Will Children Ruin the Relationship?

I spent last weekend in San Jose for my father’s funeral. I was surrounded by people with children. The younger the kids, the harder it was for me to talk to their parents because they were obsessed with childcare. I also noticed that for some couples, the children seem to come between the husband and wife (or unmarried partners). The main caregiver, usually the mother, becomes so involved with the children that she stops relating to her partner. His life is about work, and hers is about kids, and soon they rarely speak to each other beyond complaints and coordinating schedules. I can see how someone might be reluctant to have children for fear this will happen.

Children need a lot of attention, especially when they’re small. They’re also fascinating creatures. How do you not become all about the kids when you worry every second that something will happen to them? I was that way when I adopted puppies. Imagine if I had a little human.

We have all seen this happen with our friends. Trying to get their attention is like trying to jump into a double-dutch jump-rope game where we just can’t get the rhythm. What about the spouse?

This division doesn’t happen with everyone. My parents truly seemed to be a team, even though Mom spent most of her time with us while Dad was usually at work. Every night when he came home, they retired to the bedroom to chat—and we knew we were supposed to leave them alone. At night, I’d fall asleep to the sound of my parents talking. When conflicts arose, they always put each other above everyone else. It can be done.

On the airplane shuttle in Portland, I sat across from a couple with two little kids. All four of them seemed happy to have each other, and the parents were clearly in love. Maybe I just caught them at a good moment, but they gave me hope.

How does a couple counter that tendency to forget about each other and put all their attention on the children? Is the fear that the kids will come between them valid? When will the mom and dad have sex or even a private conversation when someone is always shouting, “Mommy! Mommy!” Is this fear part of your situation? Is it a logical reason not to have children? Let’s talk about it.

Here are some articles to consider.

https://www.salon.com/2018/02/15/have-children-heres-how-kids-ruin-your-romantic-relationship_partner/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-kids-call-the-shots/201808/is-parenting-burnout-destroying-your-marriage

https://www.today.com/parents/does-having-children-destroy-happy-marriage-t113028

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The funeral was beautiful. (See my Unleashed in Oregon blog for more about this.) My father would be pleased. The music, the flowers, the priest, the military honors, the barbecue that followed—all great. Not that there weren’t some tears. It’s hard. But he is at peace, and now we move on. Thank you for all of your prayers and good wishes. They mean a lot.

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Did They Stay Childless Together or Split?

I have been editing old posts and their accompanying comments. (Please proofread, friends.) I’m dying to know what happened to all of those people whose partners said no to kids and put them into a tizzy of should I go or should I stay? There were so many. Today I was reading some of the 245 comments on a 2013 post titled, “If You Disagree About Children, Is Your Relationship Doomed?”

Anonymous: Hi, … I got engaged six months ago to my on-off partner of three years. We had been all off, and he said he wanted to get married and have kids. He had not said this before so I felt something had clicked for him and us. He was so up for it he even got me to add pregnancy coverage to my health care immediately. I have just turned 42 and we got married a few months ago. Our finances have been tight and we also weren’t getting on great, but I thought kids would be in the mix when we got things sorted. We have just had a chat and my husband has changed his mind about having kids. He says he doesn’t want them anymore, and it is not and will not be open for discussion. I am devastated. I would not have gotten engaged had I realized this truth, as I always have wanted kids and would not have entered into a relationship with someone who wasn’t open to trying. This is very real and raw for me, as it was only a few hours ago. I feel it’s my calling to be a mother.

 My response: Anon July 15, I’m so sorry this happened. I find it amazing how many guys change their minds after the wedding. Have another chat and let him know how hurt you are. I pray you can work this out.

By now, surely the issue is settled one way or another. They broke up or they stayed together. They had a baby or they didn’t.

If you have been in that situation, please tell us what happened. What did you decide to do? Does it feel like the right decision now? It will help those coming behind you to figure out what to do.

I’m relieved to know that I still agree with the advice I gave back then. Also embarrassed that I needed to proofread, too. I hope the typos are all gone now.

***

I leave tomorrow for my father’s funeral. I know that I will be sitting on that front-row pew as a party of one with my brother’s tribe: wife, children, grandchildren, in-laws, with other families nearby. Just me. For years, it has been me and Dad, but he’s the guest of honor this time. Damn.

So there’s that. If you don’t have children now, the loss compounds in the future because you will also not have your children’s partners and children, and your grandchildren’s partners and children, and everyone’s in-laws. The loss just expands. Like an earthquake that starts out small then blows the world apart. They say each higher number on the Richter scale is not just a little bit more but exponentially more (WAY more).

Something to think about.

Thank you all for being here. I treasure you.

 

How do we decide about motherhood?

