Is Childlessness by Marriage Not the Same as ‘Real’ Childlessness? 

“Imposter syndrome” is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot these days. In my understanding, it means you don’t feel qualified for the thing you are doing. For example, I would be suffering from it if I believed I wasn’t a good enough writer to be published, even though I have been published many times. 

Says “Very Well Mind”: “To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck.”

Some of us probably feel this way in our careers. When I play the piano at church, I expect someone to figure out that I don’t have much training and leave out a lot of notes because I can’t play them all without my fingers getting tangled up. It hasn’t happened so far. I get lots of praise, but I know, and God knows. 

But how does this apply to being childless, particularly childless by marriage? Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos, author of Silent Sorority, talked about it at our Childless Elderwomen fireside chat last Sunday. (You can watch the video here if you missed it). I hadn’t thought about it before, but I realized I had felt that.  Here are some ways we might be feeling like phonies and fear being caught:

  1. You’re in a gathering where most people are parents. They’re chatting about their kids, school, sports, whatever. You’re nodding, adding a comment here and there. But you just know any minute someone is going to ask how many children you have and you’ll have to confess you don’t have any. Busted!
  2. You’re hanging out with friends who don’t have children because they never wanted them. You agree about the freedom, spare time, and extra cash it gives you. But you’re faking it. You would gladly give up your time and money to have someone call you “Mom” or “Dad.” 
  3. You’re talking with people who are physically unable to have children, sharing the yearning and grief, but you know you are not infertile, that if you had chosen a different partner, you could have had all the kids you wanted. So what right do you have to complain? 
  4. Your partner has children, making you a stepparent, legally or in practice. How can you call yourself childless? 

Are we phonies? Are we imposters? No. Our grief is real. We had a dream of how our lives would be, and we lost that dream. For one reason or another, we did not create life. Maybe it was our choice of a partner. Maybe it was just bad timing.

I can’t imagine the pain of infertility, often coupled with multiple miscarriages. And yes, I do enjoy the freedom I have. My husband shared his children with me. Although it was not the same as having my own, it was a little like having kids–for a while. But I still ache for those children and grandchildren I will never have. I am not an imposter, and neither are you. 

The subject of Sunday’s chat was the blurred line between being childless and childfree. We have more in common than you might think. Nosy questions, rude comments, feeling left out, fear of old age alone, we all experience that. It’s a continuum, and we’re all on it. 

Your truth, whatever it is, is real and valid. You are not a phony. 

I welcome your thoughts in the comments. 

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Childless by Marriage looks ahead to 2022

What a year. Fires, floods, tornadoes, Trump fans storming the capital, racial unrest, pulling out of Afghani, new anti-abortion laws, and COVID. Didn’t we all think the pandemic would be over a year ago? At least we have vaccines now, but it’s far from gone. Crazy times. My yard is full of snow–and I live at the beach. Crazy!

Meanwhile, we are still here talking about being childless by marriage. Can you believe this is post number 779? What could possibly be left to talk about? But there’s always more because the fact that we don’t have children colors every aspect of our lives. 

My older friends all seem to be moving away to be near their kids. I can’t do that. If I am suddenly incapacitated, who will be here to talk to the doctors, pay the bills and bring all those little necessities you might need in the hospital or, God forbid, a nursing home? Who will take care of my dog? One of my friends who has a grown son she really can’t count on just keeps saying she needs to keep exercising and eating healthy foods so she can continue to take care of herself. But we both know we need to get some safeguards in place. Make that my resolution for 2022. Make a plan. 

You are probably much younger and in a completely different situation. Are you still trying to figure out whether or not you will have children, whether you dare ask your reluctant partner one more time or seek one more medical intervention? Are you watching your friends become parents and feeling jealous, angry, sad, or left out? What are you going to do? Maybe you need a plan, too. Look at your day-to-day life, just one regular day. Is it good? Would it be okay without children for all the rest of your days or is the thought unbearable? No one should have to make this choice, but that’s how it is.

If your partner is unwilling, the trick is to find out whether this is a firm and forever no or just temporary anxiety about having a baby. Talk about it. Don’t let it fester. And, dear ones, some people will never change their minds. You can accept their decision or move on. 

