If you’re a mom, Happy Mother’s Day!
If you’re not a mom, Happy Day for Giving Thanks for Your Mom (or Whoever Raised You)!
I’m so grateful to have my mom a short drive away, and I’m grateful for the love and support and encouragement she’s given me my whole life. I know I’m lucky — not everyone got that kind of love.
Moms like that rock!
Me, I’m childfree by choice.
Let me assure you, before you jump to conclusions, that childfree by choice doesn’t mean child-disliking. I absolutely adore kids (did you know I taught nursery school and was a nanny in my 20s?), but I’m “mom” only to a fluffy diva of a kitty, who keeps me sane when she’s not driving me crazy.
ChildFree by Choice Isn’t Always an Easy Choice
I love my life, and would not trade it, but getting to a peaceful resolution to the question of whether or not to have children was not an easy journey. A journey intimately tied to my journey toward a Big, Bold, Creative Life.
Some of my friends knew from early on that they didn’t want kids. Childfree by choice from birth. I envy them.
For me it was a painful struggle for a long time, and although I finally got to clarity and peace and closure with my ultimate decision a number of years ago, that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes get wistful.
I also have friends who are childfree not by choice, for whom Mother’s Day must pack a mighty wallop. Even for those of us who are childfree by choice, though, Mother’s Day can tug at you…
Leaving a Legacy
Someone very intuitive recently asked me something about my children, and when I said I didn’t have any, she paused a moment, then nodded and said,
“Ah, yes, your work is your children.”
It was a very perceptive way to put it. In fact, I sometimes wonder if part of the reason I’m so passionate about making a difference is that my work is my way of leaving a legacy.
Would I be so driven to build Living A Creative Life if I had children?
Of course there’s no way of knowing, but I often wonder what my life would be like if I’d had kids.
Every Choice Spawns a Sister Life
I grew up assuming I’d be a mom
It was a given until I was in my 30s and newly divorced, because I love kids, and well, why wouldn’t I be a mom?
But life, as John Lennon put it, is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
My life has turned out wildly different from the way I imagined it would be, in many more ways than ultimately being childfree by choice. It’s richer, deeper, definitely bigger, bolder and more creative than I even knew was possible.
I have an awesome life!
And yet I do sometimes think about the other life, the “sister life” that mine would be now, had I stepped through different doors and made different choices than I did. Had I landed at this age with a kid or two in tow (or maybe in college!), in addition to a fluffy diva kitty.
The Ghost Ship that Didn’t Carry Us
I recently read a wonderful book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed, a compilation of luscious, gut-wrenching, compassionate, and soul-baring letters from an online advice column. (Seriously, read it! I couldn’t put it down!)
One of the letters Strayed (as the anonymous Dear Sugar) wrote, was to a man in his early 40s, who was wrestling with the question of whether to have a child or not.
He asked many of the same questions I asked myself, as I wrestled with the “to kid or not to kid?” question for several years in my 30s.
Strayed refers to the “sister life” we didn’t choose as “the ghost ship that didn’t carry us.” It’s neither better, nor worse, just different.
Every choice you make in life means an infinite number of other choices that you didn’t make.
I choose to spend this moment writing a newsletter to you, which means I am not using this moment to paint, or check email, or walk by the San Francisco Bay with MB, or call my mom, or play my ukulele, or…
Had I chosen to be a mom, there is no question that I would have spent my time and energy very, very differently than I have over the past couple of decades.
None of these choices is inherently better than any other, but they are all different, and they are (with few exceptions) mutually exclusive. (Yes, I could call my mom while walking by the Bay with MB, for example, but it would make that walk a totally different experience.)
As Strayed puts it at the end of her gorgeous Dear Sugar letter,
“I’ll never know, and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
I’m saluting now.
PS – Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
Erin Callaway says
Hey Melissa! I haven’t checked in for quite a while but I still read your blogs and the title of this one immediately grabbed me. I am also a woman who has chosen to not have children – a decision that I made based on a knowing that has always been inside me but that my husband and I discussed, and discussed, and discussed, and discussed again to MAKE SURE we weren’t overlooking some hidden “but what about….” that might cause us to change our minds. We never did come across anything of the sort and instead have gone on to live a very satisfying, fulfilling life that, like yours, includes many children in other ways. For me, my calling has been not to be a mother but to be that “other person” in the lives of children who need the caring and support of someone who is not their parent. I think many, if not most, do need someone like that. I know I did when I was a kid. Like knowing that my purpose in this life was NOT to be a mother, I have always known that being that “other person” IS my purpose — and that feels completely right and wonderful and continues to bring me great joy.
Thank you for sharing.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
I love this, Erin:
“For me, my calling has been not to be a mother but to be that “other person” in the lives of children who need the caring and support of someone who is not their parent.”
