Jody Day’s Book Nails the Childless Story

jody coverLiving the Life Unexpected: How to Find Home, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children by Jody Day, Pan-McMillan, 2020.

If you don’t know about Jody Day, you should. Check out her website at gateway-women.com. She has been supporting childless women (sorry, guys) for as long as I have and built it into something big and wonderful. Unable to have children, Day is an upbeat cheerleader for those of us who for whatever reason are among the one in five women who do not procreate. Now she has a new edition of her 2013 book, Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for the Meaningful and Fulfilling Life Without Children.

Day, founder of Gateway Women, has become a guru for childless women, with her blog, workshops, talks, and meetup groups for non-moms seeking support. The new edition has been polished, updated, and expanded from the new cover, title and subtitle to the extensive resource list, with new quotes and examples throughout. As a childless writer with her own book on the subject (Childless by Marriage), I hate to say it, but if you’re a childless woman, you’ve got to read this book. Read it, work through the exercises, and find your way to a life in which you can feel peace with the fact that you’ll never be a mother. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to have children, you might not be ready for Living the Life Unexpected because it emphasizes grieving the loss of motherhood, accepting it and moving on. Then again, maybe it will help you decide.

Listen to this quote from chapter 2:

“ ‘Failing’ to become a mother, particularly when there are no obvious medical issues, is seen primarily as some kind of ‘choice’. (You know, the ‘Well, if you’d really wanted to have a baby you would have just done so’ comments that can leave us winded with outrage and at a loss as to how to respond.) Because, for those of us who’ve lived that choice, we know that it’s a damned- if- you- do, damned- if- you- don’t kind of choice, for example:

  • What choice is it to choose to become a mother with a partner you’re not sure is going to stick around?
  • What choice is it to choose to become a single or partnered mother in a society where childcare can cost almost your whole salary?
  • What choice is it to put off motherhood until you (and your partner) can afford it, but risk age-related infertility?
  • And so on . . . ”

Does that ring any bells? It sure did for me. So did many other parts of this book.

m8leL6dADay, who has become a psychotherapist since the first edition came out, applies her new skills here as she writes about guilt, ambivalence, grief, and the many other difficult feelings we may be having about our failure to have children. Did we really not want to? Should we have made difference choices? Will we ever stop feeling horrible?

In this edition, Day looks at how millennials and younger generations are dealing with the baby-no baby situation. In many cases, they are having a difficult time with the financial aspects–cost of living, student loan debt, no workplace support, etc. Even if they want children, how can they possibly afford it?

Chapters and exercises look at the realities of motherhood. Day looks at the situation for single women, gays, and those who have had abortions. Sections touch on the role of religious faith, how things have changed in the last 50 years, the effects on a relationship when you give up the motherhood dream, role models, fears and myths about aging without children, and figuring out what to do with your life if you’re not going to be a mother. We get facts and figures about childlessness and related topics and an extensive list of resources to consult for more information.

The exercises are tremendously helpful. They can be used alone or in a group to move step-by-step from giving up hope for the life you expected to opening up to new possibilities for the life you have.

It’s one of those books that you’ll get something different out of every time you read it.

Tomorrow, March 19, is the release date for the new edition. Mother’s Day in the UK is March 22. This post is part of a blog tour Jody has set up for various websites. Click here for information about that. Pamela Tsigdinos of Silent Sorority and Brandi Lytle at Not So Mom are also posting about the book today. Jody is an amazing marketer who refuses to be silent about childlessness.

You can order the book here. Or you might win one. Jody will send a free copy to the first person who comments on this post. Other blogs on the tour also have opportunities to win copies of Living the Life Unexpected.

I don’t know about where you live, but more and more places are asking everyone to stay home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Why not read a good book during this quiet time?

Here in Oregon, we are being asked to stay home except for the most essential trips. Schools, public buildings, restaurants and bars are closed. As in other places, our numbers of infected people are creeping up. It’s a scary time, but I forgot all about it while reading Jody Day’s book. Stay well.

