November 09, 2006

Childfree With Child Support

I believe a lot of my feelings about being childfree came to surface when I met my boyfriend and along with it came all issues relating to his daughter. Here I was, not wanting children, but my whole life was constantly being uprooted because of his.

Can you imagine not actually having a child in your life but being financially obligated to one? Can you imagine having no say on the upbringing of a child but having to pay partially for the outcomes? Can you imagine having to put important things in your life on hold because the child requires an uninsured medical expenses?

Of course not, because any childfree woman in her right mind would never get involved with a guy who has kids from a previous relationship. If you think it's bad being a mother, being a stepmother comes with a whole new level of stress (so I've been told by stepmothers I know).

I can't tell you how often stepmothers have told me I should count my blessings that I don't have to be an active stepmother, because it rarely seems worth the effort. On the other hand I have been told that since I don't want to be a mother it is destructive to be in a position where I could be a stepmother.

But of course, while I don't believe I ever want children of my own it has always been important to me to have a loving and supportive relationship with a man. I even now believe marriage can be a good thing, if it's the right people. My relationship comes with baggage. What relationship doesn't? It's a struggle to find a way to deal with it but I put in the effort because so far it's been worth it.

I suppose we all have to make sacrifices in life, it's just that sometimes I wish I felt like my sacrifices helped more or were even appreciated.

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s said...

I am a stepmother. My husband's son is 10. He left his horrible ex-wife 5 1/2 years ago and divorced soon afterwards. We have been married for about 2 1/2 years. I got involved with my husband before I even knew what the word "childfree" meant. I can't honestly say that if I met my husband now, after discovering what a proud and vocal childfree woman I could be, that I would want to get involved with him because of his son. Even though he's 10 and not a baby/toddler and only spends two weekends out of each month at our house, having him around alters life in ways that aren't always appreciated.

He lives with his mother about 35 miles away. Close enough for my husband to see him for dinner weekly, yet far enough that we're not asked to pick him up, go to school events, or other such irritants.

There is a chance that within the coming three years he will decide he wants to live with us. His mother is not pleasant, doesn't care about him, and he is beginning to realize that. At his current age he is too young for the courts to take his request to live with Dad seriously, but by the time he is 13 they might actually listen. And this prospect scares the shit out of me.

Robin said...

S - Wow, it's VERY nice to meet you. It's always wonderful to find other stepmothers who are childfree because it's a world of it's own. Our situations sound very similar except that my boyfriend can't see his daughter and can count how many times he's seen her in the 4 years since he's left. His ex is NOT pleasant (to put it midly) and if his daughter hadn't been turned against him (and his family) so much I might think someday she'd want to be with us...although I'm not sure it's something I'd deal with well since I don't even know her. Anyway...thanks for commenting and I plan to check out your blog.

AlphaGirl said...

Hi S,
I loved your post. Shortly after my divorce, I dated someone who had two older kids (10 and 13). Both kids were sweet, well-adjusted and pleasant to be around. Even with all of those positive attributes, I found that I didn't have what it took to keep such a complicated relationship going. I indentified as childfree even then, but those kids needed and deserved someone who would willingly step-parent them. That person was not me, no matterh how sweet and well-behaved they were. I ended the relationship; it wasn't fair to them.
Motherhood, in any form, was not and is not for me.

lee said...

Wow. I came to check out your posts about sourdough (From eggbeater) and I found something that hits even closer to home!
I too am a step-mom who is esentially childfree. A bit of background- I am 34 and this August married a 27 yr. old with a 9 yr. old daughter. Yeah. I always thought I'd never had kids but so did my sister and now she has two. As I got older and loved my nephew to pieces (the other one is on the way), I started to think more about it. My husband doesn't want anymore kids and I decided that I'd stick with him. We were engaged for 2 yrs. because it was a bit of a struggle to make the decision to give up on a child for good. The thing is, most days I am happy with this decisin, it's just hard when 5 people close to me are pregnant and society revolves around child rearing.
We see my step daughter almost every weekend and don't even get me started on the financial burden and having to raise a child when you don't have much say about how to parent! Thanks for listening...

Teri said...

Lee - Hello and Welcome to PW&F!

So sorry about that but the TypePad blog remembered my URL and the last time I visited Shuna, author of the awesome food blog called Eggbeater. I corrected this on her blog post. You can now click through from her site to read about my bread-baking exploits on my other blog.

Re: connecting with other non-parents, I am the new organizer of the San Francisco Bay Area Childfree MeetUp group. Quarterly international dinners are planned, starting with a kick-off in the New Year!

Elise said...


Wow, some amazing stories re: step-parenting. I'm the step-mom-one-removed (or will be, after my wedding in 9 days!) of a 24 year old (who was 20 when I met her dad/stepdad, my now-fiance...I say this because while he's technically her stepdad and her biodad is alive, he is the closest thing to a dad she ever had and raised as his own --- as much as his ex-wife would *let* him, that is; she undercut him at every turn). At least all the real "raising" was done by the time I came on the scene; else, I don't think I could have pursued the relationship.

