So You’re Childless; What Else are You?

Happy New Year! Hallelujah, the holidays are over.

As we start a new year, I want to share a quote that set me thinking about all the things we are besides childless.

In the book Motherhood Missed, which I reviewed here last month, one of the anonymous women included there wrote this: “I don’t want to identify for the rest of my life as a childless woman. I want to be something else.”

That really struck me because we are more than our status as parents or non-parents. We have other gifts to give to the world. We might wish with all our hearts that we had children, that we could proudly boast of being mothers or fathers, but there is more. There’s always more.

So I want you think about what else you are. If you were writing a Facebook profile or a bio to put on the back of your book and you were not allowed to say anything about having or not having children, what would you write?

For example, the bios at the bottom of things I publish usually say something like “Sue Fagalde Lick is a writer-musician-dog mom living on the Oregon Coast.” I go on to name my books and other publications and mention my job as a music minister. Am I also a mother? Readers don’t need to know; it’s irrelevant, just like my age or my shoe size.

Childlessness does not define me, except in particular situations, such as this blog. If I find myself at a school or other child-centered place, I can focus on my reason for being there. Perhaps I’m volunteering, giving a talk, or offering support as a student’s aunt. It’s about what I AM, not what I’m NOT.

So what is your gift to share with the world? If you had a child, what would you be looking forward to doing once they got old enough to leave alone. You are free to do it now. That’s no small thing.

The arts are not the only way to contribute to the world. You can keep a business running, share your faith, teach, train dogs, keep people safe, help the sick and injured, or provide food, homes, clothing, and other necessities. Are you a gardener, an athlete, a chef, or masseuse? You have way more to offer than just eggs or sperm.

At my 50th birthday party, which turned out to be the last event my mother attended before she died, she gave the most beautiful speech about how proud she was of me. She mentioned my writing and my music, but she said the best part was my loving heart. She didn’t talk about how I had failed to have children; she focused on what I had accomplished. So should you.

I know this is hard, especially if you’re in the throes of your baby-no baby crisis. But let’s give it a try this year. What else are you besides not someone’s mother or father?

Here’s another New Year’s resolution for you: If you’re on the fence because of your partner’s refusal to commit, let them know that it ends in 2019. If they refuse to give you a definite answer, you will take their non-decision as a no and act on it. No more waiting around. No one has the right to hold your life hostage.

So that’s my New Year’s sermon. I started the new year by being up all night with stomach troubles, followed by a migraine. Yesterday my dog swallowed a guitar pick which I pray will come out the other end and not kill her. But today we’re both okay.

Parenting is no guarantee of happy holidays. My brother’s kids and grandkids are all sick. My best friend had a fight with her grandson, who says he will never speak to her again. At least we don’t have to deal with that.

I feel good about 2019. Let’s try to see the bright side. Tell me in the comments: What else are you besides a non-mom or non-dad?

 

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Using that parenting energy as a caregiver

Dear friends, I have been taking care of my father again. He fell and broke his hip. As I scribble a few words between chores, I can’t help thinking this must be what it’s like to have a baby, perhaps a one year old.

Everything revolves around his needs. Newly mobile. he’s just finding his feet, but you can’t leave him to explore alone. You prepare his food, serve his food, clean up after he makes a mess with his food. You wash him, you wash his clothes, you wash his bedding. You take him to his doctor appointments, give him his medicine, comfort him when he hurts.

As with mothers and babies, when you’re in caregiver mode, everything else falls away.

While doing all of this, you know that every minute you spend with this baby is a blessing, every new discovery a miracle. You also know that you would love an hour to yourself and a night without listening for the baby to need you. I was a longtime caregiver for my husband, who died of Alzheimer’s, but this is even more all engrossing because I’m at my father’s house instead of my own, he’s much more demanding, and he will not bounce if he falls.

I suspect God was saving the energy I might have used on babies for this.

How about you? Are you using your mother or father energy in other ways?

