A Safe Place for the Childless Not by Choice

Dear friends,

Lately in the comments, a few people have been sniping at each other. That’s not good. We get enough of that in the rest of the world. As childless people, we face questions, disapproval, accusations, and folks who can’t resist giving you unwanted advice. Right? Let’s not do that here.

Last week we talked about how some of us—maybe all of us—sometimes keep quiet about our childless status because we don’t want to deal with the reactions. We’d rather blend in and let the parent people think we’re just like them. We don’t want them coming at us with why, what’s wrong with you, etc. Most of us don’t know how  to explain or justify our situation because we’re not sure how it happened or what to do about it. We’re still trying to figure it out. There aren’t any easy answers.

Of course, I’m talking about those of us who have not chosen to be childless, who are hurting over their childless status. The childless-by-choice crowd sometimes gets pretty militant about their choice: Never wanted kids, happy about the situation, feel sorry for you breeders who want to waste your bodies, money and time adding to the world’s overpopulation. Get over it, and enjoy your childfree life. But how can you when you feel a gaping emptiness inside?

In an ideal world, we would all accept each other’s choices, but the world is not ideal. We feel left out, guilty, ashamed, angry, and hurt. We need a safe place. Let this be one. If someone asks for advice—and many readers do—chime in, but we need to support each other’s decisions once they’re made. Don’t add to the hurt. And if a certain gentleman wants to leave his childless older wife for a young, fertile woman who will give him a family, ease up on him. We women might resent some of his sexist comments, but we don’t know what it’s like for him. He’s aching for children just like we are. And sir, don’t be knocking older women. Some of us take that personally. 🙂

Let’s try to be kind here. I am grateful for every one of you. Hang in there.

P.S. Easter was brutal for me. All those kids in Easter outfits. All those happy families while I was alone. Luckily I spent so much time playing music at church that I was too tired to care by Sunday afternoon. How was it for you?

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Authors speak from the gray area between childless and childfree


I have read just about every “childfree” book ever published. Some are better than others, but they all dwell on the same theme: “We have wisely chosen to live our lives without the burden of children and those who do have children are sheep who have let themselves be brainwashed into the mommy-daddy track.” This book is different. These writers do not offer pat answers or smug assurances that childfree is the only way to go. Each has struggled with the question of why they don’t have children and how their lives would have been different if they had.
The writing is superb. Daum has done a masterful job of putting this anthology together. Its authors include Sigrid Nunez, PaulLisicky, Michelle Huneven, Pam Houston, and others just as talented and accomplished. They wrestle with issues such as childhood abuse, mental illness, the AIDs epidemic, abortion rights, infertility, and the different ways childless men and women are treated. I borrowed this book from the library, but I need to buy a copy; it’s too good not to own.
A few tidbits to ponder:
Sigrid Nunez writes about how she comes from a line of cruel preoccupied mothers. She did not want to repeat that. But also she did not want to give up her writing. She talks about famous women writers who did not have children or who did and neglected or resented them. She shares a quote from Alice Munro in a Paris Review interview: “When my oldest daughter was about two, she’d come to where I was sitting at the typewriter, and I would bat her away with one hand and type with the other . . . this was bad because it made her the adversary to what was most important to me.”
Paul Lisicky, who is gay, writes about how in the midst of the AIDS crisis, men like him were just trying to stay alive and would not even consider spreading the virus to their potential children.
Pam Houston focuses on the right to choose whether or not to have children and why she chose freedom.
Elliott Holt, a woman, suffers from depression and fears she could not manage being a mother. But she loves being an aunt.
Tim Kreider notes that humans are the only creatures that deny the natural instinct to reproduce. He looks at possible reasons, including global conditions or evolutionary adaptation. In his own case, he says, he’s afraid he would love his children so much he would be perpetually terrified of something happening to them.
The stories are fascinating and raise many interesting questions to ponder. Best of all, they don’t pass judgment on anyone. Many of these writers have gone back and forth on the question of having children, just as many of the readers here at Childless by Marriage have. Their words offer comfort and insight into the troubling questions we are all dealing with.

