Childless Can Enjoy Other People’s Kids

Last week I expressed my discomfort around other people’s babies. Lots of you agreed with me, but not every person without children feels that way. Many are fabulous aunts, godmothers and friends to other people’s kids. Others are teachers, caregivers, music directors, or coaches who interact with children all the time. 

Yes, some of us are more at home around puppies than human babies, but a great article posted at Christianity Today called “I’m Childless, Not Child-Incompetent” tells the other side of the story. Please don’t let the Christian setting scare you away if you’re not religious. It’s really about the divide between parents and non-parents and the misconception that all childless people are clueless about babies and don’t want to be around them. Author Gina Dalfonzo talks about her relationship with her godchildren and about how people who don’t have their own children have special gifts to offer those who do.

I know. Some of us have so little experience with children that we just don’t know how to act around them. Others feel so bad about their inability to become parents that they can’t look at a baby without bursting into tears. But many childless people jump in and help with kids, and I suspect doing so helps lessen their own feelings of loss or grief. Hey, how else can you get to play with Barbie, sing silly songs or watch the latest Smurf movie?

Read the article and let me know what you think. 

Being childless around other people’s kids

We may not have our own kids, but the world is full of other people’s children. Does it make you feel better or worse to be around them?

There was a time when I avoided children. If someone brought a baby to the office, I suddenly got very busy at my desk. I just couldn’t share in the admiration and baby talk or in all the sharing of motherhood experiences. “When my xxx was that age . . .” I didn’t feel that I belonged, and it hurt too much to know I’d never have a baby. During church baptisms, I couldn’t join in the benevolent smiles of all the moms and dads remembering when their own little one was christened. I could only think, “That will never happen for me.” Know what I mean?
It was the same with older kids. I didn’t feel as if I knew how to relate. I couldn’t be one of those grownups who talks to the kids or gets involved in their lives.
But I have learned a couple things along the way. It’s not the children that make me uncomfortable. Even if I never gave birth to a child, I WAS a child myself. We all were, and we can relate to kids on that basis. No, it’s the gloating parents and grandparents that make me squirm.
I still don’t exactly surround myself with other people’s children, but I do talk to them now. I sing with the kids in our religious education program and I have discovered that kids are pretty great. It’s amazing to watch them grow and learn and turn into people. And sometimes, wonderful times, I can channel my inner child and laugh and play and sing with them and not worry about the fact that all I have at home is a dog.
In the thick of grieving about the children you may never have, it may be painful, but try to enjoy the children around you if you can. They’re pretty cool. If you can’t, I understand. It will get easier.
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Playing with the kids at camp

It’s my last full day at Fishtrap, which one participant dubbed “camp with pencils.” We’re near Joseph in far northeastern Oregon, a land of high mountains and real cowboys. We live in tents and yurts, attend workshops, eat cafeteria-style meals, listen to readings every night, and finish off our days with music around the campfire or drinks at Russell’s in Wallowa Lake. At any time of day or night, you can see people huddled over their notebooks or laptop computers writing. It’s as if we have finally found people just like us. These people come in all ages and stages of life.

Fishtrap has a substantial youth program, so there’s a large cadre of teens here. Some have come with their parents or grandparents, each participating in their own programs. Others are here on scholarship with adult chaperones. We also have college-age interns. I’m loving hanging out with the young ones. Last night a high school girl borrowed my guitar and played a great song. You could tell she’s just learning to play, but I felt such a camaraderie, as well as a little motherliness. I’m thrilled at the talent just blooming in these kids.

In my songwriting workshop, we have two college girls, a few baby boomers like me, and Alfred, who is 86 and amazing. We have different levels of life experience and musical training, but we’re all trying to write good songs.

One of our assignments was to interview each other. I traded interviews with Ryann, a senior at Whitman College. She’s beautiful, intelligent, talented and so young. I’m sure I’m way older than her mother, but it’s never as if she’s a kid and I’m an old lady. I’m proud of her and glad to claim her as my friend, and she’s excited when my songs come out well.

There is a beauty in being able to connect with young people who are not our children. I have noticed that the folks who brought their own kids frequently had their writing and socializing interrupted by the needs of their offspring. I didn’t have to worry about that, nor did I have to keep checking in at home.

Childlessness can be tough, but there are ways to bring young people into our lives as their friends, their mentors, their teachers, or their aunts. I highly recommend it.