About this Blog

After banging my head in frustration over the obsession everyone around me had with procreation, I went online to find a community of people who were more like me. I have met some fascinating people along the way, but I have also found that many in the childfree community are quite hostile toward Christianity and a Christian world view. I understand that, unfortunately, many of my Christian sisters and brothers have given them a lot of ammunition (undoubtedly, I have been guilty of this at times too). Not wanting to be perceived as "trolling" for expressing my Christian perspective on other people's forums and blogs, I use my own blog to share my musings on childfree life while at the same time expressing my faith.

My intention is to show support to childfree people, both Christian and non-Christian, but from my own Christian perspective. Questions and constructive comments are welcome; negativity and intolerance are not.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Gifts My Parents Gave Me

I don’t want to sound too ungrateful. Despite their shortcomings (we all have them, don’t we?!), my parents did their best to raise me. They loved me, treated me decently, provided for my needs, nurtured my strengths, and gave me the freedom I needed to become the independent person I am. I look at my life and think, I was pretty lucky to have such an upbringing, especially when I see what many other people have had to endure.

At the same time, I sometimes wonder why my parents felt so compelled to pass on their faulty DNA. I look at the psychological problems they passed on to me, and I wonder why anyone would want to force that on another person. I listen to my mom’s laundry list of health problems - some of which I have had the pleasure of experiencing myself - and I wonder how many more of these problems I have to look forward to as I age.

There was a particular sting over the week of Christmas when I had to make an emergency trip to the dentist. When I described the ordeal to my mother, she shared that she had the exact same problem with the exact same teeth and that it must run in our family. I couldn’t help but think, “Gee, thanks, mom. You couldn’t have adopted a little Chinese girl abandoned at the side of the road; you just had to replicate and pass this trait on to me.”

I realize that I’m still in decent health overall, which is more than many people can say. I should be grateful, and I am. Yet I cannot help but think that my own lack of reproduction is the greatest act of compassion toward my potential offspring. Some “gifts” are better off not being given.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why I Love “Animal People”

The humane society where I volunteer takes great care to show its appreciation for volunteers, including organizing recognitions, luncheons, and other get-togethers. On several of these occasions, I have found myself surrounded by other animal lovers, the vast majority of whom have older or grown children (and some have no children) -- and all we want to talk about is animals.

I often feel as if I’m a bit of a misfit everywhere, but with these other animal folks, I’m accepted. No one cares that I don’t have children, so long as I have a great kitten story to swap. At one event, I was in the company of several women of retirement age, and a few of them had made comments about their children or grandchildren. One of the ladies looked at me. “Do you have any children?” “No,” I replied. Not missing a beat, she nodded in acknowledgement, and said to me and the group, “I have the craziest story from the spay clinic the other day!...” I was completely delighted at the no-hassle, let’s-talk-about-something-interesting tenor of the discussion. No babies? No problem.

At another event, we were going around the table introducing ourselves and telling some anecdotes about our work fostering animals. I shared that I have fostered only one dog (the first and the last) because while I love dogs, my personality is much better suited to cats. I gave the example of how excited I am when my brother visits with his dog -- I play with the dog, walk the dog, snuggle the dog, call him my dog-nephew -- but I’m also glad to see the dog leave. One of the gentleman laughed, “Ah, just like grandchildren!” Rather than the condescending attitude of “you wouldn’t understand anything since you’re not a parent” which I have encountered all too often, this grandparent was willing to make a connection with me. No kids? No problem.

And so it goes with almost every visit I make to the animal shelter. We are all so concerned with our common goals of saving the lives of furry companions, reducing pet overpopulation, nursing the sick, matching animals to the right adoptive homes, and keeping the shelter running smoothly that our own reproduction is seldom discussed. It’s just not important.

Monday, November 8, 2010

World Orphans Day

Today is World Orphans Day. Please take some time to consider the 140,000,000+ orphans worldwide... pray, sponsor, adopt, spread the word.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Is Being Childfree Like Being Left-Handed? (Part 2)

Another connection I began to wonder about was the nature/nurture aspect of left-handedness and childfreedom. Though it is a tremendous oversimplification (and probably quite inaccurate) to say that a particular human behavior is attributable strictly to nature or strictly to nurture, I tend to believe that left-handedness is mostly innate, given that the majority of us lefties would have been nurtured by a right-handed family, would have developed in an environment designed toward right-handers, and would have experienced less social acceptance of left-handed tendencies. There is little in our “nurture” that would influence us to favor our left hands, something we often exhibit even from early childhood.

I don’t think things are quite as clear when it comes to being childfree. Childfree folks come in various forms, which author Laura Scott describes in her book Two is Enough as Early Articulators, Postponers, Acquiescers, and the Undecided. As the names suggest, the undecided are those who are unsure whether or not they want to have children, the postponers put off having children and then became childless by intention or by circumstance, and the acquiescers made the decision because their partner was childfree. I suspect that for most of the people in those three groups, “nurture” had just as much impact as nature. (In my conversations with postponers and acquiescers, I have learned that some never had a strong desire to parent to begin with, so I think “nature” does contribute.) However, being an early articulator myself, I’d like to focus on that fourth group for a moment.

From my own experience, my gut feeling is that we early articulators are more likely to be innately childfree. When I think about my lack of childfree/childless role models, the number of children squeezed out by members of my family, and the absence of any childhood trauma that would have pushed me to the dark side, I’m confident that there was something within me that told me childbirth was not for me.

Regardless of how inherent childfreedom or left-handedness may be, we are not necessarily bound to our nature. I have met lefties who, as children, were “tormented” by adults into being right-handed and continue on as righties. Even I use scissors in my right hand (probably because I had no left-handed scissors as a child) to the point where I am incompetent with left-handed scissors. I have also gained enough skill to serve up food with my right hand while at salad bars/buffets. It doesn’t feel right, but it allows me to face the “correct” direction in the serving line. Similarly, I have met childfree people who chose to have a child rather than abort an unplanned pregnancy, and non-childfree people who embraced childlessness rather than traumatize themselves with invasive treatments. At the end of the day, there is a certain element of choice, even though one choice may feel more natural than another.

So here I am, innately left-handed and innately childfree, choosing to embrace both -- and curious about others. For you, was being childfree as “natural” as being left-handed / right-handed, or was your experience different? Did you follow a path that was “natural” for you?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is Being Childfree Like Being Left-Handed? (Part 1)

Like many childfree folk, I am infuriated when people treat me as if I am mentally ill or even just plain bizarre for not wanting to have children. I find it annoying when people look for reasons to explain what went “wrong” with me – is it nature or nurture? a bad childhood? too much testosterone in my system? But when I look at the statistics… that only about 20% of women over 40 (an age typically considered the childbearing years, though that is changing “thanks” to fertility treatments) have not borne a child, and only about 6%-10% of women claim to have not done so on purpose… I have to accept that I am somewhat of an anomaly. This, of course, does not excuse others for judging me, but it should make me a little more aware and understanding of why people might be perplexed by me.