Speaking of accepting childlessness or moving on, the book Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both has been out for a year now. It’s a collection of posts from this blog up to 2020. All the subjects are covered, from how one becomes childless by marriage to dealing with snarky comments to facing old age without kids. If you haven’t got your copy, order one, Kindle or paperback, from Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. It’s not very expensive. If you send proof of purchase to me at suelick.bluehydrangea@gmail.com, I will send you a free paperback copy of Childless by Marriage, the book that came first. Free!

New U.S. census results have been published. A couple statistics for you:

  •  In 2021, 34 percent of adults age 15 and over had never been married, up from 23 percent in 1950. Estimated median age for first marriages was 30.4 for men and 28.6 for women, up from ages 23.7 and 20.5 respectively, in 1947. 
  • Of women ages 15 to 50 years old, among married women, 17.5 were childless. Among never married women, 75.8 never had children. That’s a lot of non-moms.

Finally, there’s a great article on the development of fertility treatments, written by the first IVF baby in the United States, in the current issue of the AARP magazine. Borrow a copy from your parents or grandparents or read it online here. First Infant Born Via IVF Turns 40 (aarp.org)

Your comments are not just welcome, but cherished.

May your 2022 be filled with blessings. Happy New Year!

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10 Challenging Thoughts About Childlessness

1. Don’t assume you know what your partner wants. Ask. Ask again later to be sure, but don’t nag. Nagging doesn’t help, whether you trying to get someone to take out the trash or change their mind about having children. They feel the way they feel.

2. It’s not just women who get caught in childless-by-marriage situations. Men do, too. They just don’t talk about it as much.

3. When guys meet, they don’t ask, “How many kids do you have?” They ask, “What do you do?” Maybe we should all just say, “Tell me about yourself.”

4. Childless women still have motherly instincts. Example: Our new neighbor’s little boy runs around naked most of the time. He’s too old for that, plus it’s cold around here. I want to wrap a blanket around him and get him some clothes.

5. People with giant families will never understand what it’s like to be just you and your partner or to be alone.

6. Mother’s Day is a drag for most people. I’m guessing 80 percent of us hate it. Some don’t have children. Some have stepchildren who ignore them. Some don’t get along with their mothers. Some loved their mothers, but they’ve passed away. Father’s Day gets less attention, but the same issues apply: no kids, no dad, no acknowledgement from stepchildren. And all those pictures of fathers fishing, hunting or barbecuing with the adoring family, bleh!

7. There will come a point in your life when you don’t want a baby. The idea of caring for an infant sounds exhausting. But you do want grown children and grandchildren. You would give anything to have someone who looks like you call you “Mom” or “Dad.”

8. Most of us can’t point to the day we knew we were never going to have children. It just happens. When do you change from potentially childless to forever childless?

9. The UK and Australia appear to be way ahead of the Americans in forming groups and offering meetups and online support for the childless. Why is that? I have considered doing some kind of Zoom thing, but then I remember most of you prefer to be anonymous. So what should we do? Ideas?

10. Our book Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both is listed for sale at target.com. I don’t know if you can buy it at an actual Target store; we don’t have any of those here. But people are ridiculously impressed. #1 on the New York Times bestseller list? Yawn. Available at Target? Wow!!!

Things have gotten a little too quiet around here. If you feel moved to comment on any of these, do it. Let’s talk!

Hugs from the Oregon coast.

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Advice for the Potentially Childless by Marriage

What would you tell a young person facing a childless-by-marriage situation? I was interviewed last night for the UnRipe podcast from Australia. Interviewer Jo Vraca and Mina  Sedgman kept asking me this question, pushing for a concrete answer. What I wanted to say was “I don’t know” or “Every situation is different.” I said, “Talk about it,” “Make a conscious decision,” “Don’t do what I did.”

I felt like what I did back in my 20s and 30s was so wishy-washy. I never made an actual decision, even after we considered the options and Fred told me he really didn’t want to have any more children. I never told him, “Hey, I really want to have children and you need to step up.” I never said, “Okay, if I marry you, I accept that I will never have my own children.”

