In a society where most people have kids, some of us don't because our partners are unable or unwilling to make babies. That's what this blog and my book, Childless by Marriage, are about. Let's talk about what it's really like.
I survived Thanksgiving. 1636 miles of driving. Four different motels. Some much-needed hugs and talks with loved ones, too much good food, and getting reacquainted with my niece, nephew, cousins, and six children ranging from five months to six years old, and two dogs. Exhausting but also wonderful. Three of the little ones were my brother’s grandchildren. The other three belong to my cousin. Thanks to Covid, the kids hadn’t seen me in two years. They weren’t quite sure who I was at first, but we worked that out. I have precious memories of playing in the sandbox, making pretend meals, snuggling, and talking. So sweet. So fun. So loud and messy. 🙂 And no, I didn’t feel bad about not having children. Maybe it’s my age, but I was able to just enjoy the children for the magical beings they are.
Being an aunt rocks. I hope I don’t have to stay away so long next time. One of the little cousins has been video-chatting with me on Facebook messenger. It’s so fun to see her gap-toothed smile on the screen. I think I need to do more online visits. Aunt Sue is tired of driving.
Will they come to Oregon to visit me? Maybe, maybe not. Young families are not as portable as single adults like me. Watching their struggles for a few days has opened my eyes to the challenges of parenthood that come between the cute baby phase and sending them off to college. I need to make the effort because they just don’t have the time or the energy right now. That may be true in your family, too.
Only now that I’m back at home do I feel lonely and miss the company and the commotion. If you are finding the holidays very painful right now, believe me when I say that they will become easier as you pass menopause and move on to other possibilities.
So, tell me. How did your Thanksgiving go? Are there things you did this year that you will not do next year? Did you try my suggestions from last week about speaking up when people say stupid things about you not having children? Please share in the comments. Thanksgiving was just the warmup. Hanukkah is happening now, and Christmas is coming at us like a runaway stagecoach. We need all the support we can get.
Hugs from Aunt Sue
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Thanksgiving is upon us again. Maybe, like me, you have already left home and are among the people with whom you’re going to celebrate the holiday. Maybe, like me, you will be seeing people you haven’t seen since the pandemic started. Now, masked and vaccinated, you’re hoping it’s safe, at least from Covid-19.
You may already be facing the questions from friends and family that drive you crazy. “Hey, when are you going to have kids? “Don’t you want to have kids?” “I want to be a grandmother. Where are my grandkids?” “You’re looking a little chubby. Are you pregnant?”
You could spend the whole holiday sulking. But don’t. I hope we have learned something in our time of isolation. My prescription for this year is to be honest. Don’t just think it; say it. Don’t mutter to yourself or your partner. Tell people how you feel. “Mom, those questions really hurt.” “We are trying.” “No, we haven’t decided yet.” “My partner does not want to have children, and I have decided to support him in that.” “We’re having trouble getting pregnant.” “I just don’t want to talk about it.” “Please don’t say things like that; it hurts.” “It’s hard for me to be around your kids when I may never have any of my own.” Tell the truth. If people don’t take it well, that’s their problem. If they love you, they will do their best to understand and support you. Maybe next time someone says something hurtful, a family member will say, “Hey, get off her back. She’s working on it.”
There’s always the option to skip the turkey fest and go eat burritos somewhere nobody knows you. Or stay home and watch Netflix. But why miss the good parts of the holiday? I know there are things you are thankful for. If you get to hang out with other people’s kids, enjoy them. If you like pumpkin pie, enjoy the pie.
Don’t silently fume and go cry in the bathroom. Share your burden. it will be lighter if you do.
I dictated this post while driving south on I-5 in California. I know there will be less than perfect moments. My niece’s kids haven’t seen me in so long they won’t know who I am. But I’ll just have to get to know them because they are magical little people.
If you are grieving, think about a woman at my church who has suffered many losses, including the death of a daughter and the loss of her eyesight. She allows herself to cry for five minutes a day, then says, “Shirley, get on with it,” and moves on. Take your five minutes, then let it go for a while.
I am thankful for you. Last week when I was falling apart, you were on my side. Together, we can do this.
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I have been reading old posts and your wonderful comments in the hope of bringing everything up to date and putting together a “Best-of” Childless by Marriage book. So many of you say nice things about my blog and about me. I am so grateful. You have no idea how much your support and your comments help me. We’re all in this situation together.
