Being the childless aunt is not so bad

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone. How did you fare?

I went to California to spend time with my dad. For Thanksgiving, I drove him to the mountains near Yosemite where my brother lives. Traveling with a 96-year-old man who can’t stand without a walker, who doesn’t see or hear well, and who tends toward the cranky side, is not easy.

And then there were the babies. But that was the good part for me. I’m well past the age when people ask when I’m going to procreate. In fact, they don’t ask much about me and my life at all. Well, Dad grills me about my finances, but that’s a whole other thing.

It was a small group. We’ve been shrinking in recent years due to death, illness, and certain people not wanting to be with certain other people. My nephew, divorced, delivered his daughter to her mother’s house and spent the afternoon caring for his ailing grandmother. I was sorry to miss the little girl; I keep hoping I can build a relationship with her, but it won’t happen if I only see her once a year.

Meanwhile, my niece’s kids, a 21-month-old former foster son she adopted and a six-month-old foster daughter she hopes to adopt, provided the entertainment.

I was enchanted by the little girl, one of the prettiest babies I have ever seen (no online pictures allowed for foster children). When I held her and she smiled at me with her little toothless mouth, when she gripped my finger with her tiny fingers, and when she sang just for the pleasure of making noise, I fell in love. I know for some of you, just seeing a baby breaks your heart, but I hope you will come to that place I have reached where you treasure the magic of holding a baby, even if it isn’t your own.

And then be glad you don’t have to deal with an almost two-year old running around grabbing at things, throwing turkey, rubbing mashed potatoes in his hair, torturing the dog, screaming, falling, and screaming again. In perpetual motion, he’s like a wild puppy you can’t throw outside when it gets to be too much. Nothing is safe, except when he’s sleeping. He can’t help it. Everything is new and exciting, but I admire my niece for her strength and love, especially as a single mother. I don’t know if I could do that. Certainly not at this age. Could I have done it when I was young? I expected to. It just didn’t happen.

These days, I’m happy being the aunt and great-aunt. I strive to be the aunt they adore and let the parents be the exhausted ones with baby goo on their clothes and in their hair. Really, I’m okay with it now. I don’t want to take a baby home.

What I do want is grown kids and grandkids. You know, what almost everybody else has. That’s what makes me sad. I had it for a while with my late husband’s children and grandchildren. But now that he’s gone, they’re gone.

A couple years ago when I was bemoaning my childless status, a family member told me it was my own damned fault, that I had my chance. No, I didn’t.

So, how did your Thanksgiving go? How do you plan to cope with Christmas? And what do I buy a baby and a toddler for Christmas presents? I don’t suppose I can send them a copy of my latest book. 🙂

Hugs to all of you. I look forward to your comments.

 

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Here comes Thanksgiving again–and pie!

Thanksgiving is almost here again. Do you dread it? Me too, probably for different reasons. I’ll be in California, taking care of my dad and driving him three hours each way to my brother’s house, where I will be surrounded by in-laws I barely know and oodles and boodles of kids. I’ll be the odd widowed sister/aunt hanging with her father while the men watch football and the women gather in the kitchen.

I’m sure you have heard about the fires blazing in California. Horrible. Whichever route I take from Oregon, I’ll be driving through smoke and devastation. I feel a little guilty for everything I still have, and I feel that I have no right to whine about anything, so I won’t. Instead, I’m going to be grateful. I urge you to do the same.

I know how hard it is being surrounded by children and their parents who don’t understand why you aren’t parents, too, who don’t get that it’s a painful subject which may be far from resolved. You’re likely to hear clueless comments about how you’re rich because you don’t have kids or how you’d better get pregnant soon because you’re not getting any younger. You may be dealing with stepchildren who don’t seem to enjoy your company.

And don’t get me started on the TV commercials with all those happy families.

I urge you to read the comment that came in recently from the woman who worries about finding a man who will understand that she can’t give them children because pregnancy makes her horribly sick. You think you’ve got troubles?

No matter what our situation, we do have things to be thankful for, such as:

  • The people we love
  • Our homes and everything in them
  • Our health, if we have it
  • Food
  • Clean water
  • Heat
  • Our beloved pets
  • Our work
  • Our hobbies
  • Books, art, music
  • God, if you believe
  • Each other
  • A chance to start fresh every morning

We don’t have everything we want. Nobody does. But think about the people of Paradise, California. They have lost their homes and their whole town. At last count, 50 people had died, some of them incinerated in their cars while they were trying to get away. In Southern California, others are going through the same thing. They have a right to mourn this Thanksgiving.

We have an obligation to help however we can and to celebrate the lives we still have. If you’re surrounded by babies, grab the nearest one and marvel at the miracle of this tiny person with her tiny toes and her toothless smile. Maybe you’ll have one of your own, maybe not, but this baby is here right now, grabbing onto your finger, snuggling against your chest. Enjoy.

