Child-free Emotions

A few weeks back I posted I’m Not Having A Baby about the reasons I have not had children.  Some of those reasons were chosen by me and some were a matter of circumstances.  In that post I promised to come back to this issue and talk about how I feel about all this.  Since then I have to admit I have been procrastinating.  I know how I feel but putting it in print is another thing.  But I was spurred into action today because I was confronted with the image below on my Facebook news feed.

Don’t be fooled into thinking I like this.
Image credit: FB/My Attitude – My Life – My Rules

So according to this I haven’t known love. Crap!  And presumably I’m not going to know love.  Crap, again!

It says that any man or woman who hasn’t had children hasn’t known love and presumably they would go as far as to say that those childless people won’t know love.  I’m not about to get into a discussion about what love is but this much I know:  I haven’t had children, and nor am I going to, but I have loved, and I have been loved.  So yes, I have known love without the need to “powder a booty”.  I’m inclined to see this image as completely ridiculous and for some people I am sure it would be quite hurtful.  For where I am at it is insulting but not surprising.

That said, at last count there were more than 7000 people who ‘liked’ it and as far as the comments went maybe 10 percent were objections and the other 90 percent loved it.  So yes, perhaps I’m in the minority but it suggests to me that most people don’t stop and think about how true or otherwise this is, let alone how it might be for people who can’t, or have chosen for good reasons, not to have children.

The thing is though that I am in the minority anyway.  In my last post about this I mentioned that Statistics New Zealand reported that at the last census, 13 percent of New Zealand women had no children.  So the statistics related to the likeability of this Facebook post are probably about accurate.  I am making a broad assumption that those who objected did not have children, although I accept this may be unfair.  I know that there are people with children that recognise that the rest of us are human too.

What interested me from my last post was the range of comments I got.  There were some who totally agreed with what I see as a valid decision to not have children, and some who had made that choice for themselves.  Others were totally blown away that there is a sense in the general population that being without children is not valid.  I don’t have any explanation for why the wide variety but it made me think about how other life choices perhaps influence the kind of support or criticism someone can get when they don’t have children.

For me, the first part of my life was pretty conservative.  I was in a Christian environment where for many marriage and babies were expected.  It was almost seen as somehow part of my Christian duty.  I’m not saying all Christians think that way but I grew up just expecting that my life would include a husband for life and children.  I just assumed life would take me in that direction.  Now it doesn’t include either of those things, and I strongly suspect that I would be dead by now if my life had gone down that track.

Something that I missed out on was strong role models of people who hadn’t gone down the marriage and children track.  Those who weren’t married were almost pitied.  It was like they had failed.  Those who were married but didn’t have children were assumed to be unable to have children.  Again, perhaps a failure.  I didn’t have anyone in my life who had consciously made those choices and I could see was living a positive life.

In New Zealand we had a female Prime Minister (Helen Clark) for some years and she had chosen not to have children.  Actually even though I might not agree with her politics I did find it refreshing to have that type of role model in a position of power.  That said, only last week  here there was a public spat between two Members of Parliament (both women) because one tried to suggest the other could not contribute to a debate on child laws because she had no children.  Quite rightly the response was, “I haven’t been to Antarctica but I know it’s cold” (NZ Herald).  I noticed that it was the childless MP who came off best.

Image credit: gateway-women.com

I said I was going to talk about how I felt and I haven’t really done that yet.  Actually I feel fine with how things have turned out.  I am happy that I don’t have children, although I accept there are aspects of life that I don’t have because of that.  I have nieces and nephews, three of whom live nearby so I see regularly, and I love them but being an aunt is very different from being a parent.  I’m very clear about that.  There are things I miss out on, and one thing I am aware of is that I won’t have grandchildren.  Actually I feel a little sad about that because I think it is possible for grandparents to contribute so much to the lives of their grandchildren.

Yes, there are occasions when I think it would have been nice to have children, but I was so terrified of being a bad mother that I don’t believe I could have been a good mother.  In the same way it would be nice to be in a long-term relationship but life as it has been lately hasn’t allowed that to be a reality (without literally killing me).  That doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future, but it’s not going to make me or break me.

I admit that I feel very out of place in a room full of mothers.  Actually it’s about the last place I want to be because I seem to have absolutely nothing in common, and nothing to contribute to the conversation.  I’m not interested in talking about the things they talk about, and I find it refreshing when children don’t have to be the sole topic of conversation.   Actually I’d feel more comfortable discussing rugby with a group of men than a group of mothers discussing school lunches.  Believe me, that is saying something!  The thing is that I simply don’t fit and when the inevitable question of how many children I have comes up, there is an uncomfortable silence when I reply.  No one knows what to say.

