Is summer vacation all about ‘families’?

Ah, summer. Here on the Oregon coast, it’s sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy, sometimes wet, but warmer than the rest of the year. The wildflowers are blooming, the blackberries are beginning to fruit, and the local bear is raiding garbage cans. Streets, restaurants, and beaches are loaded with tourists, many of them toting children. That’s what happens when you live in a vacation destination.

Meanwhile, the people who live here are doing the family thing. This is the time of year when half of my church choir runs off to babysit the grandkids, go camping with the older kids, or attend family reunions. The calendar in the music room is loaded with the names of people who are taking time off while the offspring are out of school. Which leaves a few of us to pick up the slack.

Wherever you work, I suspect something similar is going on. It’s time for family vacations and entertaining the kids. While our mother-father co-workers are running off to the water park or Disneyland, guess who’s staying behind to do the work? The childless ones. It’s a good thing we’re around, but it’s hard not to feel resentful sometimes. Right?

When my husband was alive, we used to travel in the spring, usually around our May 18 anniversary. In addition to his regular work running community centers in San Jose, he was a licensed tax preparer. From January through April, he rarely looked up from his tax forms, but come May, it was time to spend some of that money on a great vacation before the kiddos were set loose. Over the years we went to Hawaii, Portugal, Costa Rica, and British Columbia. We cruised the Mississippi on the Delta Queen from Nashville to St. Louis, visited Tucson and Las Vegas, and explored many places closer to home.

Because our lives weren’t centered on the school calendar, we sometimes found ourselves unwittingly surrounded by families, like the time we visited the Grand Canyon during spring break. Don’t do it! Too crowded. A two-hour wait for a table at any of the restaurants. And those tables were full of kids.

Ours were adult-focused trips. We liked touring historical sites, wine-tasting, nature hikes, local theater performances, visiting galleries and museums, and meals at posh restaurants, stuff that doesn’t go well with children. We were spared amusement parks, Happy Meals, and kids who’d rather play with their electronic devices than see the wonders of the real world. Mostly. There were a couple fun trips with my stepson. We had good times fishing, splashing in the waves at the beach, and playing games. He was a good traveler, still is, but mostly it was just the two of us.

Now it’s just me, but that’s another story.

As I have traveled back and forth to San Jose this summer to be with my father, I have often found myself surrounded by parents and children. They’re at the airport, the rest stops, and the restaurants. It’s their time. God bless the parents trying to wrangle several kids and all their paraphernalia through airport security!

No matter how frustrating it might be, the parents are lucky to have this chance to show the world to their children. I’m sure there were times when my own parents would have loved to dump us somewhere and travel by themselves, but they always took us along. To make it affordable, we camped, mostly in California. My brother and I both grew to love nature and its simple pleasures, the lapping of a lake against the shore, a Stellar’s Jay squawking above the picnic table, the feel of soft dirt under our tennis shoes, and sitting around the campfire under the stars.

I’m getting lost in nostalgia. It’s July. People with children and grandchildren are busy spending time together. Where does that leave those of us without children? Are you doing double duty at work? Are you traveling now or waiting until the kids go back to school? Are you sad or glad about “summer vacation?” Please share in the comments.

 

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Childless Fourth of July Needn’t Be Bad

Dear friends,

I’m writing this on the Fourth of July because I’ll be helping my dad in San Jose next week. I have actually been dreading this holiday because doing it alone is no fun, and I’m lousy at reaching out. Plus I don’t want to leave my dog Annie during the fireworks because the noise terrifies her. She’s already nervous, following me around everywhere. Of course if I had a husband and kids and grandkids, the whole day would be different. Parades, barbecues, fireworks, it’s all aimed at children. Right?

So I was all woe-is-me yesterday. This morning, however, I woke up late to glorious summer weather here a block from the beach. I went out into my back yard, which is like a park full of birds, trees and flowers in bloom, and decided I would just enjoy being here doing whatever I want. I would dress in my favorite clothes, serve myself wonderful meals, and lounge as if I were at a resort far away, except with my dog at my side.

What do you do on the Fourth of July? Does it emphasize your childless status or are you able to just have a great time doing grownup things? Please share in the comments.

