Without children, what marks the mileposts in our lives?

When my mother was 22, she got married and became a wife. At 25, she gave birth to me and became a mother. At 43, she attended my high school graduation. At 47, she attended my college graduation and my first wedding and moved into a new empty-nest phase. At 56, she attended my second wedding. At 58, she became a step-grandmother and at 60 a grandmother. At 75, she died of cancer. She did not go to college or have a career of her own. She lived in the same house all of her adult life.

The events of her children’s lives served as the markers for my mother’s life. There were other events: the year her brother was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident. The year my father broke his leg. The year Dad retired. The years that her parents died. But for the most part, her roles as mother and grandmother marked the stages of her life. If she had a gravestone, it would likely say “loving wife and mother.”

Not so for me or for you who do not have children. In some ways, our roles never change. I’m still the daughter and the sister, never the mother or grandmother. I mark my life stages with my own weddings, graduations, jobs and book publications. I earned my bachelor’s degree at 22, my master of fine arts degree at 51. I was married at 22 and at 33. I was 38 when my first book was published. I was 44 when we moved to Oregon. I was 50 when my mother died. I was 52 when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 59 when he died.

I attended some of my stepchildren’s graduations and both of my stepdaughter’s weddings. I was around when her children were born, but somehow these events don’t mark MY life. I was too young to really be a grandmother, and I was not the one the kids called “Mom” as they posed in caps and gowns.

Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time reconciling who I am on the outside with who I am on the inside these days. If I had children to mark the milestones of my life, I would have felt the progression from daughter to wife to mother to grandmother to great-grandmother. I would see the gray hair in the mirror and think well of course; I’m a grandmother, instead of holy shit, what happened. Maybe I wouldn’t cling to my father so hard if there were other younger people filling out the family tree behind me.

Ideally, I think the major events of our lives should be a blend of our own and our children’s, but if we have no children, how do we mark the stages of our lives? How do we progress from one role to the next when the circle of life is a straight line? When do we finally feel grown up? Look at your own lives. What are the major events you will remember, the things that changed everything? How are we different because we haven’t had children?

Related reading:

http://www.higherawareness.com/lists/major-life-changes.html  “Major Life Changes—A List of Choices” Here’s a list of things to think about.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/lifes-25-major-milestones-ages-5721180 “Life’s Major Milestones and the Ages You ‘Should’ Have Achieved Them” This list is just for fun. You will probably laugh at these.

http://jezebel.com/your-official-list-of-new-life-milestones-612710155 “Your Official List of New Life Milestones” from Jezebel gives us something to think about.

So what are mileposts markers for your life? I welcome your comments.

Should she stay with her boyfriend who doesn’t want kids?

In responding to a previous post, “They stayed in a childless marriage,” Maria commented:

I see most replies are from people who chose to stay in a marriage. I am not married yet but I love my boyfriend dearly. I know sometimes you’re biased by love but I genuinely think he’s perfect for me in every other aspect. He makes me feel happy, safe, understood, loved. He’s a very caring person and I have never felt like this about anyone. I feel it is very unlikely that I will find someone with as high a compatibility as I have with him. He says he’s unsure about having children because he feels he’s too old (38) and that it would be too great of a lifestyle change. Ultimately the financial burden that comes with children is also something he is concerned about even though he’s more than stable financially. He just wants to retire very comfortably and without much worries at an early age. He even told me that if he won the lottery, he would agree to have children. I am 31 and for most of my adult life, I have known that I wanted children so it breaks my heart to have found a wonderful man and for us not to agree on the one issue for which there is no compromise.

Is there anyone out there who wasn’t married but chose to stay with their significant other that can share their story?

I would like to hear those stories, too. This comment also raises two questions I’d like you to ponder with me.

  1. Is it truly different when you’re not married to the person? You don’t have legal ties, but so often, I hear from readers who are so in love and so sure that this person is “the one” that they can’t imagine leaving. Are the emotional connections more constricting than the so-called bonds of matrimony? Looking from the outside, we might say, “Hey, move on, Maria,” but should she? Can she? And will this issue ultimately keep them from getting married?
  2. What about the money part of it? We know that raising children is expensive. It often requires sacrifice and perhaps working at jobs you’d rather not have. Instead of taking a trip to Europe or enrolling in grad school, you’re paying for braces on your kids’ teeth. My father would say, “Well, that’s the way it is.” But he was born almost a hundred years ago and grew up in an era when everyone had children if they could. How many of you are hearing worries about money as part of the reason why your partners are reluctant to procreate? As Maria suggests, would it be different if they won the lottery and had lots of money? Short of winning the lottery, how can you ease these worries?

