Welcome everyone! It’s week twenty-six of the “On Being Childfree” blog series and today I’m welcoming Jane. Jane won’t mind me saying that she’s our oldest story-teller to date and as I was reading her submission it was so interesting to consider the role of women through the decades as well as the opportunities available. Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar.
I Am: Jane, 65
Home Is: Cheshire
I Do: I’m a retired engineer
Being an older woman without children has been an interesting journey. I’m now 65, many, many years past the point of people “politely enquiring” as to my status or plans. Born in the mid-1950s, 30 in the mid-1980s, those decades heralded quite a change for women.
I grew up in a small town where the impact of WWII was felt heavily for a long time even after the war ended. Still in the time of make do and mend, especially where we lived. People shouldn’t rise above their station or expect anything else from the normal. My Dad went out to work whilst my Mum was a housewife looking after me and my 2 brothers. Even from a young age though I sometimes thought maybe she wasn’t entirely happy. Years later I learned that she worked in factories during the war and told me that she’d never felt more fulfilled. More fulfilled than life as a wife and mother. It was brave for her to admit, especially to me her own daughter but I’m glad she did.
I don’t remember having much aspiration for anything in particular as a little girl, although I do remember my Mum trying to teach me to sew when I’d much rather have been out with my brothers climbing trees and getting messy. As we moved into the 60s and I became a teenager, I started to notice outside influences even in our small town. TV showed us different worlds, magazine adverts the same. Imagine, the only factors I was exposed to most of my life were family, school, friends, colleagues. What happened at the party stayed at the party. The internet makes the world so much bigger and so much smaller all at the same time.
After school I went to college to study secretarial skills. I had a really strong idea that I wanted to work but also imagined at some point I’d probably get married and have children and saw college and a job as a way to possibly meet someone and after a couple of short-lived relationships I did meet somebody. Somebody who completely swept me off my feet even though he probably didn’t realise it at the time. He was my boss.
As if that level of slight complication wasn’t enough, he was 40 to my 25, married with children. That’s where it should have ended of course. There shouldn’t be a story. I should have ignored how I felt, maybe even got a different job somewhere else, found someone and lived happily ever after. The short version of this story is that I never did marry, I never did have children. In my own way though I did live happily ever after, just a different version.
What really happened was that I fell in love with someone who wasn’t mine to fall in love with. I kept my distance as much as I could but he was the boss. Whether his decision or not, we were thrown together on projects and I was sure he felt something for me too. I don’t think love is black and white. I don’t think it’s as easy as saying someone is married so they’re automatically out of bounds. We all have a moral compass of course we do but sometimes it just doesn’t matter.
My friends started to marry and have children, although many of them had been working and some of them did eventually go back to work too. A couple of them knew about my situation and pleaded me with to not waste my life on aomething which could never end in anything other than heartbreak for me. They asked me what I wanted from it and in my most selfish moment yes I wanted him to leave his wife (which by the way he told me on many occasions he would), and the flip side is that I felt like the most awful person ever to think about taking a father away from their children. The others who didn’t know of course posed the same old questions around when I was going to “settle down” coupled with lots of comments about me being a “career girl” with a knowing look.
And yes, I was doing alright for myself by this point. It was the early 80s, women were being encouraged in ways they’d never been before to go for it and show that they could hold their own in the workplace rather than just being a teasmaid. I should have said but I’d moved to Manchester for college and stayed there. I enjoyed life, working hard and outside of that keeping busy. There were the occasional evenings where I could pretend to be part of a glamorous couple, we’d go for dinner or to the theatre and momentarily I’d think everything was fine, that I got what I wanted.
After a few years, I was approached by a competitor company to go and work for them. I’d just turned 30. It was an incredible opportunity but the thought of not seeing him every single day killed me. It was so stupid, I know it was. On the one hand I was a strong career girl, living life on my terms. On the other hand I couldn’t find a way of being happy without a man.
It was then that I had some really honest conversations with my Mum. We talked about everything she’d done during the war. She genuinely never knew another life could be possible and although it came about in the most horrendous of circumstances, she said she missed it when she had to return to normality. She always thought there was meant to be more for her and she said she wanted that for me.
So I took the job and threw myself into it. I travelled a lot with work and the hours were long. Of course it was the classic heartbreak symptoms. We saw each other once after that but I had to leave it behind me. There was never anyone else though, I was deeply wounded by the lost love and although well-meaning people in my life tried to set me up, there would never be anyone I loved the way I loved him and I haven’t had any kind of relationship or dating situation for probably around 20 years now.
Do I have any regrets? Not really. I definitely think I’ve embraced life. I’ve loved fiercely, so fiercely and easily more so than some of my friends who ended up with people “just because” and freely admit they’re not happy despite the marriage and children. I have wonderful relationships with other young people in my life including nieces and nephews and an assortment of children of friends, plus a new generation of little tinies to embrace. I don’t think the normal biological needs to be a Mum ever really kicked in although I probably would have had children under different circumstances because it was the done thing.
I often think that I was probably one of the lucky ones to be childfree at a time I was. Past the age of being outcast and decried a witch, during the age of women striving for a career, before the age of the internet and the new celebration of being a Mum which my nieces have struggled with. Almost that we’ve gone full circle and being a Mum is now lauded once more over and above any other female achievements. I’m really grateful for this opportunity to share my story and hope it might be helpful.
Thank you so so much to Jane for sharing her honest story as a guest poster and sharing her thoughts and views in this piece. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Jane’s story and leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.