Can we stay happy without kids or spouse?

“I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?” by Glynnis MacNicol, July 5, 2018 NY Times

Dear readers,

The article listed above that appeared in the New York Times last month shows how differently people can feel about living a life without children, and in MacNicol’s case, also without a husband. At 40, she claims she loves the freedom of being single and has plenty of connections with other people, including many children who think of her as “Auntie Glynnis.” Yet when she dined with a famous author, hoping to discuss literature, he couldn’t get past the fact that she was alone.

Other women a little older warn her that she’s going to change her mind and dive into fertility treatments in a few years. She will regret her choices.

Go ahead and read it now if you want. Then come back here.

Ah, regrets. People ask here all the time whether they’ll regret it if they never have children. I can’t answer that question. Maybe, like MacNicol, they will relish the freedom to travel, work, socialize, and never have to order a “Happy meal” at McDonald’s or pay for someone else’s college education. Maybe in the case of people who are childless by marriage, they will be forever glad that they chose their partner and look forward to growing old together. Or maybe one day they’ll wake up sobbing because they missed their chance to be parents. I don’t know. We’re all different. And I think we experience different feelings at different times. I know sometimes I’m relieved I don’t have children, while at other times, it breaks my heart.

How do you know when you’re young how you’re going to feel after decades more of life? This may seem off-topic, but I watch “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise” and all those trashy shows. God knows why. It seems like someone is crying in every episode. After two dates, they’re in love, and if they don’t get a rose, they’re heartbroken. They’re ready to devote their lives to people they barely know. Most are in their 20s and early 30s. I think about the people in my life who are that age, and I think, “They’re so young. They have no idea what they really want.” Actually, I believe what most of the people on these shows want is simply to be on TV and all the finding-someone-to-love business is a sham, but you know what I mean.

Now, if you’re that age, don’t be insulted. You do know a lot, and I wish I still had your energy. I’m just saying you’ll know more later. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I felt wise and grown up, even though I looked very young with my long hair and miniskirts. People I encountered in my work as a newspaper reporter often questioned whether I was old enough to do the job. I’d plant my hands on my skinny hips and assure them I was a college graduate, I was married, and I was a professional journalist.

I was all that, but looking back, I had a lot to learn about writing, and my first marriage was a mistake from the get-go. A wiser woman would have seen the warning signs. I would have been better off following MacNicol’s example, at least for a while. But we were at an age when society said we needed to get married, so we did. Did I worry about regretting it later? No. I was ecstatic. I expected our love to last forever.

I made my choice based on the information I had at the time. That’s all any of us can do. We’re not robots. We can’t program our feelings or predict how they might change. Maybe MacNicol will change her mind. But right now, she loves her life. For all anyone knows, she always will. Who are we—or that famous author–to say otherwise?

What do you think?

  • Do you worry about regretting your choices, especially about having children, when you get older?
  • Do people in your life warn you that you’ll change your mind?
  • Is there any way to guard against making a mistake?

I welcome your comments.

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‘Motherhood’explores childless questions

Motherhood by Sheila Heti, Henry Holt & Co., 2018

Should I have a baby or not? That’s the question the narrator asks in this new book which is billed as a novel but reads more like a 300-page essay. The unnamed narrator is divorced and living with a man named Miles, who already has a daughter and is not eager to have more children. But he leaves the decision up to her. If she really wants a child, he says he’ll go along with it.

So many readers here have partners who have stated very clearly that there will be no children with them. What if instead they said, “I don’t want them, but if you do, go ahead.” What should you do?

The woman in the book has always leaned toward not having children, so you and I may not identify with her feelings. But now, as she approaches 40, she asks all the questions the rest of us ask. Once I stopped thirsting for a story, I became interested in the narrator’s musings.

As a childless woman, I have asked these questions of myself. For example: What is a woman’s purpose if she does not have children? Is our work as important as having children? Will our lives be diminished if we never experience motherhood? Should the instinct to procreate overrule everything else? Why do we have uteruses if we’re never going to use them? Do I really want children, or do I just feel left out because my friends and relatives have them? Why is it okay for a man not to have children, but “the woman who doesn’t have a child is looked at with the same aversion and reproach as a grown man who doesn’t have a job. Like she has something to apologize for.”

The narrator seeks answers in dreams, psychic readings, talks with her friends and dialogues with the coins of the I Ching. She finds her answer in the end.

I don’t enjoy unusual book forms. There are places in Motherhood where I’m not sure what’s going on, and I personally hate that. I like my novels straightforward and easy to understand, but you might disagree. Heti has gotten as many five-star reviews as one-star ratings.  If you read it, please share your thoughts on this book.

Meanwhile, let’s consider just one of the questions asked here: What is a woman’s purpose if she doesn’t have children, if she doesn’t connect one generation to the next?