I just went ahead and got married, tried to bond with his children, and gradually decided I had been ripped off. I had not. I was just doing my usual denial of facts. Way too many Disney movies had convinced me that if you just wish hard enough for something, it will come true. Queue the music for “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

Sometimes you don’t get your wish. I don’t think I really got that until I was in my 50s, when menopause, my mother’s death, Fred’s fatal illness, and my father’s years of major health problems pushed all thoughts of parenthood way into the past.

So, now that I’ve had time to think about it, what would I advise?

1) Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. If you have always wanted children, start the discussions early. A few dates in, it’s okay to mention that you look forward to having children and ask how they feel about it. As the relationship progresses, keep checking in. As we have seen in many posts and comments here, people change their minds. You and your partner need to be a team, not adversaries.

2) If the person you’re falling in love with offers a hard no to kids and you can’t stand the idea of never having them, walk away. I know that’s hard. In the interview, they asked me if I thought about walking away from Fred. I did not. I was obsessed with my career, and I had my stepchildren, who I thought would fill the gap. I was so in love and so sure no one else would ever love me like he did that leaving didn’t seem like an option. But it was. I was 33 when we got married; I still had time. I was wrong to think I’d been ripped off. Consciously or not, I chose this. So I advise you to make a conscious choice: Is this a deal-breaker? Then go. Are you willing to live with it? Then stay. I know many of you feel trapped, but you do have a choice.

3) Having children is huge, but many of us are called to do other things with our lives. Consider what else you are besides a potential mother or father. What talents and interests can you pursue full out without the constraints of parenthood? Consider the possibilities instead of the impossibilities.

4) If you accept the childless life, let yourself grieve the loss of the life you thought you would have. Don’t be silent about it. Tell your mate, family and friends what you’re dealing with, and don’t let them shame you into thinking you’ve done something wrong or that you have no right to grieve.

Dear readers, having come this far in your childless journey, what would you advise someone facing a similar situation? What would you do now if you had it to do over again?

My interview on the UnRipe podcast will be online shortly. I’ll let you know where to hear it. My thanks to Jo Vraca and Mina Sedgman for a fabulous conversation and for their continuing efforts to support childless women.

Clueless Comments That Hurt

We have all heard them, the mean or ignorant comments that cut to our souls. How many kid do you have? Why don’t you just adopt? You must not like children? This party is just for moms/dads/families.

That was the subject of a lively discussion at one of the World Childless Week presentations earlier this month. Speakers Sarah Roberts, founder of The Empty Cradle, and Krin Enfield de Vries, operations director for Gateway Women, offered some of the cutting words people had shared with them:

  • Can’t your sister have one for you?
  • I’d love to have your freedom
  • You can always adopt
  • Being an aunt is almost the same
  • You said you weren’t sure if you wanted them
  • At least you have each other

“I get so mad,” said deVries, for whom cancer took away her ability to have children. “How dare you dismiss my grief? Don’t you think we’ve considered every option already?” People would understand if someone had a child who died, she added, but they don’t get how much it hurts when the opportunity to have the future they dreamed of has been taken away. You may not have lost an actual child, but you have lost your chance at parenthood, to hold a baby, etc. Some people understand, but others never will.  

Motherhood had always been a part of her future, Roberts said. To not have that is a “staggering loss.” She is often surprised at the lack of empathy.

Comments come in all different forms, including advice, pronatalist assumptions, blaming/shaming/hostility, the assumption that you had a choice, minimizing your grief, minimizing the importance of your situation, idealizing the childfree life, or invalidating your pain. There’s also the awkward silence when people find out you don’t have children.

So what do you do? In some situations it’s okay to explain how inappropriate the comment is or to say you don’t want to talk about it, Roberts said. But you need to consider who they are and where you are. It will be different with your boss at work, for example, than with your mom or your friend. Consider what’s behind the comment, she suggested, and try to help them understand.

Other options:

  • Walk away,
  • Change the subject
  • Counter with a sarcastic comment or a joke,
  • Give a brief, clear answer
  • Be honest about the emotional impact
  • Use it as a “teachable moment”

“You don’t have to justify that you’re grieving,” Roberts said.

After such a comment, take care of yourself. Cry if you need to, talk to your friends who get it, and think about what you can do to change things. As time goes on and you become more accepting yourself of your childless status, the comments may not hurt so much. But they’re still going to come. If you can take the time to wonder what causes people to say these things, it helps. Maybe one comment at a time, we can help to make the world understand.

