April 26, 2006

Wanted: Childfree Role Models

As a childfree 40-year-old, married woman I fit squarely in the category of those who are deemed to have an atypical adult identity. My husband and I live happily outside the mainstream, but at times it has been lonely. I have struggled to accept and define myself by my alternative family status. This became more of a crisis for me as more of our friends got married and had kids, thus altering their lives and our relationship with them, forever. It didn’t help that we chose to live in the burbs. Now I seek out childfree friends who have more time to socialize.

I am used to being categorized and marginalized, if not for my childfree status, then for some other reason. My husband is a baby boomer. I am Generation X, but missing the lower back tattoo and only my ears are pierced. I heard a new term on a talk radio program recently: omniracial. Omiogosh, I thought, that’s me too! I am half Cambodian with a touch of Portuguese, and on the American side Germanic and Irish decent. Okay, who wants a piece of me? I really felt for Tiger Woods when the media was going crazy over his ethnicity.

A while back, when I was still living in California I managed a swim school. It was a step off the beaten path of nonprofit fundraising for me, but I loved that job. All the kids called me Miss Teri and I got really good at guessing children’s ages, age three through nine. A close family member had encouraged me to take the job. She said, “It will be good for you to be around children and families.” She was right and this experience helped me realize that I am good with children -- something I never knew before, partly because I am an only child.

It was fun to play with other people’s kids. I think back now and realize that I was testing myself to see if being around children would drive me one way or anther, perhaps to pursue adoption or foster parenting.
The experience was a good one for me, but in the end I decided to remain childfree. The “deciding to decide” and then accepting the decision, and acting upon it, was a very important step for me.

The knowledge that I could not bear children of my own haunted me throughout my 20s and 30s, and I have struggled to find my own reason for being, my purpose in life. I have often wondered if the childfree have an important role or even a duty to society, our family and our community to give back or make a difference in some way -- since our greatest achievement will not be a child. Some would argue that not having a child is our gift to the earth.

This conversation with myself has evolved over the years. Lately, I’ve been wondering if perhaps we should be the first-responders in case of crises? I think my need for significance is why I was drawn to work in the nonprofit sector. More recently, I have come to see my childfree status an opportunity to immerse myself in what I am passionate about, so that I may leave my mark on the world (blogosphere?), even if it’s only chicken scratch!

At this mid-point in life, a time when life-review is not un-common, I am still looking around me for good role models. I have been lucky to find a few along the way.

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ChrisR said...

"“the system” was telling me that my greatest value to society was that of a baby-making machine "

Hoo boy, and isn't that the truth? I have been known to tell haranguing males that I'm 'not a walking uterus' and watch them scurry away! :P

I guess I didn't really search for validation, as such, as I essentially have no interest in kids. However, the lack of literature (or skew towards infertility) definitely reinforces the message we get from everything else around us.

Sometimes I think the wider society's attitude to the child free is one of irrational fear - maybe that's why it's harder to identify role models? Wouldn't want to lead the young folk astray now, would we?

Anonymous said...

Chris -- I can't believe you read the whole thing. I shoule probably issue an apology to all the browsers whose eyes go cross-eyed when they see how long this post is. I was working on an older article, bla, bla, bla...

Thanks for your feedback! I plan to post more frequently in the coming days (short ones, I promise). Maybe even some fun stuff!

AlphaGirl said...

I don't need to look too far for a role model...my own mom.
Sure, she loved us kids and provided for us. I also got to see how hard she had to work to keep us sane, healthy, fed, clothed, etc. and how much it took from her own life, and the sacrifices she had to make in order to do a good job. She always told us, "If you are even in doubt about having kids..don't!"
I think she got that perspective mostly from her hospital job..she worked in ER admitting when I was a kid, and she saw a lot of abused kids come thru there who had "fallen off their bike" or who had "fallen off their bed/skates/whatever". In short, a lot of unwanted, poorly-provided for kids. In her mind, to have had a kid when you were emotionally poorly eqipped to raise them or were coerced into having them(i.e. via our culture)was a crime.

She loved us to pieces, but was also very candid about the realities of parenthood. She's a mom with a CF mindset! =)