I wish I could be anonymous like you. Some members of my family have taken great offense at my posts. Maybe I should have chosen a pen name, ala Dear Sugar or Dear Abby. Too late now. To all of them, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please don’t hate me, but you who have spouses and children and grandchildren have no idea what it’s like for those of us who don’t. Lucky you.
Meanwhile, I want to pay homage to some of the people who have been commenting here for years. Anon S., SilverShiloh, Candy, loribeth, Tony, Marybeth, Crystal, Mali, Jenny, and so many others, including many Anonymouses whom I can tell apart by the way you write, a million thank yous. To those who have bravely used their real names, you rock. To those who have just started reading, welcome. Let’s take a minute to picture ourselves in a big room together and thank each other. C’mon, group hug. Pass the hot toddies around. Ooh, and the fudge.
Can you all come to my house next Christmas?
So, the old church choir director job is gone :-(, and I have moved to a new church, where I can sing, play guitar and tambourine if I want, and shout “Hallelujah” if I feel so moved. 🙂 There’s no pay, and I’m not in charge of the music, but I feel welcome there. Like my old church, this one is also Catholic, but it’s a less repressive version which most of my friends escaped to before I did.
Joining a new parish means filling out a registration form for my “family.” That paper is going to have a lot of blank spots. Spouse? Employer? Children? Yikes. However, on the other side is a list of tasks people can volunteer to do. I can check off a whole bunch of them—music, bulletin, stitchery, bazaar–maybe more than others because of all those blank spaces on the “family” side. Something to be grateful for.
Just like I’m grateful for you.
Hang in there. Christmas will be over in two weeks. In three weeks, we get a bright shiny new year. And a new decade. Isn’t that amazing? We are already 20 years into the 2000s. And we’re still here.
Thanksgiving had barely started when my sister-in-law told her grandchildren, “Don’t bother Aunt Sue. She doesn’t do kids.”
I couldn’t let that ride, especially when I really wanted to get to know my great-niece and nephew better. I responded, “Just because I don’t have any of my own doesn’t mean I don’t like them.”
But as much as I hate to admit it, she might be right. The little ones, ages 1 and 2, are a handful. Add four dogs, one of them a tiny pup that got attacked by one of the bigger dogs early on, and my late father’s gaping absence, and things were a little hectic.
While I was there for Thanksgiving, I had a project: going through boxes of photos and memorabilia taken from my father’s house. Try doing that when a two-year-old thinks it’s fun to grab papers and rip them up. I was not amused when he tore a notebook with some of my grandfather’s writing. Or when he insisted I pick him up and kept launching himself at my back. It reminded me of the overgrown puppy my husband and I kept for only a few weeks before we took him back to the animal shelter. Too much energy! When I discovered the boy had a cold, I was even less appreciative. Dang it, I don’t want to get sick.
With the dogs, however, I felt comfortable. I could talk to them, pet them, hug them, slip them snacks, and take them out for walks. Even when I discovered one of them sleeping in my bed because that’s where she usually sleeps, and even though I knew her long fur would stir up my allergies, I was fine with it.
But the children. That was like trying to jump into a conversation in a language for which I only know a few words. I winced every time I heard something crash, begged off the third time the boy tried to climb on me because I have a bad back, and did not even think to offer to change a diaper or give them food. I’m not sure I know how.
I got scolded when I got my grandfather’s accordion out of the case, just to see what it looked like and maybe figure out how to play a few notes. “We have sleeping babies!” Oh yeah, naptime. Now that everyone’s awake, I don’t know why the grownups still don’t want to hear me figure out “La Tarantella” on the old accordion that has been sitting in my dad’s closet for at least 25 years.
Maybe some of you have lots of experience with children, but I just don’t. I was terrible at babysitting, which I only did for a little bit. When my brother was a baby, I was too, and I have not had much to do with my stepchildren or their children. I never worked hands-on with kids—singing at them doesn’t count. I wanted to be a mother, and I think I could have learned to be a very good one, but all these years after I was fertile, maybe my sister-in-law is right; Aunt Sue doesn’t do kids. She does dogs. Parallel universes.
Why do I feel so guilty about it?