By the time you read this, I will be hanging out with my father at the nursing home, listening to his stories and his complaints, dodging questions about money and the future, and trying not to get killed in the terrible traffic. Also trying not to think about who will sit with me if I end up in a nursing home unable to take care of myself.

***

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMI have a new book coming out. It’s not about childlessness, but all of my books are like my children, so maybe there’s a connection. It’s a poetry chapbook titled Gravel Road Ahead. The poems are about my journey with my late husband through Alzheimer’s Disease. The publisher, Finishing Line Press, is taking advance orders now through Aug. 16, and the number of copies they print depends on how many people pre-order the book. If you could help me out by ordering a copy, I’d sure appreciate it. It is not available on Amazon yet, so you have to order it from the publisher. For information on the book and how to order, click here. Or, if you’d rather not deal with the publisher, email me at sufalick@gmail.com and let me know how many copies you want me to reserve for you.

Here is the title poem to whet your appetite:

GRAVEL ROAD AHEAD

Where my husband lives now,
I don’t. Each day he forgets more
details from the house we bought
with his VA loan. I don’t. I tend them,
sort his papers, pay his bills,
dust his antique rolltop desk.

I linger in his swivel chair,
wearing his red plaid shirt, staring
at my small hands peeking out
from frayed cuffs with missing buttons,
toying with his ballpoint pen.

I straighten his paper clips, delaying
my drive up the steep winding road
to where my husband lives now
in a numbered room with an ocean view,
where the pavement ends, and I don’t.

***

Happy summer to all of you! See you next week.

 

 

 

Did you resolve your childless dilemma?

Dear friends,

I have been working on compiling 12 years of Childless by Marriage blog posts and comments for an ebook containing the best of the blog, organized by topics. Being a longtime editor, I’m trying to fix all the typos, mine and yours, and check the links to make sure they still work. Don’t you hate it when you get excited about a link and then it doesn’t go anywhere? With almost 700 posts, it’s a slow process. But I think it’s a worthy endeavor. At least everything will be up-to-date.

Speaking of up-to-date, I am finding lots of comments from readers who were in the throes of figuring out what to do about their childless situation. Leave or stay? Try to get pregnant or not? How do they manage the unbearable grief? Now that years have passed, I really want to know what happened.

Here are a couple of examples from an Oct. 9, 2009 post titled “Is He Worth It?”

Anonymous

Nov 12, 2009

I left my homeland, a good job and great friends to be with my partner. I’ve known from the start that he will probably never want to have children. It never used to bother me, as I used to feel the same. But the older I get and in particular now that I’m living in a country where I have no family of my own and no close friends, I’m starting to feel slightly different about motherhood. I would never pressure him to have a child with me to satisfy my needs. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve made a mistake. I do love him. What are my options? Stay with him and hopefully have a good life with him, even if childless? Leave him, and perhaps find a man willing to have a family with me? How could I though, when my partner is the one I love. I really thought I was more or less decided against the idea of having children. So why am I starting to feel differently . . . ?

torn

Nov 30, 2009·

I am so glad to have found this website, as all the other blogs seem to tell me to leave my partner. I love him to pieces and he loves me, but he is not considering having other children. He had an unwanted child at a very young age and does not feel he is capable of truly feeling in his heart that he wants to have another child. He says he prefers to not have another child if it is not something he truly wants as he knows how hurtful this would be to the child. He also feels like he has given so much so young that he wants to become stable in life before engaging in such a hard decision. I understand and I never really had the pull to have children before I met him. I don’t know if I would have that desire with another man. So I am left with this dilemma within myself. What is more important, risking possibly wanting a baby with someone that I don’t know that I would want one with or staying with the man that I love? At present, I am happy, but I don’t know if that will change. I guess the question is do I live for the present or for the future. I have made the decision to see a psychologist on this issue before making a decision. I hope you will all find peace with your decision.

So what happened? Are they still with their partners? Have they found a way to be mothers? If you’re out there, Torn and Anonymous, and you recognize these comments as yours, please bring us up to date, either at the old post, this one, or tell me at sufalick@gmail.com.

