Are childless leaders more–or less–fit to govern?

Dear readers,

Please excuse today’s mix tape of subjects. I have been running back and forth to California to take care of my dad, dealing with fallen-tree damage at my house, and preparing for my dog to have surgery, along with at least five other tragedies I won’t mention here. This year has been crazy. All this caregiving is helping me understand the distracted single-mindedness of mothers. It’s hard to think about anything else.

  • While American politicians always trot out the wife and kids as if that validates them somehow, many European leaders of late don’t have children. Among them is Emmanuel Macron, just elected as France’s president. As you can read in this article, “Emmanuel Macron and the barren elite of a changing continent,” many other countries are choosing childless leaders. Voters and opponents complain that they can’t possibly govern effectively without having children, but the leaders of Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Luxembourg, and Scotland, and the head of the European Union are all without children. Is there something about the time and energy required to be government officials that puts parenting low on the priority list? What do you think?
  • Mother’s Day is tough. Going to church can make it tougher. Our new pastor is totally insensitive to the feelings of women who are not mothers. I sat up front at the piano when he had the mothers stand for a blessing last weekend. I swear I felt like I had a giant B for barren emblazoned on my forehead. This Washington Post article, “On Mother’s Day, many women feel overlooked by churches,” takes a look at the way churches make non-moms feel left out or alternatively try to include all women as “mothers,” which doesn’t seem right either. If you go to church, how do they handle it at your church? Do you stay home on Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day)?
  • “New census estimates show that most women age 25-29 are childless” New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that more than half of women in their 20s have not yet given birth. IN 1976, only 30.8 percent were childless at that age.  By age 44, when we can assume that most have passed childbearing age, 14 percent were childless. Many caught up in their 30s or early 40s, but that still leaves a lot of us without children.

Time to walk the gimpy dog. Thank you for being here. I welcome your comments.

 

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A ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ is a Fantasy

Mother’s Day is coming again. Time to duck and cover. Already the commercials are offering pictures of fantasy families with young beautiful moms, loving husbands and perfect children. Even people who have children don’t have lives like that. I know moms whose kids don’t even call or send a card. If you have stepchildren, you can make yourself crazy waiting for them to even notice you on Mother’s Day.

It’s a hard day for a lot of people. For those of us without children, the holiday smacks us in the face with the knowledge that we are not mothers. Mothers get special blessings at church, flowers and free drinks at restaurants, cards and gifts and parties. We get . . . zip. Or worse, we get mistaken for mothers and don’t know whether we should correct the person or not. “Happy Mother’s Day!” Oh, uh . . .

When I was young, I could focus my attention on my mother, mother-in-law and grandmothers, showering them with gifts and attention. Now they’re all gone. The day is painful for many of us whose mothers have died or who have a difficult relationships with their mothers. If you’re both childless and motherless, the day offers a double whammy. If you find yourself shedding some tears, it’s understandable.

My advice for surviving Mother’s Day is the same as always:

  • Stay away from places where everyone is celebrating moms. Don’t go out to eat, don’t go shopping, consider not going to church. Say no to Mother’s Day parties.
  • Skip the schmaltzy TV specials and watch a movie.
  • Stay off of Facebook and other social media sites that will be filled with Mother’s Day memories, family pictures and boasts about all the great things people’s families did for them. It will just make you feel bad. Don’t look.
  • Go out in nature. Rivers, trees, oceans and mountains do not care whether or not you have children.
  • Tell friends and family you’ll talk to them when Mother’s Day is over.

This Sunday, I’m going to stay home until evening, when I’m going to sing at an open mic where we’re all too obsessed with music to worry about having kids. How do you plan to spend Mother’s Day?

Father’s Day tortures childless men

Sunday was Father’s Day. We tend to kind of forget about it, getting all obsessed about Mother’s Day and then a month later, oh yeah, we have to send Dad a card. Right? There’s a lot more hoop-tee-doo about Mother’s Day. Remember all those commercials? All those people wanting to wish you Happy Mother’s Day when you’re not a mother, so it just makes you feel worse? The gatherings where everybody has kids but you? It’s brutal. But as Tony, a frequent commenter here, reminded me on Sunday, it’s just as bad for the men.

Tony and I had a brief e-conversation on Sunday as he tried to survive church. People kept wishing him Happy Father’s Day, and he felt like “chopped liver.” His stepchildren sent their obligatory wishes, but it didn’t ease the emptiness of not having kids of his own. I reminded him that in less than 24 hours Father’s Day would be over and life would return to normal. He gritted his teeth and got through it.