As I considered this, I began to make connections between childfreedom and left-handedness. Lefties comprise only about 10% of the population too. We struggle to navigate a world built for right-handers (ladles with spouts on only one side, salad bars/buffets designed for people to hold a plate in the left hand while serving up food with the right, machinery levers positioned so as to be grasped with the right hand, scissors, right-handed desks in classrooms and lecture halls, etc.). In fact, a 1991 study at the UBC in Vancouver found that right-handers tend to outlive left-handers, likely due in part to the dangers lefties may encounter while trying to use right-handed equipment/facilities.

We are a curiosity to many. “It’s fascinating to watch you write!” “Look at how she holds a pencil!” “How can you do that with your left hand?!” Even in the recent past, people have tried to force us into being right-handed. Acquaintances only one or two generations before me have told of being sharply wrapped on the knuckles with a wooden ruler by angry teachers as punishment for writing with their left hand. Parents have insisted on taking crayons out of their children’s left hands and pressing them into the right. Historically, we have been considered untrustworthy or evil, sinister (which also means “on the left side”). In some parts of the world, it is considered offensive to extend your left hand to someone, as the left hand used to be reserved for… er… bathroom hygiene.

In the meantime, right-handedness is the gold standard. You want to be the “right-hand man.” At dinner, the guest of honor traditionally sat at the right-hand of the host. Christ is seated at the right-hand of the throne of God.

But we lefties do have a certain degree of acceptance these days. At least now people don’t usually try to beat the left-handedness out of us; most serving ladles have spouts on both sides; classrooms have the occasional left-handed desk (though they are often relegated to the back of the lecture hall…). We even have a few champions from history:
  • The judge Ehud became a hero of Israel when he assassinated the corrupt king Eglon. Because Ehud was left-handed, he was able to affix a sword to his right thigh and smuggle it past the palace guards, who would be looking for weapons on a right-handed man’s left side.
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s left-handedness is sometimes at least loosely credited for his creativity and ingenuity. (oh, and he was childfree too)
  • Four of the last five U.S. presidents: Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Obama.
So, while left-handedness and childfreedom are both anomalous, face some discrimination, and are sometimes thought to be evil, my hope is that as our culture evolves, childfreedom can gain at least the amount of acceptance that left-handedness has. Better yet, maybe there will be a day when both are treated as “normal.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Regret, or The Path Not Taken

To some extent, I think most of us look over our lives and think, “If only I had done X instead of Y,” or, “If only I had not done Z,” or, “I wish W had never happened to me.” I sometimes look back at who I was in high school and wish I hadn’t dated that guy or hadn’t wasted my time and emotion being on a sports team; instead I should have been more involved in community service or spent more time nurturing friendships.

I think about college and about the couple of times I almost switched my major. On the occasions when teaching becomes nearly unbearable, I wonder what life would have been if I had indeed chosen geology and was now living out west predicting earthquakes and studying volcanoes.

I don’t particularly like the region where I live, and sometimes I wonder how things would have been if I’d stayed at the college where I attended grad school, or moved to a bigger city, or moved back to the state where my family is.

But then reality hits me. If I hadn’t dated that guy in high school or if I had been more involved in other activities, who knows what kind of butterfly effect that would have had on my life? All of those experiences in my formative years molded me into the person I am, a person I happen to really like. Additionally, those experiences influenced other decisions and relationships that further shaped my life as I know it today.

And maybe predicting earthquakes would have been a way cool job, but I cannot discount the amazing opportunities that my degree and my current career have brought to me. The financial rewards, the autonomy I have in my job, the flexibility in my schedule, the professional development in which I have been able to engage (which has included traveling all over the country), the artistic endeavors DH has been able to pursue because of where we live, the people I have been blessed to meet, my work with the animal shelter… and on and on it goes. A feast of life that I might not have enjoyed if I had taken a different turn. I cannot allow myself regret without showing disrespect or ingratitude for the blessings that have been and will be.

Even so, there is one thing that I fear regretting -- not pursuing a PhD. There is still the possibility of doing so 10 or even 20 years down the road, but right now the cost of such a pursuit would be too great, with few tangible benefits (other than my own ego-gratification, by which I do not want to be driven). If that time of regret comes, I will need to remind myself of why I made my choice, of the price I would have paid, and of what I was able to accomplish instead.

My point is that when we choose one path, that automatically precludes us following certain other paths. We can spend our lives worrying that one of those paths might have been better, or we can make the most of the path we followed.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Possible Reason that Some Religious Folk Just Don’t “Get It”?

When it comes to disdain for not having children, I have witnessed virtually no difference between the secular world and the Christian world. Both groups seem to be equally judgmental (or equally accepting) and offer up most of the same bingos. The only difference would be that some religious types would invoke God’s name and use adjectives like “rebellious” or “sinful.” Fortunately for me, I have had very little first-hand experience with any church organization or individual member deriding my decision.

Be that as it may, a couple of weeks ago when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the results of a survey showing that many Americans don’t know much about religion (particularly Protestants and Catholics, who scored the lowest when answering questions about even their own religion), I had sort of an “aha” moment that perhaps this is why some “Christians” think that a childfree life is evil. If you don’t know, for example, what the first book of the Bible is, how likely is it that you really know what else is or is not in there?

This also reminded me of one of the reasons I have a hard time attending church services anymore. I have thirteen years of private Christian schooling in my background, and so I spent a large portion of my life in very rigorous and intensive study of the Bible, including doctrine, apologetics, and inductive Bible study (i.e., how to study the Bible, not just reading what it says). As such, I often take it for granted that a Christian would be familiar with the structure and layout of the book, the stories, the cultural context, and so forth. But in most church services I attend, I find the messages empty. The content has been “dumbed down” to just a few platitudes. I then realize that if it were not for my background, if it were only for listening to sermons, I would probably know very little myself, and I would not understand the themes and connections that run throughout the whole book.

If people really knew what they were supposedly following, and if they were willing to take Christianity as a whole -- not just a verse here and there that supports what they desire -- I expect there would be more acceptance and understanding of each other.

Related (what people seem to not realize is in the Bible, or not):
Is "Childfree Christian" an oxymoron?
The Purpose of Marriage
Religion that is pure...
Don't Say I Didn't Warn You

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Childfree Confessions, #9 (parenthood)

I don’t think I would like myself as a parent.

