Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

on being without children

So many times in life people have strong reasons for everything they do. They act under the most amazing compulsions and desires. They make goals, and set priorities, and feel themselves lifted to the mountains or dashed upon the rocks if those goals are/are not met. I've rarely found myself in quite that position.

The problem of children and childlessness is a curious thing. My mother once said to me that she viewed children as a necessity and not an option in her life. Certainly if she'd been unable to have them, she would have adjusted, but she could not imagine choosing not to have them.

But the reality is that my wife and I chose not to have children. I read testimonials in the childfree community, one of the few communities I have ever "unfriended", which attest that the rude behavior of children in grocery stores is apparently a major disincentive about actually having any children. I have also read somewhat more heart-breaking stories from folks who feel their own dysfunctional childhood would pose for them impediments to being a good parent.

Our choice not to have children did not have any grand roots in child-aversion, nor any fears about our own dysfunctional childhoods. We both like children, and enjoy their company. For reasons of our own, we chose not to have children. Those reasons had more to do with situational things about the stresses in our lives and the extra stress a child would have involved than with any grandiose theory or universally applicable rule.

I always feel uncomfortable with dogmatic positions on the children/childlessness thing. I know far too many people who would make excellent parents, and yet can't have children. I know far too many people who are unfortunate parents, who perhaps should not have had children at all. Most people I know who chose to have children, though, cope with them fine. Most people I know who did not have children have meaningful lives.

I could write at length about the selfish pleasure of having one's own free time more frequently than if one had children, but frankly, I believe that idle hands, if not necessarily the devil's workshop, involve both disadvantages and advantages. I rarely hear any but the most over-stressed parent complain "gee, I had too much quality time with my kids". But it is true that I feel a certain lack of stress that I imagine would be intensified if a good bit of our time were devoted to child-rearing.

Once upon a time, I worked a lot more than I work now. In its time, this would have been a detriment for my wife and I in raising children. Now, I work very hard, but my hours are not nearly as long as in the "old days". I stop sometimes and wonder if I had made the choices to have a less stressful work life earlier, whether we might have chosen to have children. I suspect we would have made the same choices.

Everything is a movement now. I see people gathering under the "childfree" banner, protesting the tax exemptions and extra paid time off people with families get for their dependents. I'm not at all a believer in such movements, as I think there's a societal basis for easing things up for those with children. In the main, when somebody asks if we have children, people are reasonably cool when I say "no". Once in a while, somebody assures me we still have time (apparently, they are experts on psychic biological clock telling) or ask "why not?". Being without children, you see, is something that requires an explanation. I know I'm supposed to put some sentence in here like "I seethe inside when this happens", but in life, I find that I rarely seethe when I should. I'm for my own part, in such matters, kind of like Curious George, really, asking the wrong questions, and greeting the wrong answers with a shrug and "may I have a banana?".

I do hear the stories of other peoples' family lives, "the kids are in college", "ninth grade geometry is a real bear; we're tutoring every night", and "did you hear what x did last week?", and take a wistful look sometimes, at an ivy-colored playground I'm forever denied. When I call home, my parents are as apt to regale me with a story of a favored grandchild as they are to tell me of their own lives.

But I must admit that I don't "miss" children. I love children, always have, always will--I loved being a child, I love being a child. I have nieces and nephews of whom I'm very fond. I suppose that we are still young enough to adopt should we choose, but I do not believe we will so choose (I'll save for another time my mildly dogmatic feeling that adoption remains an under-utilized device in our times, while hyper-scientific medical procedures for fertility are so commonplace). I suspect we will be one of those old couples who never had kids.

Although we're both in our early forties, I do wonder about an old age when one has no descendants to watch out for one. I will have to take extra steps, if I am granted the Grace to live so long, to protect against eventualities. I wonder, too, if I kept a certain childlike aspect because I never had the responsibility of being a parent. I certainly feel more 25 than 43.

But ultimately, I don't have any really strong "reasons" why our lives turned out the way they did, or strong prognostications about what that will mean. I just know that I never feel "unfulfilled" for want of children, and at the same time, I am sometimes curious at what might have been.
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