At my church, we had a visiting priest who had just been ordained. He threw out an offhand “Happy Father’s Day,” and that was it. No making the dads stand for special blessings like our regular priest did for moms on Mother’s Day. Maybe the fathers felt ripped off, but I was relieved. Afterward I went to lunch with a friend and didn’t realize at first why the restaurant was packed. Of course. People taking their fathers out to brunch. And the servers assuming any man over 30 was a father.

I told Tony it would all be over in less than 24 hours. Technically, it was. But when I opened up Facebook on Monday, it was loaded with pictures of fathers and posts about Father’s Day celebrations. Among them were pictures of first-time fathers and grandfathers, including my nephew, my brother and my cousin. It was all very nice, but I had to stop looking. All that happy family business was too much. Let’s get back to dog pictures and trashing the presidential candidates.

Next year, I recommend running away. Go fishing, take a hike, see a movie. And do not look at Facebook until at least Tuesday.

Tony’s a little concerned that we don’t hear from many guys here. Men, if you’re out there, tell us how you deal with Father’s Day.

Childless at work: does it make a difference?

Remember before Mother’s Day when I wrote about Megan Krause’s book Meternity and the idea of childless workers deserving something like maternity leave? That discussion got a little derailed by Mother’s Day—and I’m so glad you all are commenting and encouraging each other, but now that the Mother’s Day madness is over for this year, let’s revisit childlessness in the workplace. Check out this follow-up article, “The Motherhood Divide in the Workplace—It’s Not as Big as You Think.”

Writer Georgene Huang, a new mom, suggests that parents and non-parents want the same things from work. Mostly they want flexible hours so they can attend to other things that are important in their lives besides work. Children are certainly a major concern, but we all have other responsibilities for which we need time, things that we can’t manage on the weekend or the few hours between work and sleep on weekdays.

For me, it was my writing and my music. Sometimes I brought my guitar to work and dashed out for an hour to perform. I know, everybody isn’t trying to do several careers at once like me, but when are we supposed to go to the dentist or the doctor or the DMV? What are we supposed to do if a plumber is coming to our house to fix our broken pipes? What if our parents, our spouses, our siblings or our friends need care during an illness or injury? What if the dog has to go to the vet?

Kids take a lot of time—and you know who was meeting with my stepson’s teachers when he was living with us? Right, me, the childless stepmom. What I’m saying is we all have stuff, and employers ought to give us time to deal with it. Obviously some occupations are more flexible than others. Somebody has to be there doing the job, but those jobs that expect you to work 80 hours a week or you’re not a team player, are not being fair to their employees, whether they have kids or not.

Tell us about your experiences. Have you felt discrimination at work as a person without kids? Have the parents dumped their work on you because they had to tend to their offspring? Do you resent your co-workers with kids? Are any of you employers with moms or dads on the staff who need extra time off? What’s a fair way to handle this?

If you still want to talk about Mother’s Day, backtrack to the Mother’s Day posts and comment there. We need to talk about it all. Thank you so much for being here and for the kind words many of you have offered me for my efforts. You all help me so much.

If you want to know what else is going on with me, check out my Unleashed in Oregon blog. This week, I talk about my brief experience with hearing aids.

Did you survive the Mother’s Day mania?

Mother’s Day is over. Thank God. With no kids and no mom, I hate that day. This year, I had my meltdown on the two days before. I was too depressed to do anything. At church Saturday night, I played terribly and felt like the whole church was looking at me sitting up front at the piano when our new pastor asked all the moms to stand for a blessing. Afterward, I parked my car at a spot overlooking the ocean and cried. Then I went to dinner alone in a restaurant full of families. The young waiter kept calling me “ma’am.”

Making matters worse, my sister-in-law and niece were hosting a baby shower for my nephew’s wife, who is pregnant with her third daughter. I probably couldn’t have gone, but it would have been nice to be invited. Endless Facebook posts about that, topped off with a picture of my brother’s family—seven people with kids and grandkids—did me in. There’s only one person in my family photo.

I did better on the actual Mother’s Day. I got the day off from church and mostly avoided the media and other people. I played the piano, did online puzzles, read, watched videos and took the dog for a long walk. Later, I went out to jam with musician friends. Renae, our hostess, greeted me with “Happy Mother’s Day if it’s appropriate.” “It’s not,” I said. She grinned. “Me either.” We had a great jam. (You can read about it at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.)