In this sheknows.com article by Marshall Bright, “This ‘Motherhood Clarity Coach’ Helps Millennials Decide Whether to Have Kids”, she begins by noting how everyone you talk to will give you different advice. You know how it goes: You’re better off without kids, I didn’t know love until I became a mother, of course you’re going to have children, having a baby will ruin your marriage, you’ll change your mind. . .

Right? Everyone has words of wisdom for you. But are they the right words? How do you know? Your friends and family are all biased. They want to be grandparents, aunts or uncles, godparents, or babysitters. They are happy or unhappy with their own choices and advise you based on their situations.

Enter the unbiased “motherhood clarity coach.” Ann Davidman, a Bay Area psychotherapist and the coach featured in the article, helps women to figure out not only their feelings about having children but the practical side as well. Does having a baby really fit into their lives financially and professionally? Are they healthy enough? Can they cope if the child turns out to have special needs? Not everyone who decides they want children actually has them, Bright notes, but at least they’re clear about how they feel.

I just googled “Should I have a baby?” Try it. All kinds of lists come up. “15 Things You Should Know About Having a Baby,”  “50 Reasons Not to Have a Baby,” “How People Decide Whether to Have children” –Oh my gosh, too much input.

Life was simpler when we didn’t have birth control, and all married people had babies if they could. If you’re a follow-the-rules-Catholic, it’s still that way. Our visiting priest last Sunday came from a family of 12. But most Catholics don’t follow that rule because . . . 12???

Davidman and Denise L. Carlini published a book on the subject—cheaper than counseling—titled Motherhood–Is It for Me? Your Step By Step Guide to Clarity. Each chapter includes a guided visualization, an assignment, and stories from other women. I haven’t read it, but it looks good if you’re into that sort of thing.

Do we need to go to an outside source, even pay money to decide whether or not to have children? What if it’s not totally up to us, frequently the case here at Childless by Marriage, where one partner is not able or willing? Would you/have you asked other people to help you with this decision? Or is it ultimately something that only you and your partner can decide? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Thank you for all your kind words about the death of my father. I truly appreciate it. I still have times when it’s just unbearable, but it’s getting easier every day as the pictures of the last few months fade and I realize my father is finally free of pain and suffering.

Is it harder to lose your parents when you’re childless?

Dear friends,

My father, Clarence “Ed” Fagalde, died last week. He was 97. I have written often about needing to travel to San Jose to take care of him. It’s hard to believe I won’t be doing that anymore.

When your last remaining parent dies, it leads to all kinds of thoughts. We’re orphans, my brother noted that morning. Can siblings old enough to collect Social Security be orphans? Can adults with their own children be orphans? There’s a connotation of helplessness in the word. But then I think about “widows.” I’m one of those for sure, and the helpless thing is attached to that word, too. We hear about “widows and orphans” a lot in the Bible. By definition, they are poor and need help.

The only help I need is in dealing with my grief, with the pictures in my mind of those last hard days, and with feeling more alone than ever.

I told the hospice chaplain through my tears that I was afraid I was going to feel terribly alone. My brother has his wife, kids, and a huge group of in-laws. I live all the way up in Oregon with my dog. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but I know it’s going to hit me.

I was more attached to my father than I think most people with children are. My sister-in-law’s first thoughts when Dad died were about the effect on her grown children. She said my Facebook posts had upset them. I honestly didn’t give them one thought. I feel bad about that. Perhaps if I had children, they would have been my first priority, too.

I don’t feel as guilty for an earlier post when Dad was suffering and I really needed someone in the family to sit with him for a while. One cousin-in-law said she would come if she weren’t out of town taking care of her grandchild. From the rest, no response.

I can understand those with young children not wanting to expose them to the nursing home or to the way Dad looked toward the end. My brother and I still bear the scars of visiting our great-grandmother in the nursing home. It was terrifying for little kids. But what about the adults?

My friends called and texted often. How are you? How is your dad? After I complained that I couldn’t sleep because it was almost as hot inside my father’s house (95 degrees) as it was outside (102 degrees!), a Facebook friend I had never met said I could stay at her house. She was in the middle of moving, but she would make it work. I declined, but was deeply touched.

I’m so grateful for my friends, people like Pat W., Pat S., Fran, and Bill, who have been taking care of Annie, watering my plants, doing my church job without pay, and calling often to check on me. Now that I won’t be talking to my father on the phone every night, I want to use those times to reach out to others, both friends and family. Too often we say, “Let’s keep in touch,” and then we don’t.

If I had children, would we be having heart to heart talks, helping each other through our grief? Maybe, maybe not. They would be young, they would be busy, they would be involved in their own lives, just as I was when my grandparents passed away. I felt bad, but not the guts-ripped-out bad that I feel this time.