What clueless comments about childlessness bother you the most? How do you respond? In retrospect, how do you wish you could respond?

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Would you like to write something for the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for 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.

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I have received the first cover designs for the new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, which is a compilation of the best of the Childless by Marriage blog. I will show them to you here as soon as I’m allowed, but this is exciting. Stay tuned.

How Does Coronavirus relate to Childlessness?

Dear friends,

I can’t stop listening to the news, which is getting more frightening by the hour. The coronavirus/aka COVID-19 is on everyone’s minds. Events are being cancelled, schools shut down, and the stock market crashing. Last week, I decided on the way to the Portland airport not to go to my conference in Texas. The conference went on with greatly reduced attendance, but this week, everything is being cancelled. I have never typed the word “cancelled” so many times.

In Oregon, our governor is on the radio right now talking about the restrictions she is putting in place to prevent the spread of the disease—no large gatherings, no school events or field trips, no unnecessary visits to nursing homes . . . Store shelves have been stripped bare of hand sanitizer and toilet paper as people prepare to be quarantined indefinitely. This all sounds like a bad science fiction movie. I have never seen anything like this before in my life. I don’t know which frightens me more, the disease or people’s hysterical reaction to the disease, but everything else suddenly seems irrelevant.

How do I make this situation relevant on the Childless by Marriage blog? Maybe it doesn’t make much difference whether or not we have children. We are all in the same boat, except those of us without kids take up less room.

Some random thoughts I offer for discussion:

* If schools are closed, should we who don’t have children volunteer to help working parents take care of them? Is there a special role we might play because we are freer to do so?

* Are we less likely to get the coronavirus because we don’t have children bringing germs home from school?

* For those of us older childless people, who will take care of us if we get it? Because it’s so contagious, who will want to go near us? I have this image of friends leaving food at my front door and driving away as I crawl out to get it.

* Is it a relief to have only ourselves to worry about, especially if our jobs go belly up?

* Are we kind of glad we didn’t bring children into this insane world? Is your partner saying, “See? This is why we shouldn’t have kids.”

* Or do you feel like, in the face of this pandemic, you might lose your chance to ever have children?

It’s on all our minds, so we might as well talk about it. What changes have you made in your lives? Have you been forced to stay home from work or school? Are you cancelling trips, staying home, stocking up on TP and cleaning supplies? Are you worried about your older relatives and friends? What do you think will happen?

Stay healthy. Feel free to share your thoughts. We’re in this together.

You didn’t give me any grandchildren!

Merry Christmas! Or if you don’t do Christmas, enjoy whatever you do celebrate. Why am I posting on Christmas? Am I not busy? Well . . . not so much. The bio family is far away. The friend family is busy with their kids and grandkids. I’m having dinner with friends later, but now, I’ve got time.

Are you making yourselves crazy by reading all the posts online about everybody’s family Christmas celebrations? Well, turn it off. Go for a walk. Right after you read this, of course.

For parents and grandparents, Christmas is exhausting and expensive. I visited with a friend the other day who said he had something like 35 kids and grandkids to honor for Christmas. He married into most of them.

My husband’s cousin met her current husband after both of their longtime spouses died. He came with a huge family, too. She was planning to feed 30 of them on Christmas Eve. This morning, she and her husband planned to fly to Denver to visit her one daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. I’m tired just thinking about it.

I’m not complaining about getting to stay home and cook only for me while the family celebrates far away and the friends do their own family thing. Sounds selfish, but it’s true. But maybe, if I had kids and grandkids . . .

I see all those pictures of my friends cuddling their little ones, I see all the great things in the stores that I could buy for my grandchildren, and I imagine all the family events that won’t be happening—Christmas, First Communion, graduation, weddings, babies–and I feel a little ripped off. Annie the dog and I are good, but imagine how much fuller our lives could be.

I was reading an article about “grandchildlessness.” That’s such a long word. How about NonGrammas and NonGramps? Here’s the link. The author is writing about Australia, but one could tell a similar story almost anywhere these days. All of us who are not having children are also not giving our parents grandchildren. Our parents don’t have much control over that.

