter who has finally gotten pregnant via in vitro, the adult son who got hooked on drugs, the foster children struggling in high school. We talked about some of the kids we knew from religious education at church, kids we all care about. I contributed tidbits about my stepson and about the new baby the postmistress is bringing to work with her, and I did not even think about my own lack of children. Nor did anyone mention it.

I think they all knew I don’t have kids. It was just not an issue. I’m the writer, the choir director, the one who made the heavenly salad, and the one whose father recently died. I’m just Sue. Not classified by my not-mom status.

Maybe that delicious glass of Cabernet Franc helped, but I was okay. So I’m telling you that if parent talk is unbearable now, someday it will be okay. God knows I couldn’t deal with it in my 30s and 40s. I was hurt, sad, and angry. But I’m okay now. Do I wish I had grown children and grandchildren of my own? I sure do, but last night I felt like we all cared about all the kids.

It was also nice to be with these good people who really care about each other instead of at home with the dog in a house with no heat. Yes, the pellet stove died again. It has been that kind of week. Check out my Unleashed in Oregon blog for more on that.

I almost didn’t go to the party. I made an emergency visit to the eye doctor in the afternoon. On Monday I started seeing flashes of light that weren’t supposed to be there. After a few hours, I saw black blobs and what looked like a Halloween spider hanging from a black web. Not good. This being a small town where the doctors visit from larger cities only on certain days, I couldn’t see a doctor here until yesterday and not even my regular eye doctor.

Meanwhile, I immediately started thinking what if I go blind? I won’t be able to live here alone. Who will take care of me? Will I have to go to a retirement home? Oh God, oh God. I had to keep reminding myself that I could still see; I just had these spooky additions to what I was seeing.

I’m not going blind. I have a “posterior vitreous detachment” in my left eye. I had one once before, but this time it’s worse. What happens is pieces of the gelatinous fibers around the retina break off and cause “floaters,” those dark spots and streaks I’ve been seeing. It’s a common part of aging. In time, the flashes stop and the black things become less noticeable. That’s not so bad. The danger is a tear in the retina itself, which the doctor did not see. However, he did see some hemorrhaging (bleeding) in that eye, so he is having me see a retina specialist next week. It’s probably no big deal. Right?

But it’s hard not to think about what happens if something in my health changes and I suddenly can’t live on my own. Maybe I should be grateful I don’t have children who will insist on putting me in a nursing home. But I certainly need to be prepared, just in case.

My dilated pupil was close enough to normal by 6:00 that I could drive to the party, and I had fun with my friends, even though we talked about kids a lot. The stars last night were amazing, and I was grateful I could see them. The spider in my eye is just one more Halloween decoration.  

I got my first copies of my poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, yesterday, and I have been busy packaging copies to send to people who helped me with it or were kind enough to pre-order them months ago. You might say I have another book baby. Number nine. I’m Catholic, you know.

So that’s why the blog is a day late. Thank you to those who added to my “If you are childless, you will never . . . list from last week.

Keep ‘em coming.

We talk a lot about how uncomfortable being with the mom and dad crowd can be, but do you sometimes find yourselves in situations where you actually enjoy it? Please share in the comments.  

If you’re childless, you will never…

Got your attention with that title, huh? Well, good. At 4 a.m., I started making this list, and I encourage you to continue it in the comments. Before you say it, I will note that some of these can become you WILL via stepchildren, nieces, nephews, friends’ children, jobs and volunteer gigs.

If you don’t have children, you will never . . .

  1. Have to worry about the school schedule (unless you’re a teacher)
  2. Have to find a babysitter in order to go out to dinner, a movie, a party, or a trip around the world. (You might need a dogsitter)
  3. Have to share your cookies with a child.
  4. Add any names to your Christmas card signature.
  5. Have anyone come after you on your family tree.
  6. Show off pictures of your own children on your cell phone or post them on Facebook.
  7. Have grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
  8. Have sons- or daughters-in-law.
  9. Have to worry about paying your children’s college tuition.
  10. Have children to list as your next of kin.
  11. Have to attend Little League or soccer games.
  12. Learn the latest kid songs (unless you work at a preschool)
  13. Be required to hang out in a roomful of sugar-crazed children.
  14. Have to be careful at cussing in your own house.
  15. Have an episiotomy. (Thank God!)
  16. Have to watch cartoons before breakfast.
  17. Share your pregnancy story at a baby shower
  18. Be a full-fledged member of the Mom or Dad Club.
  19. Have someone who looks like you call you Mom or Dad.
  20. Stop answering questions about why you don’t have children.

That’s my list for now. I know you can add some more. And yes, I know you can do all this stuff with other people’s kids or with adopted children, but it’s not the same, is it?

***

This has been an insane week, another one in an insane year. Having my father die would have been enough. But on Tuesday, I was forced to give notice at my job, a job I loved. Our priest has banished half my choir because they dared to hold hands during The Lord’s Prayer. No warning. I can’t live with that. I will be taking my music skills to another church in the area. Meanwhile, today I have learned that my poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, has been published. Hallelujah. Info here. All of this may have something to do with me being up at 4 a.m., writing with this light-up pen I got from a charity for blind people.

