Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind

Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind by Kamalamani/Emma Palmer, UK, Earth Books, 2017

Kamalamani is a Buddhist priest from the UK who has chosen not to have children. In this book, she looks at the reasons why one might choose a childfree life and how one makes that decision. There is a lot of brilliance here about the childfree life. There is also a lot about Buddhism that is interesting but has minimal connection to the topic. This book is well-written, heavily referenced, and adds new ideas to the discussion, especially about whether our troubled planet needs any more people and whether remaining childfree might be the best response. Women trying to decide whether or not to become mothers may find it helpful.

If this book is about being childless by choice, why should we care about it? Those who are childless by marriage or infertility do have a lot in common with the childfree crowd. Childless by choice or by chance, we are different from people who have children, and we experience many of the same challenges.

For example, we get asked why we don’t have children and have to deal with suggestions from people who do not understand our situation.

Says Kamalamani, “Women are still primarily defined in relationship to motherhood (or non-motherhood). . . I do not question a person or couple’s decision to have children—unless they are close friends seeking advice or a therapy client, and then I tread carefully—so I am intrigued as to the social rules that apply when a stranger feels free to question my decision not to bear children or to tell me with certainty that I shall live to regret my decision.”

In other words, how dare they?

She goes on: “Friends caution that you are missing out on life’s most exhilarating pleasure or reason that your partner will not feel any ties to a childless relationship.”

This statement caught my interest. Is it possible that some men (or women) don’t want to have kids because they don’t want to be tied down, because they see children as the glue that will create a permanent commitment to their spouse or partner? Think about your own situation. Might your partner’s refusal to have children be a way of keeping the door open so that he or she can leave at any time? It’s a worrisome thought, but what do you think? Is that what’s happening in some cases?

Kamalamani is worried about the effect of having so many people on the planet. Maybe we should put as much energy into saving the earth as we put into raising children, she suggests. “After all, whether or not we are parents to children we have ourselves borne, we are all stewards in handing on the legacy of our time on earth to the next generation of earth dwellers, human and other than human.

She looks at other aspects of non-motherhood, including the effects of our childhood and the examples set by our parents; couples who try to fix a broken marriage by having a child, and fear of regrets later in life;

Most people without children seem to feel less regret, not more, as they get older, she says. “In my forties, I think infrequently about motherhood and what I have missed. I am more focused on many other fruitful things: My work as an aunties, therapist, writer, lover, and gardener. Not being a mother is no longer a huge part of my self-identity, although, of course it is a factual reality.”

Instead of having children, Kamalamani suggests, we can tackle “baby-sized projects”. “Many of you are likely to have your own baby-sized projects gestating, well under way, or complete. For those of you who are childless and who have perhaps felt a bit rootless or meandering for the past few years, particularly if this meandering has been due to not knowing whether to try for children, do bear in mind opportunities arising for the emergence of a baby-sized project. This might be re-training in the line of work you have always longed to do, following a vocational calling, going travelling, moving house, or creating a home . . . . There are many ways to create without creating babies . . . deciding not to have children is not an ending, it is a beginning, and the chance to decide to do something other than procreate. It is not necessarily about loss and doom and gloom–as it is sometimes portrayed or maybe misunderstood through others’ projected sympathy—but a potential gain and a different expression of creativity and nurturing.”

This is a fascinating book, but it is loaded with Buddhist philosophy. If that’s a turnoff, you might want to read something else. But I recommend this book. It will get you thinking.

For more information, visit https://www.kamalamani.co.uk/about

I welcome your comments.

***

Earlier this week, I experienced a “sleep study” at the local hospital. How they expect anyone to sleep with dozens of wire attached and someone watching, I don’t know. I felt as I didn’t sleep at all, but the technician said I was “snoring away.” You can read more about this at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Not having children never came up during this experience, but I sure wished I had a partner to care for the dog, drive me back and forth, and make breakfast when I got home.

Happy spring, dear friends.

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Having children is not the antidote to depression: looking at the suicides of Robin Williams and others we loved


