Does Being Childless Make Us Feel Unworthy?

Dear friends,

Last week I attended many online events offered during World Childless Week, put on by folks in the UK. They did a fabulous job, and I hope some of you had an opportunity to tune in. If not, the recordings are available at the website. Speakers included many familiar authors and bloggers from the childless community, including Jody Day, Michael Hughes, Kate Kaufmann, and others I enjoyed getting to know. In coming weeks, I will be exploring several topics covered in the webinars.

A couple of things kept coming up, and I want to discuss them with you. Several of the speakers mentioned “coming out” as childless. We’re all familiar with the usual meaning of this, when someone who is gay or lesbian discloses that fact to family, friends, and the world. But here, it was used for telling people about their childless state. And maybe how they feel left out among their mom and dad peers. Is this something that we need to announce? Do we try to hide it? To “pass” as parents? Don’t those who matter already know, and as for the rest, it’s none of their business? Is it that there comes a moment when we know it isn’t going to happen and we feel the need to tell people because otherwise they assume we have kids? I don’t know. What do you think?

Another thing that came up quite a bit was “worthiness.” We had guided meditations and panel discussions on the topic. We chanted, “We are worthy.” Some of us, especially women, but also men, may feel that we are worthless because we haven’t had children. We may push ourselves to excel at work or in other areas to make up for our childlessness. Do you ever feel that way? I know that I tend to work round the clock and don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not working, but is this because I’m childless and trying to make up for something?

Karin Enfield de Vries, operations director at Gateway Women, cautioned against identifying solely as childless. “My childlessness is part of me; it doesn’t make up all of me. I have so much more to offer.”

Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women and a psychologist, said we tend to draw our worthiness from other people’s view of us, but we have to take our worthiness back from other people’s opinions. Childlessness is only one aspect of who we are.

As someone noted in the comments, some of us make our work the definition of who we are. I wrote it down because I do that. I am all about work, both the writing and the music, because what else am I? A dog-mom, sister, friend to many, but what else? With my parents and husband gone and no kids, I guess I need to work on that. Or do I? Maybe the real answer is to convince myself I am already enough, that I am worthy and I don’t have to justify it. And neither do you.

I’m going to sign off. We’re having a huge storm with such strong wind I expect to see Dorothy and Toto from the Wizard of Oz flying by any minute. But I ask you: 1) Do we need to “come out?” How? When? Why? 2) Do you feel worthy? Why or why not?

See you in the comments.

***

Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

9 thoughts on “Does Being Childless Make Us Feel Unworthy?

  1. Hi Sue. I am a Gateway Member and participated in a handful of the WCW activities. I found the “coming out” part of your post interesting. I have asked myself some of the questions you posed above and have decided I have mixed feelings. For the first time, I posted a “reveal” comment on FB with the WCW banner and drew mixed responses from friends/family. Most people chose to “heart” my post; some said “sending love” , etc. All were positive but the one(s) that stung were the people close to me who didn’t respond at all. Namely my niece, whose children I adore and have grown very close to over the years. I am in my 60s so have moved through the grief and daily exposure issues (moms, dads and grands). Most days I’m very happy with myself and my life. I retired quite a number of years ago from a corporate career that brought me financial success but not emotional satisfaction. So these days I derive zero percent of my self worth and/or identify from work. That was almost as big a transition as coming to grips with my involuntary childlessness! But I have many hobbies, activities, friends, and a good marriage that keep me busy enough and mentally challenged most of the time. Yes, there are days that it all feels a bit off but that’s just life. I’m always trying new things and open to meeting new people, putting myself in harm’s way, etc.

    Happy to have found your blog and look forward to e-chats here there and wherever through our common bond childless connection.

    xoxo

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    • Susan, thank you for sharing this. I can identify with the pain of those closest to you not responding. My family has never openly acknowledged my childless situation or the writing I do about it. Like you, I’m in my 60s and have moved on in some ways. Do keep in touch.

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  2. “Don’t those who matter already know, and as for the rest, it’s none of their business?” This. This is exactly how I feel. I don’t hide it. It just isn’t top of my mind to share, because it is only a small part of who I am. I only do so if a) I am asked about it (and depending on the person, usually only say “no, I don’t have children”) or b) the context and the person is such that I willingly share my situation. I am “out” as in I don’t hide it. And I’ve been interviewed in a national magazine and newspapers, so I guess am “out” in a big way. You’ve got me thinking now about a blog post of my own on this!

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  3. I suppose I am ‘out’ with people who know me, in the sense that it is obvious that I don’t have children. However, only a handful of people know that it is not out of choice. No one but readers of the comments on here know that it is a burden I feel every day and that it is a source of grief for me. Several of my friends don’t have children, but I have no idea if they have chosen that for themselves or if they wanted them and couldn’t have them. It’s just not something we talk about.

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      • I think people will either assume it was a choice we made or that we couldn’t have them. I was shocked when I read that those two options only cover 20% of the women who don’t have children. For the other 80%, there were other reasons – reasons that most people would never even think of. In my case, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people think it was a choice. No one has ever said to me, you’d make a great mother. I was going to be a career woman, but my health put paid to that. I think most people think I don’t have children because of my health but that is only half the story.

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  4. 1) Do we need to “come out?” How? When? Why?

    No. Maybe. I don’t know. I guess every family is different. My family is very hush-hush. No one (not even my mother) asks. So I don’t share. I’ve had a few nieces and nephews make comments, “I wonder if you’ll EVER have kids?” but I think they are told to shut up and after a few times, they do. Although I did once have a very young niece with a mean streak who made comments even after people were trying to direct her conversation elsewhere. A smart one, that kid.

    And how do you “come out” when your feelings on the subject change from day to day, from event to event or the holidays? You can feel good to finally unload that yes, it is HARD to not have children. But then later in the evening you might regret your weak moment and wish you had shown more strength and pluck. Or what if you tell everyone that you’ve made peace with it and then two weeks later you want to bail on a baby shower because, well, because.

    2) Do you feel worthy? Why or why not?

    I rarely feel worthy. Probably more of a “me” thing than the issue at large. I’m struggling with my identity lately. Wanting to make changes but sort of still wrapped up in old commitments and habits. Not having a child really does drive home the feeling of failure to have your shit together. Even if inside you know, it’s better this way.

    I overcompensate to get that feeling of worth. For instance, at a recent committee event, I did more, way more, than everyone else. I just kept saying, “Oh yeah, I can take care of that.” The others shrugged. “Sure if you want to.” This naturally leads to a bigger responsibility. You start to feel a little superior. Until at the end of the day you are cleaning up the last of the work – alone, while Committee Person 1 is running home to deal with bedtime. Committee Person 2 is taking her teenager to get new shoes and out to dinner. And Committee Person 3 is catching up with their sister so that they can take all their children to a movie. It’s easy to feel unworthy when you are going home to the final episode of whatever Netflix has to offer. And you think of their happy times with their children, their families. You feel the resentment of doing so much. Only to later understand that you did it to yourself.

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    • Anon S, this is a great comment. Thank you. I can definitely identify with you and the committee, especially when tonight we have a meeting where I seem to be doing almost everything–online–way beyond my comfort level. We have to learn that we don’t have to do it all.

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