Monday, November 24, 2014

Sometimes it might be a blessing to not have kids

This weekend I played piano and led the choir for the funeral of a friend’s son. He was 24. He died of a drug overdose. This young man grew up in our church. He was a little kooky but beloved. Every pew in the church was full. Everybody knew him and his family. But we didn’t know he battled depression and anxiety and turned to drugs for comfort. As with any young person’s death, a life cut so short is a tragedy. I keep seeing his mother’s ravaged face and his grandfather sitting in the front pew trying not to cry. He’s battling cancer, and everyone thought he would be the one to die next.

The three remaining children, in their teens and twenties, all spoke at the funeral, sharing memories, laughing, and fighting tears. In the choir and in the pews, many people wept, especially those whose children grew up with the one who died. They too have sons and daughters who could die.

I keep thinking that I don’t know how to help, except with my music. To be honest, I’m also thinking I’m glad that I can never feel that pain because I don’t have sons or daughters to lose. It seems as if from the moment of conception, mothers and fathers worry about keeping their children alive. If they can avoid miscarriage or death in the womb, if they can avoid premature birth, if they can have the baby safely and avoid losing him to sudden infant death, disease or accidents, if they can get them to adulthood . . . No, even then, their job is never done. When a child dies, a human being created by the parents in the mother’s body, how can anyone bear the grief? They will always feel loss, emptiness and failure.

Although we wish we had children, sometimes it is a relief that we don't.

On the same day, at the 5:30 Mass, where I was at the piano again, a little boy was baptized. Colby. Little blond kid with stick-up hair, wearing a suit, accompanied by his handsome parents and godparents. New to the parish, they were probably unaware of the funeral that had happened earlier. They just know they have this precious gift they will do everything they can to protect.

Being childless, I won’t experience the joy of that little boy either. But at least my son won’t die.

I’m on my way to spend Thanksgiving with my father and my brother’s family. Being on my own, I  can travel wherever and whenever I choose. I only have to worry about getting time off from work and hiring a dog-sitter. That’s probably a blessing, too.

This Thanksgiving, count your blessings. We all have them.

I’m blessed to have you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

If You're Not Sure, Don't Get Married

Last night I received a comment on an old post titled "Should You Stay with the Guy Who Doesn't Want Kids?" that details six years of a couple repeatedly breaking up and getting back together. The guy had decided he didn't want kids. He even scheduled a vasectomy. But she was still hoping he'd change his mind. Now she's thinking she'll give up on kids--she's 39, so maybe it's too late anyway--but he's having doubts because he thinks she'll resent him for not giving her children . . .

As advice columnist Ann Landers used to say, wake up and smell the coffee. It's not going to work.
I get comments like this all the time from people who can't decide whether to stay together or break up with their boyfriends/girlfriends, fiances, or spouses. In their comments, they usually focus on the baby issue. Their mate can't have them, doesn't want them, isn't sure, keeps changing his/her mind. But usually that is not the only problem with the relationship. The writer is jealous of the loved one's children from previous relationships, the couple can't seem to communicate, there are issues with family, money or jobs, they're already in counseling  and they're thinking about splitting up.

I admit to being grouchy this morning, but if you're already thinking about leaving, go! I can tell you from experience that if the relationship is troubled before the marriage, it is not going to magically improve after you say "I do." If you're having doubts, walk away.

When I married my first husband, I was a very young 22. I knew things weren't right. We didn't actually talk about having children. I just assumed we would. But there were other things, problems I ignored because I thought we had gone too far to break up. I felt like we had to get married, like he was the only one for me. Turns out I was not the only one for him, but my point is that in a good relationship, you don't doubt that you want to be together.

Finding a solution when you don't agree about having children is hard. It takes a lot of love to sacrifice the life you had expected to have. If you start out unable to work together, it's not going to get better. I don't know you and your situations, but I do know that if you're already considering looking for someone else, this is not going to work. Your partner is not going to change, and neither are you. If your love is real, you won't be considering other options. You'll face life's problems, including the issue of having children, together as a unit.

Do you agree? Do you want to yell at me. I'd love to read your comments.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What would you tell these childless readers?

Dear readers,

            Nearly every day, my inbox includes comments from people responding to my January 2013 post titled, “If You Disagree About Children, Is Your Relationship Doomed?” The details vary, but the basic problem is the same: One person in the relationship is unable or unwilling to have children. Often the problem arises after they have been together for a long time. They may be married, engaged or living together, but now the commenters are torn between the mates they have and the children they always wanted to have. They don’t know what to do. My advice is usually about the same: You have to choose, and you have to talk about it. I say I’m praying for them--and I am, for all of you.

But that doesn’t feel like enough. I know people who have chosen the man or woman over the children and lived happy lives. I have also seen situations where the problem festered and the relationship failed.

Today I share some of these comments because I hope you will read them and respond. If you have made the choice, how did it work out? If not, how are you dealing with it? What advice would you give these readers?

            Thank you. I treasure you all.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm 23 and my partner is 27, we are engaged to be married next year and have been in our relationship for nearly 7 years (he was my first boyfriend). Just two days ago he dropped the bombshell that he doesn't want children now and isn't sure if he ever will.. I have recently found out that I have some issues with fertility and may find it difficult to conceive. So he knows my clock is ticking to start trying.
He is the love of my life and I cannot stand the thought of losing him, our relationship is perfect.. Everyone loves him, he is great with our young nephews and would make a great dad.
The problem is he want me to be happy, and he thinks the only way I can be is if I have children. But I'm not confident I can be happy without him. He hasn't said he doesn't EVER want them, just he doesn't know if he will. I have never felt pain like it. I feel as though my whole world has ended.
We have cancelled the wedding until we know we want the same thing which was very hard for me to do.
I feel guilty because I think to myself if he loved me, truly loved me, would he not give me the one thing that would make my happiness complete? I know I can’t force him into it and he is not ready but how can I end something because he MIGHT never be ready? And how do I risk staying if he never will be?
We are looking at relationship counseling but I'm not sure what good it will do. I feel drained. I don't think I can live without him but I don't want to live the rest of our lives with resentment.

