On Tuesday, I wrote about the pain of being single, so while I’m on a role with pouring out my most sensitive spots, I thought I’d tackle the other life issue that hurts me deeply – being childless. Actually, it’s not really being childless that hurts; it’s society’s reaction to this situation that is painful.
I have never been one of those women who really wants kids or who wanted her life’s work to be raising children. I honor and respect that desire, but it has never been mine. In fact, I’ve never even really wanted to be pregnant – just wasn’t given that desire.
At times in my life, I have really wanted to be a mother – to care for children and have a world that is circumscribed largely by the people who live in my house. At other times, I have wanted to be married (that desire never changes) but not have children – just enjoy my life with my husband.
As I’ve gotten older and most of my friends have had children, I have been blessed to love those kids with a passion. (Given, now I need a calendar to keep their birthdays straight – and I still miss some – but I love them all the same.) But more and more, the fact that my friends are parents and I am not has been a challenge for me in my friendships.
Some of that challenge comes from the sheer realities of life – their lives are focused on raising other humans to be healthy, wise, loving people, and those smaller humans require a lot of time and energy and thought and care. My life is dictated by what works for me on that day; I think about other people all the time, but ultimately, how I spend my day is my choice. This is a drastic difference in perspective – a difference that can be hard to overcome when we are making conversation or talking about our life’s struggles.
But there’s another element of the challenge of friendship between people with kids and those that don’t have kids – it’s subtle, but it can also be hurtful, especially if you’re among the few who don’t have children. As this article from Shine sums up, I can easily begin to feel inferior or clueless, and sometimes it seems like people think that you can’t understand children or empathize with them if you aren’t a parent. (I wrote a huge rant about this once because an NPR commentator implied that only a mother could understand the pain of children ). I know that part of my sensitivity is that I feel like I’m missing out on something, something that may entirely pass me by, but part of it is, genuinely, a subtle belief by some that parents are better people.
Most people I know who are parents are incredibly gracious, loving people who talk to me like I’m an equal, thinking, insightful adult. Most folks treat me like I am, indeed, fully capable. But once in a while, someone responds to me – particularly in discussions about kids – like I am so dumb I’m lucky I can find my way out of bed in the morning. Those responses make me angry, but more deeply they hurt me because they imply that because I have not spent days and months at a time parenting children I am an idiot. This is not so.
Just because I am childless does not mean that I care less for children, that I don’t know what it is to feel profound, unquestioning love, that I am not tired or worn out or frustrated, or that I am somehow less of a person because I don’t have children. It also doesn’t mean that I want my friendships to flag or to be left out of birthday parties or gatherings just because I’m not a mom. I want to be a part of all that life can give me.
So when you know someone who doesn’t have children, don’t assume the choice was theirs or that it wasn’t. Don’t assume that they don’t want to be around you or your kids. Don’t assume that they can’t show your children love and grace in profound, fresh ways. Don’t assume anything, in fact, at all.
One of the things that this journey of life has taught me is that although our paths may be very different, our struggles, our questions, our joys are often very much the same – and I have also learned that we all are trying to do the best we can. Parent or childless. Single or married. Gay or straight. Rich or poor. Black or white. We are all built in the Image . . . and to that we must live.