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Last week’s post, which included the question of whether people who have children should be allowed to participate at Childless by Marriage, drew some heat. No way. Keep those mommies out of here, a few readers indicated. They feel this is our private space where we shouldn’t have to deal with people who don’t understand how we feel. You’re right. I don’t want to mess that up.

But I would counter that the woman who sparked the question was childless for a long time and does understand, that she didn’t forget everything when she gave birth. But I hear you. I approve or disapprove every comment that comes in. I will be very careful and aware of your feelings before I click “approve.” I treasure you all.

What happens when your friend has a baby?

Dear friends,

Thank you for your wonderful responses to last week’s post when I asked you to share what brought you to the Childless by Marriage blog and to describe your situation. What a great group we have here, and I’m so grateful if this blog helps even a little.

It’s a diverse group. Some are married, some are single. Some have fertility problems while others are healthy, but they aren’t sure they want to have children. Many are married or engaged to men who have already had children and don’t want any more. Those men have often had vasectomies, making it difficult to change their minds. Some talk of adoption, fertility treatments or vasectomy reversals, while others like “Oh Well” are just trying to accept a life without children. You can read all of the comments here.

One commenter, Jennifer, tells a happy-ending story in which she finally convinced her husband to have his vasectomy reversed. Now they have a baby girl. She said she will probably unsubscribe from the blog soon.

So I have a question for you. I know that most of us are struggling with the idea that we will never have children. But if one of us does have a child, do you think that disqualifies her from participating in Childless by Marriage? She knows how it felt to be childless and fear she would never have children. I think we should celebrate with her. What do you think?

I know that many of you are uncomfortable being around happy parents and children because it reminds you of what you don’t have. Also, too many parents become so obsessed with their children they forget their childless friends exist. They make new friends with people who have kids. I hate that, even though I understand how children can take over a person’s life.

But our friends are still our friends. Way back when my best friend Sherri had her one and only child, we were both already in our mid-30s. I knew she went through a lot to become a mother. She never made me feel left out. We have never stopped being friends, and I’m glad to know her daughter.

So this week’s question: What happens to our friendships, online or in real life when our friend becomes a parent and we’re still childless? Please share your opinions and experiences in the comments. If men are out there reading this, please join the conversation and feel free to comment on past posts, too.

 

 

 

Are You Childless by Marriage Like Me?

Annie 9215A
Babies? What’s that?

Dear friends, I’ve hit a wall. After 11 years, I feel as if I have told you everything there is to tell. Because I’m childless, widowed and aging, spending my days with people well past menopause, I’m completely out of the baby/no baby loop. It’s just me and my dog Annie riding this spinning globe together. I can write endlessly about the neighborhood dogs and Annie’s upcoming knee surgery, but I rarely interact with children or young parents except on Facebook, with a “like” here and a “love” there.

Being childless means that while my friends are either visiting their children and grandchildren or hosting them at their homes this summer, it’s still just me and Annie. It would be different if I lived closer to my family or they were the kind of folks who actually got together. My father and I often have telephone conversations like this:

Dad: Have you heard from your brother?

Me: No. Have you?

Dad: No. He never calls. Have you heard from anybody else?

Me: No. In fact, I had to call myself to make sure my phone could still receive incoming calls.

Dad: Don’t your friends call?

Me: They text.

But my dysfunctional family is beside the point. I’m living in a  green forest bubble with  my dog. I have nothing new to say. But I have no intention of quitting this blog. So let’s talk about you. I surrendered my chance to have children before many of you were born. Times were different. I want to know how it is for you now. Let’s start with this:

What brought you to the Childless by Marriage blog? Do you consider yourself childless by marriage or fear that you will be? What’s going on? How can we help?

Please share in the comments. Let’s get this conversation going.

Thank you all for being here.

 

Birthdays are tough for childless women

Jody Day of Gateway Women, a UK organization for people who are childless not by choice, is celebrating her 54th birthday. In her blog post today, “Ten Tips for Healing from the Heartbreak of Childlessness,” she notes that she doesn’t mind her birthdays now, but in her 40s, when she was trying unsuccessfully to conceive, it was a different story. Every birthday was a reminder that she was running out of time.

Jody’s post takes me back to my 40th birthday. I was struggling with my childlessness at that point. Fred and I had been married for seven years. My fantasies about somehow getting pregnant in spite of his vasectomy and his declaration that he did not want to have any more children were fading away. It wasn’t going to happen. It was too late. Sometimes I just couldn’t stand it. I struggled with depression, overeating, and overdrinking.

The day before my birthday, I attended a retreat with women from my church. One of the rituals we did, lighting a candle for our loved ones, sent me into a major meltdown. Everyone was talking about their children, and I would never have any. I was not a person who wept in public, but I sobbed for a long time. Then I wanted a drink, but there was no booze.

I shared a room that night with Julie, who was unable to conceive. She and her husband were trying to adopt a child, but having trouble with that process. We talked late into the night before falling into sad, heavy sleep.

