If We Don’t Have Kids, What Else Can We Give Our Parents?

Playing for my grandparents in 1990

I’m going to share an embarrassing part of my past today. Maybe you’ll identify with my younger self.

I used to write a lot of songs. I performed and recorded many of them, some for public consumption, some just for me. I was listening to one of my old tapes (yes, cassette tape) from the mid-1980s and came across this song called “Mama Be Proud.” It’s a terrible song. I hope I didn’t play it for anybody else back then.

I wrote it in my early years with Fred, when I was still trying to accept that by marrying him, I would never have children.

My mother was the best. She never nagged me about having grandchildren. She never said, “Why don’t you find someone else?” or “Why don’t you adopt?” or “How could you not give me any grandchildren?” She may have thought those things, but she never said them. She and my dad loved Fred and were happy I had found someone good after the first marriage blew up.

As for Fred’s parents, they already had more grandchildren than they could keep track of, so it was fine with them.

But still, I felt guilty. Raised when I was, I knew the two things I could do to make my parents proud were 1. Find a good husband and 2. Have children. I suppose keeping a clean and orderly house might be number 3. I was trained to be a clone of my mom. I needed to keep the family line going. As for all the other things I was interested in doing, they didn’t really count as much in my family. But those other things were all I had to offer.

Thus I came to write this song in which I begged my mother to accept my music as a replacement for grandchildren.

Here’s the chorus:

I could write you a ballad to comfort your old age,

I could write you a jig to make your heart dance.

I could pass on your name in a hundred sweet songs.

Mama, please love me. Mama, be proud.

Gag, right? Actually the tune is pretty good, but the words make me cringe, both because they’re so smarmy and because I was so needy of my parents’ approval. They didn’t support my music and writing much, but I have to say that on my 50th birthday, my mother made the most beautiful speech about how proud she was of my accomplishments.  

A while later, my cousin dropped my birthday cake in the parking lot. Splat. Isn’t real life fun?

Mom died of cancer three months later. In the end, I think it wasn’t so much that I was letting her down as that she was worried I might end up alone. That’s why she and Dad were so glad when I married Fred. But you can’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

I tell you all this to suggest that maybe I’m not the only one who feels like we’re letting our parents down, like we’re failing to live up to their expectations. The ultimate decision about having children is between us and our partner–and our bodies, but do you sometimes think that if you don’t have kids, you’re blowing it and nothing else you do will be good enough?

Or is it a good thing that I’m about to start seeing a new shrink? 🙂

Let me close with some thoughts from a book that was so gripping I read the whole thing last Saturday. In Flesh & Blood, a memoir about childlessness and a troublesome uterus, author N. West Moss writes on p. 229, “I’ve always felt that I let Grandma Hastings down (in particular) by not having kids because it is the end of not just my own story but of her hard-fought story as well, and of her mother’s and her mother’s . . . . My hope is that writing them down here will cast her line into the future, will be my attempt at securing her story, and possibly mine as well.”

But she concludes toward the end, “I know I’m not technically fertile or anything, but shit, I feel fertile, feel overflowing with ideas and love for the world. I stick a sprig of mint in a glass by the sink and two days later, there are roots reaching an inch into the water. I do the same with a branch of basil from the grocery store. Same thing. Having kids is one kind of fertility, but it’s dawning on me that there’s more than one way to be fruitful.” p. 245

[Trigger warning about this book. If you are planning to have a hysterectomy in the near future, you might not want to read this yet.]

What do you think? Are we letting the family down by not having children? Do we struggle to make up for it in other ways? Please share your comments.

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What Do the Childless and Childfree Have in Common?

A friend who never wanted to have children said the other night that she knew I wrote about childlessness, but that had nothing to do with her because she chose not to have children. But we actually have quite a lot in common, I said. When I started naming some of those things, she responded, “I never thought of that.” 

Let’s think about it today. How do the childfree and the childless differ and what do we have in common? 

The obvious difference is that the “childfree” have chosen not to be parents. Their reasons vary. They want their freedom, they don’t think they’d be good parents, they can’t afford it, they’re giving their all to their career, or they’re doing their part to save the planet from overpopulation. They reject the term “childless” because they don’t feel “less” anything. 

The childless also come to their state in different ways, from infertility to disability to lack of a willing partner. Some spend years trying and failing to give birth. Some agonize over whether to leave their partner and try on their own or with someone new. They grieve the loss of the life they might have had. They dream about having babies and ache when they see families with children. They do feel “less” a great deal.