I know. Easier to say than to do. If you need to take a time out, do it. Run away to nature, take a walk around the neighborhood, or excuse yourself for an emergency shopping trip. Don’t we always need more wine? Then take a deep breath, count the hours till it’s over, go back in, and pet the nearest dog.

And if you happen to be alone, put on your favorite clothes, treat yourself to a good meal, watch a movie, and enjoy the peace and quiet.

I am always grateful for you who read this blog. I might miss you next week while I’m in the land of no wi-fi, gorging on pumpkin pie, but I’ll be reading your comments. Can you add to the gratitude list? How about pie? I’m extremely grateful for pie.

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. We can do more than be grateful. We can help. Here’s some information on how to help the fire victims. 

 

 

 

 

 

You have no kids, so you’re free, right?

Forgive my absence last week. I was in San Jose with my dad. November is going to be off and on for me blogwise. I’m going back for Thanksgiving. There’s no Wi-Fi at Dad’s house (in Silicon Valley!), plus I find it hard to think beyond the next crisis. Too many people are sick and dying on both sides of the state line. When you get to my age, you see that a lot.

Which leads to today’s topic. It ties in with my last post about being childless in a work situation where most of the others have kids. You don’t have to go home to take care of your children, so you can stay late. You can work Christmas. You can go to the conference nobody else wants to go to. If you’d just get with the program and have some kids, you too could claim mom or dad privilege.

Is it the same with the family? You have no kids, so you can take care of Mom or Dad or whoever is in need? 

That sounds harsh. Last week was tough. Although my father’s legs and several other body parts barely function, he is not at the moment dying. In fact, I have come to suspect that he will not die until he wears out every single body part. At 96, he asked the eye doctor if he could pass his driving test next year with just one good eye. What?!! I do all the driving when I’m there, but he’s reserving the right to drive his own car.

We have a fierce love for each other, but he’s a prickly sort, and he hates having other people do things for him, so he is constantly criticizing and catastrophizing. He refuses offers of help. When I arrived last Monday, he was banging on his non-functioning 70-year-old gas heater with a fireplace poker. Call the repair guy, I said. No. Then the toilet started gushing water all over the floor. Call the plumber. No. I took him grocery shopping. How about some fruits and vegetables? No.

Some parents are easy, and some are not. I have to keep reminding myself that I would probably be just as cranky if I could no longer do most of the things I used to do and other people were constantly telling me how to live my life.

What does this have to do with childlessness? I’m getting there. My relationship with my father is fraught with guilt. Although Dad says he doesn’t want me to, I feel (and others in my family feel) that I should move back to San Jose and take care of him. Forget my home, my work, and my friends here. Forget this whole life that I love. I am single and have no kids to worry about, so I’m the one who is supposed to take care of Dad–like the spinsters of old who took care of their parents then died alone.

I have invited him to live with me. He won’t even consider it. He plans to live in his own house until the end.

My brother, God bless him, drives six hours every weekend to visit Dad and help as much as he can. But no one would ever ask him to give up everything to become a full-time caregiver. He has a family and an important job. His wife is not only caring for her 94-year-old mom, but is up to her ears in grandchildren, so she’s not moving in with Dad either.

Ask the one who doesn’t have kids. Right? Have you experienced this?

It’s not just me. Our Catholic pastor, one of seven siblings, moved his mom into the rectory so he could care for her because the others were like, “William can do it. He’s single and has no kids, and we’re busy.”

I keep telling my father he should have had more children, improving the odds of one living nearby and ready to help. Maybe another one would be a plumber. But Catholic or not, he and Mom stopped at two. They were done.

So there’s that. And now the holidays are upon us. The day after Halloween, one of the most child-centered holidays of all, the commercial world declared Christmas. Off we go to family gatherings where we have nothing in common to talk about and no kids to play with their kids. I’m lucky to be old enough that nobody inquires about my plans to have children, but I know many of you will be facing the questions and criticisms of loved ones who just don’t understand.

Or maybe you’ll be at work.

What do you think? Are the childless ones, especially the ones who aren’t married, expected to do the heavy lifting when a family member needs help? I look forward to your comments.

P.S. I thank you for your wonderful comments on last week’s post. They really cheered me up while I was gone.

The other kind of workplace harassment

I just completed a long, irritating online class on sexual harassment in the workplace. Our local Catholic leaders require all workers and volunteers to take these courses every year. “John has a photo of his wife in lingerie on his desk. Is this harassment? What type of harassment, is it?” I click “visual,” and they tell me what a genius I am. “Steve tells Sally she needs to loosen up and insists on giving her a back rub, even though she says she doesn’t want it. Is this harassment?” Yes? Right! Again, I’m a genius.