Eventually my niece took her kids home. My sister-in-law’s brother took their elderly mom home, and it felt like midnight when it was not even prime time yet. Holidays get my time clock all messed up. But the food was good, and we got to hang out together for a while. I’m sure my headache will fade eventually.
In the stacks of photos, I found a woman who apparently was my paternal grandmother’s aunt, whose name was Aunt Sue, and boy, she was ugly. I wonder if she had any children.
Who will spend Thanksgiving figuring out what to do with my old photos when I die?
I can’t worry about that today, but I am inspired to make sure my pictures have names on them. We have bags of photos of people whom we can’t identify. The last person who might have known who they were is gone. We’ll probably end up throwing them away. Label your photos, my friends.
How was your Thanksgiving? Please share. You are welcome to be as ungrateful as you want in the comments.
“This Sunday is Easter,” I told my Dad on the phone the other day.
“Is it? Well, it’s just another day for me.”
I resisted the urge to explain the religious significance, which as a Catholic, he ought to know as well as I do. He says the same thing about Christmas and his birthday. Maybe it’s a self-protective mechanism. If he doesn’t expect anything, he won’t be disappointed.
Me, I expect everything, and I’m always disappointed. That’s why it felt easier this year to spend my March 9 birthday at a Best Western in Blythe, California on my way to Tucson. I ate leftover pizza in my room and chocolate lava cake at Denny’s. No candles, no singing, no gifts. Which is exactly what would have happened at home because I don’t have children and grandchildren to gather around on my birthday, just a dog who doesn’t do birthdays.
Anyway, Easter. For Christians, it’s the most important event of the year, commemorating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. When I was a kid, our daily newspaper would print a full-page picture of a cross, a risen Jesus or a field of lilies with a headline like, “He is risen!” They wouldn’t dare do that now; religion is kept separate from everything else.
I would wake up to Easter baskets sitting on my dresser. The Easter Bunny came during the night! Of course it was my mother, delivering the goodies from herself and my grandparents. Those baskets were full of candy and toys. After a quick look, we all went to Mass, came home to a breakfast of scrambled eggs and linguiça sausage, and dove into the baskets. Soon we were eating the ears off our chocolate bunnies.
Grownups don’t get Easter baskets. If you’re not religious, it looks like Easter is for kids: making color-crayoned pictures of rabbits or papier-mache eggs at school, dyeing hard-boiled eggs, egg hunts at dawn, encounters with adults dressed in rabbit costumes. Candy, toys, parties. Fun!
It’s another one of those holidays that may sting if we don’t have children, especially if we desperately want to have them. Whether you spend a quiet day with adults or watch everyone else’s kids having fun, it can be hard. Hang on. It doesn’t last long.
But there is much to celebrate. Before Easter came about as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, people celebrated the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s a time of rebirth. Out my office window, the robins and jays are back. Daffodils wave their yellow heads. The berry vines are loaded with new green leaves, and the trillium are blooming in the woods. The grass is tall and lush. People may disappoint you, but spring comes every year.
You can tell yourself it’s just another day and try to ignore the whole thing. But why not celebrate? Buy yourself a chocolate bunny. Dye some eggs. Go to church. Or go for a hike. Weep if you must, then go on.
Happy Easter, my friends.
For more information on Easter traditions, click here.
The night after Thanksgiving, my father and I watched “Entertainment Tonight” on TV for lack of anything better to watch. The show was obsessed with babies. They profiled five celebrity couples enjoying their little ones this Thanksgiving. Then they featured two “Dancing with the Stars” pros who are dads now. Then they talked about how Blake Shelton and girlfriend Gwen Stefani can’t wait to have children. Is there no other news to report?
I wish people would stop asking how my Thanksgiving was. They expect glowing tales of happy family gatherings. In truth, I feel almost as bad as the turkey. “Complicated,” I say. “Great food, problematic people. How was your Thanksgiving?”
There was the whole family feud business where only half the usual folks showed up. That had nothing to do with babies, but it hurt.
A family member told me she doesn’t want to exchange Christmas presents with me anymore because she has to focus on her grandchildren. She went on and on about the joys of grandmotherhood, implying that I couldn’t possibly understand and that I was an idiot for never having children. She’s wrong. I know what I’m missing, and it hurts.