These two groups sound very different. But there is a gray area. Some of us chose partners we knew would not give us children. Consciously or not, we made a choice. In some cases, we may even come to feel “childfree.”

What do we have in common? More than you might think. 

  • Most of us do not hate children. We may or may not want to be raising them, but we find them lovable and entertaining and don’t mind hanging out with them.
  • We get bombarded with questions and comments, particularly in our fertile years. “When are you going to have children?” “Why don’t you have children?” “You’ll change your mind.” “Who’s going to take care of you in old age?” “You’re not getting any younger.”
  • We find that our old friends are so preoccupied with their children and later their grandchildren that they don’t have time for us. Besides, they have new friends they met at their children’s schools, soccer team, ballet classes, etc., friends with whom they have more in common now. 
  • We have more freedom because our lives are not tied to the school schedule unless we work in the schools. We never need a babysitter, although we may need a pet-sitter.
  • People ask us how many children we have because it doesn’t occur to them we might not have any. 
  • We worry about who will care for us in old age. My friend is in the process of setting up her will and advance directives. Single and childfree, she is not sure whom to entrust with her health-care and financial decisions when she is incapacitated. She has half-siblings whom she does not feel close to. I have a brother I love dearly, and I have given him the power on all my documents, but I know we think differently about some things. Will he do what I want in the end? What happens if he dies first? 
  • We all hate Mother’s Day. 

A few years ago, I attended the NotMom Summit in Cleveland. NotMom founder Karen Malone Wright had the radical idea that women who are not mothers, whether by choice or by chance, could congregate in an atmosphere of mutual love and acceptance. It worked beautifully. By the end, I had made new friends, some of whom never wanted to be moms. I sat with one of these new friends on the plane ride home and we talked all the way back to the West Coast about everything but motherhood. It was a joy, and we are still friends. The fact that we came to be NotMoms in different ways doesn’t matter. 

I don’t want to downplay the horrible pain of infertility or the rudeness of some people who are militantly anti-parenting, but we do have quite a bit in common, whether we’re childless by choice or not. As for those of us who are childless by marriage, aren’t we making a choice not to have children every day we stay with a partner who can’t or doesn’t want to give us children?

Let’s talk about it in the comments. What do the childless and childfree have in common? What is different?

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Does growing up around kids feed your baby lust?

Does spending a lot of time with children increase or decrease your desire for children? That’s the question tickling my brain today.

Last week I published an interview with author Kathleen Guthrie Woods, who did an “internship” caring full-time for her nephew while she was trying to decide whether or not to become a single parent. She wanted to know what it was really like. Her life was already full of children. She was the favorite aunt to her siblings’ kids and loved being around children. She already knew how to feed and diaper and child and hook them into a car seat. If she had a partner and was younger, she would certainly have had children. Ultimately she decided she couldn’t do it alone, but for her, being close to other people’s children increased her craving for motherhood.

The book I just read, a corny Old West novel set in the 1840s, didn’t allow for non-reproduction. A woman’s job was to a) look pretty, b) cook and sew, and c) make babies. The woman would of course be responsible for all childcare while the man got to boast about being a proud papa. Our heroine, who spent her early years traveling from job to job with her grandfather and pretending to be a boy, knew nothing about babies. But her situation changed. She wound up married to a man she barely knew and helping deliver a friend’s baby. Watching this woman in labor made her think she never wanted to do that. But as soon as she held that baby in her arms, the magic happened and she was dying to have one of her own. In the epilogue, she welcomes a daughter. We assume there will be more children because she had no birth control, and nobody said no to children in those days.

I never spent much time around children. My brother was so close in age that we were both babies at the same time. All of our cousins and friends were about the same age. I only babysat a little and was not good at it. I didn’t hang around friends with babies. I was not surrounded by kids, and I have not become the favorite aunt, much as I would love to be. I still don’t know about diapers, baby food and car seats. If I were suddenly given a child to care for, I’d be holding the baby with one hand and scrolling through how-to videos on YouTube with the other.

Some of the people I interviewed for my book grew up taking care of their siblings or other family members. They became adults either ready to start their own families or thinking I already did that, and I’m done.