I have observed a few parents in action who really seemed to know what they were doing. They are firm yet clearly loving toward their children, and the well-behaved kids respond with adoration. Obviously, there would be times of conflict as there are in any family, but I look at them together and think, “Wow, they were really made for each other!” Mind you, these parents aren’t “perfect,” but they are realistic, pragmatic, loving, and humble.

I wish this were the norm. I encounter plenty of people who are bad parents, but it seems that the largest proportion of parents (in the circles in which I run, at least) are just “ok” parents. They aren’t abusing their kids, but -- perhaps in an attempt to be “perfect” -- they might be overly permissive, indulgent, or weak-willed, raising narcissistic children who have too few manners and little self-control. Or at best, they are run-of-the-mill parents raising more run-of-the-mill children.

I have been told, despite my protests, that I would be a great mother. And though I protested, upon reflection it occurred to me that I probably would be just as good a parent as most everyone else… read: mediocre. I am certain I would not be one of the few excellent parents I admire. In fact, I would probably be a lot like my mother was: impatient, frustrated, angry, yelling a lot (I’m sure we kids gave her plenty reason for this). I would probably make up for it by doing an adequate job most of the time, but as a perfectionist, that is not good enough for me. I would not want to be that person.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kids Have Feelings Too

It’s old news that the online world seems to give people a sense of anonymity or a sense of bravery/recklessness that causes them to put things in writing that they would never say to someone’s face. And though I have experienced this myself, I still find it a bit shocking. Say it to someone’s face, and you can deny it later or claim that they heard you wrong (unless there is a recording of it). Put it in writing, and it has the potential to follow you for the rest of your life!

It is also old news that online community sites like facebook have become bastions of all manner of overshare, in particular parental overshare. Be that as it may, I am consistently shocked at what some of my friends and family -- generally good and decent people -- will post about their kids. If it’s a quip about vomit or feces, I’ll just roll my eyes and move on. However, I feel a surge of anger when parents air grievances about their children or post sensitive information that could humiliate or antagonize their children. Granted, because he is not on facebook yet, 6-year-old Billy might not know that mom just told her 248 closest friends that Billy has been wetting the bed lately. But does that make it right?

I may be overly sensitive on this issue because as a child, I was very shy and I embarrassed easily. I could not abide adults laughing at me if they thought I did something silly or if I said something they thought was cute. I did not like being talked about, teased, mocked, or condescended to. Whenever I heard my parents tell a story about me, I found it completely mortifying -- and I don’t mean stories like “I.Am.Free got all A’s on her report card!”. I mean stories of a medical issue I had, or stories of something embarrassing that involved me (at which the adults would have a good chuckle), or stories of something serious I said that the grown-ups thought was funny. And of course, as I traversed my adolescent and teen years these feelings were magnified one hundred fold. I have learned to laugh at myself as an adult so that I don’t embarrass as easily as I used to, but I still have vivid and painful memories of adults who treated me as if I had no feelings.

So when people start posting about their 12-year-old daughter being a mouthy brat, or asking rhetorically if their 8-year-old will ever be potty-trained, or sharing the most “hilarious” (serious) observation made by their adolescent son, or wishing that their growing daughter would wash her armpits, I wonder how these kids feel about it? Whether or not the kids are on facebook, it seems that if you share this information with 200+ people, something is going to get back to the child.

In the instances where I feel close enough to the offender to say something, I do call them on it, as diplomatically as possible. I just hope it makes enough of an impact to save some of these kids from future wounds and scars. Let’s show these kids a little respect, OK?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

You Would Make Such a Great (Dog) Parent!

Though very clearly a cat person, I love, love, love dogs… their smiling faces, their fur, their antics, they way they get excited and romp around, the way they snuggle when they are worn out. When I go to the home of someone who has a dog, I usually greet the dog before I greet the people.

Interacting with other people’s dogs is a special treat for me. I roll around on the floor with the dogs, I talk to them, pet them, hug them, and spoil them. I get up in their faces and kiss their noses; then I let the dogs lick me in return. Truly it must be comical, if not a bit gratuitous -- especially since I tend to be very quiet, professional, and poised around most people.

So I suppose it should not be surprising when people respond to my antics with, “Oh, you really should get a dog!” or “You would make such a great dog-mom!” And, frankly, I would love to have a dog, but dog ownership is not a good fit for my personality and lifestyle (nor DH’s). We did foster a dog for the humane society a few years ago, and although she was a most wonderful pooch, we quickly learned that we were not well-suited for the life of dog-parents. The energy, mess, and attention involved became very stressful very quickly. (It didn’t help that after a couple of weeks she became increasingly aggressive toward our cats, at which time we had to place her in a new foster home before there was a disaster.) I recall the drives home from work, wanting to just go home and collapse from a long, hard day, and instead feeling my anxiety skyrocket as I thought about the dog who would be so needy upon my arrival. In contrast, the cats would greet me at the door, ask for a quick scratch, and then go about their own business.

Interestingly, when people tell me I should adopt a dog and I briefly explain why I shouldn’t, most people are content to leave it at that. No argument, no judgment. I wonder why it can’t be just as easy to accept when you insert “kid” in place of “dog”? After all, my observation is that children require far more effort and commitment than dogs. If I cannot handle a dog (a creature I love being around), what makes people think I should or could handle a child?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Love Being Married, Hate Being “Mrs.”

In contrast to my longstanding desire to not have children, I always did want to marry. Of course, being the nontraditional gal that I am, I was not planning guest lists, choosing flowers, and designing my wedding gown for a dream wedding, as some girls do from a young age. No, I think I was considering something more long-term, being married as opposed to getting married.

My friends started marrying off when I was about 19, and as I attended their weddings, I became distressed by all of the chaos, the pomp-and-circumstance, and the waste (I just about had a heart attack when one friend told me she was spending $800 on fresh flowers… this was 16 years ago; and don’t even get me started on the $5000 dress that you wear once and then store in a box in the attic for the rest of your life). I don’t like being the center of attention anyway, and all of this wedding stuff seemed too extravagant and tiring. I decided that I wanted something simple, perhaps a cheesy ceremony in Las Vegas with just me and my guy.

Of course, things don’t always go as planned, and when a long-term relationship crumbled, I found myself wondering where my life might be headed next. I was at first frightened but then excited about my newfound freedom, and I rededicated my life to God. Because of the pain I was still feeling, I could not imagine ever being close to someone again. Maybe I didn’t need to marry after all. I met a missionary woman who married for the first time in her late 70s. I could do that! And if I never married, that was OK too.

But again, God looked down and saw a couple of misfits and thought, “These two will be much better off together than they would be apart.” DH (dear husband) and I sometimes joke that it is almost tragic that we found each other because we could have been such shining examples of confident, secure, and happy single people. Be that as it may, I believe God saw fit for us to minister to each other. We play off each others’ strengths; we make up for each others’ weaknesses. And we absolutely love being married.