If we’re lucky, our siblings fill the gap. If not, well, think about how lousy we feel when people start hauling out the baby pictures. When you get to be my age, it’s the grandbaby pictures. You can counter with pictures of nieces, nephews and cousins, but we all know it’s not the same.

How do we help our parents to understand and accept what’s so hard for us to understand and accept? My parents kept quiet on the subject. They had my brother’s kids, and they knew being childless was a source of pain for me. My second husband’s mother said she had so many grandchildren from her three boys already that she had no need for more.

If I had stayed married to my first husband and remained childless, I can imagine it would have been different. His mother really wanted grandchildren. She was all about her Catholic-raised kids following the standard program. She had already bought a few baby things in the hope of prodding us into parenthood. I do not believe she would ever have a found a way to let it go if we said, “Nope, not having kids.” In fact, she might have nagged us enough that my ex would have given in. But if he only agreed to have children because everyone was ragging on him about it, what good would that be? She never had any grandchildren. That makes me sad. But it’s a trend, and it’s growing.

Has anyone nagged you to make grandbabies? How do you feel about not giving your parents grandchildren? Are they bugging you about it this Christmas?

How are your holidays going? Are you with the stepchildren or your bio family or on your own? Is it a happy day or a fighting-tears kind of day? Feel free to share in the comments.

Merry Christmas, hugs to all of you. See you next year!

 

 

An Interview with Kate Kaufmann

Kate Kaufmann

I promised last week to tell you more about Kate Kaufmann’s book, Do You Have Kids: Life When the Answer is No. It won’t officially come out until April 2, but you can pre-order now. I highly recommend this book. Most books on childlessness sound pretty much the same, but this one gets past the why you don’t have kids and dives into how our lives are different without them. Examples: We can live anywhere we want, with no need to worry about schools and places for kids to play, so how do we decide where to live?  Without children who might take care of us, how do we cope in old age? With no biological heirs, what do we leave behind when we die and whom do we leave it to? What do we say to those nosy people who ask dumb questions or who think they understand what we need better than we do? Kate offers some great answers.

Kate agreed to be interviewed for Childless by Marriage. My questions and her answers follow. Feel free to join the discussion in the comments.

SFL: As you probably know, our focus here is on partnerships where one is unable or unwilling to have children while the other wants them or is not sure. In many cases, including mine, the unwilling partner already has children from a previous relationship and does not want any more. Did you meet many women who were childless because their partners didn’t want to be parents? What are your general thoughts on this situation?

KK: In my own marriage, I was the one who advocated for children, then went through years of infertility treatments. I called it quits when IVF was the next step. While I know it’s worked for many, I wasn’t prepared to take that step. Part of that comes from my former husband’s reluctance to try for kids in the first place. He was never comfortable around kids; I believe he was more than a little afraid of them.

One woman I interviewed was so sure she didn’t want children, she ended a deeply committed relationship so her former partner could go on to have them (which he did). I also interviewed several women whose partners had previously had vasectomies after having children with other partners. In one case the attempted reversal surgery was botched, effectively ending their chance to conceive a biological child. When I met her, they were still trying to decide whether to try for adoption.

SFL: Many of my Childless By Marriage blog readers are struggling to decide whether to stay in a childless relationship or take their eggs and hope to find someone else. They fear they will regret it if they never have children but don’t know if it’s worth leaving the person they love. Do you have advice for them?

KK: That is such a challenging situation. A dear friend of mine is in the midst of this no-win angst. I think when we visualize being a mom, the good stuff is front and center, and the less positive fades into the background. Same with relationships. What’s guaranteed, though, is that whatever the decision, in tough times there will be misgivings, in good times delight, and most of the time will hopefully be spent in the in-between. Not very helpful, I know, but there’s no good or right answer for this dilemma.

SFL: Many childless women find themselves dealing with stepchildren. It can be a tough situation where you get all the responsibility and none of the privileges of motherhood. What have you learned in your research about these situations? Can stepchildren be a true substitute for your own children? What advice do you have for our stepparent readers?

KK: I was sad to learn that only about 20 percent of young adult stepchildren feel they have a close relationship with their stepmother.