Teri --- congrats on becoming a Meetup Org! SO COOL! Let me know if you have any questions. Also, be aware there are Meetups just for Orgs, too, which can be totally fun; even though the individual Meetups involved can be totally all over the map in terms of topic, there are certain subjects which all Orgs deal with and it's great to talk about 'em.



Robin said...

Sometimes I think I'm being irresponsible by being in this position but I can't imagine my life without me. I worry that if things change and she's a part of our lives our relationship will fall apart. I'm certainly not going to just leave him because someday I may have to act as a stepparent.

Elise said...

My status as a step-parent-once-removed has shifted suddenly over the last 24 hours.

My fiance's step-daughter Gina (he calls her his daughter; as I've stated before, he raised her from the time she was 4), who had a son in early September, awoke this morning to find the baby blue and not breathing. He had been entirely healthy; we saw him less than a week ago and he was doing well.

The coroner is involved, as is always the case with SIDS, just to make sure there was no foul play.

We just came back from an evening spent at the home of the family of Steve, the baby's father (he and Gina aren't married and have no plans to; it doesn't seem they even have plans to stay together). The entire extended family (cousins, uncles, aunts, kids, grandmothers) were all there, and all very supportive. Steve and his family are black, and *extremely* close, it seems.

I really felt as if they had something I want --- but at the same time, I felt that if I'd gone through a terrible experience, I'd want a friend or two around, or my fiance --- definitely not a whole house of 30+ people knocking on my bedroom door. It really brought on huge feelings of ambivalence. And this wasn't even the funeral or the wake; it was just an impromptu gathering at Steve's family's home on the day the news hit.

I was so sad to see Gina lose the baby --- even though I was extremely ambivalent about his coming into the world in the first place, since her life took such a huge detour (college un-finished; beloved first apartment given up in order to move back in with her mom; dicey relationship put under all kinds of pressure due to impending parenthood, etc.). She was great with the baby and seemed to really enjoy motherhood, albeit entirely unable to keep the wolves from her door in terms of supporting herself (i.e., she went on welfare, seemingly without a qualm, which was pretty tough on my Liberal-yet-intermittently-Libertarian-too mindset). We were starting to adjust and be able to truly support her, as opposed to just saying what we thought we "should".

I was also bowled over by the sheer size and closeness of Steve's family. They were very real with each other, very loving. Even though I'm close with one of my two brothers (the one which *isn't* my bio sibling!), "family" has always been something of a four-letter word to me. I'm estranged from both of my parents now (my father for 15 years; my mother, far more recently).

How many CFs feel similarly? Is there something in our background (in my case, an extremely narcissistic mother, parents who had the worst marriage ever and then dragged each other through the mud while divorcing, rather than putting their children first, etc., etc.) which puts us off the idea of parenthood?

Or is it something far more ingrained?

Sorry to ramble on. I'm still more or less in shock.


AlphaGirl said...

Hi Elise-
First things first here: Please accept my condolences for your loss. That is a helluva blow to a newly-expanded family!

Secondly, in aswer to your question, my childfreedom is hard-wired in my case. My family life was no better or no worse than anyone else's, so that's not a factor for me. The idea of some squeaky voice calling me "Mommy" just never resonated with me, and neither did a lifetime of virtual indentured servitude. Had my family situation been truly bad, I still don't think it would have influenced my decision, otherwise I would have allowed one really bad situation to run my life and govern my decisions. I just never saw myself as a parent, and I definitely don't have the temperment of a parent.

One of my friends in particular had a hellish childhood; physical emotional, and sexual abuse, neglect, and the mom from hell. Still, she grew up to become a wonderful person, and a rockin' mom. She was very strong in that she didn't let history influence her lifestyle decisions. And her history was horrific.

Teri said...

Elise - Your news is so sad. I hope your step-daughter will be able to get her life back on track after she has properly dealt with her grief.

Steve's family sounds really special. Not all families come together in a crisis. In fact, dysfunctional ones get even more so when stressors appear.

You asked:
Is there something in our background which puts us off the idea of parenthood?

Or is it something far more ingrained?

I have spoken to many Purple Women who would answer Yes to either of the above versions of your question. We all have different reasons for being childfree, and I think that's an important message.

I can understand your ambivalence towards having your own family. You may be wondering if it could be a healthy, close-knit one like the one you've just witnessed. I believe you can always change your mind, and you can create a life that you envision, a happy one, with or without children. The important thing is to think it over.

There was a point in my life where I had to do an emotional check up and seek expert help. It was the best investment I ever made - in myself. All my relationships are better because of it.

I think that toxic people and toxic situations should be avoided, even if they are family. I also think that your closest friends are your chosen family and that it's a good idea to tell them that, and to nurture those relationships that give so much to you.

Here's a cyber-HUG. My thoughts are with you and I am glad you shared your story here.

Be well.

Elise said...