In case you are wondering when I’m going to cut out the sappy sentimentality and get to my point… cultural expectations of married women drive me nuts. I do not define myself by being married, and yet others sometimes want to define me that way. My very first “bingo” came when I returned to work after my honeymoon. As I was clocking out for the day, a coworker smiled and said to me, “So now you have to go home and make dinner for someone.” Huh? I replied, “No, actually, he is supposed to have dinner waiting for me when I arrive!”

We have an agreement about certain roles in our house. He cooks, I do the laundry. I load the dishwasher, he does the dishes that need to be hand-washed. He makes the phone calls (for insurance quotes, hair appointments, car repairs, etc.), and I make the money. I mow the lawn, he removes spiders from the house.

When we first moved to our current town and began attending church here, people there kept asking me, “So did you move here for DH’s job?” Not, “What brings you to this town?” or “What attracted you to this area?” No, the assumption had to be that I was following DH around and had no aspirations of my own. As I explained over and over that we moved here for my job, no one had any issue with that, but I grew tired of the assumptions and the looks of surprise.

I think this also irritated me because I had looked forward to a teaching career since I was a child, so it was one of the major goals of my life. These incidents brought back bad memories of a guy I dated in high school who said he wanted a good job so that I wouldn’t “have to” work when we were married. I remember being offended and disgusted that he could belittle my ambitions and my calling by implying either that I should not teach or that it would just be my “hobby,” something I did not “have to” do.

At work, despite that I introduce myself to my students as “Professor,” many insist upon calling me Mrs. __, even before I tell them that I am married. Not only do I find this unprofessional, but I kept my family name, so when my students call me Mrs. __, it sounds like they are talking about my stepmother. Meanwhile, they readily call their male instructors “professor.”

This probably adds to the laundry list of reasons that I would not want to have children. Despite that the women in my social circles are highly educated and career-oriented, I have watched their gender roles/disparities become far more pronounced after having children. By cultural expectations or by their own choice, every such woman I know has become shackled with the responsibilities of full-time career and full-time motherhood while dad carries on his life as if little or nothing has changed. And worse, if mom doesn’t continue her career, she is considered a drain to the family financially. And if she doesn’t do all of the right kind of mothering, she is considered a disgrace as a wife and mother. She can’t win.

As my commenters and I have often summarized after my rants about people’s judgment of the childfree, I think all of this boils down to respecting people’s choices and callings in life. Don’t disrespect someone (female or male) for leaving a paying career in favor of a career raising children; don’t act condescendingly to someone who chooses not to have children at all. Don’t treat someone differently because s/he marries; don’t treat someone pitifully because s/he is single. Don’t try to put people into a box that fits your expectations. Yadda yadda yadda.

There is more to me than the ring on my finger.

(By the way, we did marry in Las Vegas. The wedding cost $120.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If Something Really Is Worth It, It Goes Without Saying

Of course, that is just my personal opinion. I’m sure there are others who would disagree. I mean, this cliché is used not only in reference to parenthood, but even the most mundane of activities…
“The concert tickets cost $150 per person, but it was so worth it!”
“It takes forever to mow my 2-acre front lawn, but it’s so worth it!”

(And I’m really referring to the “bitch and backpedal” use of that phrase. What seems to be different about the parenthood references is that they occur over and over and over. No one feels the need to tell you ad nauseam how worth it the concert or the big yard is.)

Personally, I try to avoid the cliché altogether, partly because I don’t feel the need to justify my choices to the world and partly because I believe that it should be self-evident when something is worth it. When I think about the things in my life that have meaning, or the things that have been my greatest challenges, or obstacles I have overcome, I cannot recall ever feeling the need to say that it was all worth it -- nor has anyone asked me if it was all worth it.

I think of graduate school. College had always been “easy” for me, so the challenge of graduate school was unexpected. I had to learn how to study and how to expend mental energy in ways I had never done before. I tell people about how difficult it was, how much stress and anxiety I was constantly under. I tell them how I awoke every morning feeling as if I were going to throw up. No one asks if it was worth it. The way in which my life has been positively impacted is abundantly clear.

I think about my animals and how they can be messy or annoying at times. It can be stressful to find someone to watch them when I travel. Veterinary care isn’t cheap, and most animal health insurance does not provide enough benefit for me to justify the cost. But I never feel the need to complain about any of that, so people never have to ask if it is worth it.

I think of home ownership… new roof, new furnace, backed-up pipes flooding the basement, painting, maintaining, repairing. Even when homeowners sit around comparing horror stories about collapsed ceilings or carpenter ant infestations, no one ever justifies home ownership to me with “but it’s all worth it.” It goes without saying that owning a house is what some people want, and it has its opportunity costs. You accept it for what it is, or you choose not to buy a house.

The list could go on about jobs/careers, marriages or other close relationships, charity work, feats of physical endurance, living a Christian life, etc.

On the other hand, I will be the first to say that something is not worth it if I believe that information will save someone time, money, energy, or grief. At the very least, I am willing to question whether something is worth the costs and to share my knowledge with others, not to coerce them into joining me but to educate them so that they can make an informed choice.

I love my job, but it definitely has its stresses and frustrations. I am willing to share those with others, and I am willing to admit that a teaching career is not for everyone. During the times that the rewards outweigh the difficulties, I find the desire to continue. But when times are bad, I make it no secret that I am considering my other career options.

For many years I have fostered animals for the humane society. There are times of fun and joy, and times of sadness, suffering, and death. Having to break the attachment when the foster service is over is always extremely difficult. I frequently ask myself why I do this over and over, and without hesitation I will share that sentiment with other people. I do feel as if I am making a difference, and I do know that I have saved lives… or at least soothed suffering. Is it “worth it”? I cannot say. I always leave it to the listener to decide.

Obviously, the major difference between these two examples and parenthood is that I can always change careers and I can always stop fostering animals. But what I think they should have in common is the absence of the cliché “but it’s all worth it.” Just tell the truth, and let the evidence speak for itself. Then leave it for those around us to decide for themselves.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

I’m terrified of most spiders. For as long as I can remember, the mere sight of a spider would induce panic, and spiders have been the subject of many a nightmare. A spider bite 10 years ago that has left me with a dime-sized scar has not helped my phobia either.

Particularly in the summer in my region, yard work needs to be done. And indeed, I actually enjoy weeding, tending to flowers, and raking leaves. Unfortunately, with gardens come spiders; and what’s worse, spiders are beneficial to the garden and should thus not be driven away. I am learning to coexist with them through the systematic desensitization of working side-by-side with them, but most of the time I just lie to myself.
“There are no spiders here.”
“That was not a spider web that I just walked through. And if it was, there is no spider dangling from me.”
“There are no spiders here.”
I keep repeating it.
I see a spider. “Well, that was the only one, and he has run away. There are no more spiders here.”
I lie to myself so that I can cope with the fear and discomfort of what lurks behind every shrub. I lie to myself so that I can function well enough to complete the work that needs to be done. I lie often enough so that I can behave as if I really believe it.

