27 April, 2011

Myth: People who live childfree have carefree lives

Resolve, a US organisation, is promoting National Infertility Awareness Week by suggesting we blog about myths surrounding infertility.  Whilst I don't belong to Resolve, I did find its website very useful when I was going through infertility and coming to terms with living life without children, and so I want to raise awareness and help them if I can.  I've already blogged about the People without kids are Selfish Myth here.  So I chose another topic for this week:

Myth:  People who live childfree have carefree lives.

I wish this were true.  Sure, we're not getting up five times during the night to sick children, or any of the other cares that parents have.  But those without children are often the ones who end up volunteering, or the ones who work longer hours when the parents are off on school holidays (twice this week already).  And of course, those without children are often the ones who end up caring for aged parents and relatives. 

My husband and I are childfree and we should be the members of the family who are travelling the world, living in exotic places without worrying about what schools the children will go to.  But we’re not – after a three year sojourn overseas in the early 90s, we are now the members of the family who are left to care for my elderly in-laws.  All the other offspring are living overseas, following their careers, with no intentions of returning.  They visit infrequently.  After all, it’s so expensive to travel with children, the in-laws remind us - the dense childless couple who obviously don’t understand.  And as they remind us of this, their children pocket their huge foreign currency salaries, build their mansions, drive their Porsches, and send their children to the world’s most expensive universities, but rarely visit their parents.  They show their concern for their parents by emailing or skyping or phoning occasionally.  We show our concern by being here.  If we leave, who do they (the in-laws) have?  How will they cope?  We think about this, a lot.

Do I resent it?  Yes.  (The point of this blog is brutal honesty – even if I don’t come off very well!).  They’re not my parents.  They don’t recognise what we’re doing (ie that we’re living here, making career and financial choices to our detriment to stay here, for them), and so we don’t get a lot of gratitude.  I’m not really looking for that, because I don’t want them to feel guilty for holding us back at a time in their lives when they are frail and vulnerable.  We’ve never told them why we’re still here.  And we won’t.  It’s not fair to them. But it's not fair to us either/

And I admit, sometimes it would be nice to feel appreciated.  So yes, increasingly I resent that we are giving up so much at a time of life when we could be doing so much.  We’re doing the right thing.  Even when there might be no-one around to do it for us.  Perhaps that’s why we’re doing it?  Because we think about our old age, we recognise the vulnerabilities and the challenges, and we have compassion.  Perhaps it’s easier not to think about these things when you can breezily joke about your children looking after you in your own old age, because you can’t imagine a future being alone.  We can.  And so, we help, and we sacrifice.  So much for being carefree.


  1. You know, since I became infertile, I have become much more obsessed with who will be around when I am old. And it does make you more compassionate to older people. My partner is making sure to spend more time with his 93 year old grandpa who lives 10 hours away. I feel more compassion for my grandma, who now deceased, lost her husband at only 71. I think more about my parents, still only in the early 60s, and the help they will need in another 10-20 years. It changes your perspective and it is really sad how once people go on to have their own families can sort of forget about their parents and let all the burden fall onto others. i can imagine why you feel resentful and would like to be appreciated.

    Thanks again for finding my blog. I am going to follow yours now as I really appreciate your honesty and straight forwardness.

  2. Very well written. You bring up very good points!

  3. You're not alone in this... when my mother almost died of an infectious disease, I had to suspend my infertility treatments in order to take care of her. My sister was too busy with her two kids, and afraid of contagion to boot.

  4. As always, beautifully balanced, wonderfully stated. Thank you.

  5. Thank you...
    Yep, my brother is overseas and when our mother had breast cancer asked me if I could stop by her more often. I'm only 15 minutes away you see, and he has his family...
    And the resentment sometimes surfaces with regards to the stepkids. Not my kids, but still they take almost all the vacation days my partner has (multiple weeks) and there are just a few days left for the two of us. And most of the time they make me feel MORE childless...

  6. You know that rearing children isn't keeping your partner's siblings from helping, that is an excuse they use to avoid caring for elderly parents. No one is forcing you and your husband to help either; you are choosing to play the childless martyr card and later whine about it while maintaining that you will never tell your in-laws "the truth."

    No, I'm not a troll or afraid to create boundaries with people in my life (regardless of their age or relation to me). You are disingenuous and I am sure the in-laws sense that.

  7. First, two wrongs don't make a right, which is why we've chosen to stay. And I only "whine" as you say here, away from family, because I am not so cruel as to complain to two very elderly and vulnerable people. There's no childless martyr card. Our role here is not because we are childless, but because we are decent. But the point of the post is to note that just because we are childless doesn't mean we are carefree.

    Finally, you're choosing to hide behind anonymity. Brave choice.