Saturday, 18 November 2017

Misconceptions about the No Kidding

Infertile Phoenix highlighted a case when an advice columnist got it wrong when she was asked about a childless couple’s friendships with people who have children. In her post, she included the response that she felt should have been given to the woman who had written in about her childless friends. Go read her post first. I began a comment on Infertile Phoenix’s blog, but then decided to turn it into a post here, because I found I had quite a lot to rant about say.

The Ask Amy response compared being childless with losing parents. This analogy with losing parents is quite frankly ridiculous. The difference is huge. I’ve experienced both losses.

One loss is effectively the loss of a past, and the other is the loss of a future. One is entirely expected (although the timing may not be so expected), the other is something no-one really expects. One is accepted and normal in society, the other is not – instead it is hidden or ignored, and judged. One has, if we are lucky, happy memories of relationships and full lives. The other holds only never-to-be-met possibilities.

I have lost both my parents, and I am able to remember them both, the lives they had and my life with them too. It is expected that we lose parents. Sure, some of us lose them when we are younger, and some of us care for our elderly parents when we are also getting old. But the thing is, it is entirely natural, and expected, and THE NORM to lose your parents. Yes, I miss them when I think of them. But my day-to-day life has changed little. The loss of the children I never had, however, affects the rest of my life.

As mature adults, we have separated ourselves from our parents to an extent, living our own lives. Sure, if we’re lucky, we can love them and care for them and enjoty their company. But they’re not our primary familial unit, and our relationships with our parents – whether we have them or not – largely don’t affect our friendships. It makes no difference to me whether my friends have parents still in their lives or not. It’s an issue where I can provide support, and love, and they can provide it in turn. But it doesn’t change the way we interact.

This is not the case when people have children. Their children are their main focus – sometimes (often?) even the relationships with a significant other are pushed into the background. It not only affects the time that a parent with children has to spend with friends, but what they think about and talk about with their friends. Many parents are no longer outward-looking, but are focused entirely on their immediate family – them, their partners if they have them, and their children. The childless friend (or couple) may also feel very isolated from their friends who are new parents, because they can’t share in the experiences their friends are going through. When you can’t share in the parental conversations or other activities with your friends who are now parents, then any interaction with them can be very isolating. When parents choose to socialise only with other parents, it can feel like a painful rejection. Many have said that they feel left behind. On top of this, the friend without children is reminded that they didn’t get the future they planned every time they see their friends. They might be happy for their friends. But even if they are, it doesn’t mean they don’t feel some regret.

This level of pain, rejection, and social isolation simply does not occur when we lose our parents. Perhaps a more relevant analogy (though I agree, far from perfect) might be amongst friends who enjoyed the same career, one they were passionate about, and had planned on pursuing for the rest of their lives. Their careers, or their future careers, defined them. But unexpectedly, one of them can’t do so. Maybe they lost their job, or were physically unable to continue with it, despite intellectually and emotionally being capable of doing so, and despite still desperately wanting to do so. They didn’t get a choice, and they have had to pursue the only other option available to them. They were forced into it when their first choice wasn’t possible. But every time they sit down with their friends, all their friends talk about is their career. Their friends can’t meet them or pursue activities they both enjoy because they have to work, and for the most part, they are loving it. Young people they meet talk about when they will follow this career, just assuming it will happen. And the person who didn’t have a choice is sitting there, isolated by the conversation that ignores their reality. They are judged by others who don’t know their circumstances, or even by their friends who thought that they had a choice.

To continue on, the letter-writer in the article says that the woman in the childless couple behaves oddly when  she meets children. She "starts out acting excited to interact with a child, then progresses to saying she doesn’t know how to interact with the child because she doesn’t have any, and then she says being with children makes her sad."

I can understand all those emotions, and think it's perfectly reasonable. The prospect of interacting with a child is fun, and exciting. But the reality is that I can feel very self-conscious interacting with children when there are other adults or the child's parents around. I never had a lot to do with younger children when I was growing up, and as an adult, I lived in different cities and countries from my nieces and nephews. I also have never had those years of on-the-job training, dealing with my own children or their friends. I hear all the comments of the watching parents/adults in our heads. There’s the pity - “It’s so sad, she would have made such a good mother.” Or the judgement – “it’s a good thing she doesn’t have children, she doesn’t know how to talk to/play with/discipline them.” Or the mockery or laughter behind our backs  – “look at her, she thought the child would like that! It’s obvious she doesn’t have children!” It may be that none of these occur, but it’s very hard to silence the voices in our heads that make us self-conscious about our situation.

Ask Amy’s comment that “If this couple wanted to, they could easily find fulfilling ways to have children in their lives …” frustrates me. We wanted to be parents. Relationships with other people’s children is never the same. Besides, it’s not always so easy. Some parents jealously guard their relationship as the only meaningful relationship their children will have with adults. I’ve seen some people behave that way. But I’ve also been fortunate that I’ve had some lovely times with nieces (and hopefully many more).