So when I recently heard the infamous “Bitch and Backpedal” it’s-all-worth-it speech yet again, it struck me at a much deeper level than it had before… is this self-talk the exact same coping mechanism I am using in my garden? Merely a lie so that one can endure the task at hand?

That idea is nothing new to me or to anyone else. Years ago, Wanda Sykes did a hilarious stand-up routine about it (watch here). Even I have blogged about related issues and potential regret in the past. What was new to me, I suppose, was an ability to empathize. Though I have always been puzzled and skeptical about “it’s all worth it” (because I never felt the need to justify anything in my own life in that way), I have only recently realized that I was doing essentially the same thing when it came to coping with my fear in the garden.

I think I finally understand.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Insights on Being Childfree and Christian: Part II

Part II of my interview with Laura Carroll, author of Families of Two.
Continuing my interview with childfree Christian blogger I.Am.Free:

Laura: Many childfree Christians have a hard time reconciling not having kids with their faith--you have. How?

Quite simply, during my formative years no one ever told me that such a thing was wrong! I attended church regularly from the time I was born, both of my grandfathers were ministers, my parents read me Bible stories and devotionals before bed every night, I went to a Christian school where I rigorously studied the entire Bible… I was completely immersed in Christianity, and yet I never saw anything in my Bible nor heard anything from the pulpit to convince me that there was something immoral about not having children.

I should probably add that while I attended churches that some might describe as conservative and fundamentalist, they were fairly mainstream Protestant churches. Individual opinions might have varied about birth control or family size, for example, but there was never a church mandate against birth control or a mandate to have children. As such, my personal experience with mainstream Protestantism is undoubtedly vastly different from the experiences of my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers who hear the opposite message from their pope.

Even now that I have been exposed to Christians who believe there is something evil or rebellious about purposeful childlessness, I have still heard no compelling spiritual argument against it. No one has been able to present to me clear, Biblical evidence that every (married) person must bear children. Even “be fruitful and multiply” is considered by some scholars to be a blessing to humanity and not a command; but if it were a command… well, humanity has been fruitful and multiplied to the tune of about 6.7 billion. I think we have fulfilled that directive.

Laura: How have you dealt with pressure from family, friends, and the church to have children?

I.Am.Free: I have always been a woman of my own mind, and I have been well-known for bucking societal trends in many areas, including my career, my marriage relationship, my gender role, my financial decisions, and so on. Though some of my family and friends have given me a little flack about not having children, they have come to realize that I think carefully about everything I do and that I will do what I know is right, regardless of what anyone else has to say.

Between that and about twenty years of me being matter-of-fact about not having children, most of my family and friends have seen no point in trying to change my mind. As for the church, I have experienced no direct pressure to have children. Whenever I do feel any indirect pressure, I focus on the relationship I have with God and the confidence I have that I am following the right path. I also seek out churches that welcome people from all walks of life, and I would not hesitate to leave a church if I found it to be intolerant.

Laura: What advice would you give to other Christians who are struggling with being Christian and childfree (or who are wanting to be childfree)?

I.Am.Free: The first piece of advice I would give is to know what you believe and why. Some of what is taught in church is not based on Scripture or even church history, but is completely the invention of some person who misinterpreted or added to the Bible. Read the Bible for yourself. Look at the historical and cultural context of what you read. Question your church leaders. Determine which aspects of your church’s teaching are from God, and which are nothing more than human tradition.

The second piece of advice is to listen to what God is telling you. I do not want to sound as if God is some sort of crystal ball or the great vending-machine-in-the-sky, but I do believe that when we are open and receptive, earnestly seeking God, and prayerful, that God does give us direction and a peace about what we should do.

Lastly, stand strong. Doing the right thing is not always easy and often does not please others. For heaven’s sake, I have even heard of Christian parents who tried to discourage their children from becoming missionaries! But I think it will be difficult to be content unless you live the life to which you were called.


Thanks so much for your thoughts and insights. This topic needs to be talked about more to help those who may be struggling with being childfree and Christian.

So to you out there: Let’s hear your thoughts.

From I.Am.Free re: online discussion: In my experience with the childfree community online, many are quick to criticize religious viewpoints. I am certain that to the nonbeliever, much of what I have said about my faith will sound absolutely ridiculous, and I can appreciate that. While I am happy to answer any follow-up questions or make clarifications, I am not interested in defending my faith to anyone who is merely attempting to make me feel foolish.

As some of my dear friends are atheists or agnostics, I have had plenty of time to engage in challenging philosophical discussions on the spiritual and to analyze my beliefs in the presence of great skepticism. I welcome this, but I have found that it does not translate well into the online world. I hope that discussion will not deteriorate into a debate about religion.

Laura Carroll: I'm especially interested in sharing with others your stories about being childfree and Christian!
Dear readers, feel free to comment here or to share with Laura at http://lauracarroll.com.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Insights on Being Childfree and Christian

My interview with Laura Carroll, author of Families of Two.

Laura and I collaborated on the following piece, which is also available at her website, http://lauracarroll.com/. Here is what Laura had to say...

I recently connected with blogger I.Am.Free at her blog--Childfree Christian: Thoughts on the intersection of Christianity and childfreedom. She has some great thoughts and insights on being childfree and Christian. I hear from Lots of Christians who struggle with this, so I asked if she’d co-post an interview, and I am happy she agreed!

First a few words from I.Am.Free:

I want to thank Laura for inviting me to “co-blog” with her. I have a great deal of respect for her, and I am grateful for her support of people who wish to be true to their faith while living a life without children.

What I have to share is coming from the perspective of a married Christian woman. Unmarried people in the church certainly have their own challenges (such as being single in a pro-marriage environment!), but I do not feel qualified to address those. And I may be wrong about this, but my observation is that unmarried Christians are given a “pass” for not having children (yet). No one in the church seems to have a problem with singles, nuns, Jesus Christ, etc., not having children, but in the church -- and the culture at large -- there is an expectation that marriage leads to babies. As such, much of what I am about to say pertains to married people who have chosen not to have children.

Laura: How did you come to decide you did not want children?

I.Am.Free: I do not know if it was as much a decision as it was a realization. I do not ever recall wanting to have children, but when I was a child I assumed it was just somet
hing that happened when a person grew up. However, as I entered my teenage years, I began to dread the possibility of someday having children…the idea of pregnancy and childbirth, the thought of being around babies and small children. But I remember my mother being quite open about how she used the Pill until she was ready to have me, and one day it struck me: if you could use birth control to delay having children, why not keep using it so that you never had to have children at all? This realization brought tremendous relief and clarity to me. I simply knew that I would not have children.

