When your friends become grandmothers

“I’m going to be a grandma!” my friend shouted over the phone from Texas. We hadn’t talked in almost a year, but now here she was telling me that her daughter was eight months pregnant with a little girl.

My friend went on and on about the baby, about baby clothes and baby furniture. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. She had no clue that while I’m happy for her, it felt like another rock piled on the mountain of gloom already crushing me. What did I have to report? Illness, car crash, dog limping, crazy new boss at work, and I felt like I was getting a cold. Babies? Two of my cousins keep posting pictures online of their adorable young ones that I have never met. I hear babies crying at the back of the church. I see parents with their children everywhere I go. But I don’t get to buy any baby clothes. I’d just like to hold a baby sometime.

This sounds way too sorry for myself. But here’s the thing. My friend and I grew up together, always best friends. Except for going to different colleges, our lives had a lot of parallels. We both married divorced men with three kids. We both lost our husbands a few years ago, mine to Alzheimer’s, hers to a heart attack. We both struggled with loneliness, aging, and dying relatives. The only difference was that she had a daughter.

When she finally took a breath, I mentioned that this was something I could never share with her. She responded, “But you’re a grandmother through Fred’s kids.”

Not really. Not the way I think about grandmothers and grandchildren, certainly not the way my grandmothers were to me. I talked about how I don’t see my stepchildren, have no connection beyond Facebook with them or their children since Fred died. I wish I did. All those years living in Oregon while they were still in California took a toll, plus they have their own grandmother and great-grandmother close by. I see the pictures on Facebook.

My friend admitted that she has lost track of two of her husband’s kids and the other one has no plans to have children, so she kind of understands.

Exactly. Sometimes I hear about stepmothers who are so close to their stepchildren and step-grandchildren that all the barriers dissolve and they feel like family. But it didn’t happen for me or my friend. Oh, we took on the titles, laughing at how odd it was to be “grandmothers” in our 30s, but only now with her biological daughter having a baby, does it feel like the real thing. I am so jealous.

I know a lot of you are still at the age where your friends are just becoming mothers, and I remember how hard that is. It doesn’t help when people keep asking when you’re going to have your baby. It’s still hard when you get older. I was just thinking how great it would be to have the phone ring and someone say, “Hi Mom, how are you?” Or, “Hey, Grandma, I’m coming to see you.” These are the kind of thoughts that will make you crazy.

Meanwhile, this morning I was sitting on the couch with my dog sleeping in my lap and I got to thinking that maybe God was wise to keep me from being a mom. My dog has fleas and another ear infection. I rarely groom her, and her collar’s all worn out. If I had human children, they’d probably be running around with crooked teeth, untied shoes and outgrown clothes because their mother was always so busy writing and playing music. And God knows what I’d put in their lunch bags: frozen meatballs and cold tortillas? On the other hand, my dog felt completely safe and loved in my lap. Maybe that’s what counts the most.

What do you think about all this? I welcome your comments.

Where do we “childless by circumstance” people fit in?