Sounds like motherhood to me


Once upon a time, what seems like a lifetime ago, but actually only 4 1/2 years, I had a husband with Alzheimer’s disease and two 7-week-old puppies named Chico and Annie. This was an insane combination. I have been reading my old journals lately, and I have to tell you, this sounds exactly like someone trying to take care of twin human babies while caring for an older person with dementia. Why did we adopt these dogs? Our old dog had died, and we missed having a dog around the house. Neighbors advertised a litter of Lab-terrier pups, and they were so cute Fred suggested we get two, the black male for him, the tan female for me. It was insane and wonderful at the same time.

My journal entries are all about the pups peeing, chewing, crying and needing to be held and loved and about how Fred needed pretty much the same thing, minus the chewing of furniture and shoes. I’d put one pup in the crate, and the other would pop out. I’d leave them alone for a minute and find them fighting, one pup trapped behind the water heater, her ear bloody. I had the vet’s phone on speed dial. I’d clean up one mess and turn around to see the other dog squatting on the carpet. I bought absorbent pads by the ton and my hands always smelled like urine. If I needed to leave, I had to find someone to care for the dogs or take them with me in the car. Fred couldn’t dog-sit. I’d say, “Put them in the laundry room,” and he would respond, “What’s the laundry room?” It was that bad.
This went on for weeks, then months. I took the dogs to training classes, doing an hour with one, then putting that one back in the car and doing it all again with the other dog. As my husband deteriorated, I had paid caregivers coming in and left them lengthy notes about what needed to be done for both the husband and the dogs. If I couldn’t get a sitter or they didn’t show up, I couldn’t go. I worried every minute until I got home, usually to a disaster of some sort. Although I tried to pretend otherwise, my work suffered. I tried to write when the husband was busy or asleep and the dogs finally conked out at night, but I was always listening for them to get up or cry out. I write about eating a pancake breakfast at church and wanting to cry because finally I could eat in peace and someone actually served my food to me.
It sounds an awful lot like being a mother. So what if I was mothering dogs and a 71-year-old husband? I did everything but give birth and breastfeed. And yes, I had already helped raise my youngest stepson, too. He lived with us from age 11 to 20. I didn’t do motherhood in the normal way, but I feel justified in claiming the title of “mom.”
How about you? Many of us weep over our loss of babies, but are there ways in which you feel you have been a mother, even though you never gave birth?

How can we use our mothering energy?

In a comment on a previous post, Elena said she wished she knew how to use her “mothering energy.” I wanted to flip out an easy answer about getting involved with kids at her church, a local school, or some kind of social program. But then I realized I would not feel comfortable doing any of these things. I have minimal experience being around children. I am utterly unprepared to teach or take care of them. I could learn, but the idea makes me nervous. I know, they’re just kids and I was one once, but I feel less qualified to work with children than I feel about the accounting job someone just suggested I apply for. At least I have been balancing checkbooks (sort of) for decades.

Mothers and others might find it difficult to believe that a woman could go through life spending almost no time with children, but it happens. It happened to me, and maybe it happened to you.

These days I lead singing with the children at our church on Wednesday nights. It’s fun, but another woman does all the talking and interacting with the kids. I just sing and play my guitar.

Some childless people have lots of kids around them. Maybe they come from big families where they took care of their siblings or they have nieces and nephews they adore. Some are teachers or work with kids in daycare or medicine or some other field. They’re using their mothering energy all the time. We could volunteer at church, school, or the children’s shelter to be around children, but if you don’t feel comfortable with that, I understand.

Let’s look at it another way. What is mothering? Beyond actually giving birth, it’s taking care of someone else. God knows we all need that, no matter how old we are. We can provide food for the poor, company for the lonely, help for anyone who needs it. And it doesn’t have to be human. We can take care of dogs. We can grow flowers or tomatoes.

And we can make things, using our creativity in so many ways, whether we write books, bake bread, make sculptures or program computers.

I know it’s not the same as having children, but moping about what we don’t have doesn’t help for long. Grieve for a while, admit that it sucks, then find some other way to use your motherly powers.

What are your thoughts on mothering energy?