Loribeth had a great post here referencing this article. I liked the fact that it talked about the truths parents believe, and countered these, just as we all have done ... but usually silently, in our heads, as we heard once again how easy or shallow our lives are. I urge you to read it.
The key thing I think is that many non-parents think that they know what our lives are like. After all, most parents have lived as adults without kids. So they assume our lives without kids are exactly like that. And I think this assumption - that our lives haven't changed since we were in our early-mid 20s - is behind so many of the the negative stereotypes out there about non-parents.
"Our lives have less meaning without children"
"Our lives are frivolous"
"We can do what we want when we want"
"We have much more disposable income"
"We aren't real women until we've had a baby"
"We haven't grown up till we've become a parent"
"We don't understand commitment"
Some of these things may be true in our early 20s. Of course, many are not true even then. But in general, in our early-mid 20s, we are probably all much more carefree, frivolous, spendthrifts, and yes, maybe we're even more shallow. Simply because in our 20s, that's what most people are doing - they're having fun, starting careers, finding their way in the world, experimenting with relationships (and substances and lifestyles etc).
But my no-kids life in my 20s was very different to my no-kids life in my 40s and 50s. In my 20s, my parents and in-laws were all alive and well and having a great time in their 50s and 60s. Now, my father has gone, my mother is aging badly, my in-laws are beset with illnesses, and we have real responsibilities looking after them. By now our careers have been established, or maybe we've had one career and changed to another, we know what it is to work hard, commit to something and follow through, manage people, face great achievements and great disappointments. We've been through relationships, lost partners, or celebrated 25th anniversaries. We understand and have faced our mortality, something that for most of us is very hard to do in our 20s - we've seen friends fall ill and other friends die, we've seen elderly parents and perhaps silblings die, we've cared for ill relatives, or we've been ill ourselves. And we've lost pregnancies or our own babies, or we've never had the joy of getting pregnant in the first place. We've feared for our old age, faced the need to be independent or develop networks rather than rely on ones that have come to us through children and their families. And we've learned that we can not achieve whatever we put our minds to, and that dreams are lost and new dreams must be found. And through all this, we've developed wisdom and compassion and strength.
And we've also known joy, and love. Joy is not exclusive to parents either. We've met joy when we've taken time to smell the roses, when we've helped someone through a difficult time, or noticed progress in ourselves, joy when we've been able to embrace our lives with no kids, when we've been able to appreciate the depths of what we can achieve with no kids (making a difference in others' lives for example), joy with friends and family, joy in the wider world, perhaps because we don't have to focus on getting the laundry done for school tomorrow. We are not joyless, or loveless. We love, and love deeply. Perhaps because we are not (of necessity) endlessly focused on our nuclear family and their needs, we are able to love deeply, differently, compassionately, and freely.
All this life experience is what makes us "grow up." And it would have made most people grow up,whether or not they had children. That's what I wish they'd understand. And that's what Schmutzie and Loribeth were saying. That's what is worth repeating.