If you did not comment on the subject at the time, you still can. Scroll down to the end of the comments on that post and add your thoughts.

If you commented on any previous post and would like to bring us up to date, please do so, whether everything or nothing has changed, whether you have several children now or none. Hearing how things turned out for others helps the rest of us decide what to do.

I look forward to reading the rest of your stories.

Sue

P.S. Reading the comments from the period before and after my husband died in 2011 touched my heart. You were all so kind. I thank you for that. I’m grateful for every one of you gathered here.

 

 

 

Without Children, Is It a Family?

What is a family? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it thus:

A: the basic unit in society, traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children

B: any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family

They list various types of families: single-parent, gay parents, step-parents, etc. They also mention a variation: a group of individuals living under one roof. And then they go on to things like plant families, i.e., plants all sharing common characteristics.

They do not list two loving partners sharing a home and life. They do not list childless couples.

Have people asked you, “When are you going to start a family?” Have you heard people say, “Without kids, you are not a family,” or, God forbid, “They’re not like you. They’ve got a family.”

We all have (or had) a birth family, consisting of our Mom, Dad, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. But can we form our own family without children? Is it not a family if we don’t have babies?

“Family” seems to be code for children. Family-friendly movies, restaurants, and TV shows are designed to amuse the little ones and keep them safe from grownup language, sex, and other dangers. I have learned to avoid these things because a) I don’t have children, so I’m not qualified, and b) I don’t like little-kid stuff.

As I write this, I keep hearing Sister Sledge’s song “We are Family” and seeing the last scene of that great not-child-friendly movie The Birdcage. (Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart, Christine Baranski. Such a great movie) The only children there are the adult offspring of the main characters. As the movie ends, everyone is dancing with the female impersonators at the gay nightclub run by the Robin Williams. Their definition of family is just a bunch of people who love each other.

So what is a family? Let’s look again. The Urban Dictionary  lists some much more comfortable definitions. Says Lola5544 April 29, 2011, who wrote the featured definition, “family is a group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other. Not to be mistaken with relatives sharing the same household who hate each other.”

If you scroll down, there are some really funny definitions of family by people who are clearly not enjoying their relatives.

I’m not the only one thinking about this subject this week. Check out this article from Nigeria. The writer insists that the second a couple get married, they are a family, kids or no kids. I like that.

So what is a family? Can it be me and my dog? Me and my church choir? You and your partner? Do you have to have children to be a real family? What have people said to you about this, and what do you think? I’m eager to read your comments.

 

 

Lower U.S. birthrate sparks warning

Auguste Meyrat, a Dallas English teacher and conservative writer, says the U.S. birthrate has fallen to 1.7 children per woman, well below the 2.1 replacement rate, and that’s going to be a problem. His article, “How a Shift to Majority-Childless Adults Will Deeply Change American Culture,” was published in The Federalist on June 5.

Meyrat writes, “Not only does low fertility lead to a society dominated by the elderly, with young people shouldering a heavier economic and cultural burden, but it also means a society increasingly dominated by childless adults. This latter development warrants far more attention than it normally receives, because it will determine the character of American life.”

“Not having kids makes you a different kind of person,” Meyrat says. Parents are required to sacrifice for their children, to work to support them, and to schedule their lives around their needs.

Apparently those of us without children are free to do whatever we want. We are more selfish, more liberal, and more anti-social. We can spend our days binge-watching Netflix and playing video games, spend our evenings in bars, and throw money around like it grows on trees. I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

Meyrat notes that kids connect their parents to the community. The childless rarely go to libraries, parks or community events. Politically, parents “shun controversy and activism and embrace the status quo.” Not like us crazy folks without children.

He concludes that we need both the stability of parents and the energy of non-parents, but if things lean too far in the childless direction, “communities start to dissipate and people become disconnected from one another, their immediate surroundings, and even themselves.”

I’m paraphrasing. You might want to read the whole essay. Then come back and discuss this. Do you think people without children are really that much different from people who are parents? Are we more liberal, less responsible, and less sociable? Or are we a mixed bag like everyone else?

As more people remain childless, how do you think it will affect our society? Will it make a difference besides the obvious lack of younger people?