Babies? Today yes, tomorrow no, the next day ?

I have been editing past posts in preparation for compiling them into a “Best of Childless by Marriage” ebook (maybe a paperback, too). It’s slow work because I’m checking almost 700 posts and thousands of comments for typos and bad links. We have some serious disagreements about commas, periods and capital letters, but I’m surprised at how many of my own errors slipped by in my responses to your comments.

I am not changing the content of your comments, even though every now and then someone blasts me for my opinion or for seeming to contradict myself. They’re probably right. I may very well have said X in one post and Z in another. My feelings and opinions change with time and circumstance. Not everything. Murder is always bad, love is always good. But what about abortion, birth control, marriage, and babies? Depends on when you ask.

For example, someone scolded me back in 2014 for saying I was grateful for my stepchildren when I said the opposite in a previous post. Ask me again, and I’ll give you another answer. Today I regret that Fred’s kids and grandkids are not in my life anymore. I feel guilty for not reaching out when I could. Another day, I might turn it around and ask why they didn’t reach out to me while I was taking care of their father. Depends on the day.

I’m not the only wishy-washy one. Many readers have commented about how they or their partners changed their minds about having babies. They wanted them before; now they don’t. They had no interest in being parents; now they do. This is rarely a black and white question (physical problems aside). You see someone loving their children and think I want that. You see a couple having a miserable time trying to control their screaming, food-throwing offspring in a restaurant and think I do not want that.

Maybe a loved one dies, or you suffer a health scare, and everything suddenly looks different. You realize that you really must have children—or that you never will.

It doesn’t even need to be a big moment, just a sudden stirring of regret.

Sometimes getting pregnant is part of a conscious plan, but I wonder how often it happens that couples are cuddling in bed, full of hormonal happiness, and one says, “Let’s have a baby.” The other says, “Okay!” In the morning, when egg and sperm might have already gotten together, one of them thinks, Wait, what happened? I’m not sure . . . .

For some couples, it’s not so easy to get pregnant, so they have to decide whether they want to try fertility treatments, use donor sperm, or try to adopt. Again, they may change their minds every other day. It’s difficult and expensive, and the child would not be biologically related, but oh, they want a baby. Don’t they?

I have said before that things were less complicated before the 1960s, when people had fewer choices. No birth control, no legal abortions, fewer career opportunities for women. They grew up, got married (once) and had babies if they could. And they probably did it in their 20s when they were most fertile. Did people have doubts before? Did husbands and wives want different things? I’m sure they did.

Our thoughts are not like the ones and zeros that run computers. People don’t run on microchips; they change their minds.

I know this for sure: I’m glad you are here. Also, we all need to proofread what we write.

As I read through past posts, I see a lot of good stuff, especially in the comments, and I see some readers who have continued at Childless by Marriage for years. Their comments are as good as any of my posts, and I thank you all.

The ebook won’t include every post, just the ones that sparked the most interest. Some have gotten more than 250 comments! Top topics include: couples disagreeing about having children, abortion, grief over never having children, worrying about old age, and pets as child substitutes.

Keep reading, keep writing, and I’ll keep editing. If you or your partner change your mind from day to day, don’t panic. It’s normal.

Is money the reason you’re childless?

Is money keeping you from having children? Check out this article.

In a Fox Business article, “Are Childless Millennials Harming the U.S. Economy?” writer Brittany De Lea looks at the trend for young Americans to either delay childbearing or decide not to do it at all. Birthrates have declined overall, and only 20 percent of young Americans questioned in a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey said that having children was very important to them.

Why? Money is a big issue. Everything costs so much these days, and college graduates are burdened by student loan debt. They don’t know if they can ever afford a house. How can they afford to have children? The article estimates it costs about $234,000 to raise a child from birth through age 18. That’s assuming the child is healthy and has no special needs.

Most couples need two incomes to pay the bills. The 1950s lifestyle where moms stayed home and the family could live on the father’s income sounds like a fairy tale now. Right?

In addition, people seem to be getting married later, which means they have less time to have children (if they feel the need to be married before they procreate). And then they look at the news and think: Should I bring a child into this messed-up world?

De Lea doesn’t mention second marriages where the partners are older and one may already be supporting children from a previous relationship, but obviously money is a factor there, too. A lot of us can testify to that.

If fewer children are born, De Lea cautions, we will have fewer workers, fewer people to keep the economy going, and fewer people to support programs like Social Security.

It’s a lot to think about. I have noticed that in most relationships, one partner is a lot more concerned about money than the other. I always figured we’d work things out, but my late husband worried about the money. And my dad, omg, he held the dollars so tight they squeaked. In your own relationships, is money one of the reasons you disagree about having children?

Please read the article. What do you think about all this? I’m well into menopause, but many of you are right in the age group the article is talking about. I would love to read your comments.