I recently discussed a childfree segment that aired on the Today Show that, in its subtle way, suggested women who don’t want children will still find ways to have children in their lives, as if part of being fulfilled as a woman will always involve children.
When I was writing it, I thought, “Obviously, this is an imagined issue. It’s only other people, people who have kids, who think those without kids have some special need to find fulfillment.”
But then, this morning, under “search terms” in my site stats, I saw, “how to fulfill my life without kids.”
For men and women who want children, I understand why imagining a life without children and trying to learn how to feel “complete” would be a challenging, and even painful, discovery process. If you’ve always imagined you would be a parent, if you have that pull, that longing, learning that you’ll never have a child -unless you adopt, but adoption isn’t for everyone – has to be heartbreaking. There are some whose single life goal is to have children. That’s their purpose, their reason for living.
For the rest who want kids, and I think it’s safe to say “for most,” having children is both desired (but not necessarily a passion/need the way it is for some) and the natural order of things. And I think many people believe, before they have children, that once they have them they’ll feel like they’ve found their purpose. They think they won’t have to wonder, anymore, what they’re supposed to do with their lives.
But finding fulfillment in your life, or discovering your “purpose,” can still be a challenge once you’ve had kids. My closest friend, for example, loves her kids and loves being a mother, but for years she’s been on a quest to find her passion. She tried everything from quilting to photography to decorating her house to writing to painting… When I visited her one year, there were garbage bags stuffed with quilting scraps, plastic bins and tins of art supplies stacked under the stairs, thousands of digital picture files on her computer, and one frustrated woman who, when I asked her what she’d decided on, threw her hands in the air and said, “Fuck! I have no idea.” And then she laughed like a crazy person.
So, you see, there’s no guarantee of fulfillment, or even contentment, on either side. The best you can hope for is to do what you think will truly make you happy.
Seems like it should be easy, yes, but people (usually women) who decide they aren’t going to have kids often suddenly, or even gradually, begin to feel like they have to find something else to do, something that will justify their life choice, or that will prove – not just to others, but to themselves – that they made the right decision.
Olivia, who inspired this post and who writes at “Reading in the Bath,” notes in her recent post super non-mother , that when she realized she didn’t want children, she felt free. But she also felt pressured.
It went something like this: If you’re not going to be a mother, Olivia, then you had better make up for it by being crazily, crazily successful in some other field. You have a whole lot of extra time and energy to account for, so anything you fail at for the rest of your life will be ten times the failure from now on.
While I understand what she’s saying, and while I’m noticing many other women feel the same way, there’s simply no reason to feel the need to compensate for not having kids.
Children aren’t a foregone conclusion. They aren’t a mandatory lifestyle we’re escaping, which means it isn’t incumbent on us to remind ourselves during every bit of free time that we should treasure or make appropriate use of it. It’s not like we came *this* close to dying and have a second shot at life, so we’d better make the most of it.
The decision we’re making isn’t between having kids and everything else. It isn’t, “If I don’t have kids [if I don’t die], I guess I’ll …” or, “Since I’m not having kids [dying], I’d better…”
Rather, it’s, “Well, let’s see. So many choices! I could be a baker, a gamer, start my own business, be a professional roller skater, do the kids thing, have an animal shelter…What do I want?”
When it comes down to it, having or not having kids is just one of our many options, and it’s no better or worse, no more right or wrong, than any other decision, all things being equal. Granted, whether to have children is a serious and complex issue for many, but it’s still just one of the decisions we make.
Laura Scott, in the Today Show segment referenced earlier, explains it like this:
I think, you know, you really have to find out exactly what your role is going to be. Because motherhood is–some people might call it a calling, but really, it’s a role. It’s not a ‘being.’ … I coach women and couples on reproductive decision making, and that’s one of the things. What are your values? What is your role that you want to adopt? And how do you want to go forward? Because motherhood is not the only path to adulthood, maturity, fulfillment, and a purposeful life.
I’ve always thought I might make a good lawyer. I’m interested in law, I’m fascinated by loopholes, and I like to debate. My father used to tell me, because I started arguing with him at a very young age and never really stopped, that I probably should have gone to law school.
But, I didn’t. I guess you could say I’m not taking what might actually have been a “natural” path, because I don’t want to put in the time or the money, and I’m not a fan of overworking. Does that mean I should think, “Wow. Since I’m not spending my days studying case law and writing briefs, I should really make good use of this all this free time”?
Or does it maybe mean that I’m just happier doing something else, whatever it is? Sometimes…sometimes I do nothing at all – I don’t produce anything, I don’t actively strive to be a better person, and I don’t hone whatever my skill of the week is.
Instead, I just sit there and watch a couple hours of TV.
And it’s fine.