Are children the ties that bind forever?

My mother never got over my moving to Oregon. Reading through old journals for an essay I’m working on, I read over and over about how depressed she was after we left, how she suddenly seemed old, how she spent half my visits in tears. If I had known she would die of cancer a few years later, would I have moved?

My father was devastated, too, although he expressed his feelings mostly by criticizing our decision to give up our good jobs and our nice house in San Jose to go live by the beach where we had no jobs and didn’t know anyone. The thing is, I didn’t know it would hurt them so badly, or that it would hurt me, the perpetual daughter with no kids, so much to be away from them. When we said goodbye, my tough-guy father sobbed.

I have never stopped feeling guilty. Every day. If my parents had been able to wish us luck and be happy with their own busy lives, it would have been different. But no, they made it clear we were fools who were breaking their hearts. I thought they would visit often. They didn’t. We visited them. I was just there two weeks ago. At the airport, my tearful father wanted to know when I was coming back. I walked into the terminal trying not to cry.

Why have I never moved back, especially after my husband died? Because it costs too much to live in the Bay Area, and because I like it here. I have built a life in Newport, Oregon that allows me to do the writing and music I have always wanted to do. The air is clean, the traffic is easy, and I meet friends everywhere I go. When I cross the Oregon border coming back from my visits to San Jose, I feel a burden lift. I honk the horn and shout because now I’m in my own place where I can shape my life the way I want to.

What does any of this have to do with not having children? Simply this: If I had children, even adult children, living back in the Bay Area, I would never have left. I would not want to be separated from my sons and daughters and grandchildren. The beach is swell, but they would be too important a part of my life to leave. At least I hope so. I have seen families in which the parents stayed for their children’s sake and then the children moved away. Heck, Fred and I were the kids who moved away.

I did not have children of my own, but I did have three stepchildren and two step-grandchildren by the time we left. They did not factor into our decision. I figured we wouldn’t see them much less than we already did because Fred was not involved in their lives. He had always been a hands-off dad. He didn’t seem to consider them at all in our decision. We did invite the youngest, who had been living with us until shortly after he graduated from high school the year before, to come with us. He declined. The older two offspring were angry at us, much more than they told us about at the time. But here’s the thing: The guilt I feel about them–and I do feel guilty–is considerably less than the guilt I feel about moving away from my parents. Is this because I never grew up and became a mom? Because I don’t know what it’s like to have your children live far away?

Most of my friends here are parents and grandparents. Nearly all of their children live somewhere else. In this rural area supported by tourism and fishing, you have to leave to go to a university or get a good job. So the kids move to Portland or Seattle or another major city. And the parents visit. Everything they do here takes a back seat to the kids and grandkids, and you can’t argue with that. But they have their own lives, too. They don’t pour on the guilt like my parents did. Fred’s parents never did that either. They were happy to send their three sons into the world and get on with their own lives.

How long do you need to stay near your parents? If you have adult children, is it okay to move away from them? If you don’t have children, does that make us wonderfully free to go wherever we want? Are you tied down by your partner’s children, and do you resent it? What do you think about all this? Please share in the comments.

 

Not having kids means I’m free to be me me me

Let’s talk about the selfish side of not having children. I hesitate to do that because then people will think I didn’t want them. I don’t want to reinforce the false stereotype that all people without children are selfish and immature. They’re not. But maybe I fantasized my offspring would be like the dolls I played with as a kid. My dolls sat quietly on a shelf or in a box until I wanted to play with them. The rest of the time I was free to ride my bike, read until my eyes hurt, or eat cookies without anybody grabbing for a bite. I may be confusing children with dogs in that last bit, but you know what I mean. No need to share my food, my stuff or my time unless I wanted to.
When I was  a child, Mom took care of everything while I just had to do my homework and a few easy chores. Once they were done, I was free to do anything I wanted.
As an adult, especially one without a husband, I have my work and more time-consuming chores, but I am still free when they’re done. I spent years with a live-in stepson. I know what it’s like to have to think about the child’s needs in everything you do. Salad for dinner? He won’t eat it. Want to rent a movie? It has to be PG. Let’s go away for the weekend? What about the boy? I didn’t mind most of the time. I was happy to live some semblance of motherhood.
But I do understand why the childless-by-choice crowd choose to be “childfree.” Kids don’t sit quietly in a box. They cry, complain, get sick, need help, need love, need to be fed, cleaned and taken to the orthodontist. You can’t do whatever you want when you’re a parent, at least not until the kids grow up. Then you can buy an RV and tour the country, start a new career or write a novel.
Speaking of which, November is National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo. During this month, writers pledge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. That’s a lot of writing. To devote that kind of time and concentration would be very difficult with children around. I have signed up before but haven’t followed through. This year, I plan to do some marathon writing for the book I’m working on.
There are other month-long challenges, a poem a day, a blog a day, a short story every day. They’re great for producing a lot of work in a short time, but I don’t think I could do any of them and keep up with my regular work if I had kids around.
We spend a lot of time here grieving our lack of children. The grief is real and it never completely goes away, but look at the other side of it. What are we free to do because we don’t have children? Even if you’re still trying to figure out if and how you’ll become a parent, what can you do right now that you couldn’t if you were a mom or a dad? Let’s talk about it in the comments.