Military wife feels extra pressure to have children


Today I am passing the microphone to Kam, who wrote about a topic we have not discussed here at Childless by Marriage: the pressure for military wives to have children. If you can relate, I’d love to hear what you have to say about this.
Kam said…
What a great site and I am thrilled to bits to have stumbled upon you. I’m soon to be 37 and my 39 year old husband is closing in on the last four years of his 20-year military career. We are also childfree by marriage. I was always kind of ambivalent, he changed his mind after we married 7 years ago. Yikes. Let me say that the military is not just defense machine but also a baby-making machine. Trust me, we are freaking unicorns around these parts.

The topic of married and childfree in the military is rarely discussed. I have plowed through your blog hungry for a salve for all that I’ve experienced being a lifetime military brat and now spouse. There are babies left and right. I’ve lost most friends to babies except a few rare jewels. I’ve been told to keep my opinions to myself because “we don’t need to hear from a woman without kids.” The list is long and seems to be ramping up with my shriveling fertility. What we do have are three dogs and that has become our couple identity. Well, they don’t have kids, but they have dogs. Huh? I’ve found I am constantly defending myself. I am still a MOTHER. I am a woman, maternal and I am a daughter and have a mother. Seems like I’ve got some qualification to speak but I am reminded daily, I don’t. Weird.

Sometimes it’s been a bumpy road to navigate. I’ve literally given up my religion (converted from Jew to Catholic), job security, stability and now children to be with a man who is without a doubt, the love of my life. That doesn’t mean that it’s always easy for me or us. As a man, he gets high fives for dodging the baby bullet and I get a button jar assortment of judgments. The sacrifices have been and continue to be huge with no real dangling carrot. Martyr? Sadist? Who knows? The psychology here is a bunch of clowns in a tiny car for sure.

I wish I knew where more of us military spouse types without children were getting our coffee at. I’d love to sit at that table sometime.

So there is a topic that could use a spotlight if you can make sense of my ramblings.

Kam posted an additional comment:
Thanks Sue. It can be so isolating and lonely. It also seems to make the whole Pinterest mommy/milspouse/woman cattiness go into overdrive if that makes sense. Motherhood is also another tool to harm in some cases–another weapon to wield against other women. It’s the weirdest thing to watch. I’d like to say I’m above it all, but I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I armchair parent after a night out with friends with kids.

My blessing is that I am Aunty KA to a few of my friends’ kids and I love that, but . . . it’s not my own cute, fat, little pudge of a baby. It’s a hard decision to accept. I go back and forth. My husband goes back and forth. So, WE end up going nowhere. We feel the pressure, but he really doesn’t want or like kids. He loves dogs.

While I would not have minded having kids, I am a back seat driver. I’m a limp handshake on the topic and that hurts as well. Why don’t I have the baby burn? What is wrong with me? I’ve never felt it as much as I do now. The military lifestyle is so tough, too. People like to say, well you knew what you were getting into. It’s so much more than you can imagine. I see a lot of unhappy families and moms that feel so stressed out. Some of them are really stressed out. I have a young, fit friend who is my age, a mother of 4 and she just had a heart attack! Because we move every 2-3 years, we are isolated from our own families, suffer career-wise, and it seems that having kids is just the filler for that (not all of them, but some). I’ve tried to carve out a different life, but finding civilian friends can be tough too. I wonder if any of your readers are military childfree or know of any sites out there that tackle this topic? Thanks for posting my comments!
Thank you, Kam. God bless you for sharing this. Stay safe.

