Choosing to be Childless
There are Christmas lights in the front yard. They cheer up the December landscape and make it feel more like a normal home around here. But the truth is, this isn’t a normal home and we aren’t normal people, if by normal we mean average. This is a childless/grandchild-less home. Not by chance. By choice. And sometimes that feels like a lonely choice. Especially at Christmas. Thank god for dogs.
Now years ago when I married my old man, we said from the start we would not have kids. Nope, not gonna do it. This was not the customary choice for people of my generation, born in the late fifties, the far end of the baby boomer era. We knew a few other couples who vowed the same thing–who now have kids and grandkids and probably will live to see a great grandchild or two. I actually meet very few women my age who have made the definitive choice not to have a child.
It is an odd choice I guess. It puts you into a category that is a tiny minority of people. You find that you don’t fit in. You don’t fit in with the married ladies because they are all raising children and you don’t fit in with the single women because you are married and have commitments to a husband. You have to be comfortable with not fitting in. Even now, everyone is busy with grandkids and grown kids and I’m walking the dog.
As a young wife during the 80’s, I watched all my friends and family having babies. I was pretty involved in the church back then and ran into all kinds of helpful child bearing women who would kindly and discreetly share tips for increasing fertility, things like drinking red beet juice, taking B vitamins and eating soy based foods—YUCK! They were trying to be nice because they wanted me to have the same wonderful Mommy experiences they were enjoying before it was too late, so I would generally smile and go along with them just so I wouldn’t have to try to explain to them why I decided not to have children. Because if I did share my childless by choice status with people, the WHY question always came up. Which is weird, because nobody asks a couple when they announce they are pregnant “Why did you decide to have children?” For instance, I never questioned my best friend at the time who was in a deeply troubled marriage and kept having kid after kid and eventually ended up with four kids and no husband as to “Why did you decide to have all those kids?”
It wasn’t an easy decision. I struggled with it. But my husband didn’t. He knew he did not want kids. Which was a tough choice, not so much for him, but for me. You see, he was the last male Elliott in his family line. Which made his Dad want me to have kids in a pretty bad way. Oddly enough, he did not ever pressure his son, but he intimated to me that he hoped I would “take care of it” in some way and make some babies to carry on the family name. At the time, I was feeling a little bit like babies are wonderful and we should have one, and he wasn’t the first person to hint that I should just let it happen despite the fact that my husband was clearly opposed to the idea and wasn’t entertaining the thought of having children at all. Plenty of girlfriends would say things like “well, accidents happen” wink-wink. So I was pretty conflicted about it. And I know that there are plenty of women who do go ahead and get preggers and hope for the best, because they really, really want a child. But that wasn’t me. I wasn’t feeling like my life would never be complete without a child. Yeah, I was just watching all the cute little babies being born around me and thinking warm fuzzy thoughts about pregnancy but that was not enough for me to coerce my husband into having a child or making the decision to have an “accident”–OOPS! and completely change my happy marriage. It’s not even honest to do that, and to suggest to a woman that it’s okay to deceive your spouse in that way is just wrong. But people still did it. I never really considered it though and not because I thought my husband wouldn’t rise to the occasion and make a good Dad. I knew how much he loved me and that he wasn’t the kind of guy to leave me if I got pregnant. It just wasn’t something I wanted to beg him to do for me when I wasn’t one hundred percent sure it was what I wanted either. I had reservations of my own that are personal and that I don’t need to talk about because it’s simply not anybody’s business but mine. I think I would have been a good mother though because my own Mom was an excellent role model. And I am a great dog mommy.
My Father-in-Law warned me that I would be lonely in old age without grandkids, and he was right. I am a little lonely. But it’s partly because I live far from my extended family, which is full of grand babies lately. I know women who have kids and grand-kids of their own who live far away and that they rarely see, who are lonely too. It’s especially hard on widows. And sometimes kids break your heart. Sometimes they go astray and then have kids they abandon or neglect and you end up raising your kids-kids and don’t even know where your daughter is anymore and if she’s still alive. Life is like that. No guarantees for happy endings, or middles, or beginnings for that matter. I have a friend who is very busy helping her son raise his two kids because their Mom, a crack head, is MIA and not interested in her kids. It’s a tough world out there. And I know she loves those kids wildly and willingly takes on more than the average grandma for them and I love her for that. But I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes either.
I’m thinking that choosing not to have children is becoming a more acceptable life choice now, although I still see young women trying to defend that choice so I suspect it still isn’t easy. Some folks are still gonna assume you’re just selfish. Funny how people never blink if a guy doesn’t have an interest in having children but women are suspect if they feel the same. Peers will still try to coerce women into doing it because it will make playmates for their own kids or because it is the natural course of things and therefore the only right course to take. But it’s not getting easier to raise kids and the world is a scary place sometimes which does give some people pause about bringing children into it. I think parents still want their sons and daughters to have children so they can have grandchildren, but I hope even they realize it is not the absolute best choice for everyone and don’t press the issue too much.
Every now and then one of my friends confides in me that maybe they would not have had kids if they had it to do over, and how kids can break your heart, and I understand that it’s not something they would share with just anyone. But they can share it with me. I won’t judge. I know it doesn’t mean they don’t love their kids. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had made a different choice myself. We all consider alternate realities sometimes. And just in case anyone out there is wondering what it’s like not to have kids and how it makes your life different this is what I can tell you—It’s lonely sometimes. It’s freeing sometimes. You can travel more. You have less certain companionship. You can be more selfish if you are selfish, but it doesn’t make you more selfish if you are not. You can sleep more. You can still be silly but not everyone will overlook it. You can have loud sex. You can more easily care for your dying parents. You can retire earlier. You have no one to blame your saggy boobs and bulging tummy on. Christmas isn’t nearly as fun or nearly as exhausting. Yin and Yang, good and bad, happy and sad, a lot like life with kids I expect.