I welcome your comments.

Looking back at Childless by Marriage after 12 years

If I were to rewrite my Childless by Marriage book, what would I change? That’s the question I asked myself recently. That book, which I published in 2012, started long before it was published. I have interview notes and pre-Google research from the 1990s. Are the stories I told there still valid? I think they are. Would I write them differently now? Definitely. And that’s the reason I don’t plan to rewrite this book. I might change the cover and work harder on marketing, but I will not be rewriting it.

When I started working on Childless by Marriage, I was much younger. I was still fertile, still married, and actively trying to parent my stepchildren while wondering if I could/should try to have a baby of my own. I was where most of you are.

Years have passed. Now I’m widowed, living alone in the woods with my dog, and old enough for every senior discount that exists. I can deal with other people’s babies. What makes me cry and kick things is not having adult children and grandchildren. Would I want to be pregnant now? No. Too late. The dog and my 97-year-old father are enough to deal with. So no, I couldn’t write that book now, although I can tell you all about this phase.

On the other hand, I believe I’m a better writer, and I know a lot more about childlessness from reading, networking and doing this blog since August 2007. WordPress tells me this is my 671st post. I find it hard to believe. How could I come up with 670 different posts? Is there that much to say? Some days I think it has all been said. Then something else comes to mind. I believe not having children affects every bit of our lives, so maybe we’ll never run out of topics.

With so many published posts, I have an urge to arrange them by topic and put the best ones together in a book. There’s good stuff here. I have dug deeper and deeper to tell my stories, and you have enriched the blog with your stories. Would it be okay to publish your comments? Most readers use made-up names, so you would be anonymous. Shall we call it Childless by Marriage II? If it was a $5 ebook, would you buy a copy?

I have no plans to quit the blog, although it is getting more difficult. I hope people keep buying Childless by Marriage. I’m glad it’s not the only book on the subject now. So many good books have come out in the last five years (see resource list), most self-published because publishers don’t see the audience for such a book. They’re wrong. The number of people without children is large and growing. One out of five ain’t nothing. Maybe it’s time to put our voices out there again.

What do you think? I welcome your comments. And thank you for being here.

Are single, childless women happier?

Some days I feel as if I have said everything I could possibly say on the subject of childlessness. Then I realize that I can’t ignore these articles that keep showing up in my Google alerts claiming that single, childless women are happier than married women with children. I read the headline, think “baloney” and move on, but I guess we need to talk about it.

The articles are based on a book by behavioral scientist Paul Dolan titled Happily Ever After: Escaping the Myth of the Perfect Life. Dolan says that marriage is good for men because it “calms them down.” But women are less happy in marriage because of the added responsibilities they take on, including doing the lion’s share of childcare and housework. He bases his conclusions on “The American Time Use Study” published by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Well, we know women still do most of the work at home, but isn’t there some way to balance the responsibilities instead of remaining alone for life? I don’t think people are meant to be alone. One article shows a photo of Oprah Winfrey, single, childless, and successful, with Ava Duvernay at a Netflix premiere. Sure, they look happy. But ask most older women with no one coming up behind them or standing beside them if they’d rather have a family. I think they would.

This article in The Glowup, one of many on the subject, offers this: “We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say: if you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother,” Dolan said.

“[Men] take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer,” said Dolan. “She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.”

Although he admits that some women are unhappy because they want to be married and have children and are having trouble making that happen, Dolan cautions that marriage is not as glorious as people think. “You see a single woman of 40, who has never had children—‘Bless, that’s a shame, isn’t it? Maybe one day you’ll meet the right guy and that’ll change.’ No, maybe she’ll meet the wrong guy and that’ll change. Maybe she’ll meet a guy who makes her less happy and healthy, and die sooner.”

Well sure, maybe. Or maybe she’ll met someone wonderful. Maybe her husband and children will make her very happy.

Check out this article on the subject:

Then read this editorial offering the reasons why wives and mothers are not thrilled with their status.

Then try this YouTube discussion that looks at both sides of the argument.

Your turn. What do you think? Are single, childless women happier? Is marriage better for men than for women? Does this make you feel any better about not having children? Please comment.