Friday, June 24, 2016

Honoring The Child-Free Life

“Do you have kids?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question. Since my work entails all things maternal/child nursing, I understand why I’m routinely asked. It’s a great opener for strangers to produce some small talk with someone based on what’s happening in their own lives. But it gets utterly exhausting having to answer not only with a “no,” but an explanation as to why I don’t have kids (usually the very next question is if I’m planning to have children, based on how much it seems like I love babies and love my job).

So what kind of woman makes the decision NOT to have children? I have to admit that I consider my “decision” not to have children almost accidental. I always adored being around babies when I was young and BEGGED my mother for a baby brother as if she could magically put in an order for not only a baby but also a specific gender (alas, I was the baby of the family). I had an unplanned pregnancy at 16 that ended in a miscarriage at 12 weeks that proved heartbreaking for me. I just assumed I would have children at some point without giving it much thought. So what happened along the way?

Well, in so many words, life happened. My first marriage was to a very young, immature man in the military who (unbeknownst to me at the time) enjoyed side action on a regular basis. Being so young with minimal income, education, life experience, and being far away from the help and influence of family did not make a couple that was eager to start a family. This marriage imploded in dramatic fashion after 7 years and countless affairs (the last of which, effectively, ended his military career), but thankfully no children that were subjected to this clusterfuck.

Fast-forward a few years to my second marriage. I married another military man who was also on his second marriage and already had two pre-teens. We never had a true discussion about the possibility of adding more children to the household, mostly because of where we were in our lives. I had just graduated from college and was throwing myself into my new career. My husband was sharing custody of his children in a very challenging situation while making substantial child support and alimony payments, all while trying to manage a full-time military career that included multiple deployments overseas. As a stepfamily, we weren’t exactly hitting it out of the ballpark either. Again, not a couple that was eager to bring another child into an already crazy, stressful life. 

Just recently, our life has finally reached a settled, peaceful point as Mr. Zarrah Jane has now retired after a 23-year military career AND his youngest child left the nest for good. So, now that we are in a spot where I would feel completely comfortable adding a child, neither one of us are even remotely interested in doing so, as we go about our lives enjoying our newfound freedom.

This is just my story—the stories of many others that don’t have children are equally personal.  Maybe the decision was intentional for a man that came from an abusive family that feared he would do the same to his children. Maybe a woman that has been unsuccessfully trying for years to have a baby has finally decided to give up rather than go through the monthly heartfuck of a missing blue line on a pregnancy test. Perhaps a couple realizes that they are too stingy with their time and resources to devote the needed attention to a child.

My point is that ALL reasons for not having children are valid ones. However, people that don’t have children are usually a little reluctant to have this discussion, especially when those dreaded words, “Do you have kids?” come up in conversation. These words can bring a lot of pain to some, a sense of having to explain or defend their child-free existence. I implore all of us to come up with a different conversation opener for this reason, especially because it has been my experience that parents will almost always discuss their children pretty early on. No need to even ask this question to begin with.

In the meantime, my newfound go-to answer at work to the children question is, “I was never blessed with children of my own, but I’m blessed enough to be here to help you with your new, beautiful baby.” That does two things: One, it shuts down the question faster than the Audi R8 I’m looking to purchase with all of the money I’ve saved on not paying for childcare. Two, it usually brings a smile to that new mother’s face - a realization of how lucky she is to have that new baby to bring home to an eagerly waiting family. And that’s what it’s all about—honoring the choices people make to live their lives however they see fit and without judgment.

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