Maria isn’t the only one dealing with these issues. I welcome your input. Please comment.

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My role as dog mom is getting intense. Next week, Annie will be having knee surgery. Read about it on my other blog, Unleashed in Oregon. I’m extremely worried about how I will manage her recovery by myself. The last time I went through this kind of surgery with a dog, my husband was here to help look after her and to lift her into the car when we needed to take her to the vet. Now it’s just me. What if I have to go out and she hurts herself? At this moment, although not having children has left a vast crater where family ought to be, I feel much worse about not having a partner. Something to ponder as you decide what to do with your life.

Thank you all for being here.

 

 

Are childless leaders more–or less–fit to govern?

Dear readers,

Please excuse today’s mix tape of subjects. I have been running back and forth to California to take care of my dad, dealing with fallen-tree damage at my house, and preparing for my dog to have surgery, along with at least five other tragedies I won’t mention here. This year has been crazy. All this caregiving is helping me understand the distracted single-mindedness of mothers. It’s hard to think about anything else.

  • While American politicians always trot out the wife and kids as if that validates them somehow, many European leaders of late don’t have children. Among them is Emmanuel Macron, just elected as France’s president. As you can read in this article, “Emmanuel Macron and the barren elite of a changing continent,” many other countries are choosing childless leaders. Voters and opponents complain that they can’t possibly govern effectively without having children, but the leaders of Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Luxembourg, and Scotland, and the head of the European Union are all without children. Is there something about the time and energy required to be government officials that puts parenting low on the priority list? What do you think?
  • Mother’s Day is tough. Going to church can make it tougher. Our new pastor is totally insensitive to the feelings of women who are not mothers. I sat up front at the piano when he had the mothers stand for a blessing last weekend. I swear I felt like I had a giant B for barren emblazoned on my forehead. This Washington Post article, “On Mother’s Day, many women feel overlooked by churches,” takes a look at the way churches make non-moms feel left out or alternatively try to include all women as “mothers,” which doesn’t seem right either. If you go to church, how do they handle it at your church? Do you stay home on Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day)?
  • “New census estimates show that most women age 25-29 are childless” New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that more than half of women in their 20s have not yet given birth. IN 1976, only 30.8 percent were childless at that age.  By age 44, when we can assume that most have passed childbearing age, 14 percent were childless. Many caught up in their 30s or early 40s, but that still leaves a lot of us without children.

Time to walk the gimpy dog. Thank you for being here. I welcome your comments.

 

Childless women in power face scrutiny

Today’s post is sparked by an article in The Australian news site which discusses the rise in power of several childless women, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, former Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and the first woman premier in Tasmania, Lara Giddings. None of them have children.

In her article “Berejiklian, Gillard, May, Merkel: power to childless women?” [link not available]  author Caroline Overington notes that these women in power are always asked about their motherhood status. They are rarely mentioned without that word, childless, attached. Is it really relevant? When Merkel was running for chancellor, she got lots of flak for not having children. People asked: How can she understand the needs of parents and families if she has never given birth?

Do people judge the males in power by their parenting prowess? Sure, most of the men trot out their families on special occasions–note the constant presence of U.S. President Donald Trump’s offspring–but does it have any connection to their ability to govern? Still, can you think of any male world leader who does not have children?

All of these women have been publicly asked why they don’t have children. May has struggled with infertility, so it’s like that’s okay, she tried, it wasn’t her fault. In Australia, a former male senator commented that Gillard had kept herself “deliberately barren” while she pursued her career. Ouch.

Things don’t always turn out the way you plan, Berejiklian says, refusing to get more specific. “I hope that people judge me on my merits and what I can do.”

Women are still rare in high office. Overington contends that most women are occupied with childcare while the men, despite whatever moves toward equality have occurred, are  freer to work their way to the top because they’ve got wives to deal with the kids.

You have to admit there’s some truth to that. Although we may not have done it, we can all see that childcare is and should be an intense round-the-clock occupation that doesn’t leave much time or energy for anything else, unless you can afford to pay someone to take care of the kids. It is easier to work at any career without having to worry about children. Most of us here would be willing to take on the challenge and some of us are already dealing with the responsibilities of parenthood through our stepchildren, but it’s hard.

To me, it seems like women in power will be criticized from both directions. If they have children, then they must be neglecting them. If they don’t, something must be wrong with them. Right?

