Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Being Childless Doesn't Mean Ending Up Alone

Two women in my extended family made it to 100 years old. One had children; the other did not. But when they celebrated their centennial birthdays, both were surrounded by loving family.

The woman who had children was Ruth, my husband’s ex-mother-in-law, maternal grandmother to Fred’s children. She turned 100 last weekend. Her daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter gathered at a posh restaurant to celebrate. In the Facebook photos, she looks happy, alert and ready to go on for another decade.

Although we have no direct connection these days, when Fred was around and his kids were young, we occasionally spent time with Ruth and her late husband Walt. They were always kind to me and included me as one of the family. Divorce doesn’t always dissolve the links between people; sometimes it adds more links. Ruth lives these days in a senior residence in Santa Clara, California, not too far from her family. I wish her many more happy times in her long life.

Edna Sousa at 100
The woman who did not have children was Aunt Edna, my mother’s favorite aunt, married to Mom’s Uncle Tony. I’m not sure why they didn’t have children. I have heard rumors of miscarriages and failed attempts to get pregnant. When Aunt Edna was young, people didn’t have all the medical options they have now, but they also didn’t talk about such things, so we don’t really know what happened.

Aunt Edna was a whirlwind of energy, stylish, bold, and always on the go. She worked in the office at a local cannery for many years. My mother worked with her until she got pregnant with me and retired to motherhood and life as a housewife. But Aunt Edna kept going. She worked, she had a busy social life, she volunteered for the church, and she loved her nieces and nephews. She was always surrounded by friends and family. Uncle Tony died relatively young of cancer, but Aunt Edna stayed in their house. Down the street, in her own house, lived her sister Virginia, who never married or had children. She too was a “career girl,” working at San Jose State most of her life. After they retired, the two sisters traveled the world, seeing just about every country. At home, they gathered with their vast network of in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews.

By the time Aunt Edna turned 100, she too was living in a senior residence, only a couple miles from where Ruth lives. Her dark hair had turned into a fluffy white cloud, her memory was fading, and she didn’t walk as well as she used to, but she was never alone. For her birthday party, the family rented a banquet room at a local restaurant and completely filled it with people who loved Edna. It was the climax of a wonderful life.

Edna died a few months later. A crowd attended the funeral, among them Virginia, now in her 90s, still living in her own home with help from a caregiver.

Some of us without children worry that we’ll end up alone, but we don’t have to. Even if we never have children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren, we can be like Edna and love the people we have around us and be loved by them, knowing that when we turn 100 years old, we will not be alone.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Find comfort for the childless here

Dear friends,
It's the second anniversary of my husband's death. Although I promised myself to stay zen about it, the memories and grief are weighing me down today. So I'm going to share a few things off the web that give me comfort.

TheNotMom.com tells us about a new report by a Harvard researcher that shows there are more households in the United States without children than with. So if you don't have kids, you are not out of the ordinary. The report itself is a little harder to understand, but you can read it here.

There's a new book out by comedian Jen Kirkman called I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids." It sounds like fun. They're talking about it on The View today. 

Finally, I have probably mentioned it before, but the Gateway-women gallery of childless role models at Pinterest can keep you reading all day about marvelous, beautiful women who never had children. By the way, I'm in there, and I'm thinking: what should I do with my hair? :-)

Have a wonderful day.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Book predicts decreasing birth rate will lead to disaster

What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster by Jonathan V. Last, Encounter Books, 2013. 

After years of hearing that we have too many people on this planet and that we have to decrease our population, here comes Jonathan V. Last to tell us that if we don’t start having more children, we’re in trouble. We’ll have a population of old people with no young ones to support them. Other authors tell us the exact opposite. Whom should we believe? This book is a slow read, a scholarly compilation of statistics that show the birth rate going down below replacement level in most first-world countries. Last blames it on many factors of modern life, including the cost of raising children, women going to college and having careers instead of babies, the decline of marriage and religion and the general belief that having children will take all the fun out of life. He details the efforts, mostly unsuccessful, that have been made to encourage people to have more children and makes suggestions for how to encourage more births. Last has a strong conservative bias and occasionally laces this footnote-fest with sarcasm, but there’s a lot of interesting information here, and it certainly provides food for thought. 

