July 07, 2006

A Childfree Life

My mother-in-law visits every Christmas season and even though she drives me crazy most of the time I can have good conversations with her every once and a while.

Last Christmas we were sitting in my livingroom just having different discussions when I blurted out I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be having any children. Keep in mind she's desperate to become a grandmother and never gets to see my boyfriend's daughter for complicated reasons I will get into another time.

What was her response?

If you don't have children then what are you going to do with your life?
Her other daughter-in-law (also my best friend) was in shock I didn't lose my cool with her but I tell you I was dumbfounded by that question. What kind of question is that anyway?

This coming from a woman who the moment her kids had left home (and she was divorced from their father) she sold the home and moved from New England to Florida. She started a whole new life and nearly abandoned her role as a mother. I couldn't believe she, of all people, could ask me what someone does with their life if they aren't a parent?

At the time all I really responded with was I really wanted to travel and that I'd continue to basically do what I do now. Sometimes I think more of an answer is expected from that big of a question but I don't understand what else you can say? Staying childfree I'll just continue to live my life, what more is needed?

I can't help but wonder if when all is said and done will my life somehow be considered less because I didn't have children. If I travel all over the world, meet extraordinary people and live out my dreams will it all mean nothing if I choose not to be a mother?

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Boxing Tomboy said...

That question essentially tells someone that their life is not worth anything with a housefull of kids trailing behind them. I've had people ask me variations of that question as well. What gets me is most of the time, it comes from a single unwed mom. What I do is go into a long list of what activities I have, which brings about dumb looks. Sometimes, I'll get something like, "I guess you can do anything you want to," said with a touch of envy and some snideness.

Boxing Tomboy said...

Whoops, the last comment should have said "without a housefull of kids", not with! Fingers going faster than my brain.

Robin said...

It's incredibly insulting for sure and definitely comes across with a touch of envy.

Anonymous said...

Robin - thanks for sharing this intimate encounter of the in-law variety. Interesting that she blurted out that question in front of other people. I consider the context and wonder if she was setting you up to apply more social pressure, or if she was genuinely reacting the way many strangers would and felt comfortable enough to actually ask you. Of course, she is personally invested in your answer given her agenda for grandchildren. Hey, I think all parents would like to skip the parent part and just be grand-parents if they could!

My mind wanders to possible responses, depending on who's asking...

You could take the educational approach and reply non-defensively like Boxing Tomboy suggests, begin listing of all the things you currently enjoy doing -- the things that parents miss when their kids are young. (I always look dumb when I am learning something...)

You could use humour, and reply that you will "be a part of the first Mars colony" or find a "cure for cancer". Careful who you say that too if they've had a survivor in the family, but you get my drift.

You could take the open-ended, non-confrontational approach and reply "that's the fun part" and just leave it at that (perhaps announce that it time to freshen up your drink). I prefer this fill-in-the-blank option as it engages a person's imagination.

I have to admit that I have asked myself this question, though I cannot remember anyone asking me that directly. There was a point in my life when that would have made me cry. Imagine wanting children and not being able to have them, and getting that question.

Robin said...

Teri - Well if you knew my MIL you'd know why she asked it, she has no tact. She once asked my SIL's grandmother if the batteries she opened as a gift were for her vibrator :O She just doesn't know how to censor herself, which sometimes I admire and sometimes it makes me want to slap her. At least it means I can be just as blunt with her.

What's frustrating is she's desperate to have grandchildren and she lives in FLORIDA! What I want to say is...sure I'll have kids if you'll be close enough to take them off my hands when I need it :D I think it's more of a "I deserve to be a grandmother, gimme" kind of thing, she can be a bit of a child.

And there you go...my rant for the day.

nomadshan said...

My mother-in-law told her oldest son that he had a responsibility to keep having children because he's intelligent. She's admitted to Dave + I that she is still holding out hope that we'll return from our travels some time with an adopted child in tow.

Not to turn this into a series of rants about our mothers-in-law, though. I've definitely gotten the "well then what will you do with your life" as well as the envious "I guess you can do that because you don't have children" (which sometimes comes in the form of "I could never do that, I have to think about my kids". I'd like to think I could still do whatever I wanted with kids, but realistically, I don't think I could.

Robin said...

Well idealy if you have kids you
A. have more than enough money to support them and still have some left for other stuff
B. Have time for yourself and for your kids and hubby
C. Can do what you want when you want, maybe relatives to take the kids whenever you need it

...and the list goes on. But most likely you don't luck out like that.

Anonymous said...

My mother-in-law had no idea that her son (my husband) did not want to have children. I think I surprised her once when I asked her, one-on-one, "Why do you think Tom decided not to have children?"

She was so surprised, she didn't really answer me directly. She said, "Tom would have made an excellent father!" Very defensively I might add. She assumed it was all me. She then went on to extoll how wonderful he was when his nieces and nephews were younger. He tells me a different story.

NikkiJ said...

"If I travel all over the world, meet extraordinary people and live out my dreams will it all mean nothing if I choose not to be a mother?"

To some people, I'm afraid the answer is yes, it will. The point is - which is more important - what they think or what you think?

ChrisR said...

More to the point, who ever asks a guy this question?

And how many truly amazing women (adventurers, explorers, inventors) had neither kids nor hubbies? Would you ask them if their lives meant nothing?

I'm guessing they achieved as much as they did 'cause they weren't tied down by the apron strings ...

But I'm thinking your MIL wouldn't put any value on those kinds of exploits, not feminine enough, or something.

NikkiJ said...

Childfree guy telling people of his exploits and adventures around the world. People are awed. "Wow" they say. "You did all that? How exciting!"

Childfree woman telling people of her exploits and adventures around the world. People are perplexed. "Very nice my dear" they say. "But when are you going to settle down and have children?". You don't want to leave it too late, you know."

;-) aka Britgirl.

Anonymous said...

I would like to use the book I am working on to create Portraits of Purple Women. We could all use a few good role models. They will be women who have "been there and done that" -- wise women who have walked the walk and talked the talk. I have a few in mind already. I have been seeking them much longer than I have been blogging here.

This blog is helping me find my stride and my voice, and I am grateful.

More and more I am realizing that it is important to take this message and information to a broader audience. We are really preaching to the choir here!

ChrisR said...

I hear you Britgirl!

When I headed to your part of the world, people regularly said 'you'll meet some guy over there, get married, and never come back'.

Not, oh wow, amazing you're going to see so many different countries/ do different things/ meet different people ..

Yeah well, my one way ticket turned into 3 years and I had a ball. So phooey to them. :)