If Hillary Clinton had won the U.S. presidency, she could please the pro-parenting crowd because she’s a mother and grandmother, but she was also free to do the job because her only child, daughter Chelsea, is a grown woman who not only can take care of herself but can campaign for her mom. Clinton did not become president, but it had nothing to do with whether or not she had children.

In the U.S., where our new president just took office 12 days ago, we have seen many recent pictures of politicians on stage with their spouses and their children. If I were running for office, I might be standing on that stage alone. What would people say about that? Does it matter?

So, what do you think? Does a woman need to be childless to rise to the top? Will she be forever disrespected if she doesn’t have children? Why is it so different for men? Or is it?

I’m full of questions today. Help me figure out some answers in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Childless post 550, same question persists

Dear childless friends,

We seem to have discussed everything there is to discuss about being childless by marriage. This is my 550th post! How many times can we go over the “stay or go” dilemma? The mate, usually the man, doesn’t want kids; you do. Should you leave in the hope of finding someone else or stick around and hope that you can live with the decision or, better, change, his mind? The answer is always: Talk to your mate, be honest about how you feel, and decide which you want more, kids or this partner. Unless the relationship is already a mess or you’ve only been dating for a week and a half. Then the answer seems clear to me. Move on!

Funny nobody has written here about having an affair with someone who would be happy to make babies together. Should she leave to be with the potential baby daddy or get pregnant and tell her husband, “Oops, I guess some sperm slipped through all the layers of birth control”? Is nobody doing that, or does that only happen in fiction? You can tell us anonymously in the comments.

I did date someone who tempted me with the babies we could have. I wasn’t married at the time, but technically he was. The kids he had were gorgeous, and he really hated birth control. But no, he was not the right guy. And once I met Fred, I didn’t want any other man. I never considered leaving him to have babies.

It’s all a done deal for me now. My namesake niece, age 29, is going for the mommy job in a different way. She has just been approved to become a foster mother. A child could be arriving any day. She is not married. She works full-time. How she’s going to do this, I don’t know, but she’ll have plenty of help and advice. Her brother and his wife just had a baby last year, and her mom is over the moon with grandmotherhood. Her cousins and friends keep having babies. Being a strong, assertive young woman, she decided to go for it on her own. She is braver than I ever was.

My cousin and his wife just announced their pregnancy on Facebook. I’m glad for them. This will be their second child and it will be great for their daughter to have a little sister. I added my congratulations to the many congrats pouring in. But it’s all very far away, geographically and in terms of life experiences. I can hear the babies crying and the children playing in the distance, but I’m busy with other things. For the most part, I’m happy. Are there times when it hurts? Yes, especially when I see family photos of women my age surrounded by kids and grandkids. All I’ve got is myself and my dog, and she can’t work the camera. But what’s done is done. I curse for a minute and move on.

Speaking of moving on, I’m delighted that Halloween is over. Aren’t you? This morning, I saw my first TV Christmas ad for kids’ toys. Yikes.

So readers, what have we not talked about here? What concerns about your childless life would you like to see discussed? I’m here for you.

I’m childless, but my life is full of blessings

Last night I had pizza for dinner. Just pizza. No salad, no veggies, no dessert, no wine or beer. No meat. Just half of a homemade mushroom and olive pizza. I ate it while reading a book. Nearby the dog crunched on her kibble. After dinner, I would decide whether or not to wash my dishes—not—and go off to church choir practice. Later I would grab a cookie and settle in to watch whatever I wanted on TV (Have you seen the new show “This is Us”? Watch it.) In the commercials, I would check email, and when I ran out of email, I would play solitaire on my phone. Then I’d turn off the lights, give the dog a Milk-Bone and go to sleep, undisturbed by man, child or dog (unless we had another thunderstorm).

This is the selfish, self-contained life of a woman in her 60s with no children and no husband. I don’t have to share, I don’t have to plan balanced meals, and I don’t have to coordinate my activities with anyone else. Do I get lonely? Do I turn to the emptiness on the other side of the bed and remember early morning kisses and smiles? Do I wish my phone would ring and a voice would say, “Hi Mom, how are you?” Do I feel like I blew it when I realize that I’m this old and I never had kids? Of course.

But we can’t change what happened before; we can only go on from here. And for those of you who are terrified you’re end up alone like me, “here” is not terrible. In fact, most of the time, I like it.

