25 December, 2023

The night before ...

I had another post planned, but it is Christmas Eve, and I am exhausted, though thankfully almost all preparations have been made for tomorrow. Like women all over the world right now! By the time you read this, it will be the 25th, and then it will all be over and we can just relax.

The three-year-old is very cute, a little overwhelmed by all the strangers he's had to meet in this house, very well behaved, and very sweet. All I can say is that I don't feel envy, simply because a) he's not my child, and b) at this stage in my life, I wouldn't have a three-year-old, and so can't relate. It might have been hard twenty years ago to watch him, but so far, it has been easy to simply be a loving observer.

We've set out the Christmas cake and glass of milk for the sleigh rider to eat when the presents are dropped. The stockings, which I bought thirty years ago thinking I might have children and we might have big family Christmases together. are under the tree. are spread out for my nieces and great-nephew, and for my husband, my sister, my brother-in-law, and myself. The first time I've ever used them. My sister pointed out that she, her husband, and her daughter use hers (which I gifted them 15 years ago when my niece was born) every year. But it's different to do that when you don't and have never had a child in the house. Continuing a tradition you started with a little one is easier than trying to start a tradition when it feels as if something is missing. So I'm feeling it a little, though not bad.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I hope that you are relaxed and happy and get some peace over the next day or two. Sending love to you all. And I'm going to make a cup of chamomile and eat a piece of Christmas baklava!

18 December, 2023

Childless Role Models and Ageing

Sue Fagalde Lick over at Childless By Marriage has posted about role models, and – in preparation for a Childless Elderwomen discussion – asks whether her readers had role models, and if so who they were, and how they were role models for the childless. I started to respond, realised I was writing a post, and so here I am!

The plethora of writing and blogging and podcasts and insta accounts and Fbk groups and and webinars/zoom chats all came too late for me. I went through the transition from trying to conceive to accepting being childless largely on my own. I had a few friends who don’t have children – some by choice, some not, some in real life, some internet friends – and that helped me feel less alone. They were my supports, rather than role models. I knew of well-known women who had chosen not to have children, but very few if any who were open about not being able to have children. An elderly in-law aunt and uncle were really the only people I knew who didn’t have children despite wanting them. They travelled a lot and were interested in things going on in the community, but were mocked by some of their sisters for other quirks. So I never thought of them as role models, and we never talked about it with them. Twenty or so years ago, no-one talked about it – in public, or even in private, with me. Oh, except one woman who was temping at my work. I’d almost forgotten her. She talked about how hard it had been, but how she was happy ten years later in her 50s. I can’t even remember if I had told her about our situation, because at the time I was a) still trying to conceive, and b) was very very private about it.

I did find two books – one was Sweet Grapes, but I can’t remember the other – but they were of little help. Sweet Grapes talked about the idea that since they weren’t trying to have children any more, they were no longer infertile. I remember trying to embrace the idea, but being unable to. I did not feel that way yet. I still don’t really. So I had no role models. No-one I could relate to who had tried to have children, didn’t, and was happy anyway.

So in those years of coming to terms with not being able to have children, I had no-one I could look to as a role model. By necessity, I was figuring it all out myself, chatting occasionally to one or two who were in a similar situation through our ectopic message board. I had to – by necessity – establish my own identity, encompassing the childless part, but not allowing it to dominate all of who I am. It was hard work, and required a lot of thought and heartache, years before I even began blogging over thirteen years ago, and long before Pamela and Jody and others started building the childless community. Actually, I’m grateful I was able to do that, even though it was lonely, and really hard. I didn’t want to be given a stereotype of how I should be – I had resisted the stereotypes for girls and women for so many years after all. So it was very important to me to figure out who I am, what I value in life and in myself, what being childless was going to be like for me. As Sarahg said to me many years ago, even knowing what needed to be done, I still had to do it myself.

That is why I have blogged, why I grit my teeth and accept requests to speak out or write articles, etc, under my own name. I do it so that others can see that they're not alone, and that they will be okay. And it is why I am now talking more frequently about ageing. It's not to be a role model - other than perhaps to help others feel okay about figuring out who they are too. We’re all different. I love to travel, to write, to think and talk about these issues. Others don’t. I have a friend in a similar situation who rarely mentions it, never even told her family, but lives a busy, happy life, filled with love and nieces and nephews and friends and young colleagues she inspires. Her motto is “the purpose of life is to enjoy it.” I love that. There’s no one way to get through this, other than to decide that we will. And if, in doing that, we become role models for others, then that is wonderful. It can be on a small scale, like my friend, or on a global scale, like Jody Day and Pamela Tsigdinos and others who are ensuring that our community is heard.