Thanks, Alpha and Teri, for your kind thoughts ---

Teri, when I see families like Steve's (other a few selected families of my high school music students, which are so thoughtful and functional that they actually restore my faith in humankind when I've needed it), it doesn't make me wonder how I'd be as a parent, or how great it could be if I could create a family like that.

Rather, it just makes me sad about what I didn't have, and quite frankly jealous. I think one of the reasons why I need so much "me" time is that I ended up keeping my own counsel as a kid rather than be embroiled in my family of origin's BS (and by that, I really mean my parents, and more specifically, my mother; I did manage to stay close with my brothers, one out of the two of them in particular). The @#$% hit the fan and I was out in the woods with the dog. Even then, I knew that nothing positive could come from being in close proximity to that BS.

The idea of "chosen family" is one which really does resonate with me. Between my husband-to-be Rob and my friends (many of them dating back to when I was 10 or so!), I will be surrounded by chosen family at our wedding a week from today.

What is so ironic is that Steve's family has embraced Gina to such an extent, really taking her in and supporting her, despite the fact that she and Steve have pretty much figured out that their relationship isn't viable in the long-term. Because they're so giving and warm, she is staying there at their place for now (so that she doesn't have to go back to her mom's house, where all the baby's things are, for one thing).

Gina has no insurance (other than "Mass Health", which is for folks on welfare) and I'm scared that she won't be able to get decent counseling even if she were predisposed to doing so (which I don't think she is; she's beyond headstrong). I'm just afraid, at this point, that she'll get pregnant again ASAP even though she and Steve know their relationship is going nowhere, just out of perceived guilt or wanting to focus on something different and new.


Robin said...

I'm so sorry Elise, that's hard on everyone.

I wouldn't say I had an awful childhood but it certainly wasn't loving. I think it has a lot to do with me being childfree.

A. My family isn't close and we never say "I love you". When I need someone to talk to I don't feel I have my family.

B. My family (extended as well) has caused me a lot of pain.

C. From the stories I hear my parents were quite in love when they were first together and now they are barely friends. I found out in college (by my grandmother) that my parents got divorced only to get back together because she was pregnant with me.

Glad to see the childbearing thing worked out so well for them.

Elise said...

Thanks, everyone, for your very kind thoughts.

We're doing OK. Rob has talked with Gina, and reports that even she is doing a bit better.

The funeral is scheduled for Wednesday. Even having it on the calendar is a bit of a step forward and a bit of a step towards putting it all in perspective.

Robin, I totally get what you're saying about your family having caused you a lot of pain. I feel like my relationships with my brothers are healthy, *individually*, but even with them, when we get sucked back into the family dynamic, it all goes to hell. The two of them don't get along very well, either. So mostly, it's just a series of bi-lateral relationships, as opposed to a successfull group dynamic.

When I've had a hard time in life, my family have generally been the last people on earth I'd ever call. I've heard all the Norman Rockwell stuff about family being one's shelter from the storm, etc; difficult to think about it that way when, in my case, they've been the *cause* of the worst storms I've had to weather in this life.

I once again exclude my brothers from this equation, because they were not at the root of any of the dysfunction. But it would also be silly to think that our sibling relationship haven't been affected. One got stronger (my relationship with my adopted brother Mark, who is 16 months my senior); the other, weaker and stunted (my relationship with my biological brother Jon, nearly 7 years my senior).

Some of the toughest work I've had to do in my relationship with Rob, my fiance, is to understand that he *does* actually fit, for the most part, the supportive definition of "family". So laying down those roots with him, opening up, and actually trusting has been wonderful, yet hard work.

Anonymous said...

Hi Elise-

Just wanted to throw in my 2 cents re: close-knit families. Sometimes, it's not all it appears to be; some "close-knit" families can actually be quite enmeshed to the exclusion of friends or anyone else outside the circle. My family is definitely down the middle when it comes to the closeness/distance equation, but I've had to step back from some relationships that were sucked into these enmeshed family dynamics. It may look wonderful to those who grew up in less than supportive families, but the reality of enmeshed families is that they are as dysfunctional as distant families, just wrapped in a warmer, fuzzier package. It's hard to tell from first observation, but it can happen.

Not to say that Steve's family is like that, but in hopes of offering a balanced perspective. It sounds like you and Rob are on your way to creating a familial dynamic that will work well =)

Had to publish anonymously; Blogger seems to have eaten my password!

Elise said...

Hi everyone,

After an amazingly cathartic open-casket funeral for the baby on Wednesday (hundreds of people were in attendance), we just acknowledged that life goes on and got into a wedding mindset.

We had a wonderful ceremony, complete with a small obdservance of Adrian's passing (the celebrant spoke about him briefly, and then during an interlude --- my students did all the music! --- I left my bouquet next to a picture of Adrian.

The reception was UNBELIEVABLE. I'll have a website up shortly!

Thanks, everyone, for your support!


Teri said...

Ahmen to that. Attended a funeral myself this past week. Not the easiest thing I've ever done. Cathartic for some, torture for others, more like a combination of both for all.

Time to move on. Live well. Be kind. Make a difference - childfree or otherwise.