I didn’t get to see my great-niece because her parents have gotten divorced and she was with her mom. The child was only a few months old when I saw her last Thanksgiving. Now she’s walking and talking and has no idea who I am.
Meanwhile, I was taking care of my dad round the clock. At 95, with numerous problems, he needs a lot of help and resents every bit of it. My mother didn’t nickname him “El Groucho” for nothing.
On the happier side, we all spent Thanksgiving focused on the antics of my niece’s nine-month-old foster child, whom she is in the process of adopting. She’s hoping by April he will be hers. At 30, my niece does not foresee marriage in her future. My father keeps asking why she became a mother this way, but I think the answer is clear: she wanted to have a child and wasn’t willing to take a chance on it never happening. She has a lot of support from her parents and brother, but it’s still a challenge being a single parent. I am so proud of her. I’m not sure I could be so brave.
Being a foster parent isn’t easy. It took a couple years to get to this point, going through an extensive approval process, waiting for a child, and taking in an older boy who proved too troubled and too violent for her to handle. And of course, the child can always be taken away. But now, fingers crossed, the little blond munchkin eating his first stuffing and pumpkin pie last week will soon be a permanent member of the family, and I will be his great-aunt, aka Super Tia.
So that’s how my Thanksgiving went. It’s a great relief to be back home. How about yours? Report in the comments, then tighten your seat belts. Christmas is coming.
Riley was the star as soon as she arrived at my brother’s house on Thanksgiving. Mike grabbed her right away. He is the sweetest grandpa, holding her while he sits in his big recliner, feeding her and talking to her.
At five months, she’s just beginning to tune in to her surroundings. She can sit up. She watches everything and responds with squeaks, laughs and cries. She’s definitely more interesting than she was when I first met her in September.
Before Mike’s kids arrived with the baby, I had spent considerable quality time with Hazel, my niece’s dachshund, hugging her up against me, petting her, and talking to her, much like a baby. Hazel was jealous of Riley on Mike’s left knee. She jumped up and claimed his right knee.
Mike passed Riley to Susan, Sharon’s sister. Mother of four, also a grandmother and aunt, she seemed blissful holding the baby, watching her suck on her bottle. If Susan didn’t have to go to work, she probably would not have let her go.
After burping the baby, Mike brought her to me next. “Go see your Great Aunt Sue.” I mumbled about not necessarily being “great” just mediocre as I struggled to get her into a comfortable position, aware that everyone was watching me and I was the only one who didn’t know how to hold a baby properly. Riley whined and stiffened up in my arms until I finally got her into a sitting-up position facing away from me. I kept rubbing her fat, full belly. Only later did I realize that’s what I do with Annie, my dog. Anyway, we got comfortable. She gripped my big wrinkled fingers with her tiny smooth ones. So smooth, not a dimple or mark on the white, white skin. I replaced a sock that had fallen off her little foot. I kissed her downy head. So hot, I said. Normal, Riley’s mom, Courtney, said. Like all the grownups, I talked to the baby. Quietly, like sharing secrets between us.
While I was holding Riley, she made some grunting sounds and Courtney asked, “Are you having a bowel movement?” She instructed me to smell her. I leaned down and sniffed. Nothing. But my sister-in-law picked her up, smelled her butt, and nodded. I felt a rush of panic. Who was going to change her? I had no idea how to do it. To be this old and still not know how to change a diaper . . . Courtney did it. Soon we heard shrieks of baby laughter from the bedroom.
Courtney brought her back out and changed her into soft flannel pajamas. It was like dressing a doll, a warm, soft, pudgy-bellied doll.
Everyone wanted to hold the baby. With Riley in their arms, each person turned soft, kind and playful.
I wanted that, too. I want to watch Riley grow and know me and smile when she sees me, but I live so far away. It will probably be many months before we meet again. She won’t remember me. Do I wish she was mine? I don’t think so. I want to be one of the older people with grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy and hand back to their parents. I want that big wonderful family to celebrate holidays and birthdays with, to help when things fall apart.
It’s like some people say they hate writing but love having written a book. I don’t want to be raising a baby or small children now, but I wish I had done it when I was young, so I could be holding my own granddaughter on Thanksgiving, keeping a crib and toys at my house for when she visits, and buying Christmas presents for my granddaughter.