But actually I’m glad I am on my own right now and I’m glad I don’t need children to make me who I am.  I get really concerned when I hear people hanging out to be in a relationship.  They don’t know how to be alone.  This can be a big issue for people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  It’s like we need that person to give us a sense of identity.  Perhaps I’ve been lucky that this hasn’t been such a big issue for me, rather I find it difficult to be in a relationship and easily feel trapped and suffocated.

Women (and I don’t often hear men express a similar wish) who only ever wanted a husband and children are beyond me.  I don’t understand that because I never felt that way myself.  Not long ago a woman said to me she was nothing without her husband and children (both had just left her), and I felt very sad.  Sad for her that she viewed herself so lowly, but I admit there was a part of me that felt she was telling me I was nothing because I didn’t have those things.

I’m not nothing.  Not having children (or a partner right now) doesn’t make me any less of a person.  I guess I really want to get across to anyone who will listen that a partner doesn’t make your life complete, and children don’t either.  They are not a necessary ingredient to a healthy sense of self.  They are both a wonderful gifts if you have them, but they don’t influence my worth as a person.

“As long as you look for someone else to validate who you are by seeking their approval, you are setting yourself up for disaster. You have to be whole and complete in yourself.  No one can give you that.  You have to know who you are – what others say is irrelevant.” 

―    Nic Sheff

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27 thoughts on “Child-free Emotions

  1. Cate, I know we’ve traded comments on this topic before. I’m not as settled in my circumstance and choices in this regard as you are, but I still love your clarity, your direct and firm sense of what is and isn’t right for you, and your absolute refusal to accept society’s tenaciously outdated views tied to love, childbearing, womanhood, and self-worth. (That’s my favorite!) That “adorable” little meme about parenthood and love is really a bit of dangerous right-wing, conservative propaganda typed up in pleasing, flowery font and invoking the ideal of perfect infant innocent. But, at the risk of sounding like one of those types who gets paranoid about the government bugging my toilet, the underlying message about non-parenting that lurks under the gurgly, cooing surface, is pretty offensive and a little sinister. There’s an agenda there that unsettles me. Luckily, you and I are savvy enough to recognize and dispute that message. There’s all sorts of love in this world — including parent-child — and it’s all equally glorious and valuable. To suggest otherwise is elitist and faulty. Many people cling to their children for self-definition and -worth. Is that really love or selfishness? If it were a choice between that and being childless, I think I’d opt to remain childless. Of course, I fully realize there’s a middle ground of healthy attachment there, but I, like you, fear I would inevitably repeat certain mistakes I witnessed growing up and that’s a big chance to take on another life. Cate, you are such a role model for me in your awareness of your own needs and boundaries and your resolve to honor them. You are absolutely right — we need neither baby nor mate to feel complete and fulfilled, and I, for one, will consider neither until I’m safely ensconced in that understanding.

    1. I like that a lot and I know it takes a while to come to that conclusion so I hope you go easy on yourself if you find yourself wavering in a down moment. Because those down moments do happen and I wouldn’t want to give the impression that they don’t. Someone to hold, and to hold me would often be welcome but as you said, I have come to a point where that doesn’t make me or break me. Those times I think I just have to keep putting one step in front of the other, until I come out the other side again. It does happen, although sometimes I admit it can take a hell of a long time.

      One thing I acknowledge is that I don’t know what is like to have my own child, and I’m sure that loving your child would be very special. But that doesn’t preclude me from other types of just as meaningful love. I really hate pics like what I posted because they cut me off and leave them isolated and alone.

  2. Hi Cate!!

    Cate, It’s amazing to me how much I identify with what you write. The first time you wrote about this subject, I thought about telling my own story. My paranoia of someone discovering who I truly am is mainly because a certain family member is following my blog and doesn’t know a lot of what I’ve already revealed and some things I can never allow her to know because it would cause endless suffering but also because I’ve always been one to guard my privacy. Yet I find I’m putting my life out there for others to see me naked and vulnerable for a reason. I’ve repeated several times throughout my blog my reasons for writing.