So today I ask you to answer three questions. 1) Have you spent a lot of time with children? and b) How does that make you feel about having your own? 3) How would your partner answer these questions? We all come into relationships with different life experiences. Surely an only child who spent most of his or her time around adults will feel differently than someone from a large family who was surrounded by kids.

Please discuss in the comments.

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The Mother of All Dilemmas: Have a Baby Alone or Not?

The Mother of All Dilemmas: Dreams of Motherhood and the Internship That Changed Everything by Kathleen Guthrie Woods, Steel Rose Press, 2021. Woods is approaching 40 with no husband in sight. She wants to be a mother, but it will soon be too late. Should she get herself pregnant with donor sperm and become a single parent? In her quest to answer that question, Woods undertakes a two-week “internship,” caring full-time for her nephew Jake while his parents go on vacation. She comes out of it with more questions than answers. Can she bear to NOT have a child? What will happen to her career if she does? How does any woman work and care for young children at the same time? As Woods works it out, the reader learns a great deal about what it’s like to be childless when one in five women reach menopause without children, but motherhood is still the norm.

Dear readers, I posed some questions to Kathleen Guthrie Woods last week, and here are her answers.

SFL: At the beginning of the book, you are 40 years old. Clearly you need to move quickly if you are going to get pregnant before you run out of viable eggs. You don’t say much about your 20s and 30s. What was happening in those years? Were there really no suitable partners to be found? Did you worry, especially in your 30s, about your fertility passing by?  

KGW: For me, one of the most challenging parts of writing the book was the editing. In early drafts I had a lot more backstory, which covered those decades—which I then had to cut because they didn’t serve the final story. Painful!

In brief, I spent my 20s and 30s dating far too many Mr. Wrongs. I didn’t really feel the ticking of my biological clock, as I was so certain becoming a mother was something that would happen in my life. I was more frustrated that I hadn’t met someone who wanted to marry me, and who I wanted to marry. I spent that time building great friendships and an interesting career (one I thought of as temporary, because I assumed I would stop working to be a stay-at-home wife and mother). Around the age of 38 is when the clock started working against me. I knew I wanted a solid marriage, and that would take time. But if I really wanted kids, I maybe needed to bypass marriage and pursue motherhood on my own. And there began the journey that began the book.

SFL: How did you get to be such a good aunt? Have you always been great with children?

KGW: Nature plus one amazing role model. I started babysitting when I was around 11. I was the person who could pick up a fussy baby at a gathering and soothe them to sleep. Into adulthood, I was the neighbor who became friends with the kids next door. Loving and enjoying all those kids came—and still comes—easily to me.

My parents and their friends were really great about including the kids when they got together. We didn’t have a “kids’ table” at most dinner parties, and the grownups engaged in conversations with us; we all ate together then played games that could be enjoyed by all ages, like Charades. But the big influence in my life was my Gram. She listened and she valued what we had to say. She acted like a kid with us. For example, we would interview her (using a cassette tape recorder) and she’d make up characters with silly names and funny voices. I’m smiling just thinking about this. With her, we felt seen, loved, and never judged. I hope I do the same for the kids in my life today.

SFL: You were able to try out full-time motherhood for two weeks with 15-month-old Jake while your sister and her wife went to Europe. You seemed to know Jake quite well already, yet you seemed to be very anxious about it. Why were you so apprehensive? Have you considered how it would have been different if Jake were younger or older? Have you had any more extended babysitting experiences with Jake and his baby brother or with your nieces? How old is Jake now? Are you still close?

At the time, I was living in Los Angeles, and Jake and his moms were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. We got together several times a year, so I’d gotten to know him a bit, though with a child that young, it takes a few hours for them to remember you and re-warm up to you. Heading into the “mommy internship,” I was mostly worried that I wouldn’t be able to take care of him on my own, that I would be overwhelmed – or worse, that he would get hurt on my watch. I mean, I wasn’t borrowing a car or something that could be repaired if I damaged it by accident! I felt like he was completely dependent upon me, and this was a big shift from just being responsible for my own well-being. If he had been a little older, a little more independent, I would have felt somewhat differently, but I still would have been very cautious.

I’ll give an example: A few years ago I stayed with Jake and his brother while their moms were on vacation. The boys were pretty self-sufficient, but I still took my responsibilities as the grownup seriously. Jake came to me one afternoon and said oh-so-casually, “I’m going outside to play with the blowtorch!” Um, HECK NO! “But my moms let me!” No to the never, no way! He did know how to use it, he probably would have been fine, but I didn’t want to be the person “in charge” the one time he accidently burned down the garage.