Laura: What factors did you consider that relate to your faith in making this decision?

I.Am.Free: Because I was such an early articulator, I cannot say that my faith had any bearing on my initial decision. At that time, it never crossed my mind that th
ese things might be considered inconsistent or mutually exclusive.

However, as time passed, I discovered that not bearing children might actually be an expression of my faith. The Bible is full of commands and reminders to care for the poor, the suffering, and the orphans. Upon being deeply moved by stories of orphans and adoption, I began to feel as if God were calling me to be a voice for discarded young people, especially the older children who are less adoptable. I felt compelled that IF I were ever to have children, it would be through the adoption of an older child. I also realized that the cares of bearing my own children would only detract from my compassion, my drive, and my financial resources to care for others. I set to work on sponsoring a couple of adolescent girls in other countries, offering financial and moral support for other people’s adoptions, and mentoring young adults through my profession.

Stay tuned for Part II right around the corner~

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Childfree Confessions, #8 (no grandkids)

I truly do feel badly about not giving my mother grandchildren. While she can still hold out hope that my younger siblings will do so, I’m the only one who is married right now… and in the meantime, she has to watch her peers and family members become grandparents time and again. It is painful for me to watch her congratulate them year after year, knowing that she wishes she could be the one receiving the congratulations.

Mom came from a large family, and she and all of her brothers and sisters each had three or more children. Most of the children are grown now, and so my uncle has nine grandchildren and a tenth on the way. Mom’s sister (younger sister, to add insult to injury) has six grandchildren and a seventh on the way. With the way she oohs and aahs about her grand-nieces and -nephews and the way she dotes on any small child she meets, I know Mom would be a wonderful grandmother. She has told me herself how badly she wants a "grandbaby." Unfortunately, all I could do was firmly tell her that it was not going to happen with me. Don’t think for a moment that I enjoyed looking into the face of someone I love and telling her that I couldn’t be what she wants.

Unfortunately, no matter how badly I feel about it, I need to live the life to which I was called. I have disappointed my family over and over again in other areas of my life as I followed that path God laid out for me, so this is just one more disappointment for them to accept. My dad would have loved for me to follow in his footsteps in the business world; instead I was called to education. My sister wanted me to stay in our home state, but I was called across the country for graduate school. All of my family (parents, aunts, cousins, etc.) wanted me to come home after grad school, yet I was called elsewhere. And as I feel the leading for another cross-country move, I wonder how they will react to that when the time comes. (And with this thought, I note that even if I did have a baby just for mom, she would only see the child about 2-3 times a year. She would miss out on most of the kid’s childhood anyway…)

As time has passed, everyone seems to have grown accustomed to my ways. The questions of “when are moving back home?” and “do you still like your job?” and “why aren’t you having children?” have become few and far between. Even my mom has relented, but I still see that wistfulness in her demeanor whenever she sees a baby.

In the meantime, I’ll keep following the apostle Paul’s advice regarding family ties and ministry… Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned. (I Corinthians 7:17)

Monday, June 14, 2010

These Are My “Kids”

While grading papers in my office one day, I became extremely discouraged, feeling that my students had not learned a single thing this semester and that I was completely ineffective as a teacher. I left my office to attend a student award ceremony, and it was there that I ran into “Jim.”

A couple of springs ago, Jim was a student of mine, though about five to ten years my senior. He was a very slow learner and struggled immensely in my Level 0 (developmental / pre-college-level) class, but he had this inspiring tenacity -- perfect attendance, regular tutoring at the learning center (he would come to class with pages and pages of work that he had done with this tutor), always asking questions in class, reworking his online assignments over and over until he scored 100% on every one of them, and so on. Still, it was clear he would not be able to pass the course. He gave the course a second try with me in the fall semester, working as hard as ever, and managed to pull through with a solid C. His progress was clear and he undoubtedly deserved to move on from this course, but when I saw some of the kinds of mistakes he was making, I had concerns about how he would pass the next course, Level 1, which was also developmental.

Not surprisingly to me, he did fail Level 1, though he worked just as hard for that instructor as he had worked for me. He came to me at the end of the school year and said, “I understand you are teaching this class during the summer. May I sit in on it?” And so he did. Despite that he was not enrolled and was therefore earning no credit for the summer course, he attended nearly every session -- two nights a week for three hours a night for six weeks -- taking notes, working in small groups with the other students, asking questions, doing the homework, etc. While I worked with him, I was thrilled to see the progress he had made since he left my Level 0 class. It was slow going, but I could see that he had the ability to pass Level 1…at least eventually. He gave Level 1 another try the following semester, and he made it through. He could finally enroll in a college level course.

So there I was at the student award ceremony when I heard Jim, “Professor, professor! I have tried to catch you in your office so that I could show you my mid-term grades. I’m getting an A in my college level course!” I felt myself tearing up a little as I congratulated him and told him that I knew he could do it. I thought, Students like Jim -- these are my kids -- these are the reason I do this job.

Related: True Confessions, #4

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

You’ll Never Hear Me Complain

Anyone who is friends with a parent has probably at least occasionally found herself stuck in the middle of a conversation about potty-training, about children vomiting in their bed in the middle of the night, about the embarrassing thing Johnny said in public, etc. Anyone who is facebook friends with a parent is probably inundated with inappropriate newsfeed items containing hour-by-hour updates on potty training, gory details of a child’s illness (what he has, how often he has vomited), or complaints about how difficult life is with children.

If you dare call these folks out on their overshare or their complaints, you will likely be admonished with the all-knowing, “Just wait until you have kids,” or, “You wouldn’t understand unless you had children of your own.” Well, you know what? In the years I have worked at the animal shelter, fostered cats, kittens, and dogs in my home, and raised animals of my own, I have been pooped on, peed on, diarrhea-ed on, drooled on, barfed on, sneezed on, pussed on, snotted on, had earmite waste shaken all over me while cleaning ears, had upset cats “express” their anal glands at me, been bitten by fleas, scratched, nipped, and covered in filthy pawprints, just to name a few things.

I have dealt with coccidia, other intestinal parasites, fleas, lice, mange, ear mites, upper respiratory infections, coronaviruses, eye infections. I have administered countless medications in various forms. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to give a cat a pill? I have spread antibiotic ointment on pus-covered, oozing incisions. I have cleaned infected puncture wounds. I have had to syringe-feed kittens who were too sick or too young to eat on their own, stick my fingers in kitty mouths to force-feed nutritional supplements, and get up in the middle of the night to attend to animals in distress.