The next day, back home, my family threw a big party for my birthday. Everyone was there to celebrate and laud my accomplishments. I made them laugh with a speech about the joys of growing old ( Now I know 40 is NOT old). It was all great fun, but inside I was hurting. Other people’s children ran around the hall, playing and shouting. Where were my kids?

Like Jody, I find birthdays easier now. I have other issues, like being alone and fearing old age, but I don’t think too much on my birthdays about my lack of children. It’s too late to change the situation. The hurt returns unexpectedly at other times, a moment when I’m feeling lonely or when my friends share pictures of their grandchildren. This grief is real and should be acknowledged, Jody emphasizes in her blog.

I know many of you are right in the middle of the hurting time. Someone reading this may be having a birthday today. I feel for you. If there’s anything you can do to change your situation before it’s too late, please do it. If not, then the hard work is learning to accept it. Jody offers good advice in her blog.

Hang in there, my friends. You are not alone.

Fiction vs. the Realities of Parenting

In the book I just finished, a 569-page epic by Wallace Stegner titled Angle of Repose, the 1880s heroine, Susan, is an accomplished artist and writer. She is blessed with influential friends who publish everything she sends them. She also lives in a series of mining camps with a husband whose business schemes keep failing, but he refuses to live off his wife’s earnings. It’s quite a story and a delicious read for someone like me who loves to delve into American history.

What does that have to do with being childless by marriage? Susan is not childless. She has three children, but she also has nannies and relatives who deal with the kids, cook the meals, wash the clothes, and clean the home while Susan works. Alas, the book is fiction. Most of us don’t have people like that in our lives. If we had children, we might find it difficult to focus on any creative endeavor or even to juggle a job with childcare and home duties. How can we become “Mom” and still be ourselves? That’s one of many things that might make us hesitate to have children. I know of many women in the arts who have decided they can’t do both.

It’s less of a dilemma for men in most cases because somehow, no matter how much things have changed—and they have changed a lot—women still do most of the childcare and homemaking. Men seem to worry more about the financial aspects and the perceived loss of freedom. How will they keep the kids fed and clothed, how will they get away to go fishing or whatever their hobby is, how will they have sex in the living room?

I know most readers here would gladly take on the challenges for a chance to have children. They’d give anything to hold a baby of their own in their arms. But it’s not hard to understand, in these days when we have a choice, why our partners might hesitate when it comes to having children.

It’s something to think about.

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Something else to ponder: Why in the vagaries of the Internet do people keep offering me guest posts about parenting and childcare? Each time, I explain that this blog is for people who don’t have children. Apparently the blog triggers some kind of SEO tag that brings in the mommy bloggers.

For the record, I am interested in guest posts, 600 words max, that are relevant to our Childless by Marriage theme. Pitch me a topic or send me a potential post at sufalick@gmail.com. I’m sorry, there’s no pay for this, but you would be published and be able to speak directly to our wonderful readers.

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Spending the Fourth with My Best Friend

annie-9314Happy Fourth of July, U.S. readers. Have fun and be safe. While you’re eating barbecue and watching fireworks, I’ll be home holding my puppy’s paw. The fireworks frighten her. Also, she’s injured. I don’t know if you remember last year when I wrote about her knee surgery, but we’re about to do it again.

I had not been home an hour from my trip to San Jose last week when Annie started limping. When she tried to put weight on her back left leg, she just fell down. Uh-oh. I hoped to find a thorn in her foot or some other minor problem, but I knew what it probably was. The vet confirmed it the next day. As often happens with Labs, after one knee goes, the other follows. She has a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and will need surgery. Here we go again.

When I told my father about it, I forgot that I never admitted how much it cost last time:  $4,000. My father was shocked. He noted that she’s an old dog and suggested I should just let her go.

Not a chance, no more than we should put him down because he has a bum leg. Annie is my person, my companion, and yes, my baby. I will spend whatever it takes to get her walking again. She is actually doing pretty well on three legs, but we’re doing the surgery. The last procedure worked well, and I’m confident that six months from now she’ll be walking on all four feet again. So what if I have to make massive payments to pay for it?

Would I do this if I had a human baby to take care of, too? I suspect I would, but I might have to debate that with a husband who disagreed, who had a more practical attitude toward money.

Meanwhile, I’ll be staying home with Annie tonight. I am going out to watch a parade with a friend this afternoon, but then I’ll scurry back in time to give my pup her dinner and pain medication. Maybe we’ll watch a movie and share a bowl of popcorn.

I know the parade will be loaded with kids. I know I will be torn between grieving over my lack of grandchildren and being glad I don’t have to deal with little ones who scream, whine, and dart out into the street. My friend, who is a grandmother, won’t have children with her either because they live far away. If you live long enough, you don’t have to deal with other people’s kids, although you might have to love their dogs.

What are you doing for Fourth of July? Does it bring up the childless miseries? Do share.