Since the events of the book, I’ve had several kid-sitting adventures with the nephews or nieces for weekends or over a few days. Nothing to compare to the two weeks I had with Jake. The two older nieces are now college students, so our visits are more like friends reconnecting, and I am thoroughly enjoying this chapter with them too.

I should mention that this book took a long time to write because I had to live it all first. Many years and countless drafts passed before I knew what my message and my ending would be. That said, Jake, as of our last in-person get-together, is almost my height. He’ll be getting his driving permit soon! He’s handsome, smart, engaging, kind, and funny, and I’m grateful for how our relationship has evolved.

SFL: While you were Jake’s temporary mom, you seemed to enjoy those occasions when people assumed he was your child. I have experienced that with other people’s kids, too. What is that all about? Why do we want so badly to be seen as mothers?

KGW: Ego? Pride? Social conditioning? I don’t have a satisfactory answer, but I do know my heart swells when it happens. I longed to have a mini me, to have people compliment me with “S/he looks just like you!” Recently I was looking at family photos with my aunt and we were identifying traits passed through the generations: a grandmother’s high cheekbones, a great-aunt’s red hair, my father’s green eyes now mirrored in one of my nieces. Maybe seeing these traits is how we keep some of those loved ones alive for us, long after they’ve passed. 

SFL: Your comment about Fourth of July and how, as the childless one, you attended other people’s celebrations but were never the host hit home for me. Like you, I’m the one who either travels or spends the holidays alone. Now that you live close to your siblings and their children, do they spend the holidays at your place sometimes?

KGW: My husband and I are still the ones who travel for family holiday gatherings. In all fairness, he has a big job and we both usually work through December, so sometimes it’s nice to have some quiet times to ourselves. (Or, at least that’s what I tell myself.)

SFL: I don’t know if you want to spoil the suspense by sharing what you finally decided to do about having children. If so, feel free to tell us how you came to your decision. Do you want to talk about Braden? Surely having this man in your life eased a great deal of your need for human companionship. He sounds wonderful. Have you considered what your life would have been like if Braden hadn’t come along?

KGW: I’ve been writing about being childless for over a decade, so sharing my final decision won’t be too big of a spoiler. The story, I think, is more about how I came to it. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t linear. Time passed. I often felt like the decision was made for me because I aged out of being able to become a mother with my own eggs, and I knew I couldn’t adopt, use a surrogate, or pursue any of the other “fixes” people threw at me. I really beat myself up for maybe not wanting it “enough” to do whatever was necessary to make it happen. At the same time, as I weighed the pros and cons and considered what I would need to make a decent life for myself and a child, I knew I couldn’t do it – and I ultimately decided I didn’t want to do it. I still have moments of total baby lust, by the way. The desire to be a mom doesn’t just switch off because your brain has told you it’s not the best choice for your life.

What I got instead is a great marriage to a great man. He was worth the wait. Had we met 10 years earlier, I wouldn’t have been ready for him and he—well—he was married to someone else. I am incredibly grateful for him and the life we share.

There is a pivotal scene in the book when I wrestle with my role in possibly making him childless by marriage. I was prepared to sacrifice my happiness had he had his own dreams of being a father, something I couldn’t promise him at that time.

Your question about what my life might have been like had I not met him is interesting, and one I hadn’t really considered. As I think about it now, I might have hung on to the possibility of having a child on my own longer—probably longer than would have been healthy. I suspect I would have become bitter before I allowed myself to grieve my losses around not becoming a mother. Eventually I would have moved to be closer to my siblings and their families, though I would have missed out on a lot of fun years with them. I want to say that I would have pulled myself up by the bootstraps and made a good life for myself, but I’m not entirely convinced I would have succeeded. There was a real chance I would have grown lonelier and more isolated over time while silently licking my wounds and envying my friends. Or…maybe I would have gone on the road as a backup singer and written a book about those adventures!

SFL: Most readers of the Childless by Marriage blog are childless because their partners are unable or unwilling to have children. Many are struggling to decide whether to stay in that relationship or seek motherhood/fatherhood on their own. What is your advice for people in that situation?

KGW: My heart goes out to you. While this is part of my story (my husband never wanted kids), I was able to make the decision to remain childless for myself before we had the Big Talk. In the book, I share that I had reached the point where I was willing to let him go if having children was something he really wanted; I didn’t want to deny him that dream.