 

 

How Does Coronavirus relate to Childlessness?

Dear friends,

I can’t stop listening to the news, which is getting more frightening by the hour. The coronavirus/aka COVID-19 is on everyone’s minds. Events are being cancelled, schools shut down, and the stock market crashing. Last week, I decided on the way to the Portland airport not to go to my conference in Texas. The conference went on with greatly reduced attendance, but this week, everything is being cancelled. I have never typed the word “cancelled” so many times.

In Oregon, our governor is on the radio right now talking about the restrictions she is putting in place to prevent the spread of the disease—no large gatherings, no school events or field trips, no unnecessary visits to nursing homes . . . Store shelves have been stripped bare of hand sanitizer and toilet paper as people prepare to be quarantined indefinitely. This all sounds like a bad science fiction movie. I have never seen anything like this before in my life. I don’t know which frightens me more, the disease or people’s hysterical reaction to the disease, but everything else suddenly seems irrelevant.

How do I make this situation relevant on the Childless by Marriage blog? Maybe it doesn’t make much difference whether or not we have children. We are all in the same boat, except those of us without kids take up less room.

Some random thoughts I offer for discussion:

* If schools are closed, should we who don’t have children volunteer to help working parents take care of them? Is there a special role we might play because we are freer to do so?

* Are we less likely to get the coronavirus because we don’t have children bringing germs home from school?

* For those of us older childless people, who will take care of us if we get it? Because it’s so contagious, who will want to go near us? I have this image of friends leaving food at my front door and driving away as I crawl out to get it.

* Is it a relief to have only ourselves to worry about, especially if our jobs go belly up?

* Are we kind of glad we didn’t bring children into this insane world? Is your partner saying, “See? This is why we shouldn’t have kids.”

* Or do you feel like, in the face of this pandemic, you might lose your chance to ever have children?

It’s on all our minds, so we might as well talk about it. What changes have you made in your lives? Have you been forced to stay home from work or school? Are you cancelling trips, staying home, stocking up on TP and cleaning supplies? Are you worried about your older relatives and friends? What do you think will happen?

Stay healthy. Feel free to share your thoughts. We’re in this together.

Crocheted Baby Sneakers Set Me Off

Booties and squirrelsI was looking through Facebook the other day when I saw pictures of little crocheted sneakers for babies. Friends showered the post with likes and loves, as if they had never seen such things before. But I had.

The pictures took me back to the 70s when I was a newlywed crocheting baby booties shaped like sneakers. I had all kinds of fun patterns for baby shoes, and also for stuffed animals. I had graduated from college with a degree in journalism two weeks before we got married, but then I couldn’t get a newspaper job. We were in the middle of a recession, and nobody was hiring. My husband was still in school.

I wound up working part-time stocking shelves in the housewares department at JC Penney. That left a lot of spare time. I spent it watching TV, starting with the early afternoon soap operas, continuing into the talk shows, and then into Star Trek (the original one). Every day. It wasn’t much different from my mother’s life. Between lunch and dinner, she did needlework and watched TV, too. In my mind, that’s what moms did, and I was going to be a mom. Of course. Love, marriage, baby carriage.

I made a ton of baby booties, along with little squirrels and bears, rattles, and tiny hats, which I stashed away for the babies I was sure were coming. No one had ever told me otherwise.

My TV-and-crochet afternoons ended when the people who had loaned us their television took it back. We couldn’t buy our own. We were really poor, so poor Chevron took our one credit card away for non-payment and some days we lived on zucchini and Christmas cheese boxes. Eventually I got a newspaper job. It didn’t pay much, but it got me off the couch.

Decades later, I still have some of those crocheted booties and stuffed animals in the closet. They’re just too cute to throw away. For a while, I thought I’d sell them at boutiques, but I didn’t have enough, and since I wasn’t having any babies, I didn’t feel like making any more.

