Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind

Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind by Kamalamani/Emma Palmer, UK, Earth Books, 2017

Kamalamani is a Buddhist priest from the UK who has chosen not to have children. In this book, she looks at the reasons why one might choose a childfree life and how one makes that decision. There is a lot of brilliance here about the childfree life. There is also a lot about Buddhism that is interesting but has minimal connection to the topic. This book is well-written, heavily referenced, and adds new ideas to the discussion, especially about whether our troubled planet needs any more people and whether remaining childfree might be the best response. Women trying to decide whether or not to become mothers may find it helpful.

If this book is about being childless by choice, why should we care about it? Those who are childless by marriage or infertility do have a lot in common with the childfree crowd. Childless by choice or by chance, we are different from people who have children, and we experience many of the same challenges.

For example, we get asked why we don’t have children and have to deal with suggestions from people who do not understand our situation.

Says Kamalamani, “Women are still primarily defined in relationship to motherhood (or non-motherhood). . . I do not question a person or couple’s decision to have children—unless they are close friends seeking advice or a therapy client, and then I tread carefully—so I am intrigued as to the social rules that apply when a stranger feels free to question my decision not to bear children or to tell me with certainty that I shall live to regret my decision.”

In other words, how dare they?

She goes on: “Friends caution that you are missing out on life’s most exhilarating pleasure or reason that your partner will not feel any ties to a childless relationship.”

This statement caught my interest. Is it possible that some men (or women) don’t want to have kids because they don’t want to be tied down, because they see children as the glue that will create a permanent commitment to their spouse or partner? Think about your own situation. Might your partner’s refusal to have children be a way of keeping the door open so that he or she can leave at any time? It’s a worrisome thought, but what do you think? Is that what’s happening in some cases?

Kamalamani is worried about the effect of having so many people on the planet. Maybe we should put as much energy into saving the earth as we put into raising children, she suggests. “After all, whether or not we are parents to children we have ourselves borne, we are all stewards in handing on the legacy of our time on earth to the next generation of earth dwellers, human and other than human.

She looks at other aspects of non-motherhood, including the effects of our childhood and the examples set by our parents; couples who try to fix a broken marriage by having a child, and fear of regrets later in life;

Most people without children seem to feel less regret, not more, as they get older, she says. “In my forties, I think infrequently about motherhood and what I have missed. I am more focused on many other fruitful things: My work as an aunties, therapist, writer, lover, and gardener. Not being a mother is no longer a huge part of my self-identity, although, of course it is a factual reality.”

Instead of having children, Kamalamani suggests, we can tackle “baby-sized projects”. “Many of you are likely to have your own baby-sized projects gestating, well under way, or complete. For those of you who are childless and who have perhaps felt a bit rootless or meandering for the past few years, particularly if this meandering has been due to not knowing whether to try for children, do bear in mind opportunities arising for the emergence of a baby-sized project. This might be re-training in the line of work you have always longed to do, following a vocational calling, going travelling, moving house, or creating a home . . . . There are many ways to create without creating babies . . . deciding not to have children is not an ending, it is a beginning, and the chance to decide to do something other than procreate. It is not necessarily about loss and doom and gloom–as it is sometimes portrayed or maybe misunderstood through others’ projected sympathy—but a potential gain and a different expression of creativity and nurturing.”

This is a fascinating book, but it is loaded with Buddhist philosophy. If that’s a turnoff, you might want to read something else. But I recommend this book. It will get you thinking.

For more information, visit https://www.kamalamani.co.uk/about

I welcome your comments.

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Earlier this week, I experienced a “sleep study” at the local hospital. How they expect anyone to sleep with dozens of wire attached and someone watching, I don’t know. I felt as I didn’t sleep at all, but the technician said I was “snoring away.” You can read more about this at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Not having children never came up during this experience, but I sure wished I had a partner to care for the dog, drive me back and forth, and make breakfast when I got home.

Happy spring, dear friends.

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Can you let go of the dream of being a parent?

“Let It Go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore . . .” The hit song from the first “Frozen” movie has been playing in my head since lunchtime yesterday when I read the chapter on “Letting Go” in Lesley Pyne’s book “Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.” It’s a great song that I’ll never sing as well as I’d like to, and I wonder if I can ever do what the song says. Can I let it go?

Pyne insists that unless we let go of our dream of motherhood/fatherhood, we cannot move on to other dreams and possibilities. I have this vision of a toy boat caught in a swirling current. I send it away, and it keeps coming back. But maybe that’s how it is when you’re childless by marriage rather than physically unable to have children as Pyne and the other women described in her book are. They have tried for years, suffered multiple miscarriages, and spent great amounts of money and hope on infertility treatments that didn’t work. They reach a point where they’re 99 percent certain they are not going to have babies. The barriers of age, money, and physical limitations create a solid wall. They can mourn forever or let go of the dream and move on. Pyne suggests we hold letting-go rituals and get rid of the “grief museum” of things we have gathered for those children who aren’t coming.

I know some of you are in this boat, with you or your partner physically unable to reproduce. My heart grieves for your loss. I can’t imagine the pain of repeated attempts and losses. You should let yourself grieve as much as you need to. Pyne devotes a long chapter to grief. Unless you let yourself feel the grief, you cannot move on, she writes. You can’t run from it. Maybe you need to burn the baby clothes and remove all signs of baby prep in order to start to see a life without children.

But what if you’re not sure it’s over? What about the many readers here for whom the problem is their partner, the one who is unable or unwilling to have children with them? If you changed partners, you might become a mom or dad. The barrier between you and parenthood is not a solid wall, more like a barbed wire fence. If you decide to climb through it, you’ll get cut and scratched, but you’re tempted to try it. Are you willing to let go of the baby dream to stay with your partner? Are things good on this side, except for the not having babies bit. You’re not too old yet. How do you let that dream go? If you truly can’t, does that tell you what you need to do?

Can we let it go? Should we let it go? I find myself resisting. At my age, I know I’m not having children, but what’s wrong with keeping those crocheted baby booties I wrote about in a previous post? What’s wrong with thinking of the names I would have chosen for my children and fantasizing about what they would be like as adults?

I have always had other dreams that had little to do with children, and I have been living them all along. Even when my childless grief was at its peak, I was writing and performing and living a beautiful life with Fred. I did grieve, and it still hits me sometimes, but I have always kept living my life. Maybe I kept riding my boat in circles, but I like my boat and I like my circles.

No two childless journeys are the same, but you might want to check out Pyne’s book. It’s loaded with stories from childless women and step-by-step advice for getting out of the riptide of childlessness and on the way to a different but equally wonderful journey. Pyne, who lives in London, blogs at https://lesleypyne.co.uk/news-blog, and her website, https://www.lesleypyne.co.uk, offers a wealth of resources.

We who live near the ocean are told that if you get caught in a riptide, it’s best to swim with the current until you reach a place where the tide is weaker and you can swim out. Fighting it will only get you carried out to sea. Something to think about. We will all need to let go to a certain extent at some point, but how far down the beach that is will be different for each of us.

How about you? Are you ready to let go of the dream? Have you already done it?

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My dog Annie, whom I wrote about here recently, is doing much better after her frightening bout with Vestibular Disease and two weeks in the veterinary hospital. She still gets a little wobbly, but is alert, independent, and always hungry. We are so glad to be together again. Thank you all for your prayers and well-wishes.

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