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.

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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.

Motherhood Used to Offer a Way Out

I was sorting through old papers and came upon this piece I wrote in 1995 when I was just beginning to compile thoughts for my Childless by Marriage book. It feels so dated now.

I know most of you come from a completely different world from the one I grew up in. I was raised in the 1950s and 60s in a Bay Area housing tract where most of the homes were occupied by WWII vets, stay-at-home moms, and their children. But in this piece, I describe how I really wanted the life my mother had. A full-time housewife, she never had an outside job after she became pregnant with me. Her days revolved around taking care of us kids, my father, and the house. She may have wanted more out of life, but she didn’t push for it, fearing my old-fashioned father would not like it.

I know, I know. Who these days would let a husband determine what they do with their lives? Not me. Both of my husbands watched me go back to school for more and more education while working one job after another and writing and playing music on the side. I got the household chores done, too, but they were not top priority. We needed the money, but even if we didn’t, no man was going to tell me to give up my career.

What if we’d had children? My only reference is my youngest stepson, who lived with us for eight years, from age 12 to 20. I worked. His bio mom worked, too. He was pretty self-sufficient and didn’t expect a whole lot of parenting from me. He didn’t mind if I was watching him and making notes for an article at the same time. He could cook his own macaroni and cheese while I ran off to take a class or cover the school board meeting.

Anyway, here’s some of what I wrote 24 years ago:

Before women’s liberation, life was so simple. Not necessarily ideal, but simple. Women got married, had children and stayed home caring for them while their husbands worked.

Only those who didn’t have husbands and babies had jobs. As soon as they got married and got pregnant, they were released from the paid labor force. Many a mother of baby boomers quit working before the first baby came and never worked for money again. She had earned her discharge by producing children.

(Let me stop to note that in some families, the mother had to work because they needed the money. My husband’s mother always had a job. She sold Avon products on the side. Her husband and sons survived, but it was common for the stay-at-home moms to believe working moms could not possibly be good mothers.)

Fulltime motherhood wasn’t a bad life—once the kids were old enough to go to school. An efficient housewife could get all her chores done before lunch and spend the afternoon knitting and watching soap operas until the kids came home from school. Or, if so inclined, she could volunteer, sew, shop, write books (my dream), or hang out with her friends as long as it didn’t interfere with picking up the kids after school and having dinner on the table at 5:30.

These women were financially dependent on their husbands, of course, and that could be difficult if the men weren’t generous, but during their prime years, they had their days to themselves.

Women who wanted careers could not also have the husband, kids, and home with the white picket fence. It was assumed the old maid schoolteacher and the lonely librarian had failed to find husbands, and the stylish woman running the Macy’s dress department had lost her true love to another woman.

(Note that I paid no attention in those days to same sex couples, single parents, or blended families. I also didn’t mention couples who disagreed about whether to have children. It wasn’t up for discussion in those days.)

Today things are more complicated. You can have a husband and a career at the same time. You can have the home and the kids, too. You can have everything—and take care of it all. But what if you don’t want the career? What if you’d like to stay home? You need the children as a way out. I’d never dispute that motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and the most important one, but there’s no commute, no dress code, no set hours, and no boss. It’s real life.

There’s no law against staying home without children, but is it fair to let the husband bear the whole financial burden? Non-mothers have no excuse for not working. So you slog off every morning, crawl along with the commute traffic, do your job all day–often with no contact with the natural world for eight or more hours–then join the commute again until you arrive at home and start your other job by making dinner. Is this our punishment for not having babies? Couldn’t we just have the time off anyway?

Oh my God. Did I really write this? I was really brainwashed to be just like my mother. I thought I’d stay home and write books between chores while the kids were at school, and all would live happily ever after. Life is a lot more complicated than that. I’m pretty sure it always was.

If a man was saying all this, people would call him lazy, worthless, a slacker. But why can’t a couple reverse the roles and have the father stay home with the kids? Does any of this make any sense in 2019?

How about you? Did you ever wish you could have children so raising them could become your full-time job? Did that always sound more appealing than anything the outside world had to offer? Or do you worry about how you would handle motherhood and a job at the same time?

Check out this article. Turns out a lot of people these days think stay-at-home moms are lazy while others think kids do best with Mom at home. https://www.verywellfamily.com/research-stay-at-home-moms-4047911

What do you think?

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In the past, I have mentioned that I’m open to guest posts that fit with the mission here, and I still am. Contact me at sufalick@gmail.com if you have an idea to propose. We’d need about 500 words. No pay, just lovely readers who care.

The parent/nonparent divide grows wider

Certain occasions emphasize the divide between parents and non-parents. I guess it’s unavoidable. At the reception after my father’s funeral, his Iranian neighbors were trying to figure out which of the young adults were my children. I had to tell them, “I don’t have any children.” They seemed confused and shocked. It was like I’d told them I had just been released from prison or maybe that I used to be a man. They clearly didn’t know what to say. I excused myself to get some more food.

They were probably talking about me that night. Poor thing, no children, no grandchildren.

I’m sorry to keep talking about my dead father, but his passing has brought up all kinds of feelings about being childless. At the church, I sat at the end of the row by myself next to my brother’s family. Even my father, my “date” for most family events in recent years, was gone. When my niece carried her sleeping one-year-old up to the altar to do one of the readings, I wished with all my heart that I could do that. I’m well into menopause, but the longing hasn’t gone away.

Did I want to deal with her poopy diaper later? No, but I’d take the smelly with the sweet.

I kind of hoped at least one of my stepchildren would come. No.

Now my father’s house is being cleaned out for sale. It’s the house where we grew up, and this feels like another big loss, even though it’s unavoidable–unless I want to move back to San Jose and live in it, which I don’t. There’s so much stuff! I have brought home many treasures, and I’m glad for the things that my brother’s kids are inheriting. But I feel sad that my own children and grandchildren aren’t here to share the memories and keepsakes. Then I look around at my own house and think where will all this stuff go?

When you don’t have a child, you don’t lose just one person. You lose that child’s partner, in-laws, children and grandchildren, too. Think about it.

Forgive me for being gloomy. I’m grieving. I need to you carry the conversation this week.

  1. Have you had moments when people were shocked to find out you didn’t have children? What did they say? How did you deal with it?

2. Have you felt like the odd duck at family affairs?

3. Can you tell me something to make me smile?

This morning I received a comment on an old post that was sexist, racist and just plain mean. I’m not sure whether or not the guy was serious. I think he was, which is horrifying. I did not approve that comment. We are not having that here. But I am happy to hear from anyone who does not spew hate and stupidity. Or those who try to sell products, especially magic potions and spells to get us pregnant. So many of you have written wonderful comments, and I look forward to reading more. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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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.