The online childless community was only just coming into being fifteen years or so, as blogging boomed and social media saw the development of online communities and relationships. And so discussions of ageing without children, or of having No Kidding role models, is relatively new. Because the focus has often been on those going through the initial hard years of grief and adjustment. Rightly. Thankfully, now, there are plenty of wonderful role models out there now for those going through this very difficult transition – so many of my blog readers are now role models themselves, as well as Pamela and Jody and Sue and many more.

But for those of us who are ageing, there are few role models. I certainly don’t have any who are years ahead of me, who can show me the way. But you know, I’m okay with this. I want to figure it out myself, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m talking about it here when I can, often writing to find out what I think. I do it both because it helps me, and because I think that women in their 60s and beyond who speak out now might help flag issues for the rest of the community. We are losing parents, adjusting to the idea of ageing, knowing what ageing is like at all stages of old age, and becoming aware of issues many are only just beginning to think about. Some are themselves facing issues that I might not yet have faced, or might be thinking about, and that younger readers have put in the “I’ll think about it when I need to” or the “Not Necessary Yet” box. Some will have answers. Others will not, or will just raise more questions. That’s okay. What is important is that we are all having the discussion.

The Childless Childless Elderwomen will be discussing role models on 20 December (Europe/US time). To get the link, register here. I’ve just done it.


11 December, 2023

Unexpected sense in a discussion about the childless

I'm sitting here thinking about what I might write this week, and there's suddenly a No Kidding topic on the radio. In real time. How fortuitous! Apparently, there are social media videos trending at the moment saying kid-free couples are luckier financially than those who are parents. (At this point, I stopped typing, and started listening!)

They had an economist on who made two main points:

1)  there is no evidence of this disparity, yet there are poor and rich people whether or not you have children. Double income no kids (DINKs) people are often both in low income jobs, and financial inequality in NZ is all about how much income is coming into the house, not whether they have children or not.

2) welfare support programmes have, in recent decades, been focused on those who do have children (eg, we have a Working for Families tax credit, or there are programmes to reduce child poverty, etc), and therefore there is a compelling case that those without children also need extra support, as they have not had the benefits/financial buffers of these other programmes.

The radio programme has a host, the guest economist, and two guest panellists. It surprised me how very careful everyone was. I was bracing myself for the stereotypes, especially when the host said, "But aren't we always told that having children is expensive?" But the conversation didn't go that way. It was pointed out that maybe those without children spend their money on different things, or might live in more expensive urban areas, so don't have any more savings or wealth than those with children. That they might even "fill the hole" left without children by buying fancy cars or eating out ("or travelling," I silently added to myself).

One person commented how terribly insensitive these videos were to those trying to have children, or those who were unable to have children, and another person mentioned that the smugness of some of these videos might be a backlash to the fact they feel judged by parents. That by bragging about their lives they were making up for the condescension from parents that having children makes someone  "more spiritually whole." 

This was the most balanced, carefully unemotional discussion of a parent vs childless issue that I have ever head. Clearly it was raised as a topic because it usually gets people involved in lively discussion, because everyone likes to defend their position. But the host and panellists and economist all exceeded my expectations. They did not descend into an us vs them debate, but all stood back, chose their words carefully, and considered the evidence. Just as I would want them to do. It was wonderful.

You can listen to it here. It starts at 16.08 minutes into the discussion.

I have one proviso about this discussion. But I'm going to save it for discussion some other time. In the meantime, maybe there is hope if there can be sensible, considerate discussions on our mainstream media?

05 December, 2023

Adjusting expectations


About a month ago, I invited my sister, her husband, and daughter to spend Christmas with us. After only a day or two, they enthusiastically accepted. I was excited. I’ve hosted Christmas dinners here fairly often to take the responsibility off my elderly in-laws. Sometimes it has been a small gathering – the smallest was my husband’s father and uncle three years ago (dare I say it, the most depressing!) – and the largest was when a couple of my husband’s brothers and their families returned home for the holidays. Not huge gatherings, but big enough for my small kitchen and fridge! Lol Once my in-laws were gone, I’ve spent the day with my one or both of my sisters and their families – in the south, and the north for a change of scenery. Last year, there were just the two of us here at home, and it was quite lovely, even though I had faced it with some trepidation.