Being my age and no longer having a husband, I didn’t have to deal with anyone asking when I was going to have children. I remember how hard that was, and I know many of you are going through that. Nobody asked how many children I had or why I didn’t have any. A few asked about my stepchildren and were surprised I hadn’t heard from them. I didn’t expect to.
I was just Aunt Sue, who comes all the way from Oregon to hang out with her elderly father. Nobody understands that I’m still figuring out how to interact with live babies instead of with my Chatty Cathy doll. There’s a magic in those tiny people. I want a share of it, but it has only been a few years that I could be around other people’s babies without crying. Know what I mean?
Riley has two older half-sisters who were with their dad on Thanksgiving. Will I ever be anything to them but a stranger? We’ll see.
I’m never going to be “Mom,” and that hurts. I’m still figuring out how to be Aunt Sue.
So, how did your Thanksgiving go? Feel free to share in the comments.
“Do you have children?” I was selling books at an author’s fair earlier this month when a children’s book author asked me the question, hoping to sell me some of her picture books.
“No, I don’t,” I said.
“Nieces and nephews?”
“All grown up.” I couldn’t wait to get away from her and move on to books for grownups.
It’s hard for people whose lives are immersed in children to understand people who have no little ones in their lives. At this time of year, most of my friends are busy buying Christmas presents for their kids and grandkids. They jam the toy aisles at the stores looking for presents that will elicit squeals of joy on Christmas morning. Meanwhile I’m looking at calendars, candles, books, and scarves because everyone on my list is an adult. Even the “kids” in our family are over 21 at this point, with no babies on the way.
Lots of people say Christmas is for children, with all this business about Santa Claus and presents. For those of us without kids, it can be a difficult season. Not only do we not have kids to shop for, but we’re thrown into situations with friends and family who are obsessed with their children.
I could preach about how Christmas is really about the birth of Jesus and how the focus should be on Him. For me, it is. It has to be. He’s the only baby coming to me this Christmas. Plus I work at my church as a music minister. But I know not all of you are Christians, and I’m not here to convert you.
No matter what you believe religion-wise, there are lots of good things to appreciate at this time of year: the food, decorations, gifts, time off from work or school, and time to spend with loved ones. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, you might want to get involved in one of the charities helping others during the holidays.
People will ask about your children. People will try to sell you toys. Tell them the truth, that you don’t have any kids, but you do have a dog or a cat or a hamster. Or just change the subject.
You could even run away for the holidays. A friend of mine who has three grown children and several grandchildren is renting a timeshare at the beach far from any of them this year because some are going to their in-law’s home in the Midwest and the others drive her crazy. She and her husband plan to spend a quiet day sipping hot toddies and ignoring the insanity of Christmas.
If the holidays bring you nothing but pain, you might want to follow her example and run away until it’s over. Why not?
How are you surviving the holidays? Please share in the comments.
Holidays are tough. We often find ourselves surrounded by families full of parents and children and feel left out because we can’t share in the talk about kids and babies and pregnancies. We may come up against people who bug us about when we’re going to have children or why we don’t have them. They may even make wisecracks about us being the ones without children.
The only way around this is avoiding those people and either spending the holidays alone or spending them with people with whom you feel more comfortable. If you have to do the family thing, try as hard as you can to forget what you don’t have and enjoy the good parts of the festivities. You do have things to be thankful for, I promise. And hey, there’s pumpkin pie.
Another holiday challenge kicks in when your mate has children from a previous relationship. If they live with you, they will most likely be with the other parents for the holidays. If not, they may be with you, or their time may be split between parents so you only get a taste of parenthood. And sometimes, it’s harder being with the stepchildren than it is being without them. Hang in there.
In our situation, the older kids were on their own by the time we got married, but they mostly spent their holidays with their mother, and the grandchildren were hustled back and forth between Grandma and their dad’s family, so we didn’t see much of them. Michael, the youngest, lived with us from age 12 to 20. Before that, we got him on the holidays, but after he moved in, his mom claimed him. Most Christmases, we had limited kid time and felt pretty left out. Once we had all three and the grandchildren at our house. That was the best Christmas ever. Unfortunately, it only happened once.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are special days, but try not to dwell on what you don’t have or what doesn’t happen on those days. There are 363 other days in the year to do something special just for yourselves and invite whoever you want.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I’m on the road this week, but I hope to post again on “black” Friday. I am thankful for all of you.