Silly little things like crocheted baby sneakers can bring all the feelings back. How many of you have made or collected things for future babies? Did you have any doubt at the time that you’d be using them? What do you do with them now?

I never envisioned that I’d be pushing 70, collecting my senior discount at the grocery store as I buy my dog food and dinners for one, nothing for a husband or for kids who might drop in, but that’s where I was yesterday, and those baby sneakers are still in the closet.

I had no idea I wouldn’t live a version of my mother’s life, that the marriage wouldn’t last or that my ex would not want to have children. If I’d known, would I have married him? I hope not. I never thought to ask him, “Hey do you want to have kids?” Or even, “How many kids do you want to have?” Sure, he hustled me into the student health center for birth control pills, but that would end once we got married, wouldn’t it? We’d have lovely brown-eyed, brown-haired babies.

I hope most young women are not as dumb as I was. My advice now to anyone getting serious about a relationship is to ask the questions: Do you want to have kids? How many? How soon? Is there any reason why you might not be able to? You also need to ask about birth control—what is he/she using?—and STDs, maybe not in the same conversation. Ask in a joking way if you need to, but find out. How do you bring it up without risking your relationship? I’m not sure. Choose your moment, but you have to take that chance. If they run away, maybe that will save you a lot of grief.

Most readers here have already gotten into situations where they’re being prevented from having children. Now they need to know whether they should leave or stay. They’re forced to choose between the partner and the children they might, maybe, possibly have with someone else. It’s so hard. If only we had asked sooner.

If only we hadn’t crocheted all those little red squirrels, brown bears, and itty-bitty sneakers.

 

Why Didn’t You Answer My Comment?

         Why didn’t I respond? That’s the question I keep asking myself as I go through old posts and comments here at Childless by Marriage. This is the 679th post. (No wonder I have trouble finding a new topic.) Some topics have brought in dozens of comments, some only a few or none. Whenever I write about partners who don’t want kids or about stepchildren, the comments come pouring in. Sometimes I write something that seems just brilliant to me, and . . . nothing. As I comb through the posts for a “best of” compilation, I ponder whether I should skip the ones that raised no comments.
         But let’s talk about commenting on blogs. I read a lot of stuff online. I click a lot of “likes” and “hearts.” But I don’t comment very often. It takes time and thought. It also makes me visible to the author of the blog and its other readers. I often find I don’t have much to say, or if I do, I think it’s dumb. I’m may not want to get involved in an extended discussion. Maybe you can identify with some of these reasons. I totally understand if all you want to do is read. That’s fine.
          But I’m in charge of this blog, and I have set up certain expectations, like that I care about you all. I do. I truly do. But in reading back through the old posts and comments, I’m finding comments filled with worry which no one answered. I want to respond now. I know what I want to say. But it’s years too late. I don’t know what the person’s situation is now, and chances are they would not see my belated comments.
          Why didn’t you answer then, I ask myself. There are times when you readers are having a good discussion and you really don’t need my input. After all, I already had my say in my blog post. Sometimes it’s that I approve the comment on my phone or my tablet where it’s more difficult to write, thinking I’ll post a response when I get back to my computer. And then I forget. At other times, I just don’t know what to say. This is hard stuff.
          All I can do now is try to do better. I always try to approve your comments as soon as WordPress notifies me about them. For recent posts, I have taken the time to edit grammar and spelling mistakes. I will never change the content, but I will make minor changes that make your writing more readable.
         I know you have poured your hearts out. I pledge to respond more often where a response seems needed, if only to reassure you that someone has heard you and cares. I encourage you all to chime in, too. We need to stick together. And if you wrote before in a time of crisis, we would all love to know how things turned out.

***

I have discovered a new source of information, inspiration and information about childlessness. It’s http://www.listennotes.com, a search engine for podcasts. Plug in childless, childless by circumstance, childless stepmom, or some other variation, and you will find hours of good listening.

How Do You Defend Your No-to-Kids Partner?

