A friend dropped me when she had her first child. It was a remarkably swift parting of the ways. The words, “You have nothing to offer me,” blew me out of her life – and blew me away. True, it wouldn’t make sense for me to meet her at the infant/toddler playgroup. I had no child to offer as a playmate for her son. I could offer no advice, useful or not, about bottle versus breast feeding or about the efficacy
of diapers over those indestructible poop-filled plastic bags. And as for the seemingly endless exhaustion resulting from sleepless nights, who would I be to empathize?
To me, however, if we seek friendship only from those with identical lifestyles, aren’t we just narrowing our worlds into tight little comfort zones, leaving us little in the way of personal expansion? My friendship could have been of value to Denise. I am a family therapist. I offer compassion, knowledge and insight. I have open ears and the capacity to truly listen. And I can get down on the floor with her darling tow-headed son and play “this little piggy” with the best of them. I have come to a very disturbing conclusion. There are some who, once they become parents, are quick to judge those choose to opt out. All too often – whether on parenting message boards, TV talk shows, or in magazine articles – the childfree are referred to as selfish, self-absorbed or self-indulgent. While I was still of childbearing age I often heard, “But you would make such a great mother,” when I declared that I had chosen to live without kids. It’s as if my decision was somehow misguided, and I had shortchanged the world by depriving it of my parenting skills.
Despite being childfree, I generally like kids. Usually, the feelings are mutual. Toddlers throw me spontaneous smiles. Many a time a cranky infant has fallen asleep at my breast, not unlike my husband, Ellis. As a therapist I have worked successfully with some pretty difficult teenagers.
A wise friend of mine once said that it takes as much soul searching to decide not to have children as to have them. This was certainly true for me. My decision to remain kidless was complicated, but there were three fundamental reasons for that choice:
1) I never had a particular desire to be a mother (although my husband sometimes thinks I have become one of sorts), probably related to the unhappy children in my own family who ere raised by some pretty unhappy parents.
2) Each child in the United States inflicts a negative impact upon the environment, upon our natural resources and upon animals, both wild and domestic. As children mature, their impacts multiply geometricly. Ellis and I feel we have made at least a passive contribution to the world by foregoing childbearing.
3) I am a born helper and believe that the greatest
benefit is to relieve suffering. It has been my desire to focus my energies on
doing good works in the world. Putting my energies into childrearing would
substantially stand in the way of achieving that mission.
My decision to sidestep parenthood
does not mean:
I am selfish;
I lead a life with lesser meaning;
I’m obsessed with my body;
I never bake cookies;
I never enjoy a pb&j;
I can’t, or don’t, converse with kids and teens;
I spend money only myself;
I necessarily have more discretionary income than those who do have kids;
I can travel anywhere I desire at a moment’s notice:
I’m free of the responsibility of taking care of others (my elderly mother required my care for years before her recent death and I am currently responsible for much of my partially disabled brother’s care);
That I can’t possibly be a good friend to a woman who is a mother.
A close friend who has kids said this to me when her daughter was six years old: “You know things, deeply and intuitively. Your instincts are better than
those of most of the parents I hang out with.”
Denise is a woman of considerable talents and abilities. I liked and respected her. When her husband – one of Ellis’s closest friends – died prematurely, I wished I could have reached out to her. Unfortunately, she precluded what I feel would have been mutually beneficial companionship because I have a different view of the basic concept of parenting.
I guess we’re both less well off as a result.