Facing the children we don’t have

Kids, kids, kids! I made a quick trip to San Jose this week for my dad’s 96th birthday. Everywhere I went, I saw children. In the small town where I live, the average age is over 60. Not having any reason to hang out at schools and other places where children congregate, children are mostly an abstract concept, someone my friends leave town to visit. But wow, get on a plane for San Jose, and you will see children. They were in the airport pushing their tiny pink suitcases, they were on the plane, and they were in the shuttle bus to and from the parking lot. They were also at my aunt’s house, where we gathered for cake with my cousin, his wife, and their little girls age 1 and 3.

I will never know how to relate to children the way my mother did. She had years of practice, and I’m a lot more comfortable with dogs. But I’m getting there. For those readers who can’t bear to be around children because they don’t enjoy them or because they remind them of what they don’t/can’t have, I want to assure you that it gets easier. It’s not the child’s fault that we have this giant baby-sized hole in our heart.

Kids can be annoying. They clamor for attention. They whine. They break things. They disrupt your grownup life bigtime.

But there’s nothing like a little-girl hug. Seriously. And babies are fascinating. They learn and grow so quickly. When they look at you and smile, come on, that’s magic.

On the shuttle to the parking lot back in Portland, I watched a young family board with a ton of paraphernalia and three kids, a baby girl, a boy about 3, and a 13-year-old girl. They all looked just like the mother. At first I was annoyed when they piled their stuff on top of my bag and sat across from me. Then I was amused watching the dad holding the baby, who was just starting to talk.

Then I felt the pain, you know the one, the pain of not having a family of my own. I wanted to weep for lack of those grown children and grandchildren. Why couldn’t I have that? I’m sure they had no idea I was going through a whole range of emotions as I sat there holding my purse waiting to get to the W7 section of the parking lot.

Being around kids can be challenging for us. It can cause real pain, but if we stick around, it can also bring joy. We need to be open to that joy.

And then be relieved to walk to the car alone with just one bag and nobody clamoring for food or needing a diaper change. Ah, freedom!

It was a short trip filled with emotion. I hate leaving home, and I hate leaving my dad. I know I’m blessed to still have him. And I was lucky to see my little cousins as well as the big ones. Now it’s just me and Annie again.

Families stir up all kinds of feelings. How are you when you’re around kids? Do you enjoy them, or does it make you feel bad? Do you avoid them? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

For another view of my encounters with children on this trip, read this week’s Unleashed in Oregon blog.


7 thoughts on “Facing the children we don’t have

  1. Hi Sue, This is Anita from San Jose! I want to thank you again for having this blog! Happy Birthday to your Dad. Not only are you lucky to still have your dad. But to have a dad that you want to see and to have a relationship with! That was one reason I was afraid to have children because I didn’t have a good dad. Or mom for that matter! Then I met and married a man who didn’t want children.
    I was a preschool teacher so I was surrounded by children! Yes, it was difficult! Always got the question why I didn’t have children. People that I didn’t even know would tell me to trick my husband into getting pregnant. Crazy! I come from a divorced family. I would never have done that. Do kids drive me crazy now? YES! My husband and I moved into a neighborhood that was built for older people, but families could still move into this development. Of course when we moved into the neighborhood our next door neighbor was in her 80s. Loved living here! Then the neighbor died and guess who moved in next door to us! A family! Needless to say we were PISSED! Now we’re considering a 55 community! The husband to the family next door didn’t want maintenance so that is why they moved here. He didn’t want a yard! They work all the time and they have a live-in nanny! This neighborhood has 180 homes and maybe two families live here! Of course, two families and they live right next to us. We share a wall! Fun! And they say people that don’t have children are selfish! Really! Thank goodness we have great friends that don’t have children! I still have a difficult time at Mother’s Day! I hide out on Mother’s Day! People just assume you’re a Mother!
    Thanks for letting me vent! Anita


    • Hey, Anita from San Jose. We ought to meet sometime. Thanks for your comment. It’s hard sometimes, and yes, I got the same advice about tricking my husband into getting pregnant. Bad idea. I live in the forest now. In the three houses closest together, none of us have children. Except for dogs and roosters, it’s pretty quiet out here.


      • Hi again! Would love to meet you! Sounds great where you live! Our neighborhood has deer, bobcats, coyotes, and other creatures! It is wonderful! Two minutes down the road is shopping! We love it! I know this sounds bad, but we just wish there weren’t any families! Oh well!


  2. People have always told me that I am “good with children,” and often I really enjoy talking to kids!
    I end up sitting on the floor discussing with them while the grownups sit at the table.
    But I talk and listen through pain since twenty years or so before that, there was still some hope.
    Now I try not to see kids so often; it’s too painful. I still like to talk to them and do if the situation of meeting kids can’t be avoided. I make the best of it, but the feelings after…


  3. Hi Malin, I can understand what you’re saying and feeling! Working with children, I was always asked, “You’re so good with children! Why don’t you have children?” That was a very painful question for me. I stopped teaching for years because it was just too painful. I still find myself trying to avoid children. That’s very difficult to do. Thinking of you! Anita


  4. There are moments that are hard. I think over the years I have come to realize that some people romanticize having children, the little dresses, playing ball, etc. Its not all like that and you do meet parents from time to time that their “regret” is just below the surface of the smile. It’s hard when you see parents complain about having to make cupcakes or whatnot for a function for the kids. I have a whole tub of sprinkles here. It angers me that they have the luck, but have no interest in the “Pinterest” things.

    When I get sad, I remind myself that I would be the mother of a projectile vomiter. lol

    Last week, a fairly newly divorced neighbor came over. Sighing that she just wanted to go and have some fun. I was lucky because without children (and newly divorced) I could just go do whatever I wanted. (the without children comment meant to harm. She knows the situation). The reality is her children are only “mid-grown,” and it will not be easy to have adult fun and potentially find someone new with the package she comes with. It’s reality that fun will not be for another 10 years.

    I face that somewhat in a different way. I am free to have fun and maybe meet someone, but he may have the package, although they would be older children with grandchildren. I already have steeled myself to the possibility of not being liked/accepted/invited because I will be seen as a “replacement/threat” to their own mother. I did that with my last marriage. Finished raising his kid from a prior, baked football field cakes, scrubbed uniforms, worked for our lifestyle (she didn’t contribute at all). When “grandchildren” came, someone decided that I should be “Auntie”. I made sure there were cool presents, etc. (he simply handed out checks). Since the divorce, I only heard from them oncce, when my father passed away. Borrowed children are not a sure thing to happiness either. You simply play the part in the show.

    I reconnected with an old friend on Facebook. Every other post is some cute thing about children and grandchildren. I obviously don’t have much in common with her so the friendship will be at a distance.

    It is hard to be around everyone else’s “happy” (or perceived happy).


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