My brother and I have had those talks lately. Losing our father has brought us closer. In reality, siblings and friends of our own generation are the only ones who really get what’s happening. Someone said last week that we don’t begin to treasure our parents and their history until we’re older and about to lose them. That’s probably true for most of us. We’re busy with school, work, social life, hobbies, workouts, whatever. I still regret an anniversary party years ago for my great-aunt and uncle that I left early to go sing somewhere. The guests of honor died soon after, and I never got the chance to be with them again.

I may have held on tighter than most people to my parents because I didn’t have children. When my mother died in 2002, I still had my husband, and that made it a lot easier. After Fred died in 2011, my father became the man in my life again. Now, well, it’s hard. I keep waiting for the phone to ring. I’d like to think if I had kids, they’d step in to help me and my brother take care of things and distract us with the concerns of youth so we don’t dwell on aging, illness, and death. Surely it’s a comfort to my brother when his granddaughter climbs into his lap now for a little “Papa” time.

So what am I saying? I’ve got grief brain, a little PTSD, and a runny nose. I’m still having trouble believing this really happened. I’m saying treasure your family. Reach out to them if they don’t reach out to you. But also hold on to your friends because you’re going to need them, especially if you don’t have children and grandchildren.

How are you with your parents? Do you think your relationship is different because you don’t have children? If you never have children, how will you feel when your parents are gone? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

You can read more about my dad at my Unleashed in Oregon blog and also on his online remembrance page at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/santa-clara-ca/clarence-fagalde-8829584.

Parents and Non-Parents from Different Planets?

Last week, Annie and Winnie were buddies. When we passed Winnie’s house on our walks, the tan and white Corgi would waddle up to us. I’d pet her long soft fur while the two dogs sniffed each other, and then Winnie would walk with us a ways up Cedar Street. It was nice.

This week Winnie attacked Annie, barking, growling, biting. My pooch didn’t know what hit her. It was motherhood. Winnie gave birth on Saturday. The young woman who came out with her was holding a puppy, the only one that survived the troubled delivery. Now Winnie was in full mom mode. I can’t blame her. She has one tiny puppy, and she’s going to protect it with everything she has. She also probably feels sick and sore. But Annie, a spayed virgin at 11 ½, did not understand. Why doesn’t my friend like me anymore?

Ever feel that way around your human friends? They give birth and suddenly they’re not as friendly to you. It’s all about the baby.

Which brings me to the story that keeps popping up in my Google alerts. Brace yourself before you read “Childless millennials should be banned from Disney World, tired mom rants.” It seems this mother went on a Facebook rant about how childless people should be banned from Disney World, that the theme park should be reserved for “families” with kids. Say what? If I haven’t reproduced, I don’t get to have fun like everybody else? I know this mom was tired and frustrated, but we all need to think before we post.

Years ago, I wrote a post about LEGOLAND, which only allows adults without children on certain all-adult nights. I would LOVE to go LEGOLAND. So would the couple in this article who have been struggling with infertility for nine years. Come on, people. Aren’t these parks supposed to be happy places?

I’m not sure I want to mention this, but here goes. I was at a conference last weekend. I decided to duck out of one of my evening workshops to take a swim. I checked the pool on the way to my room to change into my bathing suit. Nobody there. I looked forward to peacefully gliding through the water. When I returned, less than five minutes later, at 9:30 at night, the small indoor pool was crowded with six kids under the age of six and three parent people. They took up the whole danged pool, splashing around, shouting, oblivious to this older person who needed to get down the steps and swim a few laps. Oh, I swam, but it was no fun, and I was soon back in my room, sinking into a hot bath where I could soak in peace.

Like that mom at Disney World, I was tired and frustrated. Things are not going well with my father, and I can’t do anything about it. My stomach hurt. I was tired of sitting in over-air-conditioned meeting rooms listening to people talk about writing. And now the pool was so full of children who should have been in bed that I couldn’t enjoy my swim. If the parents had thought to say something like, “Move over so the nice lady can swim,” that would have been different, but I seemed to be invisible to them.

If I were a mom person, would I have enjoyed paddling around with the little guys? I don’t know. Like Annie suddenly attacked by her former friend, I just know sometimes parents and non-parents seem to live on different planets.

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

 

 

 

Thank God My Children Won’t Read This

CNF71 CVRIf I had children, they would be mortified. An essay I wrote about sex with my late husband is included in the new issue of Creative Nonfiction Magazine. It’s pretty graphic. I talk about his problems maintaining an erection after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and about my problems with menopausal dryness and the need for lubrication. I even talk about offering him a blow job. OMG. Thank God my parents will never read this. I hope my stepchildren never see it.

