When I was thirteen I wanted to have five or six children, marry a guy like John Walton, and live on a farm in West Virginia. Ten years later I didn’t think of having kids and that notion never changed. To this day.
Today, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I am single, live in a farmhouse with my dog Matilda and my cat Silber, and I have a plethora of friends, including a small circle of soul sisters and their husbands who I consider my friendfamily.
Even though most people seem to accept and often admire my current singlehood, they do not always express the same notion when it comes to my child-free existence. If I meet someone new, one of their first questions is almost always: “Do you have kids?”
I can see in their eyes that they simply assume that my answer would be something like“Yes I do. I have two. My son is in Grade 11 and my daughter is in university studying Oceanography”. Then they could relate, we could talk, about our kids’ hobbies, their successes in school, and our struggles as parents.
But instead, my response is something like “No. I don’t.” What a downer!
I have dropped the bomb. Their faces always reveal their surprise, disappointment, a whiff of sympathy and pity. Choosing a life without children is perhaps accepted, but not really understood by most.
It is hard to believe that someone would not want children of their own. And this is especially true for women. Why would you not want to be a mother? Well, for me it wasn’t quite like that.
When I was in my 20s I never thought about it. Motherhood never really crossed my mind and I seemed to have forgotten all about John Walton and having his seven children. Instead, I was living and traveling in South America and following my dream of living a life of adventure.
When I was in my 30s, I was in a ten-year relationship with a much older man (Here is a story!). He was more than twenty years my senior and already had a twenty-something-year-old daughter. We traveled a lot and went to Jazz clubs on a Friday night. Kids were never on my mind; the idea of having a child with a man who was approaching retirement seemed absurd.
Life was easy.
When I was in my 40s, I finally found ME. I bought my first house all on my own, was proud that I had found a secure and fulfilling job, and created an incredible community of friends around me, who embraced me and finally taught me the meaning of true love. It was too late to have kids and that was just fine with me. Incidentally, I realized, I didn’t really want kids.
Life is good.
But there is still that nagging feeling that I have to explain myself, that I have to find excuses or come up with a reasonable story to respond to other people’s judgment.
I know that most of them hold on to the myths that we were taught by our parents, the media, and well, happy stories of belonging and love such as The Waltons. Even some of my childfree friends are holding on to these myths and cannot move past their heartbreak and disappointment that colors their existence and every thought of what they want a family to look like.
Here are some of the myths they may struggle with:
Myth #1: If you don’t have children, you will regret it.
“I have […] not one regret about not having children because I believe that it is the way it’s supposed to be.” — Oprah Winfrey
How can you regret something that you do not have real control over? Yes, some of us made a conscious decision to not have children and some of us may have even lost relationships based on that decision. But for most, including myself, it just was not supposed to be.
It just never happened and I embraced that reality. I figure that I am not meant to be a mother. And that is okay. That makes sense for me and my life. I can let go of the idea that I have to control everything and have to get everything.
We don’t all get the same things. Just because someone else is driving a Jeep, it may not be the right car for me. Just because my friend lives in a penthouse apartment in downtown New York, this might not be a great choice for me. We don’t all have the same lifestyle. Thank goodness! We don’t even all WANT the same things.
If you let go, regret is impossible.
Myth #2: Children are the greatest fulfillment and purpose in life.
“That she bear children is not a woman’s significance. But that she bear herself, that is her supreme and risky fate.” — D.H. Lawrence
Children may be the greatest fulfillment for some, but not for all.
I can see that some people, and some women in particular, find their life’s purpose in their children. And that is okay with me. Some people take pride in their offspring and see them as an extension of themselves. I do not think there is anything wrong with it. Whatever makes you feel accomplished and happy is a good thing, isn’t it? Who are we to judge each other’s definitions of fulfillment?
For me, fulfillment comes from within myself. It is profoundly connected to my personal growth, to my ever-evolving ways to connect to others and improving on showing kindness and patience; fulfillment and my purpose in life lie within my own contentment and gratitude for a life that offers me many ways to make an impact as a teacher, as a friend, and as a human being.
Myth#3: You will feel lonely without children.
“I don’t feel alone. I feel very un-alone.” — Stevie Nicks
I almost never feel lonely.
Even though I lived alone almost the entire time since I was 25, I cannot remember the last time I felt lonely. Well, I don’t really live alone because I always had dogs and cats and more guests than the average person. But by most people’s standards, I guess, I live alone.
Here is what I think about loneliness: You won’t feel lonely if you recognize the difference between being alone and being lonely. (BTW I think Stevie Nicks confused the two.)