Advising people to count their blessings is such a cliché, but it helps. Right now, at 7:30 a.m., it’s just getting light here on the Oregon coast. An hour ago, I could see the moon through the kitchen skylight. Now the sky is quilted with gray clouds that are slowly turning pink over the pine trees. It’s going to be a beautiful day. For the first time in over a week, no rain is predicted. I am alive, I am healthy, and I have work that I love. I have a good house and just enough money to pay for it. I have friends and family to cherish. I have Annie, the sweetest dog in the world.

No, I don’t have children, and my husband died. That sucks, but I can’t change it. I look at the sky getting lighter every minute, and I go on.

I know that many of you are half my age or younger and still trying to figure out what to do in relationships where your partner is reluctant or unable to have children. Stay or go? Accept being childless or fight against it? Now is the time in your life when you can still change things. I remember the turmoil of those days, the feeling that I had to do something but not knowing what to do.

You have to face reality. When you marry someone who has been married before and who has already had children, they’re finished with that stage of life. You come in as the second course (or third, or dessert), and they’re just not ready to start over. They might be willing, but it’s understandable if they’re not. It’s a cold way to look at it, but it’s true. Can their children make up for the ones you might never have? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s worth a try.

However, if you started out together thinking you’d have children, then you have every right to demand that your partner stick to the original plan. You do not have to hide your tears or your anger. Make it known that their refusal to have children or their refusal to make a decision about it is not fair.

I got an annulment in the Catholic church because my first husband refused to have kids. The archdiocesan tribunal in San Francisco ruled that it was never a valid marriage. To be honest, that marriage was doomed anyway, but the church ruled in my favor against my baby-refusing husband. Now on his third marriage, he never did have any children. I loved him. I thought we’d have children and a long, happy life together. I had no way of predicting how things would turn out.

Where am I going with this? In a valid marriage, in a genuine loving partnership, you agree on important things like having children. You’re open to talking about it. And you don’t deny something so essential to someone you want to spend your life with. On the other hand, if one of you is physically unable to have children, then both of you are unable to have children. You’re in it together.

Take a look at your life and your relationship. Is it worth keeping just as it is? Do you wake up happy every morning that he or she is there? Can you count your blessings? Or do you need to take another path before it’s too late so that when you get to my age, you can wake up and say, “Life is good”?

The pink clouds have faded to white against a pale blue sky. The dog is asleep in her chair. It’s time to get dressed and brew another cup of tea. Life is good.

What do you think? I treasure your comments.

 

No, I am not my dog’s mother

annie-9314Back in 2008, I published one post after another about my puppies Annie and Chico. This was my motherhood experience, I believed. The pups were exactly the size of human newborns when my late husband Fred and I picked them up from a nearby breeder. For that first year, I was obsessed with those furry critters. There was an element of mothering, the feeding, the cleaning, the shots, the classes. I even had a puppy shower, hosted by my church choir. I was a raggedy mess as I neglected my poor husband because it was all about the puppies.

Reality woke me up. Fred’s Alzheimer’s became so advanced in 2009 that I had to put him in a nursing home. Now the dogs were big enough to knock me down. Chico started jumping the fence and fighting with neighbor dogs. After months of chasing him and threats from the neighbors, I gave him up to a shelter. So it was just me and Annie. Did I think of myself as her mom? Yes, but I don’t anymore, even though I devoted a whole chapter to dog-motherhood in my Childless by Marriage book.

Annie, now eight and a half years old, is my friend, my companion, and my responsibility, but she is not my child. I continue to live in a home that is much too big for one person with a yard that I can’t quite keep up because of Annie. I hesitate to travel because she doesn’t travel well and I hate to leave her. She is a constant responsibility, but no, she’s not my baby. She’s just Annie, an aging yellow dog with arthritis.

Does she help fill the gap where children would be? Some. Get a dog or a cat. It helps. A cat or a little dog stays baby-sized forever. But it does not take away the sting when I get to hold someone’s infant for five minutes then have to give her back because she’s not mine and I will never have one of my own. Last week I had that chance and it felt good until reality kicked in again like a punch in the stomach. No children, no grandchildren. Ever. I hate it.

But a dog does help. When I got home from my travels, Annie leaped in joy. We collapsed together on the loveseat as she wiggled all over, licked my face and let me know that I had just made her the happiest dog in the world. I probably wouldn’t have gotten that kind of greeting from my kids.

No, my dog is not my child. But she is a precious gift, and I’d glad she’s here.

What about you? Do you have pets? Do you think of yourself as their mother or father? Do you know people who do? Let’s talk about it.

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Want to read some of those old puppy posts?

“Sounds Like Motherhood to Me”

“Sometimes Even Puppies are Too Much”

“Puppy Love is the Best”