    I’ve been considered “weird” by many because I never got married to the men who asked me to marry them and I never had children, although I later discovered I’d had a miscarriage. There are many reasons why I made the choices I made and why others choices were forced upon me. When I was more mature and ready for the first time in my life to put down roots, I did so. I had a great-paying, great-benefits, mindless job and a house I was turning into a home. I prayed to God for a husband of my own or a dog, and He sent me a dog. That was what I needed because my dog saved my life on several occasions — literally prevented me from committing suicide. I can’t say the same thing of a husband, because my husband would not have been around me 24/7 like my dog was and therefore the opportunity to be alone and do what I desperately wanted to do would have been available with no obstacle in my way.

    I always hate to read what someone else has written that sparks an idea for a post or else I already have an idea and then read another blog and they’ve written on the same subject, because I’m so afraid they’ll think I’ve stolen an idea from them. Yet, if it won’t be upsetting to you, and I will wait for your reply before going ahead, I think I may broach this subject to let others know that it’s all right for women, real honest-to-goodness women, to choose not to have children. If you’d like, I’d be more than happy to refer to your blog and your two posts. In fact, it’d be an honor to mention you and your blog as coming along during the perfect time for me to add my two cents worth to your beautiful words.

    I’ll wait your answer. Either way, it’s fine with me. Just know that I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve written. And I agree completely with But She’s Crazy when she said, “. . . I still love your clarity, your direct and firm sense of what is and isn’t right for you, and your absolute refusal to accept society’s tenaciously outdated views tied to love, childbearing, womanhood, and self-worth . . .”

    Sincerely,
    Kathy

    1. I get that and from my experience (and i know I contributed greatly to the failure of my marriage) a dog would be considerably more use to my mental health than a husband. My life was also saved several times by my cat Penny, and that is part of why I miss her so much. She saved my life.

      It’s not easy being alone though. But sometimes it’s just the way things work out.

      Hey if you ever wanted to write a post about this we could do it on my blog as a guest post, and that way your family member wouldn’t have access to it. The offer is there if you want it but don’t feel like you have to.
      Cate ❤

      1. I appreciate that you trust me enough to do a guest post on your blog. I think I’d like that very much!! I could be totally honest about some bad things that have happened. They all factor in to my being single and childless. I cannot sleep tonight, and I think I’m going to write a post about labels. This way I can touch on the subject, but include it in a myriad of other labels.

        I have no idea how to be a guest, so you’ll have to let me know how to do. I’m ready when you are!! 🙂

        Thank you!!
        Kathy

      2. I wrote it out, Cate, and emailed it to you a few minutes ago. Read it over and it you think it’s what you’d like to post on your blog, I’d be honored to see it on here. If you decide it’s too much or is not what you want on your blog, that’s your choice, too!! Either way, I thank you for this opportunity!!
        — Kathy

  3. My first reaction to that picture was to laugh . . . and then I felt angry.

    I don’t know whether I might change my mind one day or not. People seem to think that it’s inevitable I’ll change my mind, but that’s not necessarily the case. A lot of people where I live and grew up also seem to think that women should get married and have kids. Not necessarily to the exclusion of doing something else, but that should be part of it. A part of me never wants to have kids just because I’m irritated that society expects for me to have them. I’m also afraid I won’t know how to be a good parent. And I’m selfish, too. I don’t want all of my time taken up by my children and my job. What’s the point of that? It might distract me by its busyness, but I don’t think it would make me feel fulfilled.

    1. I totally agree and it won’t mean that you won’t experience love. Sure there are things we probably miss out on if we decide to not have children, but love and fulfillment aren’t part of it. I believe we are much better to do what is right for us personally, than to do something out of obligation of some sort and end up resenting it.

  4. This topic is one that is often on my mind. I remember reading your last post on the subject weeks back, and I remember starting to type a comment, but I held back. Not because I was going to say anything negative, but because I was kind of afraid to admit it. Some of my feelings are very similar to yours.

    When I was very young (child thru teens) I never dreamt of having a husband or kids. I always just dreamt of being on my own and having my own career. I wanted to be a successful career woman, and I wanted to be every profession that piqued my interest.

    But, then, one day I was at a family reunion, and I saw one of my older cousin’s little girls. She was about two at the time and dancing with her grandpa (my uncle), and it was the cutest thing. I was standing next to my sister at the time, and said out loud, “I want one of those.” My sister immediately gushed and was so happy to hear me say that, ’cause it was the first time *ever* that I expressed a desire for children. I didn’t even realize it was going to come out. It just did. After that, my dreams began to include a husband and children. I didn’t feel that it would complete my life, but I felt as if I’d be missing out on something special. Not sure if there’s a difference between that, but to me it was.