I’m at church only a few hours a week, mostly playing music and leading the choir. Our staff consists of four women and a priest whom we rarely see outside of Mass. I work mostly with kids and old people. I have experienced plenty of sexual harassment in past lives, but not here. Oh wait, there is that one guy who touches me all the time . . .

Preventing sexual harassment is important. God knows the Catholic Church needs to clean up its act. We have all heard too much about priests molesting little boys. And I suspect most women in all types of work have been harassed in some way by unwanted touches, comments, or suggestions that they need to cooperate if they want raises, promotions or simply to stay employed. It’s awful. I applaud the “me too” movement, but in my case they are literally preaching to the choir.

One section of the course sparked thoughts that we can apply here at Childless by Marriage. A group of men were seen as harassing a male co-worker when they started making comments about his manliness and his fertility. There’s a related kind of harassment for those of us without children.

For example:

  • Someone makes casual jokes about slow sperm, spoiled eggs, or menopause.
  • A group of women in the break room share stories about their children. When you come in, they either stop talking or ignore you.
  • A mom tells you, “You wouldn’t understand. You don’t have children.”
  • A co-worker casually asks, “When are you gonna get knocked up? You’re not getting any younger.”
  • Someone has to work overtime, and you’re elected because you don’t have to rush home to your kids (although you might have something just as important to get home for)
  • You and another man are up for a promotion, but the boss stresses that they prefer a “family man.”
  • Co-workers throw a surprise baby shower at the office. Not only do you have to attend, but you’re expected to buy a gift.

I’m sure you can come up with more examples.

Unlike sexual harassment, none of this is illegal. In most cases, people don’t realize they may be causing you pain—or that not having children doesn’t mean you don’t have something equally important going on outside of work.

Have you experienced these things or other instances of mommy-daddy harassment? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

 

Younger wives, older husbands, no babies

My husband was 15 years older than I was. My partner at work is married to a man 14 years older. She is also childless. Both of our husbands were married before, and each had three children with their first wives. They were not interested in having any more.

Show of hands. How many readers are women married to older men or men married to considerably younger women?

I thought so.

Wikipedia shows a relatively low percentage of couples with 10 years or more different, but I suspect that percentage is higher among those of us who are childless by marriage.

When I was growing up way back in the 50s and 60s, I was told that it was good for husbands to be a few years older and therefore that much wiser. Girls mature sooner, and there’s always that ticking fertility clock. My dad had five years on my mom, those years spent fighting in World War II. My first husband, a Vietnam vet, was 3 ½ years older. Not a problem, right?

The first go-round, most of us marry people about our own age. Often, we meet at school, so our partners are likely to be less than four years older or younger. And that works. We grew up in the same culture, with the same music, the same TV shows, and the same history. We may or may not agree on having children, but biology is on our side.

But then we get divorced–or maybe we missed the first round–and now we’re hooking up with people who have been married before. Maybe they had children and are looking forward to the empty nest, but we haven’t even laid our eggs yet. We have a problem much bigger than the fact that he liked Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt and a popular singer/actress back in the 50s) and you liked the Beatles. Or Aerosmith and Imagine Dragons. Whatever.

Older men marry younger women all the time. Some do want to have children (speaking of George Clooney), but others are done. Sorry, they took that ride before, and they’re not going to do it again. So why marry a geezer? Because the good guys your own age are already married. Because they are more mature, more established in their careers and offer the security you felt (or didn’t feel) with your father. Because you’ve been hurt before and he feels safe. Because you love who you love.

If you’re the younger woman, you might be accused of being a gold digger, wanting the older man for his money and prestige. Sometimes that’s true. I loved Fred with all my heart and I honestly didn’t realize he was that much older when we started dating. But I was not unaware that he offered security, a house with lots of great things, and a chance to travel all over the world. I didn’t marry him for that, but it was there. And we had his kids. Sometimes it felt like a family when they were young. So maybe I didn’t need children of my own? Big sigh.

There are other possible issues. You’ll be at different places in your careers, and he’ll want to retire when you’re far from ready. You may end up nursing him and watching him die. But for the years that it’s good, it can be totally worth it. It was for me. And again, good mates are hard to find. Should we let the calendar dictate whom we should love?

Check out these articles. I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences on the subject of young-old partnerships.

“Famous Women Who Married Much Older Men”

“So I Married a Much Older Man”

“Things to Consider before Marrying a Much Older Man”. I disagree with some of these, but some of them are all too true.

So, what do you think? Please comment.

Childlessness needn’t define who we are

“Childless is one of the many things I am.”