This is going to sound like such a cliché, but I think there’s truth to the saying “If you love someone, set them free.” I wanted Braden to live his best life, and if I couldn’t give him that, I was willing to let him go find it with someone else. (It still hurts to think about that happening, but I never wanted to him to have regrets and grow to resent me.)

The same holds for our dreams. Sometimes the best, healthiest way for us to love ourselves is to let go of those big dreams we’ve been carrying around for so long when they no longer serve us. Gosh, it’s hard. But we have to release and open up space in our hearts for new love to grow. Be true to yourself. If having children is what you want most, you have to open yourself up to the opportunity, and that may mean leaving the relationship you’re in to find the one that helps you create the life you want. You will be making hard choices, and you have to move forward with the one that will leave you with the least possibility for regrets, for those eat away at you.

My marriage did not replace my longing for children. Let’s be clear on that. But I will say that having a childless marriage has its advantages. We take care of each other. We enjoy each other’s company. We have a ridiculous amount of fun running errands together on weekends (versus going in different directions to attend to the needs of children). Our vacations and meals and cars and movies are all age-appropriate, and we get to choose how we spend our time. Every day I give thanks that I get to share my life with someone who respects, appreciates, and loves me. What a gift!

SFL: What would you like to share that I have not asked about?

KGW: I was incredibly fortunate to find lifelines in my journey toward healing. Writers and bloggers—including Sue—provided safe places for me to explore my feelings, discover that I was not in fact the only woman on the planet grieving the loss of my mommy dreams, and develop friendships with phenomenally compassionate woman. Find and build your community. Reach out to others through comments, chats, and forums. Let’s continue to lift each other up.

***

Kathleen Guthrie Woods wrote the “It Got Me Thinking…” and “Our Stories” columns for Life Without Baby, and she co-authored Life Without Baby: Holiday Companion with Lisa Manterfield. The Mother of All Dilemmas is available in Kindle ebook and paperback on Amazon.

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Do You Have to Read This Blog in Secret?

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

Last week on a whim, I asked whether Childless by Marriage readers felt they needed to hide their participation in the blog, Facebook page, books, etc. I had just had a vision of a spouse looking at the computer and asking, “Why are you reading this crap?” or “Aren’t you over that yet?”

It turns out some of the folks here do have to hide their participation in Childless by Marriage and anything else related to their childlessness. Anon S said it’s her “dirty secret.” Jo, another frequent commenter, said she shares a laptop computer with her husband and can only read Childless by Marriage when he’s not around. She can’t join the Facebook page without him knowing about it.

Holy cow. I don’t know why it took me 738 posts to think of this. I guess I have had the luxury of a private office for so long I forgot that most people don’t have that. I am so sorry.

I have always had my own computer, and my late husband Fred took little interest in what I was doing on it. If I wanted to share something, I called him in or handed him a printed copy. I didn’t start the blog until he was well into Alzheimer’s, so he had no idea. But I’m sure I was journaling and reading about childlessness throughout our marriage. My annual Mother’s Day tantrums were not invisible. I remember him saying “Oh, babe.” That’s all. No further discussion. But I hid most of my tears from him. I didn’t talk much about it with anyone. What good would it do?

Anon S, featured quite a bit in the Love or Children book made from the blog, said she was worried about being found out. She won’t be. Even I don’t know her name or where she lives. With the exception of a few friends from other parts of my life, I don’t know who anybody here really is. All I know is what you tell me, and that’s fine. I want this to be a safe space.

Last week, I attended the first Childless Collective Summit. Most of the speakers talked about infertility. Our main focus here is on our problems with partners who can’t or won’t make babies with us. I feel bad for those with both kinds of problems. I can’t imagine your pain.

Some aspects of childlessness are common to us all—grief, feeling left out, dealing with rude questions, worrying about our future, etc. I wonder how many women attending the Summit, which lasted for four whole days, felt they had to hide what they were doing. If so, it took real courage just to be there, even on Zoom. And God bless Katy Seppi of Chasing Creation who organized the whole thing.

I hate that some (many?) of you have to join us in secret. If we’re ever going to find peace, we need to be able to talk about our situations, admit to our grief and claim our efforts to make sense of life without children. To put it in psych talk, we need to “own our stories.”