There's no doubt the birth rate has been going down. In some countries, such as Germany and Japan, the population is shrinking at a rapid rate. The question is whether this is a problem. I had this book with me at the doctor's office a couple days ago. When I showed my doctor the cover, she exclaimed that a smaller population is a good thing, that this world has too many people in it. That's what most people thing. Just visit any large American city at rush hour. Wouldn't fewer people and more open space be good? Yes, we'd have to work out how to manage things like Social Security with fewer workers contributing to it, but wouldn't it even out in time? 

And how does this affect our individual decisions on whether or not to have children? Certainly overpopulation is often cited by the childfree crowd as a good reason not to have kids. If we're to believe Jonathan V. Last, anyone who has more than two children should be rewarded with tax breaks and other incentives. But Laura Carroll maintains in The Baby Matrix, reviewed here in February, that couples should be given tax breaks for NOT having children. 

So what's the answer? I think if you want to have children, you should have them, and if you don't want them, don't have them. The population will sort itself out. 

What do you think?  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Have you had the conversation about kids?

"We could have been parents: the conversation that changed our lives" is the title of an article in the UK's Guardian that almost could have been written about my husband and me. The writer, Ruth Wishart, says she didn't bring up the subject of having children until she and her husband Rod had been married for two years. She just assumed they would have kids. When she started talking about when to have them, she found out he didn't want to have children at all. Happy with her life and career at the time, she let it go. Eventually she had her tubes tied. Then the unexpected happened: When she was in her 50s, her husband died suddenly, leaving her feeling very much alone.

I'll let you read the article for the details, but so much of this story is familiar. As you can read in my Childless by Marriage book, Fred did tell me before the wedding that he didn't want to have any more children, that the three he had from his first marriage were enough for him. He told me how he felt, but I really didn't talk about how I felt; I assumed he would change his mind. We didn't have the conversation we should have had. Instead, I let it go, too. And like Ruth's husband, mine died. So here I am with my dog.

I'm not looking for sympathy at this point. My life is pretty good. What I'm saying is the same thing I have been saying here for years: For God's sake, talk about it. Even if it causes a fight or sours the relationship, don't hold it in. If you want children, say so. If you don't want children, say so. If you're not sure or might be willing to compromise, say so. Talk it out. Don't let it fester, and don't let yourself get caught in a situation that breaks your heart. Please.

Thank you to Beth at the Children or Not blog for letting us know about this article.

I welcome your comments.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Childless readers seek comfort in their grief

"Are You Grieving Over Your Lack of Children?" is the headline of the blog I posted here on Nov. 7, 2007. Since August 2007, I have published 366 other posts at this site, but that is the one that has drawn the most views--6873--and the most comments--152. Most people get to it by a Google search. I'm thinking they're searching through tears because the key word is "grief." It hurts to want children and not be able to have them, especially when it seems to be a normal part of life for everyone around you. You see other people cuddling babies and it hurts. You see your friends and sisters getting pregnant and it hurts. You see a child laboring over a Mother's Day for his mom, and it hurts. You see an older woman going out to lunch with her daughter and granddaughter, and it hurts. I know. I feel that pain, too.

The comments keep coming in for that post, as well as for many others. People, mostly women, write to me in crisis. In so many cases, they thought they would have children with their spouse or partner, but now he/she is saying no, they don't want to do it. Maybe they already have children from a previous marriage and feel that's enough. Maybe they've had a vasectomy. Maybe one or both people have fertility issues. Maybe they just didn't get serious about it until they were in their 40s and now it's too late. Often, the writer, again usually a woman, is having to make an impossible choice: the man she loves or the children she's always wanted.

I'm not a psychologist or marriage counselor; I'm a writer. I know a lot about this subject because of my own experiences and a boatload of research. I include much of that research as well as my own story in my Childess by Marriage book. I continue to collect all the information I can about all aspects of life without children and will share as much as I can. I offer my love and prayers in the hope that we can all find peace with what feels like a hole in our lives.If we can help dry each other's tears and ease each other's grief, then this blog is worthwhile.