I have picked goobers out of eyes and noses, clipped the toenails of flailing felines, and cleaned dried feces out of many an animal’s fur.

And through all this, I never complain. When I pulled a roundworm out of my foster kitten’s rear end, did I feel the need to tell all of facebook about it? When I stepped on a hairball that was left on the rug, did I complain about it in your newsfeed? When Fluffy barged into my bathroom and accidentally jumped into the toilet before I could flush it, did I race to the computer to tell everyone the story? When I scrubbed diarrhea off the wall, did I post a status update telling everyone how hard it is to take care of sick kittens?

No one hears about the drudgery of me scooping litterboxes, picking vomit out of the carpet, breaking up cat fights, or trying to silence cat noises at 4am, because you know what? I don’t mind it. All of the hard work, all of the grossness, I take it in stride. Sometimes what I do is quite gag-worthy, but I love taking care of animals. I have come to believe that I love my animals and enjoy caring for them more than most parents love and enjoy caring for their children.

Now I know what you’re thinking… “But animals don’t keep you up all night long for days on end,” or, “Animals don’t talk back,” or, “Animals are far less stressful to raise than children,” or, “Animals express greater appreciation for what you do than a child will,” or, “Kittens are much easier to toilet train.” Eh, maybe, maybe not. I certainly won’t argue with anyone who implies that animals are much more wonderful than children. But even so, whatever gross thing that a parent has to complain about, I have probably dealt with something grosser. And you’ll never hear me complain.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Having a Child at All Costs

A recent Time magazine article reports on studies that link infertility treatments to autism. Apparently, women who have undergone infertility treatments have much higher rates of children with autism. While one study adjusted for the mother's age and ruled that out as the cause for autism, it is still unclear whether the fertility drugs are to blame, or the infertility itself, or other factors associated with fertility treatments, such as premature birth or multiple births.

And autism is not the only risk. IVF is also linked to birth defects and genetic defects, not to mention the physical and psychological toll that it can take on the mother.

It saddens me that our society idolizes motherhood and the passing on of our own genetic material to the point that we are willing to risk anything and everything to have a child. We are willing to create more children with a much higher risk of developmental disorders and birth defects while 140,000,000+ orphans -- many perfectly healthy -- cry for homes. We are willing to throw away thousands of dollars on this risk while children all over the world starve. We thumb our noses at nature and then react with surprise when nature strikes back.

And while I'm rambling... I wish our culture showed a little more compassion for people struggling with infertility. Instead of sweeping them away in the dogma of "you MUST have a child at all costs!", what if we showed them acceptance and alternatives? Maybe we could stop treating them as if they have no value unless their "disease" is cured, and focus on the other contributions they make to humanity.

I suppose I just don't understand the cult of procreation and the concept of risking it all to create a mini-me...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Reason for Being Childfree, or Just a Fringe Benefit?

When I read articles and editorials, I generally try to avoid reading the “Comments” section because of the deluge of poorly written, misinformed, or otherwise ignorant drivel that many people post. However, at the end of an online article I read on childfreedom, I broke my rule and found this little gem (I need to paraphrase here, but I am not too far off from the original quote): “…people want to be selfish and not have children so that they can sleep in on the weekends...” Now, I know that some people leave comments that are intended to be sarcastic or ironic, but from the context, I believe that this comment was serious. Mind you, there was nothing in the article or in the nearby comments about sleeping in or about selfish reasons for not having children. It seemed that the author of this comment could think of no reason for childfreedom other than the ability to sleep in on weekends.

I began pondering (as I so frequently do) why people choose to be childfree, and more specifically, I asked myself, What is a reason for being childfree versus a fringe benefit?

Certainly there may be people out there who choose childfreedom for a reason as “frivolous” as wanting to sleep in. Personally, I have not encountered such people (and even so, we all have our own physical needs -- who am I to decide how important sleep and rest should be to someone else?). In addition, research has shown that people’s reasons for not having children tend to be unselfish, unlike the generally selfish reasons people give for pursuing parenthood.

Nevertheless, I think some of us childfree do tend to rave about the fringe benefits rather than our actual reasons for childfreedom, and that may be why some people get the impression that we are selfish. As an early articulator, I was quite unaware of some of the fringe benefits when I made my decision, so I can guarantee that I was not motivated by “selfish” reasons like wanting to sleep in, wanting to spend all of my money on myself, and not wanting stretch marks. I took the time to make a list of my reasons, a list that started with the simple “I just don’t want them” (my first reason from a very young age) and has grown as I have grown and as I have had my choices questioned.

While this is probably not a comprehensive list, I think it is a decent summary.
  • To my best recollection, knowing at such a young age that I did not want children was probably due to my general dislike of being around children (as a child myself, all I ever wanted to do was grow up) and to the horror I felt toward pregnancy and childbirth.
  • On a related note, I have no urge to reproduce. No biological clock ticking.
  • As I have stated before, I felt a call to take care of the world’s orphans instead of bearing children. I used to think adoption was in my future, but I’ve begun thinking that other things are my mission, like child sponsorship and support of other people’s adoptions.
  • I don’t like being around many people, even my own relatives. I’m somewhat of a loner, and I like to spend time by myself. No, I need to spend time by myself to maintain my sanity.
  • I love my husband and I cannot bear the thought of anyone coming between us. A child would divert my attention from him.
  • I already feel complete. I don’t need motherhood to make me feel better about myself, and I don’t have a void in my life that I need to fill.
  • I adore my career, and I have been career-minded ever since I chose my profession when I was 12 years old. And as a perfectionist, I want to be the best I can in my career. A child could only make me less of a professor/colleague and would distract me from my ministry to my students.
  • I need a significant amount of peace and quiet. I could not abide the commotion that comes with children.
  • I am independent, and I avoid relationships with anyone who is too needy. This is why I have cats instead of dogs; this is why the few friends I have are educated and talented people who are self-sufficient; this is why I fell in love with a free-thinking and free-spirited artist.
Don’t get me wrong about the fringe benefits -- they are fantastic. I love that I have not wracked my body with a pregnancy; I am happy that I avoided all of the pain, discomfort, and distortion that my friends have rued. I love my extra disposable income, income that I can use to sponsor children, support Show Hope (adoption) and other charitable causes, pay off my house, save for retirement, or travel. I love the flexibility of my schedule which allows me to work more if I want the extra money. I love my free time, which I use to volunteer at the animal shelter, relax with my husband, work on my garden, exercise, and even occasionally waste. I love being the center of my husband’s attention. No need for “date nights” for us, since we are always spending time together.

And, yes, I love being able to sleep in!

But just remember, the reasons came long before the fringe benefits, and the reasons are good.