In Jody Day’s keynote speech at the Summit, she said that 10 percent of people without children are childless by choice, 10 percent by infertility, and 80 percent by circumstance. That’s us. We need to be free to talk about it and to support each other. Childlessness for whatever reason should not be seen as a dirty secret we need to hide under the mattress like porn magazines. 

Relationships are difficult, especially when you disagree about children. In addition to your partner, you may have stepchildren looking over your shoulder. I can hear them saying, “You’re not childless; you have me.” We all know that’s not the same. We also have parents, siblings, co-workers and friends who just don’t get it. But we have every right to say, “This is my situation. I’m trying to deal with it. I hope someday you will understand.”

It makes me sad to realize you have to hide your reading about childlessness. I pray you can all find space and your own computers, tablets or phones to read whatever you want and the courage to declare, “This is important to me, so I’m going to read it.”

How is it for you? Do you feel free to read and comment or is this something you need to hide? What can we do to change the situation? I look forward to your comments.

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Childlessness needn’t define who we are

“Childless is one of the many things I am.”

A year ago last weekend, I was at the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio, listening to Jody Day say this. At the time it was one of many things the founder of Gateway-Women and author of Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children, said as I scribbled madly to capture it all in my notebook. But this one line alone gives me a lot to think about this week.

Last Sunday at church, we listened to a visiting priest preach that sex is only allowed in marriage and only for the purpose of creating children. Furthermore, all forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization are sins. What do you tell the men who insist on having sex before, during and after marriage? What if you can’t have children? What if you and your partner disagree about whether to have children? This young bearded priest, presumably celibate all his life, has no idea how complicated real life can get. It is never black and white, more like a rainbow of colors.

And what does he say to those of us in the pews who have not used our bodies as vessels for children? Are we then worthless? Once again, I’m saying things that might get me in trouble at my church job, but they need to be said. It’s not just the Catholic church either. I’m hearing preachers of other denominations on the news saying women should be content with their role as mothers. But what if we can’t be mothers?

We are not worthless. Childless is just one of the things you and I are. It’s a big thing. It makes us different from 80 percent of the adults around us. It affects everything else in our lives. That’s why I wrote my Childless by Marriage book. I wanted people to know how different our lives are because we never had children. But Jody Day is right. It’s not everything, and we should not miss all the good things in our lives because of the one thing we missed.

I am not just a woman without children, any more than I am just a woman whose husband died. I’m a dog-mom, musician, writer, homeowner, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. I have a family history I’m proud of. I’m the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree, and the bookshelf bearing my published works is getting full. I like to cook, travel, take long walks, do yoga, learn new songs, watch movies, and read books. I dabble in needlework and make quilted wall hangings. If I could do it over, I might be a mother, too, but I can’t waste my life dwelling on what I don’t have or letting people make me feel like damaged goods because I failed to procreate.

How about you? What else are you besides someone without children? Even if you’re still hoping to have children, there’s more to be proud of. Let’s make a list to remind ourselves that childless is not all we are.

I look forward to reading your comments.

 

When people assume we have children

I sit in a windowless conference room at a Doubletree Inn listening to yet another speaker talk about finding time to write. Children, especially little ones, seem to be the biggest obstacle for most. So needy, so 24/7. You can get up before sunrise or write late at night. Write while they’re at school or napping. Write in waiting rooms or on the bleachers during their sports events. Hire a babysitter for an hour. Steal whatever time you can.

My mind wanders off. I know all that. I just never needed to worry about it. I never had a baby to take care of. By the time my youngest stepson moved in, he was old enough to take care of himself—and he preferred it that way. In one of my favorite memories, Michael trooped through the house with his friends. As they passed my office, where I was writing, he said, “There’s my mom. She’s a writer.”

Sure, there were school activities, Boy Scouts and such, but they were no big intrusion on my work. I wrote for three different newspapers and worked on the novel du-jour unfettered. Ironically, the walls of my office those first few years of full-time step-motherhood were wallpapered with Care Bears. I suppose the room was intended as a nursery. I enjoyed looking at the bears while I nurtured words instead of babies.

Husbands can be a bigger interruption. They need attention, too, but for me, husband number one was never around, and husband number two found it amusing when I raced off to throw words on paper. He had his own work during the week, and on weekends, it was football all day long. When he got sick with Alzheimer’s Disease, finding time was more difficult. I wrote after he went to bed, while he was watching football, or while his caregivers took him to lunch. I talked my stories into a voice recorder in the car. I got it done.