Not that the general public reads Creative Nonfiction. Most people can’t even define creative nonfiction: true stories told using the techniques of fiction, such as characters, dialogue, setting, plot, etc. Making it into Creative Nonfiction has been a life goal since I earned my master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction 16 years ago. So career-wise, this is great, but oh my God, do I really want people to know this much about me?

But then you readers here at Childless by Marriage already know so much. If you’ve read my Childless by Marriage book, you already know things I would not want my family to know, things I have never told anyone else.

Editor Lee Gutkind points to my story as an example of things they couldn’t have published even 10 years ago. He’s right. Not in a public journal like CNF. But here at the blog, we’ve always been pretty honest. It’s part of the story.

We are childless by marriage. How does one create a child? Sex. So if we’re not getting pregnant, something involved with sex is preventing it, whether it’s birth control, impotence, infertility, or abortion. In my Creative Nonfiction piece, I talk about stopping coitus to find some lube. When I was younger and with other men, it was about running to the bathroom to insert my diaphragm or grabbing a condom. If we had just kept going, I might be a mother now, but we didn’t. Somebody always stopped the proceedings, said, “We’d better . . .” and we did. Or we switched to an activity that did not include placing penis in vagina.

Now my church, Catholic, says sex is only for making babies. But most Catholics I know use birth control. It’s one of those things we don’t talk about–and probably should.

When you decide to sleep with someone, you immediately need to figure out what you’re doing about birth control, not just to prevent pregnancy but to prevent STDs. If you’re on the pill, you can choose whether or not to mention it, but if you’re using another method, you’ll have to discuss it. You will know whether, at least at that moment, your partner is interested in creating a baby. Which may lead to more long-term choices.

Sex is such a vital part of life, but until recently we didn’t talk about it much, and we certainly didn’t write about it. I’m both embarrassed and proud of my essay. When I wrote it, I thought it was funny. I still think people will get some laughs out of it. But it also shows the realities of middle-aged sex and dementia. Why keep it a secret? Everybody deals with this stuff.

I haven’t read the other pieces in the magazine yet.  is a print publication, not online, and copies haven’t arrived yet. The link will show where you can order a copy.

Some of you have confided that your partners refused to have sex with you. So hurtful! I wonder how many dare to mention their desire for babies while they’re making love. What are those conversations like, when you’re lying together naked and happy? Or are you afraid to mention it for fear of ruining the mood?

I don’t want to turn this into a porn site, and I sure hope I don’t get a lot of filthy responses, but we can be honest here. I’m honestly glad I don’t have children and grandchildren reading about Grandma and Grandpa having sex. Ew, gross.

One of the advantages of being childless, I guess.

I just realized the magazine never asked and I never mentioned whether or not I had children. Interesting.

Thanks for being here.

Childless couple gives it all to charity

“Childless adults make huge impact with charitable donations” is the title of a recent article in The Toronto Star. Writer Marsha Barber talks about how a childless couple, Margaret and Charles Juravinski, are creating an endowment fund of $100 million to support health research.

One of Barber’s friends, also childless, willed her house and land to the Indigenous community in her area.

Barber goes on to discuss how childless people give far more to charity than those without children. Parents are focused on providing for their families, both during their lives and after they die.

My first reaction to this was, ha, childless or not, I don’t have a fortune to donate to anyone. But wait. I give regularly to my church, the Alzheimer’s Association, and agencies that feed the poor. I have enough to spare a bit every month. Maybe if I had children, I’d be using every penny of my income for them. Whatever I could save might go for their education. Isn’t that what parents do?

In my will, I leave most of my “estate” to my stepchildren and my niece and nephew. I also specify that my instruments and music supplies go to needy music students and my books to the local libraries. That’s something. Honestly, except for my writing, I don’t care where it goes when I die.

If I had a fortune, I’d love to give it to a charity that can really help people in need. I won’t have children who are counting on an inheritance.

I talk about this in my Childless by Marriage book, noting some of the crazy things childless people do with their money. For example, playwright George Bernard Shaw is said to have bequeathed millions to anyone who could devise a new alphabet that made more sense than the one we have. It should have 40 letters, he specified. Louis da Camara, a Portuguese man with no family, picked strangers out of Lisbon phone book to receive his wealth. Ruth Lilly, a poet, left $100 million to a poetry magazine that had repeatedly rejected her work. She also gave millions to various charities.

Without children, if we are lucky enough to make some money and keep it—no natural disasters, health crises, or investments gone awry—we can do whatever we want with it, including giving it away.

Or we could not worry about making any money because we don’t have any children to support. Investments? What for? Life insurance? Why?

Our choice.

How about you? Does not having children enable you to give freely to charity now or when you die? What do you say when people state that childless people are selfish? If you could give money to anyone, who would it be?