It’s the principle that annoys me though. I shouldn’t feel I have to have “meaningful” relationships with children, simply because I didn’t have any myself. I know lots of parents who don’t have fulfilling relationships with any children other than their own. So why should we feel obliged? Is it because they feel we need to prove that we like children after all?

Sigh. Apologies for the rant!

Monday, 13 November 2017

Still learning

I was reminded of this quote on social media this morning.

I love learning new languages, ideas, and about new places and new people. I also love learning about myself. I wish I could learn how to permanently lose weight, how to get inexhaustible energy, and how to not care what other people think, amongst others. I'm working on all of these, and have been for a long time, with more success in some areas than others.

Not having children as a result of infertility and loss has been a learning process too.  I've learnt about my body, and myself, and I've written multiple posts about that (here, here, here, and here - to name just a few), and I still have a long way to go, but I'm now actually enjoying the ride.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Two aunt-related things that made me smile

When looking after my niece recently, my husband and I headed to the big indoor sports stadium to watch her play her last game of basketball for the year. As we both love sport and were very good at different sports when we were children, we have felt that we missed out sharing that with children, but I was pleased that I wasn't wistful at all when I was there; in fact, I found it totally lovely to see hundreds of children and their parents and siblings and supporters in this huge stadium involved in such a healthy activity on a Friday night.

A woman sat next to us, and when she asked if we had a grandchild playing, I cringed a little, thinking that my sister probably gets this a bit too (and her older husband definitely does). I had to laugh, though, because I am the age I am, and I have friends my age who are grandparents too. Still, perhaps one of the advantages of not being a grandparent is not feeling quite as old as the word "grandparents" would make us feel.

On another matter, my sister mentioned to me that she and her husband had recently talked to Charlie about their guardianship arrangements, saying that, amongst other options, they could choose my husband and I.

She thought about it, and said, happily, and with satisfaction at solving a problem,
"Mali and Uncle Mali, please. Oh, and that would be really good, too, because they couldn't have kids."


 

Monday, 30 October 2017

Knowing what is important

When people say that they “know what is important,” I know that they always mean family and to them family clearly means children, and what they really mean is that if you don’t have any, then you don't have anything truly important. I know that that’s what they mean, because it was recently said to me.

In a conversation about old age, I mentioned my hope that we can continue to travel, and so the follow-up statement to their “knowing what is important” pearl of wisdom – from a parent who had just admitted that she didn’t particularly enjoy travel – was very pointedly directed at me. 
“But it’s not something that is important; no-one old ever says that they regret not travelling more.” 
 “Well, obviously, if I had to stop now, I would say that,” I responded, somewhat self-consciously because she’d just said pointedly that my life was indeed meaningless if I thought travelling was important.

What I didn’t say is that I know several people who would agree with me, and one 90+ year old (with whom this particular self-righteous parent was actually staying at the time) who repeatedly, and very sadly, says those exact words to me, wishing she'd seen the things that my husband and I see, and that she had had the adventures we have, and she has never once consoled herself (to me) with the fact that she has children (and grandchildren), perhaps because she hardly ever sees them (except one).

I get so tired of the judgement that people without children have nothing, when in reality we all have different things that are important to us, whether it is enjoying nature, doting on children/grandchildren/nieces/friends or pets, gardening or writing or travel or our work. Whilst sometimes these things are enjoyed with family and friends, and sometimes they might fill the place left without family or friends, whatever it is that fills our lives and brings us joy is undeniably important to us.

Note: I have a full post, the last of my Gifts of Infertility series, planned to expand on this particular topic, but decided to throw this anecdote in now.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

No Kidding women leading New Zealand

Today we have a new Prime Minister. She is one of us, a No Kidding woman. When she was first elected as leader of her party, there was a scandal that she was asked almost immediately whether she intended having children (she's in her late 30s). Fortunately most of the conversation was about the fact that men are never asked that question, so why should reporters ask her, rather than over the issue of whether a woman could have children whilst leading the country. (Though the comment sections on websites were full of speculation about this, of course.)

As our new Prime Minister, she's commented that a personal focus of hers will be to reduce child poverty. She has been involved in this portfolio in opposition, and has said it is very important to her, and so I have no reason to suspect that she is doing this to counter the fact that she is not a parent. Her focus very nicely makes the point that you don't have to be a parent to care.

She's our third female Prime Minister, and our second who lives a No Kidding life. We've had a male Prime Minister for the last nine years, and an administration that was dominated by middle-aged white men. Before that, Helen Clark led the government for nine years, and I had become used to feeling more included in society and government, even when the focus was often on family. I have hope that once again I - and women like me - can stop feeling quite so invisible.