Back at the Doubletree, the speaker drones on and on. He assumes we all have children and spouses to care for, that we are all just like him, but we’re not. We might wish we were, but we didn’t ease into a “normal” family situation like he did. We don’t have family dinners, soccer games, and trips to the beach. We don’t buy school clothes, throw kid birthday parties, or nurse children with chicken pox. It’s just us, writing, and we’d like him to please change the subject.

People assume. A childless Facebook friend recently told about how an older woman started talking to her at a coffee shop. The woman gushed about her six grandchildren, then asked the writer how many grandchildren she had. She had to admit she had none, which brought the conversation to an awkward halt. She found the encounter terribly upsetting. You all would understand. But the grandmother didn’t mean any harm. She just assumed that all women of a certain age have grandchildren.

We don’t. With one out of five of women not having children, there are a lot of us who don’t have grandchildren either. Hey world, stop assuming.

A few days before Easter, I made the mistake of going out to lunch at one of our most popular local diners. It was spring break, and people were lined up waiting for tables. Lots of kids. So many kids. When I went to the restroom, I found myself waiting with a woman in her 30s. We could hear a mom in one of the two stalls talking to her kids. We heard yelling and whining. It took forever. When they came out, the other woman and I stared. She had three girls under the age of four in that little stall.

When the door shut behind them, the woman said, “My worst nightmare.”

I nodded. “Really.” This was not the time to explain my childless situation.

We rushed to use the empty stalls. She probably assumed I was a mom. I assumed she didn’t want children, but when I came out, her husband and son were waiting for her.

Never assume.

The good news is I’m free to write here in my bathrobe for as long as I choose and then share it with you while my dog takes a nap . . . Oops. Here’s the dog, needing attention. Yesterday she chewed half a pen, and I still don’t know where the other half went. Gotta go.

Is This Our Choice: Mother or Workaholic?

“Just Because a Woman is Childless Doesn’t Mean She wants to Be a Workaholic” by Rachelle Hampton, Slate, March 30, 2018

This article set off all kinds of bells in my head. When I read it, I was doing my 10th hour at my desk, which tells you something. Today, I got up early today and watered the plants, mopped the floors, and organized my church music before settling down to write all day, followed by playing music at church.

There’s so much to do, I could argue. No matter how hard I work, I never catch up because I’m the one and only worker keeping the Lick family ship afloat. I can’t delegate tasks, say mowing lawns or grocery shopping, to a husband or even to helpful offspring because I don’t have any. Some days, I want to burn it all down, writing, music, house and yard, and walk away.

But am I a workaholic? Probably. I’m not good at relaxing. Am I workaholic because I don’t have children? That’s a harder question. Sometimes I think I work all the time so I don’t have to face being alone. Does that ring any bells for you?

I might work even harder if I had children because I’d want to do things for them, whether it’s making their lunches and driving them to soccer practice when they’re young or planning special birthdays and taking care of their kids when they’re grown. But that would be a different kind of work, work inspired by love and focused on other people’s needs. And they might in turn do things for me. At least that’s the theory.

I believe I was born to write and play music. If anyone asked me to stop writing or doing music, I would refuse. I would leave a man before I’d do that. So am I a workaholic? Would I choose my work over my children? I’m probably lucky I’ll never find out.

Hampton is talking more about younger people with regular jobs, about how some employers assume women without children, like the men, are totally free to take on extra tasks and extra hours while the moms have to run home to the kids. They mistakenly assume that those of us without children don’t have lives away from work.

She’s also talking about this wrestler, John Cena, who believes that husbands are free to be married to their work, but wives have to put home, husband and children first. It’s kids or the job, not both, a mindset that goes back to the 1950s and my own parents. My mother and others of her generation gave up their own aspirations to raise the children. But hey, dude, it’s 2018. Time to share the load.

Hampton quotes a study that shows 40 percent of managers don’t want to hire women in their 20s and 30s because they might get pregnant and because mothers aren’t as good at their jobs. Grr. Those of us who are childless not by choice would love the chance to prove them wrong.

So what do you think? If we aren’t moms, are we destined to be workaholics? I welcome your comments and your experiences with this. That includes any men reading this. I want to hear your thoughts, too.