Thank you all for being here. Keep coming back.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Who can afford to have children these days?

Back about 23 years ago, I wrote articles for Bay Area Parent and Bay Area Baby. One of my assignments was a piece on the cost of childbirth and “Baby’s first year.” Knowing nothing, I called hospitals for quotes and drove around to the various baby supply stores taking notes on what they sold and how much it cost. As if I knew what I was doing, as if I knew what one really needed to take care of a baby. I’m the one who always showed up at baby showers with a stuffed animal or a ludicrously wrong-sized garment. I should have sat down with some actual parents who were willing to go through their receipts for the past year or at least make a list of the essentials. I mean, what did I know? Did I include breast pumps, vaccinations, itty bitty shoes? Do six-month-olds even wear shoes? I know more about what a dog needs than what an infant requires, but I did my best. I came up with $33,700 (in 1990 dollars). That’s a lot of lattes.

Jonathan V. Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, has children. He knows what they cost. He estimates raising a child from birth through college costs way more than anyone thinks, more than the USDA estimate of $207,800. Add $66,452 to $145,060 for college, which takes it to over a million dollars. Fast says the median price of a home in the U.S. in 2008 was $180,000, so “having a baby is like buying six houses, all at once. Except you can’t sell your children, they never appreciate in value, and there’s a good chance that, somewhere around age 16, they’ll announce: 'I hate you.'" In addition to the out-of-pocket expenses, couples need to factor in lost wages for whichever parent does most of the childcare, usually the mother. These numbers don’t include the ridiculous cost of fertility treatments for those need them or caring for a child with special needs.

Now, I’m sure parents can cut back somewhere. Do kids need the most expensive version of everything? Do their parents have to send them to the most expensive colleges and pay for food and lodging? Do all kids have to go to summer camp? But if we had children, we’d want to do the best for them, right?
The high cost may explain why the birth rate has gone down in recent years.I can barely afford to take care of my dog, whose main problem is persistent ear infections. So, let’s talk about the cost of having babies. The young people I know worry a lot about having enough money. Some of them have delayed childbirth indefinitely for that very reason. Has this been a factor in your discussions with your partner about whether or not to have children? Should it be? How would you handle the costs if you got pregnant?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Taking care of Annie feels like mothering to me

I've been mothering my dog today. She has yet another ear infection, despite repeated home treatment. The doctor pointed to her floppy ears and said she's a "poster child" for ear infections. Sunday, she started scratching her ears and shaking her head, sulking in misery in-between. I kept looking at her ears and couldn't see the problem, but it was worse yesterday, so I called the vet first thing this morning. Out with the work schedule. Annie is more important. I have some things I should see my own doctor for, but not when my baby is hurting.

Annie is always happy to go for a ride, but as she began to realize where we were going, she started shaking. I drove with one hand and held her with the other. At the vet's office, she ran up to the counter and greeted the receptionist. Then she leaped onto the padded seat to sit next to me, putting her paws in my lap and her head on my shoulder. She was trembling. I held her and tried to reassure her, especially when other dogs cried out from beyond the closed door.

Finally it was her turn. I told the lady vet about Annie's symptoms and what I had been doing for them. I held my dog as an aide took her temperature and the doc swabbed gunk out of her ears to have it analyzed. I got instructions for medicine and ear wash, and we talked about Annie's diet because my pup's getting a little chunky. I've been giving her too much chow. Am I measuring her food, the vet asked. Uh, no. This diet is going to hurt me more than it does my dog.

Annie gobbled a few dog cookies, I paid the bill, and we walked out together, her tail wagging, my bank account bruised. I foresee a lot of difficult sessions getting medicine into Annie's ears, but I will do it. I will let her shake goo all over my clothes, just as I let her lick my face and jump in my lap--all 81.5 pounds of her--because I love her, and it's my job to take care of her.

If that isn't mothering, what is?