Yes, I am alone. I don’t have a roommate, a child, or a husband; but no, I don’t feel lonely.
Being alone is not a feeling but it is a state of being. There is no judgment. It just is. I love living on my own and being in solitude. I love the stillness in my house when I sit with a good book and a cup of tea in my favorite chair by the fire with my dog at my feet. I feel alive when I am alone in nature surrounded by nothing but trees, ocean, or wildlife.
I love the fact that I don’t have to share, compromise, or be attentive when I feel like crap. And yes, children will change that state. When you have children, you are not really alone anymore. At least not most of the time.
Loneliness on the other hand is a feeling of abandonment and isolation. Children can sometimes make their parents feel less lonely, because they may provide a sense of belonging and connection. But for me, there are better ways to curb loneliness: phone a friend or a lover, invite a friend or a lover, go shopping, go for a walk, go for a run, swim in the lake, visit your sister and play with her kids. The list is endless.
Myth #4: Being child-free is selfish.
“We talked about it for a minute, about four years into the relationship, but we just decided we like our conversations not being interrupted and our furniture without sticky grape juice on it.” — Ellen DeGeneres
For me, this myth is actually true.
I do think that, for me, being child-free is selfish. But I do not think that being selfish is always a negative thing, at least I hope it isn’t.
See, I really like the expression “child-free” as opposed to “childless” or “without children”. Those latter ones seem to imply that there is a ‘lesser worth’, or a loss, associated with the fact that someone does not have children of their own. I, on the other hand, consider myself “child-free’, which, to me, implies that there is an incredible amount of freedom that comes from this lifestyle.
I can decide on my own what I want to spend my money on and I can spend it all on me. I can live in a van for a year and travel from Alaska to Patagonia if I want to. I can live in a small apartment in Rome without having to consider what that would do to a child’s development, their friendships, their academic future. If I want to, I can sleep until noon on weekends and spend all my money on brunch. But most of us don’t.
I don’t have to deal with long nights at the emergency room because my son has decided that it was a good idea to stick a pea in his nose, and I don’t have to apologize to that pesky neighbor for my daughter, who kicked the neighbor’s kid in school for calling her a freak. I don’t have to make dinner every night, only to find out that my child does not appreciate vegan lasagna with kale. I don’t have to wait for that phone call to pick up the kids from their friends’ at 11 pm, and I don’t have to fold mountains of laundry and remind them that it would be nice, once in a while, to empty the dishwasher.
Most importantly, I don’t have to go through pregnancy and labor! The idea that I would push a human being out of my vagina is really unappealing to me.
This is not to say that I don’t admire those dedicated mums and dads, who have the capacity to do all of these things and so much more. I watch my friends juggle the balls and love their kids with such fierceness that often makes me envious. But this is not my journey.
I am free, no interrupts my conversations, and my furniture is clean — with the exception of my couch that has more dog hair on it than most people can stand.
But that is another story. Or is it?
Myth #5: You don’t contribute to the perpetuation of our species.
“I always thought: there are a lot of children in the world. I didn’t need to add to that, you know?” — Debbie Harry
I have to wonder, is there really anyone who believes this? The world population has grown rapidly, particularly over the past century: in 1900 there were fewer than 2 billion people on the planet; today there are 7.7 billion. I think we have plenty of population. Canada’s population growth is the highest among G7 countries, and according to the U.S. census, the population has increased by 19.5 million or 6.3% since 2010.
Looks like we are doing just fine.
It is true, from a purely evolutionary genetic perspective, that genes are immortal, and the meaning of our life is to perpetuate the genes. Some might say that in a few hundred years, all traces of our existence as individuals, our memories, all our accomplishments, will likely be forgotten, except for genes that survive from those of us who successfully reproduced through the generations. But then again, we don’t experience the world from a gene’s eye evolutionary perspective.
I love children.
I have taught at least 1000 of them as a teacher at colleges, high schools, and elementary schools. Many of them return to me years after they had been in my class and thank me for the impact I made on their lives.
In September at the beginning of the school year, I always tell my class that we are like a family; that we will learn, disagree, take care of each other, laugh and cry with each other just like a family. Indeed, I spend probably more time with most of my students than my students spend time with their parents. This is my purpose.
I am an enthusiastic aunt to many, not only my own biological nieces, but also my friends’ kids, and I feel grateful to watch them grow up, be part of their milestone celebrations and spend the holidays with them. I know some of them will be there when I am old and need someone to deliver groceries or call me every now and then.
I am blessed.
Previously published on “Hello, Love”, a Medium publication.
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