Your family is ganging up on you about why you don’t have children. “What’s the hangup?” “Don’t you want to have a family?” “Is there something wrong with you?” “Everybody else has them.” “We can’t wait to become grandparents.” Etc.

What do you say? Do you tell them honestly that you don’t have children and may never have children because your spouse or partner doesn’t want them? Do you explain that your mate already has all the children he (or she) needs or that he thinks kids will cramp his style? Or that he believes only a fool would bring children into a world that is going to hell in a handbasket? Do you tell them further that you really do want children and you sit alone in your car and cry about it, but you’re stuck because of your partner?

Is your first response, “Well, sure, I’m going to be honest. I’m going to defend myself. It’s not MY fault.” Wait. Tread carefully here. This is your partner, the person you love, the person to whom you have committed your life. How do you think your family is going to react? Will they just say, “Okay. We understand”? I doubt it. They’re going to hate your partner. And they’re going to think you’re a fool for staying with this person who in every other way is your soul mate. From now on, the relationship between your partner and your family will be tainted. Depending on how your loved ones relate to people, they may jump all over your partner or just quietly seethe and talk trash about him to each other and to you. You will be stuck in the middle.

Has anybody experienced this? Show of hands. Higher. I can’t see you. My family was pretty chill about Fred. They knew he’d been married before, they knew he was older, and I must have told them he’d had a vasectomy. I didn’t have to say he didn’t want any more kids. That was irrelevant. In their eyes, he couldn’t have them.

I didn’t tell the world all the gory details. I’m sure I have mentioned before that my Grandpa Fagalde was especially persistent in asking why we weren’t making babies. Finally, I blurted, “He’s shooting blanks.” Meaning he had no sperm. That stopped the questions forever.

But what if there’s nothing wrong with his sperm or your eggs? To your knowledge, you could get pregnant right now–Excuse us for a half hour. Okay, done. The baby will be ready in nine months–How do you defend the two of you as a unit when the world starts ganging up, demanding answers, demanding action, demanding a baby, especially if that’s what you want, too?

I wish I had the answers to these questions. I don’t. I spent more than 30 years evading the nosy questions. I said, “God had other plans.” “It just didn’t happen.” “We have Fred’s three kids (and a vasectomy).”

I generally believe in honesty, but what happens when that honesty turns your family—or your friends—against your partner and against your decision to stay with that person. You and your partner need to be a team if the relationship is going to last.

Is it possible to get to a place where you can calmly say, holding your loved one’s hand for emphasis, “We have agreed not to have any children, and I hope you will support our decision”? Or maybe, “We already have [Insert names of stepchildren.] I hope you will love them as much as I do.”

It gets a little easier as the years pass and the ability to bear children falls into the past tense. You can say, “We never had any children. Tell me about yours.” Let them think what they will, place the blame wherever they want, but don’t give them time to dwell on it. If you need to elaborate, perhaps just say, “We have had a wonderful life together, just the two of us.”

Time for you to chime in. Have you been put in the position of defending your partner for his/her failure to make you a parent? How have you responded? How have people reacted? Can you support your partner when everyone else seems to be against him/her?What do you suggest childless-by-marriage people say when their love ones insist on answers?

I look forward to some lively comments.

Maybe I shouldn’t have used my real name

Dear friends,

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.

Ah, yum.

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.

 

Motherhood Used to Offer a Way Out

I was sorting through old papers and came upon this piece I wrote in 1995 when I was just beginning to compile thoughts for my Childless by Marriage book. It feels so dated now.

I know most of you come from a completely different world from the one I grew up in. I was raised in the 1950s and 60s in a Bay Area housing tract where most of the homes were occupied by WWII vets, stay-at-home moms, and their children. But in this piece, I describe how I really wanted the life my mother had. A full-time housewife, she never had an outside job after she became pregnant with me. Her days revolved around taking care of us kids, my father, and the house. She may have wanted more out of life, but she didn’t push for it, fearing my old-fashioned father would not like it.

