Welcome to this week’s post for On Being Childfree and it’s going to be a little different from the norm. There’s a few reasons for that, one that I’ve got some new posts incoming that aren’t quite ready but it’s also been World Childless Week this week AND I’m delighted to say it’s been six months since I started this series. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what this means to me but also to all of you who have so kindly interacted in many different ways.
I’ve been meaning to start some kind of platform for sharing my experience leading a childfree life for the longest time but knew it was very much a case of right timing. Any human experience from the joyous to the devastating is personal, emotional and unique. How I feel about something will be completely different to the person standing next to me and if life teaches you anything it’s that we’re all learning, all the time. What is never ok though is to question or judge the decisions of others and in this world of social media obsession (guilty as charged), we seem to think we have the right to challenge the behaviour of total strangers that years ago we would never even have known existed, let alone call them out on their life choices (or perhaps how they cope with circumstances outside their control, as in my case).
Reading the stories each week never fails to completely humble me, from those who can’t have children to those who have chosen not to, and more recently those who are also opening up about the judgement they’ve faced for having just one child. I spent six years as a Samaritan in Soho and it’s a very similar feeling to my time there. I always wondered how it was people were able to talk to a complete stranger on the end of a phone about what they were growing through when they couldn’t talk to family or friends but I understood so quickly. Often, you don’t want advice (and this is what is key about Samaritans, you cannot offer advice under any circumstances you’re simply there to listen), you just want to get your thoughts and feelings out into the open.
I feel honoured beyond belief that so many people have embraced this series, not just from those who share their stories each week but to everyone who reads it, whether they take the time to let me know or not. I’ve been really surprised about how many people who are parents manage to take something from it, saying that it’s helped them perhaps think more carefully about the questions they ask or how to support a friend/family member through a difficult time. It’s so, so important to really listen, and I mean LISTEN to those people who may need it. It sounds silly, but real listening is a skill that very few people have. We’re distracted by a million different things and whilst we’re now living in an age which is now so much more receptive to addressing issues like mental health, suicide, the state of the environment, there is also so much more going on to give us all the excuse that we don’t have time. But we do.
It’s also a good time to reflect on the different paths we all take. I sometimes think how different my life would have been if we’d had children. Not better, not worse, just different. I’d probably have children approaching their teens by now which is so strange as I absolutely don’t feel old enough. I was at a wedding last year with a couple of my old work colleagues and one of them said to me “we wouldn’t have been as close as we are if you’d had children” and being 15 years younger than me, he was absolutely spot on. It’s a little like Sliding Doors isn’t it, thinking about the alternative life you’d have if you’d made different choices.
What I do know without hesitation is that happiness comes in many shapes and sizes. It’s all relative. It can be as a big as watching your child in their first school play or as small as enjoying a glass of wine in the bath. I also know that there can never be too much compassion in the world and that instead of making an assumption or questioning someone’s circumstances or choices just because they’re different to yours, we should do so much more pom-pom waving and trumpet tooting. Don’t ever say to anyone – ever – “you’d have made such a great Mum”. You may think it comes from a place of kindness but it’s completely dismissing all the other achievements of that person, that even without being a Mum they’re a bloody brilliant person.
My friend that I mentioned earlier at the wedding? When he joined the company I was about a year and a half past IVF and starting to realise that actually, pursuing parenthood wasn’t for me. But it was so tough as all my recently married friends started having families and the friendship dynamic does change temporarily, it can’t help but to even though you’ll find your way back to each other (or perhaps you won’t). He was the first person to see me for me, someone fun to be around, work with, go out and get drunk with, not someone who “would have made a great Mum”. There are a few people I worked with that no matter where our paths take us in the future I’ll never forget the impact they had on my life just when I needed it most of all.
So next time someone you know is going through a tough time, don’t take offence if they push you away, it’s their pain not yours. Just be there and remind them not of what they may be missing, but of all the things that make them the person you love. Don’t question other people’s choices just because they’re not the same as yours. God knows, if we all loved chips then the world would run out and a world without chips is a very sad place. These are some very crazy times we live in, pretty much unprecedented from world politics to technology. It’s uncertain, it’s unnerving, but we all have the power to be more embracing, more compassionate, more welcoming and to make a difference to the lives of the people we come into contact with whether in person or online. Let’s make the legacy we leave be one of warmth and support so that fewer people need to feel alone, if they don’t want to be.
Thank you so much again truly to everyone who has shared stories so far and reads and messages me. So many of you say you look forward to this every week even if it doesn’t directly affect you and it genuinely means so much. If you’d like to share your own story please do drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
With Love x