There have been childfree people throughout history who have filled this role. It’s unfortunate that it’s a role that has been rather shoved under the carpet by our culture, which tends to portray those of us without kids as odd or pitiable, while at the same time giving lip-service (and lip-service only) to being child-friendly/family-centric.
But don’t get me started down that path… I’ll never get off my soapbox. 😉
Lisa M. says
I love this idea of the sister life, what might have been, not being better or worse than the life we chose. I am one of those childless-not-by-choice women (thanks for including us in your thoughts, BTW.) My choice was that I chose not to keep pursuing a dream that kept proving itself over and over to be elusive. My sister life would also have been very different, but the life I now have allows me to nurture my creative child and to give her the space she wouldn’t have had if I’d been a nurturing mom. I’m grateful for that.
P.S. You new website is big, bold, and beautiful! So inviting. I love it. Social share buttons for your wonderful posts would be a very nice addition. 🙂
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Thanks for your comment. I love how you were able to take something that was very much not a choice, and see the choice available to you inside it. And that you see the beauty that you got from this choice-that-wasn’t-originally-your-choice. So compassionate and wise.
Getting to childfree by choice was a long journey for me. I was frustrated and angry after my divorce that what I’d thought was a choice to become a parent seemed ripped away from me, and for years I lamented that I wasn’t in a position to realistically choose parenthood (either being single, or in a relationship with a man who wasn’t interested or wasn’t ready, or…) For some women, single parenthood is a viable choice; that was not the case for me.
Would I choose to try for parenthood, knowing what I know now, if I were in my 20s or 30s? It’s hard to say…
What I can say, though, is that finally coming to the decision to be childfree by choice created so much ease in my life!
Thanks also for pointing out that my social share buttons weren’t there! Something must have broken during the overhaul. They’re back now. 🙂
Suzanne Edminster at Saltworkstudio says
Thanks for speaking for so many of us! The idea of a “sister life” is a beautiful, useful metaphor. There’s still a lot of bewildered or negative energy around for women who have a lot of love to share, but choose not to have kids. (By the way, my job with at-risk teens fulfills a big ol’ chunk of kid karma, so I’m glad you mentioned your nursery school days.) Suzanne
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Yes, Suzanne, our society is pretty bewildered when it comes to childfree by choice women! Sheesh, our entire culture is built on a foundation of “be fruitful and multiply,” in which that was a woman’s ONLY value!
It often feels like swimming upstream to be childfree by choice. I have hope that this will change, though, like so much else in our culture. (Though it probably won’t be fast enough for my taste. ;))
I really appreciated reading this, Melissa. I’m in a place where I’m uncertain whether children are part of the plan. I still have some time to make a decision on that, but I know that the lifestyle I live right now is in no way child friendly and I struggle to visualize having them anywhere sooner than 5 or 7 years from now (which would put me in my late 30s). There are so many goals and plans that we have that children would be a major hindrance to…. and the urge to pursue those dreams is MUCH stronger than the desire to have kids.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
When I was with the ex-bf 2 guys before MB, I was still in that uncertain place. I remember my boyfriend at the time saying, “You have no space for children in your life.” I was livid, but he was right. I simply wasn’t ready to let go of the story that “Of course you’re having kids, Melissa.”
For those of us who weren’t born cleanly on one side of the kids/no kids divide, it is a big, big, BIG question. No getting around it.
If you haven’t read Tiny Beautiful Things, I highly recommend it. There’s so much more in Dear Sugar’s response that I think you’d really get a lot out of reading. (Plus the rest of the book rocks, too. :))
It’s Mothering Sunday here in the UK today, and I came across your blog when looking for articles about being childfree on Mother’s Day. This time last year, I saw posts on facebook about women being thankful for their mothers and thankful for now joining them in motherhood, and I think it’s a difficult day of the year for the childfree and childless. I have a very close relationship with my wonderful mum, and I’m hugely thankful for that. I’m taking her out for afternoon tea to celebrate Mothering Sunday today. But at the same time, I feel a tiny bit bitter about the fact that society celebrates parenthood whilst overlooking the contributions to society that non-parents are making.
Anyway, what I really wanted to say is how much your article spoke for me. In my childfree research, I almost always come across the stories of people who’ve known since birth that parenthood wasn’t for them. Not me. This is a decision I’ve struggled with, and still think about regularly. I know I won’t change my mind, so I’m not sure why I think about it so often! But I loved the idea of a sister-life. In some ways, I now feel more at peace knowing that each decision could have played out differently. The decisions I’ve made make me who I am. Taking the other fork in the road is a pathway for someone else.
Thanks, Melissa 🙂
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment, Jenny! I’m so glad that you found my article at a good time. 🙂 There was something so… peace-making for me about Cheryl Strayed’s image of a sister lift, a “ghost ship that didn’t carry us.” And as you wrote, the decisions I’ve made make me who I am. 🙂 Sending you a virtual hug! xom