Childless readers, I need some inspiration


Dear readers,
I know I’m late with this week’s post, but I’m coming up empty. Usually by the time I set fingers to keys on Wednesday morning, something has begun to form in my mind, but right now, Thursday evening, I’ve got nothing. I can tell you a few things:
1) It’s spring break here on the central Oregon coast, and the place is swarming with tourists, half of whom seem to be either babies, young children, or pregnant women. I mean, everywhere I look. It’s bumming me out. Most of the time, I don’t see that many kids or pregnant people because the population is so heavily slanted toward the over-60 crowd, but wow, they’re all over my world this week. Kids, parents, grandma and grandpas in my face every time I leave the house.
2) I seem to be doing a lot of caregiving lately. No, my dad is fine, but a good friend had heart surgery last week, so I’m back to sitting beside a hospital bed. Also, my elderly neighbor needed someone to sit with her husband, who is suffering some serious mental and physical problems after his heart surgery turned out badly, so I hung out at their house. And now, my dear dog has Kennel Cough/aka Bordatella. Every time she starts coughing, my heart stops. The drugs seem to be working, but all of my mom cells are engaged in taking care of her. And yes, she did get vaccinated.
3) The childless news is full of the usual stuff: somebody’s leaving their fortune to their pet monkey, the Pope says childless couples are selfish and sad, pollsters are predicting a lot more seniors living alone in the future because fewer people are having children. The childfree crowd is still claiming you don’t need children to be happy. And I keep getting comments from people who claim a spell caster has solved all their problems and now they’re happily married with children.
Help me out, you guys, send me some ideas. I might even accept a guest post or two. Let’s keep the conversation going.

What’s the big deal about childlessness?


What is it that makes people feel bad about not having children? That’s what the young man interviewing me over the phone yesterday wanted to know. I struggled to find an answer that he would understand. It became very clear that men and women have different ideas about this stuff, especially when they come from different generations. His questions showed he really didn’t get it.
Is it that everybody else is doing it? Are we looking for a sense of accomplishment? Do we want to leave something behind? Does it help to be around other people’s children?
Well, I could answer that last one. No. When you are hurting over your own lack of children, it does not help to be surrounded by everybody else’s. It just makes you more aware of what you’re missing. I don’t think he understood that either.
I tried to explain that it’s all of the above and more, that we’re missing a major life experience, that we have no younger generation to replace the old ones who are dying, that we have no one to inherit our keepsakes, and that for some people children are their only legacy, but none of that was really getting to the heart of it.
Why does it hurt so bad to realize we may never have children? Is it a deep-down physical need to reproduce? After all, every living thing on earth is designed to reproduce. Some can’t for various physical reasons, but reproduction is the plan. Humans are the only ones who can say, “No, we’d rather not,” the only ones who mate and don’t procreate. So maybe it’s just a basic biological need. But then why don’t some people feel that need?
Almost a quarter of women are not having children these days, and a lot of them don’t feel bad about it. They choose to be childless, preferring the unfettered life. Why do the rest of us grieve the loss of the children we might have had?
The young man segued into a discussion of social media and wouldn’t I like my blogs to be reposted in perpetuity if some company offered that service. No, I don’t think so, and was he actually scamming me to sell a product? I don’t know. But his questions about childlessness linger. What’s the big deal? Why do we feel so bad?
What do you think? Help me find answers? Why do you feel bad about not having children? Please share in the comments.