    But, then came the serious downturn that my life began to take. And, ultimately the diagnosis. It was then that those dreams once again flew out the window. At first it was due to my fear of passing it onto my children (as I recall, you also discussed in your last post). But, then I started realizing that my desire to have no husband or children anymore, actually stemmed from a much more selfish reason. This is where I stopped myself last time when I was going to comment.

    I feel that having a husband and kids will tie me down to this life. I can’t have that. I can’t have that pressure on me that I have to be a good mother and wife, and have these little ones depending on me, of all people. I can barely handle my own life, and to be responsible of little ones, is just overwhelming. So, the fear of the pressures and stress, that I knew I couldn’t handle, and the fact that children would basically force me to hang onto a life that someday I might not want to anymore, was just too much. I hope that doesn’t sound morbid, it’s just that became the main reason. Such a selfish reason, I know. But, it’s what it is.

    I know I can’t handle that responsibility, and I don’t want to have kids dependent on me to get them from birth to adulthood.

    With all of that said. I’m actually quite content now, as I’ve made the decision. I think the stress of contemplating motherhood someday, is what caused the thoughts and fears to reign so strongly in my mind. Now, they don’t have much power over me anymore, because I have chosen not to go down that path in life. I grew up with my nieces and nephews, but now I get to watch my great-nieces and nephews grow up. My cousins have little ones and continue to have them as they reach those points in their own lives, and I am happy being a part of their lives. I’m very close to one of my cousin’s 3 little ones (ages 21 months, 4, and 6). As you said, it’s not the same as being a mother, but I find that I care so much for them and would lay my life down for them too. I would lay my life down for any of my family and friends, and you know what… that is love! So, that ridiculous thought that some people have that only kids can show you real love is wrong for *some* people.

    Obviously, some people do need that in their lives, I guess. To each his own. But, for me, I do not. I am happy with the love that I have in my life. I also still think about motherhood and being a wife from time-to-time, and how I was supposed to have kids with my nieces and nephews so our kids could grow up together like we all did. But, as soon as the thought comes into my mind, it seems to fade away pretty quickly. I think I push it away actually. I’ve just come to an understanding within myself now, that it’s not my path in life. I don’t know what my path is in life yet, but I know that’s not it.

    Well, I have written a heck of a long comment, lol. It’s just this is another one of those topics that’s pretty strong for me.

    Just for a quick addition, though, I went to a women’s church speaker event years back. It was by a woman who was discussing how we already all have a partner in our lives. God. He is with us always and that He will never divorce us. He will never abuse us. He will never cheat on us. He will never abandon us. He will always be a man in our lives Who loves us unconditionally, and in a way that no other man can. I remember trying so hard to hide my tears that day, while listening to her. It really hit home for me.

    I know not everyone agrees with that, but for me, I do agree with it. It can sometimes be hard to be content with it, when those thoughts of what could have been come rushing into my mind. But, as they leave again, that reminder comes back in.

    Ok, my long comment is over now. 🙂 So sorry for its length. Thanks so much for sharing your feelings and position on this subject, Cate. It’s so refreshing.

    1. Hi Summer. There is nothing wrong with long comments and I love hearing what other people think about this. I think it’s a subject we tend to keep to ourselves and so it is really nice to know that other people have similar ideas and feelings.

      I don’t think you were being morbid at all. I have had those same thoughts. In some ways it was so hard to even be responsible for an animal sometimes. Although I come and go on that one and mostly miss greatly having my cat. But children are for life and there is no escaping that.

      I like what that speaker said. It’s something that I tend to forget, perhaps because I don’t hang out in those circles now days. But I do believe it’s true.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. I really appreciate it.
      Cate

      1. Thanks, Cate. It’s nice to be understood on that. Like you said, it’s one of those things we tend to not talk about with others, so it is very nice to know I’m not alone in how I feel. Also, I’m glad you liked what the speaker said. It was an emotional and lovely lesson for me that day.

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  6. You make extremely important and relevant points. I think there is a judgement made about people who never had children, and their capacity to give and love, and it’s important to fight back against that stereotype. You just go, girl.

  7. <<< Also childless. Comfortable with it, for the most part. My 'decision' not to have children was thru necessity also. Have always had trouble looking after myself, let alone a child. (And several other reasons.) Besides, I don't feel like an adult myself yet and I reckon ya need to be one to have kids, lol!

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