When people assume we have children

I sit in a windowless conference room at a Doubletree Inn listening to yet another speaker talk about finding time to write. Children, especially little ones, seem to be the biggest obstacle for most. So needy, so 24/7. You can get up before sunrise or write late at night. Write while they’re at school or napping. Write in waiting rooms or on the bleachers during their sports events. Hire a babysitter for an hour. Steal whatever time you can.

My mind wanders off. I know all that. I just never needed to worry about it. I never had a baby to take care of. By the time my youngest stepson moved in, he was old enough to take care of himself—and he preferred it that way. In one of my favorite memories, Michael trooped through the house with his friends. As they passed my office, where I was writing, he said, “There’s my mom. She’s a writer.”

Sure, there were school activities, Boy Scouts and such, but they were no big intrusion on my work. I wrote for three different newspapers and worked on the novel du-jour unfettered. Ironically, the walls of my office those first few years of full-time step-motherhood were wallpapered with Care Bears. I suppose the room was intended as a nursery. I enjoyed looking at the bears while I nurtured words instead of babies.

Husbands can be a bigger interruption. They need attention, too, but for me, husband number one was never around, and husband number two found it amusing when I raced off to throw words on paper. He had his own work during the week and on weekends, it was football all day long. When he got sick with Alzheimer’s Disease, finding time was more difficult. I wrote after he went to bed, while he was watching football, or while his caregivers took him to lunch. I talked my stories into a voice recorder in the car. I got it done.

Back at the Doubletree, the speaker drones on and on. He assumes we all have children and spouses to care for, that we are all just like him, but we’re not. We might wish we were, but we didn’t ease into a “normal” family situation like he did. We don’t have family dinners, soccer games, and trips to the beach. We don’t buy school clothes, throw kid birthday parties, or nurse children with chicken pox. It’s just us, writing, and we’d like him to please change the subject.

People assume. A childless Facebook friend recently told about how an older woman started talking to her at a coffee shop. The woman gushed about her six grandchildren, then asked the writer how many grandchildren she had. She had to admit she had none, which brought the conversation to an awkward halt. She found the encounter terribly unsetting. You all would understand. But the grandmother didn’t mean any harm. She just assumed that all women of a certain age have grandchildren.

We don’t. With one out of five of women not having children, there are a lot of us who don’t have grandchildren either. Hey world, stop assuming.

A few days before Easter, I made the mistake of going out to lunch at one of our most popular local diners. It was spring break, and people were lined up waiting for tables. Lots of kids. So many kids. When I went to the restroom, I found myself waiting with a woman in her 30s. We could hear a mom in one of the two stalls talking to her kids. We heard yelling and whining. It took forever. When they came out, the other woman and I stared. She had three girls under the age of four in that little stall.

When the door shut behind them, the woman said, “My worst nightmare.”

I nodded. “Really.” This was not the time to explain my childless situation.

We rushed to use the empty stalls. She probably assumed I was a mom. I assumed she didn’t want children, but when I came out, her husband and son were waiting for her.

Never assume.

The good news is I’m free to write here in my bathrobe for as long as I choose and then share it with you while my dog takes a nap . . . Oops. Here’s the dog, needing attention. Yesterday she chewed half a pen, and I still don’t know where the other half went. Gotta go.

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7 thoughts on “When people assume we have children

  1. Hi! I’m new to this site! I truly understand what you’re talking about. I remember years ago buying cold medicine for my husband. A women in line assumed I was buying it for my kids. Wrong I wasn’t! I didn’t tell her “no” I don’t have children. I know that feeling when people stare at you when you tell them you don’t have children! It is very awkward! Now I’m at the age they will be asking about grandkids. At one point in my life I was so depressed not having children. I’m better now! I have fur babies that I love so much! My baby a Maltese named Gabriella and a new cat named Giovanni are my babies! I have been married for 32 years and my husband didn’t tell me he didn’t want children until I was 40 years old! I was heartbroken but was never sure I wanted children. We live in the Bay Area(Silicon Valley) which is so expensive! My husband was worried about the cost of living and about having to work all the time. He was worried he would always be working and not being a good father!
    Just found out a few days ago my baby Gabbie has cancer. My husband and I are crushed! I don’t even want to imagine my life without her. She is such a wonderful dog! I have been blessed! Thanks for letting me share! Anita

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    • Hi Anita. I’m from Silicon Valley, too. I moved away to Oregon, where it’s cheaper, but my dad is still in San Jose. I’m so sorry about Gabbie. That’s really hard. People will always ask about your kids. Brag about those fur babies.

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      • Hi Sue! Thanks for your response! I appreciate your blog. I have never done a blog before. It is so expensive here! I understand why you moved! I grew up in Santa Cruz and my husband in San Francisco. We think about moving too! What holds me back is I have great friends here that also don’t have no children! I always thought I was a freak. I worked with children and always asked if I had children and why I didn’t have children! I’m almost 55 years old! Next will be the question about grandchildren! Can’t wait(LOL)!!!
        Thanks again! Anita

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  2. I love your story about the bathroom assumptions. It’s a good reminder that we all assume, and we really shouldn’t.

    I also laughed at the comment that “husbands can be bigger interruptions.” Too true! My husband was made redundant a few years ago, and has only intermittently had contract work. Whilst I do appreciate having him around, he does really cramp my style!

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  3. Sue, I loved this one! It is so true that people just assume everyone has children — in books, too. I have thought about that many times. Sometimes, it is in women’s self-help books, too. The writer goes on and on talking about how hard it is to deal with kids, etc, and never once acknowledges the ones that don’t. It’s almost like we aren’t quite real. Thanks for articulating the things I think so well. Have a wonderful evening.

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