In preparing to write this blog, I look at the posts in the various related Facebook groups I belong to. It always makes me uncomfortable. The posts at the Childless Stepmothers group burn with anger. The stepmoms seem to hate their stepchildren as well as the kids’ biological mothers. They resent the fact that they have to take care of these “brats” while they don’t get to have their own kids. Although my own relationship with my stepchildren has not always been smooth, I am always aware that by giving me a chance to interact with his kids, my husband gave me a family. It’s an opportunity to be a mother in some ways. I am lucky that the kids’ mom is a great person, and we all get along. It doesn’t always work out that way.
At the Being Fruitful Without Multiplying group, the overriding theme seems to be that people who have babies are idiots. Not smart enough to use birth control. Look how pregnancy ruins your body. Look how it ruins your life. How dare these breeders make us share our world with their “spawn?” And how could a doctor refuse to sterilize a person in his or her 20s, saying they’re “too young?”
At Childless Not by Choice, the grief fills my computer monitor with tears. Some members are childless because their partner can’t or doesn’t want to have kids, some don’t have partners, and some have struggled with infertility, including multiple miscarriages, stillbirths and failed attempts to get pregnant.They’d give anything to have children.
I feel most comfortable with the Childless Not by Choice group, but it’s not easy to face all this sadness.
In real life, too, it’s hard to fit in sometimes. At my new dentist’s office last week, the dental assistant went on and on about her children and grandchildren—as well as her husband. She didn’t ask if I was married or had children, and I couldn’t tell her because of the sharp instruments in my mouth.
At lunch last Sunday after church, I sat with four friends, all mothers, three of them grandmothers, as they passed around baby pictures and talked about their families. I love these women, but I felt like a papaya at a table full of apples. I sipped my iced tea and hoped our food would arrive soon.
I have other friends I meet at writing workshops and other events who are militantly childfree. If I say anything about kids, they proclaim that they never wanted them, thank God they don’t have them. They shudder at the thought of being mothers while I quietly hope the program will start soon.
It’s a crazy time. In my mother’s generation, everybody had children if they were physically able to do so. They were all happy apples. Now, with so many choices, it’s one big mixed-up fruit cocktail.
What are your experiences dealing with the moms and non-moms? Please share in the comments.
(If you want to join any of these Facebook groups, search for them by name. Most are private so people can share freely. If you need an invitation to get in, let me know.)

Must childless stepmothers and their stepchildren hate each other?

Is it impossible for stepparents and stepchildren to get along? Reading the postings in Facebook’s Childless Stepmothers group, one would think so. I rarely read all the new posts because they contain so much anger I start to feel sick. They don’t use names; they use abbreviations. The husband is DH, the stepkids are SS and SD and the biological mothers are BMs (make of that what you will). They’re all talking bad about each other, lying to each other, and refusing to spend time with each other. They’re tangled up in disputes over money and custody. Holidays really bring out the teeth and claws. She gets the kids. They didn’t send me a card. The kid stole my money. It’s ugly.

The fact that these stepmothers don’t have their own children seems to make it worse. In many cases, including mine and quite a few of yours, the husband uses the existing kids from the previous marriage(s) as the reason he doesn’t want to have anymore children. He cites money, age, and fears about everybody getting along, and says he’s finished that phase of his life. So when the childless stepmother sees him spending time with his kids, and when they go through the milestones of life—graduations, weddings, babies—she feels the hurt, and she’s angry that she doesn’t get to have any of that with her own biological children.
Does it have to be a constant war? I do know cases where everybody gets along, where genuine love exists between the stepkids and the stepparents, where the “step” disappears. Surely it’s possible.
I don’t want to say too much about my own situation because my Childless by Marriage book caused more than enough trouble between me and Fred’s kids. But I will say that it was never the constant catfight I read about other families having. We all did our best to get along. Almost 30 years after we met, it’s not the warm and fuzzy situation we might like to have, but we don’t hate each other. We even kind of like each other. Plus, I consider my husband’s ex-wife a friend. We shared a church pew at his funeral. Weird? Maybe, but I was glad she was there with the kids.
Being a childless stepmother is a tough role. You get the responsibilities of caring for someone else’s kids, but you don’t get a chance to have your own. In addition, you get all the garbage that comes with every stepparenting situation—the shuttling between parents, the child support payments, the arguments over discipline, and the resentful child shouting, “You’re not my mom!” It’s not easy for anybody. But does it have to be a disaster?
What do you think? I’d love to hear your experiences with stepchildren.

Childless Facebook groups: apples, oranges and potatoes

The different ways people look at not having children boggle my mind. I follow posts on three different Facebook pages devoted to childlessness: Being Fruitful Without Multiplying, Childless Stepmothers Support Group, and Childless Not by Choice. Trying to compare them is like trying to compare apples, oranges and potatoes. All of these groups are closed groups, but you can join by invitation. If you want to join, I’ll recommend you for membership.