Anonymous said...

Reading through this thread has helped me feel like I'm not alone in this struggle. I'm a 46 year old man who's thinking about becoming a father for the first time. My wife of 20 years has always known she does not want children. Eleven years ago I had similar thoughts and explored the options but chose to stay with her instead. Perhaps this is a mid-life thing where I'm looking back over the first half of my life and wondering if I'm missing out? I've always known I would be a good father. I'm patient, kind, and generous. People have always told me I'm like an old wise soul. I rarely give advice, instead choosing to be a good listener and help people make their own decisions.

Lately, I'm worried that I'm going to regret not having raised a child. I have no romantic ideas about it. I've seen friends and family struggle, so I know it's not all fun and games. But I'm still drawn to the possibilities in the richness of the experience, and with passing on my values and way of life to another person. I feel drawn to the idea of choosing to raise a child with someone who shares my values not because it's "the next thing to do" like I see so many people doing, but because I want the experience. To learn. To love. To know.

Bringing this up again after being together for 20 years has caused a tremendous amount of pain. I absolutely know this will end our life together and it hurts so much. We are seeking some counseling both individually and together and we'll see where I'm at with this in six months. No need to make rash decisions, you know? But for me at least, I know if I decide to do this, my relationship with a wonderful woman, is certainly doomed.

Anonymous said...

I'm 32 and my bf is 33. We've been dating for a year. When we met, he seemed like he shared my goal to have kids one day. Three months ago, he said he's not sure. That his feelings for me made him think it's possible, but he's never wanted them before. He assured me he thought it was an age/timing thing. Then this week, he said he's been lying to himself out of desire to keep me. But he never wants them, because of his past (tough childhood).

Of course. I was angry. Things would be different if we met from the get-go. I've always thought I'd have kids, and I do like kids. But the past year has been the happiest of my life. I feel he's the right person and I would not find someone better for me.

I am contemplating giving up on kids and continuing with him. We are on a one week break to think about this. He feels terrible for having put me in the situation, and believes that if we continue, I will change my mind and he will only hurt me more. He wants me to make sure I can be ok with this forever. The problem is I can guarantee that's ok now but not if I will ever feel different.

So my question to people who gave up on kids for sake of the man they met, did you have a fulfilling marriage? Is it possible to be happy and change your vision of the future? Or did some you regret, resent, or change your mind later?

What do you say, my friends? 


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

When the longing to hug a baby hits

I’ve become the weird old lady who borrows other people’s kids—or at least their dogs.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to snatch anybody's human children, even though the babies occupying the pew behind me at church the last few weeks are so cute I want to take them home. They’re both about six months old, both Hispanic. The little boy has stick-up hair like Little Richard, and the girl has the sweetest squishy face. So far, both have refrained from tantrums and loud crying. I just want to hold them against me for, oh, forever. I know they’ll grow up into the wiggly kids and bored teens I sing to on Wednesday nights in the religious education program, but right now, I envy the moms and dads who get to hold those blanket-wrapped babies.

Meanwhile, there’s Harley. I have written about Harley, the yellow Lab across the street before. Now he’s a little over a year old, 100 pounds, and so massive he makes my 70-pound Annie look small. He still galumphs and spins in circles, and chews on anything he can find. He spends most of his days in the yard, unattended, with only an electric fence to hold him. He gets a shock through an attachment on his collar when he crosses the line. But when I come outside, he  runs right through his fence. I hurry over to pet and hug him and lead him back to his own yard. I admit that sometimes I go out just to get a Harley hug. He’s always there. When I go out in my car, the last thing I see is Harley standing in the street looking sad because I’m leaving.

When Annie and I come out for our walks, Harley zooms across the street. He and Annie nuzzle and kiss and jump. I tell Harley he has to stay, but he rarely obeys. Time after time, I have taken Harley back across the electric fence and bellowed, “Stay!” but it doesn’t work. As soon as we start down the road, I hear him come after us. I walk him back until he gets tired or his owners notice the commotion and grab him. Yesterday I gave up. “Come on,” I said, and Harley joined us on our walk.  

What fun! Harley, unleashed, ran back and forth across the street, fell behind and ran to catch up, walked side by side with Annie, and gave me big wet kisses. It felt like I had more of a family, me and the two dogs, one toddler, one six-year-old. I was proud of both of them and ready to claim Harley as my own.

When we returned to our street, we met my neighbor in his truck looking for Harley. He looked pretty angry. He muttered about tying up his overactive dog.

“Go to your dad,” I said. Harley jumped into the truck and they drove away. It was back to just me and Annie. So quiet.

Today when Harley is outside and his folks aren’t looking, I’m going to grab myself another Harley hug. You can’t do that with other people’s babies. Did you know teachers and others who work with children are not even allowed to hug them for fear of child abuse? But dogs, oh yes, gotta hug the dog. And if he wants to walk with us? I might say yes. Maybe I'll get permission first.

Short of kidnapping, where do you get your baby fixes?