 

 

Being Childless by Unfortunate Timing

 

When I try to puzzle out why I never had children, I think the real answer is timing. The kids I might have had got lost in the crunch between my divorce and my second marriage. The first marriage fell apart—and probably should never have happened. The second husband was older and already had all the kids he wanted. End of story. Nobody in this story is evil. It just happened that way.

I honestly believe that if husband number one and I had had a better marriage, we would still be together and would have spent Christmas with our grandchildren. Sure, he was reluctant to have children, but I think he would have bowed to pressure from me and his parents eventually. Maybe not. Maybe I’m dreaming. He has had two other wives and didn’t have children with either one of them. But yes, I think it would have happened if not for the cheating, the booze, and the fact that he decided he didn’t love me. He would have been no help with the kids, but they would exist.

Also, my career would be toast. But that’s a whole other story.

One of the guys I dated between marriages was hot to have more babies to add to the two sons he had with his first wife. We were the same age. Our babies would have been beautiful. But that was not a good match either.

No, I immediately knew Fred was “the one.” I thought he was younger. I thought he was still fertile. I thought we’d figure it out . . .

Timing. In this age of multiple marriages, some of us just get caught in-between and lose our chance to be moms. It’s lousy, but it happens.

Have some of you fallen into this situation? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

***

My Christmas was good. I was busy with church music and friends. I missed my husband, but I honestly didn’t miss the children I didn’t have as I watched my church choir friends running around like crazy people trying to spend time with everyone and dealing with all kinds of family drama. My friends showered me with love, food and presents.

After Christmas Mass, Annie the dog and I read and napped, watched videos, and took a long walk, wishing Merry Christmas to the neighbor dogs. After four Masses playing church music, I played the piano some more just for fun. With no one else to please, I ate raviolis and Portuguese sausage for dinner, all in the glow of my tiny Christmas tree and the lights I hung around the house.

It was my first Christmas alone without a meltdown. It can be done, dear friends. We can be happy without children. The most important thing for me was to stop comparing my life with everyone else’s. That just leads to pain. So, don’t do it.

I wish you all the best of new years. See you in 2018.

 

Babies delayed means babies denied

Wildfires rage throughout the west. Parts of Texas and Louisiana have been devastated by the winds and floods of Hurricane Harvey. Florida is being evacuated in the path of Hurricane Irma. The world is going crazy. We won’t even talk about the insanity in Washington D.C. these days or the fear of Korea nuking the world into oblivion. It’s a time to pray or do whatever you do in times of crisis.

Meanwhile, a reader named Susie has written to me with a broken heart. Her partner kept putting off having children. Now in her 40s, she finds the possibility of never having a family unbearable. I feel so bad for her, even while part of me wants to shout, “What were you doing all those years when you were fully fertile? Why did you let him control such an important decision?” And then I remember, oh yeah, I did that, too.

Here’s what she wrote:

My partner of 8 years never said he didn’t want children. His standard line was, “Yes, but not right now”. This went on for years until aged 40 I broke up with him. At 41, after a year apart, he won me back over with promises of “we will try for a family.” And then his actions continued to be in the way. Obviously, me being “old” made things harder. At the same time, he did not participate in the process 100% (I mean he did not alter his habits of alcohol, smoking, and also reproductive behavior (that is, he was often too tired/stressed/maybe later). He was resistant to see a specialist and dragged his feet to attend tests and medical appointments. He postponed plans for IVF.

 So it never happened for us. And four years on from when we got back together, I am torn between the grief and sadness of childlessness and anger and resentment towards him. I am angry because he was not honest with me and I feel he kept me there whilst not really having the same view of what the future should hold for us. I was always honest of what I dreamt to achieve in this world (parenthood being a big part of who I want to be in this life). I feel manipulated into a life I did not want. Sometimes I take full responsibility for this outcome and see it as a result of my choices. And sometimes I feel I was cheated. I don’t know how to reconcile this. I love my husband. He is the best thing that ever happened to me. And then, he is also the worst thing that ever happened to me. And I don’t know how to go on from this.

 To be honest, I don’t know what to tell her, except that at this point, she needs to find a way to accept that they will not have biological children and move on. Much easier said than done. I could suggest adopting or becoming a foster parent, but that probably wouldn’t work either. All a person can do is grieve the loss and keep living every day. Find other things that give you joy. Find ways to be around children if it doesn’t hurt too much. And sometimes, if you’re like me, you curse and kick things because you just plain f—-d up.

What do you think? What advice do you have for Susie? Chime in, friends. We’re in this together.