Both my knowledge and my advice come from the stepmoms I’ve interviewed. The best advice seems to be to take time to decide who you want to be as a stepmother. Define your desired role and talk it over with your partner in an open way. One of the women in the book describes a tense interaction she had with her new husband. “I don’t want to be their mother!” she said. “That’s good,” he replied, “because they already have a mother.” That reinforced her desire to be the kind of stepmom she wanted to be and let her husband know what her goals were.

Step-grandmothers have told me that their partner’s children are just that. But especially as they get older, they consider any grandkids as really their grandchildren, because the kids don’t know anything different.

SFL: If a couple disagrees on having children, how can they avoid poisoning the relationship with grief and resentment?

KK: I’d suggest something from a mediator’s toolkit. Listen to each other’s point of view carefully, repeat back to your partner what you heard, and keep doing that until your partner gets it just right. That helps with resentment, since from the outset you know what’s of concern to the other. In a perfect world, the couple would look at ways to work with the other’s concerns. Like Mother’s Day used to be very hard for me. My ex would be extra kind to me (usually :-)) when the second Sunday in May rolled around. It helped a lot to be acknowledged.

SFL: Your section on elder orphans is wonderful and unnerving for me because I worry all the time about my 96-year-old father and about my own future now that I’m in my late 60s. I notice you don’t say much in your book about husbands and other partners. Are you assuming that we will end up alone? What is the most important thing we can do now to prepare for our elder years?

KK: You’re right! When it comes to aging, I try to be pragmatic. If you’re partnered, someone will probably go first. I think single people, especially those without kids, benefit because we know for sure our kids won’t be watching out for us. Parents can go into denial and discover too late that their kids either aren’t well-suited to the task or they live far away.

What we do is gradually shift from being so independent (at which most of us are excellent) and layer in interdependent actions and choices. Ask for help, even when it feels like you’re a bother or can do it yourself. Make a pact with other friends who don’t have kids and support each other when someone needs a ride to the doctor or the airport. Start looking at retirement housing options before you need them.

SFL: You talk about the legacies childless women can leave. We may not all have money to leave behind for charities, scholarships, and such. What else besides money can we leave behind?

KK: Agreed about the money part. That’s what most of us think of first when we hear the word “legacy.” I think about legacy differently now. It’s rare we hear the ways we’ve impacted other people’s lives, so I like to make it a point to tell others when they’re still alive. Sometimes it comes my way, but even if it doesn’t, I take comfort knowing there are people who have benefited from me having walked this earth. I can’t know how much a child I helped learn to read enjoys books, but I know they’re out there. I try to develop friendships with people of all ages and consciously share what’s important to me with them—ideas, material stuff, experiences.

SFL: I love your collection of responses and conversation starters for childless women talking to parents or other non-moms. What is your response when people ask why you wrote a book on this subject?

KK: Thanks for mentioning the Afterword. Once I finished the book, I realized people might well want to talk to others and exchange ideas and experiences. But since most of us don’t pursue these topics very often, I thought it might be helpful to offer suggestions. I’ve gotten great feedback on this section.

I wrote the book to address the stigmas and stereotypes that many people hold about those without children. A recent study found there’s been no perceptible change since first studied back in the 1970s. That’s crazy! We’re part of our communities, we add value. Always have, always will. There’s plenty of room for us all to coexist, in fact to thrive, by including the full range of adulthood.

SFL: What will you write next?

My goal right now is to continue opening doors to conversations and understanding by speaking in most any venue that will have me. I’ve been surprised at the warm reception and frankness exhibited by many men when they find out about my project. If no man steps up to write the male perspective, I guess I might have to.

SFL: Thank you!

You’re so welcome, Sue. Thanks for asking.

There you have it. Readers, please add your comments and keep the conversation going.

I Finally Stopped Blaming My Husband

Readers: Today we have a guest post by Sharilee Swaity who has published a new book about second marriages. See the link at the end of this post. I already ordered my copy. I think you’ll like this post and you’ll probably have few things to say about it. Enjoy.–Sue

me -- purple shirtFirst, I just wanted to thank Sue so much for allowing me space on her blog to share my story. I have been reading “Childless by Marriage” for a few years now and it was the only place that seemed to understand my feelings on this topic. This is the story of how I came to a greater place of acceptance regarding my spouse’s decision to not have children again.