Like so many other people, I can’t stop thinking about Robin Williams, the beloved actor and comedian who committed suicide on Monday. Like so many other people, I felt a bond with him, loved him like family. We were about the same age, both performers, and both from the San Francisco Bay Area. Beyond that, did we have anything in common? Maybe not. But now I do share something with his family: suicide. Many years ago, my great-grandfather killed himself with a shotgun. More recently, my uncle hung himself in his garage. Robin’s death by hanging brings it all back to me. Why couldn’t these men go on?
They all had wives and children who loved them. They had good homes and enough money. They had work and hobbies they loved. It would seem they had so many reasons to live. So, what happened? What demons overpowered them and made them take their own lives?
These men left children and grandchildren to pick up the pieces, not just to do the practical things like arranging funerals and sorting their possessions but to remember and share their memories forever. If they can’t go on, how can we, who may never have children or grandchildren?
We can. We must. I have dealt with depression and anxiety throughout my life. I have been in counseling for years. For most of that time, I resisted taking any kind of medication for it. No, I don’t need drugs, I said. After my uncle died, I changed my mind. Give me the drugs. I do not want to follow in his footsteps. I take a small dose of a mild drug, but it helps.  
You know what? It makes no difference whether or not I have children. Depression is an illness, and it can come to anybody. And you know what’s more important? My life is not just about the children I had or didn’t have. There’s so much more to life. I am a complete person all by myself, and I have been given many gifts that God wants me to use in this life. I hope to use them until I die a natural death and maybe beat my grandfather’s record of living to age 98.
Many people who comment at this blog worry about how they will feel later if they don’t have children. Will they regret it? Will they be overwhelmed by grief that never goes away? Will their lives not be worth living? I have to tell you the hardest part is when you’re still trying to figure out what to do. Have children or not? Stay with this partner or not? Once it’s a done deal, it gets so much easier. There are moments of regret and sadness. It’s a loss, just like when someone dies. You will always wonder “what if?” I’m not going to pretend that I don’t wonder who will pick up the pieces when I die. But even if you never have kids, you will still have a life worth living, one full of gifts and possibilities. You will also have freedom to do things you might not have been able to do if you had children.
If you can’t imagine life without children, find a way to have them. Change partners, do IVF, adopt, volunteer. But if you are certain you have found your one true love, and that love will not give you children, accept that this is your life. Whatever happens, live the life you’re given, and for God’s sake, don’t give up. I know from personal experience that the hardest thing in the world is to reach out when the despair is so heavy all you want to do is disappear. But do reach out. Call a friend. Send an email. Tell someone how you feel. Grab a lifeline that will get you through today and into tomorrow when it will be easier. And if someone you love seems to be struggling, don’t wait to be asked; reach out to them.
We will get through this together. RIP, Robin, Uncle Don and Grandpa Joe.
Have you had a connection with suicide? What qualities give your life value in spite of not having children? Please share in the comments. 

Followup: If I had it to do over again . . .

Years have passed since I interviewed the childless women who are quoted in my Childless by Marriage book. I have begun contacting them to find out what happened after we talked. Are they still with the same guy? Did they have children after all? How do they feel now about not having children? Most recently I caught up with “Aline,” who went by another name in the book but prefers to keep her identify private.
When we talked in 2004, Aline, a journalist, told me that her ex-boyfriend had insisted she abort the pregnancy she had at age 30. She had always planned to have children but had not found the right partner to do it with. At age 34, she said she would go ahead and have a child on her own if it didn’t happen within the next six months. As you’ll see, that didn’t happen.
If you were with a guy when we talked, are you still with him?
I’ve been single for the past year.
Did you wind up having children after all? Is there any chance you still might?
Unfortunately not. Considering my age, I think it’s unlikely. I suppose I can still get pregnant, but no man I know wants a baby with a 42-year-old, regardless of how attractive she may be.
When people ask you now why you don’t have children, what do you tell them?
I want to tell them it’s none of their business, but I just smile and change the subject.
Do you regret the choices that led to you not having children?
Yes. It’s eating me up. I feel like I’ve missed out in life. I feel inadequate and everyone makes me feel so.
If you could go back and change things, would you?
Absolutely. I would listen to my mom and be less picky about men. I would also have kept the baby I was expecting at age 30 and wouldn’t take into consideration the father’s (who incidentally is now married with two children) demands that I get an abortion.
Are there stepchildren or other children in your life that fill the gap?
I wish! I have a 13-year-old niece though who often asks why she doesn’t have a cousin from me.
11. Are you worried about being alone in old age?
All the time. It upsets me that no one will be there for me in my old age. It’s a source of anxiety.
What are you proudest of doing in your life so far? Could you have done this if you had children?
I had an exciting career as a journalist and film critic, traveling all over the world. And I live much of the year in Paris. It upsets me that I have no one to share these with. My friends juggle kids and career, so it wouldn’t have been impossible to raise kids at the same time. It just takes organization and discipline.
What would you say to others who are dealing with partners or spouses who can’t/don’t want to have children?
If you really want children and your partner doesn’t or can’t, then you need to re-evaluate your relationship. Do you love the person enough to make this compromise? You may wake up in ten years’ time full of regret. It’s a big and important issue and if you can’t change his/her mind, then it’s time to move on. Never compromise your happiness for a partner. I should know—I did and it kills me a bit each year.