Over the weekend, several people tried to wish me happy dog-mom day, but it’s not the same, as some of you have already commented. I adore my dog, but she’s not going to give me a family photo like my brother’s. And all those sympathetic posts addressed to those of us who are missing our mothers or feeling bad because we don’t have kids were posted with good intentions, but they made me cry.

On Monday, I thought it was over, but now everyone had to post photos from their happy Mother’s Day celebrations. Moms and kids all over the Internet. I’m happy for all of them, but they’ll have to forgive me if I had to stop looking.

How did you do? Did you spend the day weeping, cursing, calm, or stuffing down your feelings? Did you manage to escape the mother mania? Tell us about it. It helps to let it out.

Guys, your turn is next month. Father’s Day. Sigh.

Happy . . . Wednesday!

If Not a Mother, What Will You Be?

Book Review

Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn’t Happen by Lisa Manterfield. Redondo Beach, CA: Steel Rose Press, 2016.

It looks like you’re never going to be a mother. So now what? That’s the main focus of this book by Lisa Manterfield, the founder of the Life Without Baby online community. Although it is addressed to women and leans toward those with fertility problems rather than partners who don’t want kids, most of the wonderful advice in this book applies to all of us.

Step by Step, Manterfield takes us through the process of learning to live with our childlessness. In the opening chapter, “Letting Go of the Dream of Motherhood,” she helps the reader figure out when it’s time to stop trying and move on. She offers rituals to help us mark the end of our quest to have children. She goes on with chapters on dealing with the loss and the grief.

Other chapters cover finding support, aging without children, and envisioning new possibilities for our lives. She also gives practical advice for dealing with those difficult situations we all face: the people who want to know how many kids we have, the ones who claim we’re lucky to be childfree, and the ones who offer unwanted advice or thoughtless jabs that hurt us to the core. She helps us get through the holidays, including the dreaded Mother’s Day, and other situations that put us in tears years after we think we’ve gotten over our pain.

One of the points that really stuck with me was her emphasis that not having children does not mean we are broken or failures. We don’t have to make ourselves crazy trying to compensate for our lack of children. I have done that. Have you?

In each chapter, Manterfield offers exercises for readers to help figure out what to do next, along with tales from her own life that prove that she has same struggles as the rest of us. This is a very comforting and helpful book for women trying to move past the overwhelming panic and grief that comes with realizing you might never have children. I wish I had had a book like this when I was 40 and struggling with the reality of my situation. I highly recommend it. And do visit the Life Without Baby site. But keep coming back here, too.

Thanks to Lisa for guest-blogging here last month. Let’s keep in touch.

So, read the book. Chin up, we’ll all get through this. Keep up the comments. I’m encouraged by the community we’re building here.

Beyond Childlessness: Counting My Blessings

It’s my birthday! Rahhhhh! Birthdays are often problematic for me. I whine about the gifts I don’t receive and the people who aren’t around, but this time I’m just feeling grateful. My friends, I have a good life. As I prayed a summing-up-the year prayer last night, I didn’t even think about not having children. It’s true. I didn’t. I thought about all the great things I do have. My days are full of writing, music, books, dogs, great food, beautiful scenery, family and good friends who feel like family. I have had 64 years of good health. That could change in a heartbeat, but I am grateful. Yes, I miss my husband, and sometimes I wish I had more money, but at this moment, I know I am blessed.

I am grateful for you, too, for this sister and brotherhood of childless people that has formed here and taken a life far beyond my Childless by Marriage book. We can comfort each other, help each other to make the decisions we need to make, and encourage each other in our lives that may not have children but they do and will have many other wonderful things. Trust me. There will be tears, there will be regrets. But there will also be laughter and joy.

No, I haven’t started drinking already. It’s still very early here in Oregon. In a little while, I have to go into a difficult meeting at work, and it may be hard to hang on to a positive attitude. But I’m determined to do my best.

I found a couple of podcasts online that I think you will find interesting:

In the UK, they have just celebrated what is called Mothering Sunday. Like our American Mother’s Day, it’s a tough day for those who don’t have children. This “All Things Considered”program, which you can listen to for the next couple weeks, can be heard at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b072nr1j

You can also listen to a discussion about the choice  of whether or not to have children and an interview with psychotherapist Jeanne Safer, author of Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children at http://iowapublicradio.org/post/childless-choice#stream/0

Also, do you know I have another blog called Unleashed in Oregon? Check out this week’s post, “Lawnmower One, Widow Lady Zero.” It might give you a smile.

Next week I’ll be in Tucson on a combination work/pleasure trip, so we will have a guest post that I know you’re going to love.

Your comments are always welcome.