He was Sorry

One sweltering summer evening, not too long ago, I looked over at my macho husband as he lay quietly on our bed.  With tears in his eyes, he told me he was sorry. That he loved me and knew I deserved children but he just couldn’t do it. This time I listened and finally believed him.

The “having kids argument” had been a constant in our marriage, pulled out of the closet once every two or three months, a battle with no winners and sure tears, hurt feelings and harsh words.

My tirade was sometimes triggered by the sight of a friend with eight kids bragging about their latest escapades. Or the changes in my body that signaled I was getting closer and closer to that time when having children would no longer be an option. Sometimes it was brought on by the difficulties of step parenting his children, a reminder of the lack of my own.

I would come to him, irate, pleading with him, “Don’t you love me? Don’t I deserve children, like every other woman?” My husband would look sad, avoiding my gaze and sitting quietly, his head hanging in shame.

Despite the hurt I saw on his face, the words would always spill out, the darkest thoughts of my heart, that were usually kept tucked safely away.

I am Childless By Marriage

You see, my husband has kids. I do not. I am, as the title of this blog so aptly describes, “childless by marriage.” I have stepchildren, whom I have taken as my own, but they are not mine. I love them dearly but they are their mom’s. And their Dad’s.

When my husband and I got married nine years ago, it was with the understanding that my husband was not able to have any more children because he was not physically able. It was a second marriage for both of us and he came into the marriage with children and a vasectomy.

When I found out about reversal surgery and came to an understanding that it would be theoretically possible for him to maybe have children, I asked him to undertake the procedure. He refused and I felt hurt and angry. Even though the chances of a successful reversal were almost nil and it would have cost $10,000 we did not have, I could not let it go, until that night.

What I came to realize in those few seconds that my husband pleaded with me, with pain in his gaze, is that not only is he physically unable to have children, but he is emotionally unable.

As a child, my husband went through a traumatic inter-racial adoption. He was ripped away from his biological mother at the point when he should have done his strongest bonding. After losing her at one year old, he did not meet her again until he was eighteen years old. He was adopted into a nice family, but he never felt quite connected with either family in the way that most of us take for granted.

Years later, he went through a divorce where he felt ripped away from his own children. Twice he lost a connection that should have been fundamental. Twice his heart was torn out of his chest. And he couldn’t do it again. For him, the thought of having children was irrevocably linked with certain loss.

His Pain Was Real

The moment I believed him, something changed in me and I saw beyond my own pain to see that his pain was devastatingly real, too. And I heard a still, small voice telling me to love him, embrace him. He was the one right in front of me that needed my love. There was no child–but there was him.

I saw with fresh eyes that his fear was just too strong. Just as I could never walk along the ledge of a vertical cliff, or enter a cave filled with bats, he can never again risk losing the most precious thing in his life.

I knew that I had to stop. Stop pushing him to do something that he couldn’t. Stop wishing for something that I didn’t have while ignoring the man that God had placed in my life.

What I saw in that moment of epiphany was that loving this man meant embracing him, fears and all. It meant accepting him, as he accepted me. I looked at him with eyes of compassion and felt a deep sense of connection with this man who loved me.

Does it mean I will never long for a child again or feel a wave of sadness when another acquaintance pops out a baby? Probably not. My own grief about missing out on children is complex and will probably still take time to work out. What it does mean, though, is that I intend to stop blaming him for my state. Blaming him for his brokenness. Blaming him for my own brokenness.

About the Author

Sharilee Swaity has been married to her husband for nine years now. She has two adult stepchildren and two cats. She spends her days writing and marketing her writing. Her book, “Second Marriage: An Insider’s Guide to Hope, Healing & Love” was published in April 2017, and is on sale this week on Amazon for $0.99. The book focuses on helping couples who are in a second marriage work through some of the common issues such as healing from the past, accepting their situation and loving their spouse. Sharilee also writes at her blog, Second Chance Love.

To get her free mini eBook for connecting with your spouse when you have no time, sign up here.

He already has his kids, but I don’t

Ooh, those stepchildren. I was all set to write about something else this week, but then I got this comment on a previous post. I’m dying to share it with you and get your opinions.