But this year I was ready for a few more people, and I was really looking forward to it. My niece is now 15, and my sister and brother-in-law share our interest in wine and good food. It was going to be a lovely adult celebration, with the things we love. I was keen to use some things I have stored away to make the house seem more festive. I was going to dig out the beautiful tablecloths and candlesticks and serving crystal bowls I’ve inherited. I also thought it might be fun to use some spare Christmas stockings I still have. (I gave a number away once I knew I wouldn’t have children, and wrote about it here.) Especially as, cleaning out a drawer, I found some things that could be slipped into a stocking, along with some baking or chocolate or something fun, just to make it an occasion. After all, I’ve never been able to do this for children, and my husband and I don’t really “do” gifts, because we don’t want clutter of unnecessary gifts. But also I guess because The Husband gets stressed out. I’d already started meal planning, and activity planning, and cleaning out the freezer so I can freeze meals or pizza doughs etc to make hosting easy. For once, I was actively looking forward to Christmas.

Then I got a phone call. Someone close to us had asked to join us for Christmas, and my sister had accepted on my behalf. She texted me saying she hoped it was okay, following up before I even had time to respond to the text with a face-to-face call. (Note: Things I have always hated include: surprise phone calls, face-to-face calls when I am unprepared, and having to deal with surprise news in front of others. Argh.) So, I had no time to process any of it. And in honesty, I was so soooooo disappointed. Even though I knew I could never have declined the request, and understood the reasons for it.

So I was going through the logistics of it all, processing my thoughts out loud in front of her. Of course, all the negatives came up first – how to squeeze everyone in to our house, nothing to amuse a three-year-old, all the food/sleeping in/adult activity plans going out the window, our house and garden (is a deck a garden?) unsafe for a little one, etc. The degree of cleaning/sorting/decluttering I will have to do to squeeze them in.

My sister is a different personality to me. She loves being surrounded by people. The more the merrier. For her it’s probably a bonus. But not for me. I tried to explain it to her, but I don’t think she gets it. Yes, I have reclaimed the season and do it my way. Yes, I love my tree, and certain parts of the day – the croissant breakfasts, champagne, the desserts, the beautiful table! Yes, I like hosting a group at Christmas lunch. But yes, I still breathe a sigh of relief after everyone has gone home and we get the evening to ourselves, or at the very least on the next day when all the pressure (external and internal) is somehow lifted. I had looked forward to showing them <Mali’s> Christmas <Mali’s> way, and anticipated a fun, relaxed day. Now, it will by necessity be different.

My emotions are confused. I feel selfish for feeling disappointed, when the circumstances around the request are so much worse. I feel annoyed that I didn’t get a chance to process the change in circumstances in my own time. I assume (although this could be all in my imagination - those inner critical voices we all battle) that my sister will judge me and think that a) that I am selfish, and inflexible, and b) I am <fill in the blanks with any other pronatalist stereotype> because I don’t have kids. I feel empathy and compassion for the person making the request. And for the child who will be coming to strangers. As I said, I would never have declined the request. But time to breathe would have been nice.

Of course, almost immediately I started coming to terms with the change, and adjusting plans. Since then, I keep seeing the perils of my house for a young child, and what I will need to make it safe, and how impossible that will be in a house with four separate staircases, no lawn, and a rickety dangerous outdoor staircase that is on our to-do list to fix later this summer. I am thinking about activities – the playground down the road, the zoo that will be open, the beaches that might be safe, the walks we could do that aren’t too onerous. What we can put in the little one’s Christmas stocking (that is not too onerous for the person to take home). Whether I will need to rent a car seat, pushchair/stroller, other things to make the visit easier for our two new visitors. Not the thoughts of a selfish person, I would think, but no-one sees that. We’ll make it fun, and it will be a nice time together, and won’t last forever, and we will ease the troubles of someone we love for a few days. And I’ll be okay. We will have to do a fun, more adult, celebration some other year.

But as a childless person who has been through the painful process of learning to embrace the joys of an adult Christmas, and for years has successfully done this,  I’m now going to be reminded, closely and intently, of what I will have missed. Maybe that’s what has been hard to adjust to, just as I enter this awkward anniversary season of two pregnancy losses (the first anniversary begins today/tomorrow), and the end of my fertility journey. I don’t know.

Now, some days later from that first explosion of words and feelings above, I think I’ll be fine. I don’t want a three-year-old now, after all. And my expectations for the time have adjusted. I've had to do that before. I will have to do it again. I can do it now. After all, it is a privilege that we were chosen as the most desirable option for these two over the holiday period. It will be a privilege to share these days with them, and to brighten their time (we hope). I’m fine with it now. I have a couple of weeks to prepare the house. And I just have to think about what dishes I have in my repertoire that might be okay for a three-year-old; almost everything I cook is spicy. Maybe we’ll just barbecue every day and eat leftover ham sandwiches – it is summer after all!