Not having kids means I’m free to be me me me

Let’s talk about the selfish side of not having children. I hesitate to do that because then people will think I didn’t want them. I don’t want to reinforce the false stereotype that all people without children are selfish and immature. They’re not. But maybe I fantasized my offspring would be like the dolls I played with as a kid. My dolls sat quietly on a shelf or in a box until I wanted to play with them. The rest of the time I was free to ride my bike, read until my eyes hurt, or eat cookies without anybody grabbing for a bite. I may be confusing children with dogs in that last bit, but you know what I mean. No need to share my food, my stuff or my time unless I wanted to.
When I was  a child, Mom took care of everything while I just had to do my homework and a few easy chores. Once they were done, I was free to do anything I wanted.
As an adult, especially one without a husband, I have my work and more time-consuming chores, but I am still free when they’re done. I spent years with a live-in stepson. I know what it’s like to have to think about the child’s needs in everything you do. Salad for dinner? He won’t eat it. Want to rent a movie? It has to be PG. Let’s go away for the weekend? What about the boy? I didn’t mind most of the time. I was happy to live some semblance of motherhood.
But I do understand why the childless-by-choice crowd choose to be “childfree.” Kids don’t sit quietly in a box. They cry, complain, get sick, need help, need love, need to be fed, cleaned and taken to the orthodontist. You can’t do whatever you want when you’re a parent, at least not until the kids grow up. Then you can buy an RV and tour the country, start a new career or write a novel.
Speaking of which, November is National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo. During this month, writers pledge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. That’s a lot of writing. To devote that kind of time and concentration would be very difficult with children around. I have signed up before but haven’t followed through. This year, I have signed up for NaNonFiWriMo or National Nonfiction Writing Month. I plan to do some marathon writing for the book I’m working on.
There are other month-long challenges, a poem a day, a blog a day, a short story every day. They’re great for producing a lot of work in a short time, but I don’t think I could do any of them and keep up with my regular work if I had kids around.
We spend a lot of time here grieving our lack of children. The grief is real and it never completely goes away, but look at the other side of it. What are we free to do because we don’t have children? Even if you’re still trying to figure out if and how you’ll become a parent, what can you do right nowthat you couldn’t if you were a mom or a dad? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Remembering “Gramma” Rachel

Rachel and Clarence Fagalde at my wedding in 1985
Today my step-grandmother would have been 109 years old. Mind-boggling. My father’s mother, Clara, died when I was 2, so I don’t really remember her. I remember Grandma Rachel, who married my grandfather a year or two later. She had been married before, but she never had children. I never asked her why.
Grandma Rachel was the one who encouraged me as a fledgling writer. She gave me countless books, all inscribed to “My dear little Susie” from “Gramma” Rachel. She always put the “Gramma” in quotes, as if she felt she didn’t deserve the title. But she did. She was as much a grandmother as any woman ever was. She showered me, my brother, and my five cousins with love, support and gifts until the day she died. Longer, in fact. A cassette tape she sent me arrived a few days after cancer took her away in 1991.
Now I don’t think Grandma Rachel was much good with babies. I can’t picture her changing a diaper. She was a terrible cook, her housekeeping was iffy, and the grownups tended to roll their eyes at the way she talked. But we kids didn’t care about any of that. She cared about us. She wanted to know about our friends, our schoolwork, and the boys we had crushes on. She wanted to see what we had made and was always eager to read what I had written. She was never too busy doing grownup things to spend time with us.
Perhaps not having children freed her to do these things, or maybe that’s just how she was. I don’t know if she ever grieved her lack of children, or if she quietly celebrated her childfree life. Perhaps with two stepsons, seven grandchildren, and a nephew and three nieces whom she adored, she didn’t have time to think about it.
Perhaps she had enough to deal with in marrying Clarence Fagalde. For most of his life, he worked as foreman of the Dorrance ranch in San Jose, California. When they married, Rachel moved to the ranch, where life revolved around the prune and cherry crops. The work never ended. When Clarence retired, they moved to a small house at Seacliff Beach, a little ways south of Santa Cruz. Grandpa fished and puttered around the yard, tending his “Garden of Eden,” while Rachel painted, read, and wrote poetry and copious letters to everyone, including me. I treasure those letters, and I treasure the memories of our many visits.
Not every step-family works as well as Grandma Rachel’s did. We’ve all heard horror stories about kids who hate the new wife, battles with the ex, and husbands who favor the kids over the wife. My own situation was far less amiable. But Rachel made it work, and so can we.
On this, her 109th birthday, let her be a reminder that we can have happy lives even if we never give birth.