I know, I know. Who these days would let a husband determine what they do with their lives? Not me. Both of my husbands watched me go back to school for more and more education while working one job after another and writing and playing music on the side. I got the household chores done, too, but they were not top priority. We needed the money, but even if we didn’t, no man was going to tell me to give up my career.

What if we’d had children? My only reference is my youngest stepson, who lived with us for eight years, from age 12 to 20. I worked. His bio mom worked, too. He was pretty self-sufficient and didn’t expect a whole lot of parenting from me. He didn’t mind if I was watching him and making notes for an article at the same time. He could cook his own macaroni and cheese while I ran off to take a class or cover the school board meeting.

Anyway, here’s some of what I wrote 24 years ago:

Before women’s liberation, life was so simple. Not necessarily ideal, but simple. Women got married, had children and stayed home caring for them while their husbands worked.

Only those who didn’t have husbands and babies had jobs. As soon as they got married and got pregnant, they were released from the paid labor force. Many a mother of baby boomers quit working before the first baby came and never worked for money again. She had earned her discharge by producing children.

(Let me stop to note that in some families, the mother had to work because they needed the money. My husband’s mother always had a job. She sold Avon products on the side. Her husband and sons survived, but it was common for the stay-at-home moms to believe working moms could not possibly be good mothers.)

Full-time motherhood wasn’t a bad life—once the kids were old enough to go to school. An efficient housewife could get all her chores done before lunch and spend the afternoon knitting and watching soap operas until the kids came home from school. Or, if so inclined, she could volunteer, sew, shop, write books (my dream), or hang out with her friends as long as it didn’t interfere with picking up the kids after school and having dinner on the table at 5:30.

These women were financially dependent on their husbands, of course, and that could be difficult if the men weren’t generous, but during their prime years, they had their days to themselves.

Women who wanted careers could not also have the husband, kids, and home with the white picket fence. It was assumed the old maid schoolteacher and the lonely librarian had failed to find husbands, and the stylish woman running the Macy’s dress department had lost her true love to another woman.

(Note that I paid no attention in those days to same sex couples, single parents, or blended families. I also didn’t mention couples who disagreed about whether to have children. It wasn’t up for discussion in those days.)

Today things are more complicated. You can have a husband and a career at the same time. You can have the home and the kids, too. You can have everything—and take care of it all. But what if you don’t want the career? What if you’d like to stay home? You need the children as a way out. I’d never dispute that motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and the most important one, but there’s no commute, no dress code, no set hours, and no boss. It’s real life.

There’s no law against staying home without children, but is it fair to let the husband bear the whole financial burden? Non-mothers have no excuse for not working. So you slog off every morning, crawl along with the commute traffic, do your job all day–often with no contact with the natural world for eight or more hours–then join the commute again until you arrive at home and start your other job by making dinner. Is this our punishment for not having babies? Couldn’t we just have the time off anyway?

Oh my God. Did I really write this? I was really brainwashed to be just like my mother. I thought I’d stay home and write books between chores while the kids were at school, and all would live happily ever after. Life is a lot more complicated than that. I’m pretty sure it always was.

If a man was saying all this, people would call him lazy, worthless, a slacker. But why can’t a couple reverse the roles and have the father stay home with the kids? Does any of this make any sense in 2019?

How about you? Did you ever wish you could have children so raising them could become your full-time job? Did that always sound more appealing than anything the outside world had to offer? Or do you worry about how you would handle motherhood and a job at the same time?

Check out this article. Turns out a lot of people these days think stay-at-home moms are lazy while others think kids do best with Mom at home. https://www.verywellfamily.com/research-stay-at-home-moms-4047911

What do you think?

******

In the past, I have mentioned that I’m open to guest posts that fit with the mission here, and I still am. Contact me at sufalick@gmail.com if you have an idea to propose. We’d need about 500 words. No pay, just lovely readers who care.