Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Inadvertent Childless - Adjusting Expectations

Childless by choice or fate, grieving can help

Archibald, who has been in a relationship for four years, is ready to be a mother. Her partner, she says, is not. . . . While Archibald knows she has time, she says she won't be distraught if she never has children.

"I want it because I'm a maternal person and would like to raise a child," she says. "But I'm so happy and fulfilled already inside."

Archibald is in a good place. Others in her situation, however, struggle.

Blame it on the marriage delay, divorce or the increase of women in the work force, but 27 percent of those 30 to 34 and 19 percent of those 35 to 39 are childless, compared with 15.6 percent and 10.5 percent in 1976, respectively, according to the 2004 U.S. Census.

Still, many of these women grew up with a "white picket fence" scenario that involved a man, a house and kids. For whatever reason, their lives took a different path, and now they're faced with the tick of their biological clocks.

Although it's a choice to remain childless for some women, others yearn for kids and feel out of sync with their friends who have families.

Despite their own happy, fulfilling lives, the women are trying to cope with the reality that life may go on, without kids. Experts say it's important to address and grieve this as a loss, but few women do.
. . .
Judy Levitt, a Montclair, Calif., marriage and family therapist, begins by exploring why a client yearns for a child, including expectations, family history of motherhood and what the woman thinks will happen if she does not bear children. At the end of the exploration, Levitt says, she might realize that she's perfectly happy the way things are.

"Today, women of childbearing age have so many more opportunities," Levitt says. "They have permission to be so autonomous that they could feel conflicted between living this fulfilling life and also feeling the pull of nature as they see time passing."
. . .
"Marriage is one aspect of a fulfilling life and there are many many others," Massingill says. "When you are busy enjoying life you don't have time to be sad over what isn't there."
Solid advice. Although part of me bristles at the idea that one has to 'grieve' a childfree life, I must realize that not everyone is wired as I am, or come from communities where childbearing is considered optional (but a graduate degree is not).
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Feh23 said...

GAH! How on earth did humanity ever get to where it was if people couldn't deal with regret? Now women must "grieve their childlessness"? Really? How about just saying "Yup, never did that" and moving on, because obviously, if you never went down that path when you could, it wasn't that important then, was it? Acknowledge and move on. What's the point of grieving it? To make money for therapists and self help authors.

Anonymous said...

The expectation of a woman to grieve their chilfree status is simply way out of line in any context I can think of. Once again it's a simple pot shot at the choice itself as being outside of what's considered normal. Oh boo hoo, some women have chosen not to procreate. If we can convince them that they have something to regret, then perhaps others won't make the same choice. A total load of crap.

Anonymous said...

Speaking for myself, not everyone who didn’t have children did so because it “wasn’t important then” nor are all middle-aged women who waited a little too long. And reality television programming notwithstanding, fertility treatments aren’t an option for all women all the time, nor are they always successful. (And before anyone brings it up, adoption--in addition to being a completely different topic, IMO--isn’t always a simple fix either.) At the time--some years have passed--finding that I was unable to have children seemed to elicit reactions from the (few) people I shared with that had more to do with their personal agendas than anything to do with MY life. The more belligerent among the childfree became downright angry at any expression of regret on my part--on one memorable occasion, positively outraged--as if I’d betrayed the cause by admitting to feeling that this was anything less than a pure blessing. Reactions from friends who were parents were often surprisingly insensitive (“can’t have kids, lucky you!” nudge-nudge-wink-wink). Even those who were not quite that obtuse saw no reason for me to miss something I’d never had. Yes, we “move on.” I don’t feel sorry for myself and I don’t consider it the defining moment of my entire existence and others shouldn’t assume it was. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a real loss, and shouldn’t be respected as such.