A year ago last weekend, I was at the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio, listening to Jody Day say this. At the time it was one of many things the founder of Gateway-Women and author of Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children, said as I scribbled madly to capture it all in my notebook. But this one line alone gives me a lot to think about this week.

Last Sunday at church, we listened to a visiting priest preach that sex is only allowed in marriage and only for the purpose of creating children. Furthermore, all forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization are sins. What do you tell the men who insist on having sex before, during and after marriage? What if you can’t have children? What if you and your partner disagree about whether to have children? This young bearded priest, presumably celibate all his life, has no idea how complicated real life can get. It is never black and white, more like a rainbow of colors.

And what does he say to those of us in the pews who have not used our bodies as vessels for children? Are we then worthless? Once again, I’m saying things that might get me in trouble at my church job, but they need to be said. It’s not just the Catholic church either. I’m hearing preachers of other denominations on the news saying women should be content with their role as mothers. But what if we can’t be mothers?

We are not worthless. Childless is just one of the things you and I are. It’s a big thing. It makes us different from 80 percent of the adults around us. It affects everything else in our lives. That’s why I wrote my Childless by Marriage book. I wanted people to know how different our lives are because we never had children. But Jody Day is right. It’s not everything, and we should not miss all the good things in our lives because of the one thing we missed.

I am not just a woman without children, any more than I am just a woman whose husband died. I’m a dog-mom, musician, writer, homeowner, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. I have a family history I’m proud of. I’m the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree, and the bookshelf bearing my published works is getting full. I like to cook, travel, take long walks, do yoga, learn new songs, watch movies, and read books. I dabble in needlework and make quilted wall hangings. If I could do it over, I might be a mother, too, but I can’t waste my life dwelling on what I don’t have or letting people make me feel like damaged goods because I failed to procreate.

How about you? What else are you besides someone without children? Even if you’re still hoping to have children, there’s more to be proud of. Let’s make a list to remind ourselves that childless is not all we are.

I look forward to reading your comments.

 

Birth control decision not so simple

As most of you know, I’m Catholic. I’m not only a parishioner but an employee, so what I’m about to write might get me in trouble, but I woke up this morning knowing I needed to say something.

Basically what I want to say is that too many people and too many institutions, especially churches, don’t even try to understand that some people who would like to have children do not have them, for various reasons, and that our lives do not fit into their neat little boxes. And that it hurts.

Tucked into last week’s church bulletin was a handout about the evils and dangers of birth control. It discusses the physical risks of oral contraceptives, contraceptive patches and IUDs: cancer, blood clots, heart attacks, septic shock . . . scary stuff. Plus, the handout, produced by the U.S. Conference of Bishops (all men), says these methods are actually forms of abortion because they kill the embryo before implantation in the uterus. It doesn’t mention “barrier methods,” such as condoms and diaphragms, but those are also forbidden.

The bishops blame “the pill” for women having sex outside of marriage, out-of-wedlock births, and single mothers living in poverty.

In contrast to these horrors, they offer the “fertility awareness” method, whereby couples abstain from sex when the woman is most fertile. This, of course, takes total cooperation by two horny people and assumes the woman has regular, predictable cycles. As I mention in my Childless by Marriage book, one of my friends named her “surprise” son after the priest who prescribed this method for her and her husband.

All of this assumes that we can avoid sex outside of marriage and that within marriage we have husbands or wives who will follow the rules. I don’t know about you, but my partners inside and outside of marriage, including the Catholic ones, would not have gone along with either abstaining or having a bunch of babies. I used birth control—pills, condoms, diaphragms–right up until I married a man who’d had a vasectomy. A vasectomy is also considered a sin.

Despite the church’s mandate, a majority of Catholics use artificial birth control. Numbers vary, with sources offering from 72 to 98 percent of American women. Honestly, the church puts us between a rock and a hard place. How many of us are lucky enough to marry someone who will agree to take a chance on the “natural” method? How many people here at Childless by Marriage are with partners who do not want any children, period? How many are not sure about it so they aren’t willing to take any chances? How many of us would be delighted to throw away our birth control and have a baby, but we fear we’d lose the man or woman we love if we did?

Being alone and past menopause, I no longer have to worry about this, but I know most of you do. I’m not going to preach for or against. Just be aware of the risks and make your own decision.

I don’t want to be excommunicated or lose my job, but I worry about the lack of understanding shown in documents such as this. For some of us, life cannot be boiled down to being alone and chaste or being married and happily making babies. It’s just not that simple.

For more on the Catholic viewpoint, visit www.usccb.org/respectlife.

It’s not just the Catholic Church that doesn’t seem to understand the variables in our life situations. We see it in our government, in our society, and around the dinner table.

What do you think? Have I ruffled some feathers? How do you feel about this? Please share (and don’t tell my pastor).