The original post, “Stepparents caught between two worlds,” is still drawing comments. For so many of us, our childless lives include dealing with our partners’ kids from previous relationships. Sometimes they feel like our own kids. Note the second book I talked about last week where the author fell completely into the mom role with her two stepsons. More often, we have mixed feelings. We want to love them and make them our own, but they already have two biological parents. They may accept you or treat you like dirt. You may have a good relationship with your partner’s ex or be constantly at war. And when it comes to your partner choosing between his or her children and you, well, guess who loses that contest? Blood trumps love most of the time.

So often, accepting this partner with kids means you will not get kids of your own because that partner has already been there and done that.

That said, let me share what “Honest” wrote:

I’m very thankful I have stumbled upon this blog. I’ve been searching for someone, anyone really, who I can relate to and to see that I am not alone in this whirlwind of step-parenting.

Last year I met a man that I was completely not ready for. He was the most incredible man I have ever met, Kind, nurturing, persistent, caring, understanding, supportive and above all he was completely and utterly in love with me. He had been in a relationship for 10 years and had two kids 9 & 5. His ex had left him a year and a half before we met. He was the bigger man and moved out of the house they had just recently built and moved into a rental, while still paying for the house and all her bills, (which I think is completely and utterly insane. I know if that was me I would not be funding her) But his excuse was he was doing it for the kids as she would not be able to afford the house and bills as she did not work. I have come from a hard upbringing. My father was abusive and my mother worked three jobs to support our family, so you can see why I would have a bad taste in my mouth to begin with from his ex not wanting to work even though both children are at school when my mother raised us all and worked three jobs, but that’s just my view. I guess.

My partner won my heart after months of my hesitation to commit to him. I knew deep in my heart I would be in for a whirlwind of a ride once I committed. He was still going through the sale of his house, she was still living in it, he works away so he was gone for a full week and the week he was home he had the kids for the whole 7 days. So from the very beginning, I knew if I stepped into this I was becoming a half-time stepmom. That when I saw him, I knew I would be seeing the children too, never a moment alone to have our own relationship. But, love won me over.

Three months into our relationship, we moved in together. Not only was he pushing for it, as at the time he was coming home and staying at their ‘old home’ which she still lived in, and would go to her friends the week he was home, but my current rental was about to run out of lease. So we made the plunge and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. As his ex had run him dry of money, I ended up paying and furnishing the entire apartment (which included a room for his two kids, with whom I had only spent a handful of time) and accepting the fact that I was now involved.

The two kids are beautiful. I have grown to love them very much. I take them to school, I pack their lunches, I cook them dinner and put them to bed, do all the things a mother would do. But, at the same time, all I can see when I look into their eyes is her [the ex]. She would call and abuse my partner at ridiculous hours, she would start messaging me abuse, he would try and be reasonable with her and she just would not have it, and that absolutely kills me inside.
My partner from the start told me I was the love of his life and he wants to marry me and spend the rest of his life with me and have children of our own. Up until recently. Now he has decided that he does not want any more children.

When those words came out of his mouth, it absolutely ripped my heart out. I’ve wanted children my whole life. I have had three abortions with exes, because they did not want to be fathers, or the time was not right, and they would not be around if I was to have the child. So I did the right thing ( so I thought) and went through the traumatic experience of having an abortion, because I want my children to grow up in a family with both a loving mum and a dad, and not a dad who does not want them. I know firsthand how many times I wished when I was a child my mum did not have me because of my abusive father. So now I’m 28 and the man who I thought I was going to marry and start a family with has changed his mind on having any more children. Do I leave and attempt to find someone else I will fall in love with and we both want a family, or stay in hopes he will change his mind? It’s not like he cannot see the mother I will be. I’m more of a mother to his children then their actual mother. It breaks my heart to know that I’m 28 and I’m still completely and utterly unsure of what I’m doing in life. I don’t think I could live the next 20 years with his children and none of our own, I feel like that’s taking something special away from me, away from us, that he does not want us to have that connection, and it leaves an awfully bad taste in my mouth.

HERE’S WHAT I SAID: Honest, you’re not going to like my response, but I’m going to say it anyway. Looking at it from the outside, I think your guy is taking advantage of you. You have provided him a place to live and free child-care while he’s preventing you from having your own children and still supporting his ex. Maybe he does love you, but the whole situation sounds messed up to me. I wish you all the best.

What do you all think? Respond here or on the original post, where you can read some other step-situations.