Each group serves a different need, and I get something different out of each one. Being Fruitful Without Multiplying is the site for the book of the same name. Most of the participants are the editors and contributors who wrote sections of the book. Generally their viewpoint is that they don’t want children. Most say they never wanted them. They call themselves “childfree.” Therefore, the posts often talk about what a nuisance it is putting up with other people’s kids or complain about friends who are obsessed with kids or discuss how they wish the wannabe breeders would quit whining.
The Childless Stepmothers Support Group is for childless women who are married to men who have children from their previous marriages. On this page, most of the posters complain about how awful their stepkids and their husbands’ ex-wives are and how painful it is not to be able to have children. They use a lot of abbreviations, such as SS, DH and BM (stepson, dear husband, biological mother), which gets confusing for me. Sometimes the anger gets to me, but sometimes I can really identify with this group. It’s a safe place to talk about family matters without worrying that your husband or stepchild will read what you post.
There’s another group called The Childless Stepmom.This is also a closed group, and I have not gotten involved, but it’s another place you might want to look for someone to talk to.
The Childless Not by Choice group is for people who do want children and can’t have them for some reason. Sometimes the posts are so sad and frankly, yes, whiny, that it’s hard to read, but we all need someplace to go where we can share our anger, pain and frustration with people who understand.
Each of these groups has become a solid support group for its members. The participants offer comfort and helpful advice, but boy, are they different from each other. There’s such a divide between “childfree” and “childless.” I feel like those of us who are childless by marriage get caught in the middle.
What do you think? Poke around and see if you can find a place to land that feels good.
By the way, I have a Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. Come “like” me there.

Stepchildren add stress to childless marriages

In last Friday’s post, I asked whether having stepchildren made you a mother. For me, it’s part yes, part no. Fred’s kids have been in my life for almost 30 years, but their biological mother is the one they think of as Mom. And that makes sense. If my father remarried, his new wife might be the most wonderful woman in the world, and we might love her very much, but she could never take the place of our real mother. That’s just biology, plus family history.

If your partner has children from a previous marriage, he will always have a connection to them that you can never have. They are his kids, not yours. When a conflict arises between you and the kids, who is he going to side with? The new wife may find herself competing for her husband’s time and attention, as well as his money. This can put a real damper on a marriage.

When he (or she) has kids and you don’t, that can add to the stress. As several readers have commented here, it gets even worse when his children grow up and have babies of their own. Now he gets to be a grandparent and you don’t.

Now some couples have no problem with any of this. They and the kids become one happy family, and they don’t even think the word “step.” They’re all “our kids.” They are blessed. I hear from plenty of people for whom having stepchildren makes a painful situation even more difficult.

How is it for you? Does your partner have kids from a previous marriage? Do they live with you or with their other parents? Do you get along? Does having them make your childlessness more difficult? Let’s talk about it.

Does having stepchildren make you a mother?

I’m sharing an excerpt from my book today. In many cases, people who are childless by marriage find themselves becoming stepparents to their spouses’ children from previous marriages. Sometimes it can really ease the pain of not having your own children, but at other times, it just makes the pain of childlessness worse.

A waiter in a restaurant I frequented during my Saratoga News days asked me one day if I was a mother. I gave my standard answer: “I don’t have any children of my own, but I have three stepchildren.”

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, then you got kids.”

Well, yes and no. A stepmother is a lot like a substitute teacher. The kids know she’s not the real teacher, so they don’t have to listen to her or do what she says. She has all the responsibility without the love and respect. If she sticks around long enough, they might get to like each other, but when the real teacher pokes her head in the door, they’ll all abandon their desks, screaming, “Mrs. Smith, you’re back!”

It also feels like being the babysitter or the nanny. When the folks come home, the dad gets out his wallet, hands you some money and says, “Thank you very much. We’ll take over now.”

Have you experienced this? It’s a big issue for a lot of us. Let’s talk about it for the next few posts. Do you have stepchildren? Do you feel like a real mother or father to them?

You can read a lot more about stepparenting in my book Childless by Marriage. If you have a Kindle and haven’t paid the crazy low price for the e-book yet, the e-book will be available for free Oct. 28-31. Just click here for the page to download it. You can buy the paperback or ebook from Amazon.com.