Do you distinguish between reasons and fringe benefits? What are your reasons for being childfree? What are your fringe benefits?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Condolences

My cousin just announced a pregnancy. While the rest of my family gushed with congratulations and other words of excitement, I could not be less enthusiastic.

Because she has been married for several years now and I had never heard any talk of children, I suppose I was holding out a little hope that she and her husband were childfree. Because she is an avid runner (I think she has averaged something like 1-2 marathons a year for the past 10 years), I suppose I am worried that she will trade in her running shorts for a pair of "mom jeans." Because she has always been so interesting to me, I suppose I am concerned that her facebook updates will become as monotonous and mommy-centered as her sister's have (yeah, I had to hide her sister on my newsfeed because I couldn't take it anymore). I don't want to see my cousin go from "cool" to "mom."

In fact, all I wanted to say to her was, "My condolences!"

But I realize that some of those condolences are for me... and for the 140,000,000 orphans out there. Perhaps I should sponsor another child so that I can pick up my cousin's slack.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Idolatry Revisited

I must admit that I’m not much of a reader, but on a recent airplane trip, I took the time to reread The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. It had been years since I first read the book, and I had forgotten how wonderful it was. In particular, there were certain passages that became more meaningful to me as a 35-year-old childfree person than they were when I was a 22-year-old childfree person, now that I have more experience with people’s idolization of their children and many women’s arrogance and obsession with their motherhood.

For anyone who has not read the book, the narrator of the story describes taking a bus ride from hell (or purgatory) to heaven. Upon arrival in heaven, he witnesses the response his fellow passengers have to the reality of heaven and observes their interactions with the friends and relatives who greet them. Many of these passengers are displeased with what they find and are unwilling to shed their earthly baggage for the joy of heaven. As I read these accounts, I kept thinking, “My gosh, I know this person,” or, “I could have been that other person.” But the one that Lewis nailed with the greatest poignancy for me was the mother, Pam. Pam was disappointed to be met by someone called Reginald rather than by her son Michael. As Pam crabbed to Reginald about wanting to see Michael, Reginald tried to explain to her how things worked in heaven and that she would see Michael in due time… but first she needed to seek God. Pam retorted, “You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a Mother.” I loved Reginald’s reply: “You mean, if I were only a mother. But there is no such thing as being only a mother. You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature. That relation is older and closer.”

When Pam continued to argue that she gave up everything to make her son happy, Reginald informed her, “Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long…[God] wanted your merely instinctive love for your child (tigresses share that, you know!) to turn into something better. He wanted you to love Michael as He understands love… But there was, it seems, no chance of that in your case. The instinct was uncontrolled and fierce and monomaniac.”

After a while, Pam grew increasingly frustrated and demanded to see her son because, “He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, for ever and ever.” When Reginald protested that “nothing can be yours by nature,” Pam was incredulous. I think I may have actually witnessed the following interchange in real life:
“What? Not my own son, born out of my own body?”
“And where is your own body now? Didn’t you know that nature draws to an end?”
“Michael is mine.”
“How yours? You didn’t make him. Nature made him to grow in your body without your will. Even against your will…”
The narrator and his heavenly guide eventually move on from Pam and discuss love versus lust and how good love can go bad. The guide muses that there is something about feelings of love that can “make it easier to stop at the natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is.” He later concludes, “The false religion of lust is baser than the false religion of mother-love or patriotism or art: but lust is less likely to be made into a religion.”

I suppose I felt some level of comfort knowing that, so many years ago, Lewis must have encountered the same kind of obsessed and self-righteous women that I have encountered… that it isn’t just me… that this isn’t some new phenomenon. And I could not help but be amused at the continual clever rebuttals to what the obsessed mother had to say. Ever the thinker, Lewis has unexpectedly given me some ideas for replies the next time I’m bingoed.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Immense Gratitude

One aspect of my life for which I am immensely grateful is the knowledge and understanding I have had of myself, even as a child. This has allowed me great clarity in my major life choices, such as selecting a college, finding a mate, and choosing a career (much of which I described in an earlier post). But what has been impressed upon me most heavily lately is the blessing of being an “early articulator” of my childfree life.

As I participate in online discussion forums, read the blogs of others, and peruse articles and editorials throughout the web, my heart breaks for all of the people who have struggled with being childfree. From spouses who change their minds, to people who are still on the fence but worrying that time is running out, to people who have only recently realized they are childfree and now wonder how to tell their parents that they will never be grandparents… there seems to be plenty of pain to go around.

I am grateful that at about 15 years of age I didn’t know any better than to tell people I would never have children. It was just a fact of my life, no surprise to my parents, my husband, my friends, my other family members. I recall one of my aunts (who must have missed that memo) sitting me down a few years after I married and asking me when I was going to have children. I responded very matter-of-factly that I would not be, sort of in a “how-could-you-not-already-know-this?” kind of tone. Perhaps to satiate her, I did express my passion for adoption, and she was quite accepting of that. Really, I have received very little hassle from friends and family, and I credit my years of pointed, pragmatic childfree declarations for this. Mind you, I was never “in your face” about it, but when it came up, it was as nonconfrontational and logical as saying, “No, I will not be moving to Minnesota.”

I am also grateful that, because of my openness, my husband knew I was childfree even before we officially started dating, and he shared the same feelings. Further, when I was ready for a tubal ligation, he fully supported me. I can hardly express the relief I have, knowing that even if one of us did change our mind someday, it is too late. Neither of us can ever be forced to choose between having a baby or ending the marriage over it.

I am grateful for the confidence I had to be sterilized. Nearly five years later, I’m grateful again every day. I have no fear that I will ever regret it, and that surety, that peace, is a blessing. I wish there were a way I could bestow that clarity upon everyone else.

If I were to offer anyone else advice on this, I would encourage two things. First, speak freely and early about not having children, even if you are still unsure. Don’t wait and agonize until you feel you need to blindside someone with this. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I might not want to have children,” or, “I’m pretty certain I don’t want children,” or, “I know I don’t want children.” Of course some people will try to convince you otherwise; listen to them and learn from them, but also listen to the other side and listen to what you believe God is telling you. What’s important is that the discussion has begun, and you don’t need to keep this bottled up inside, worrying about what others might think.

Secondly, make a decision to live your life with no regrets. We all make mistakes, and we all attempt to make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time. All of us will look back at our lives and wish that such-and-such had been done differently. But always remember, you did the best you could with the resources you had, and those decisions you made have shaped you into the person you are today. And if you look back on a choice and decide it was wrong, forgive yourself and allow yourself to learn from the experience. The fact that I am simply not a regretful kind of person is perhaps the main reason that I have had no fear of sterilization and of being childfree. Making careful, prayerful, informed decisions and standing by them can be very liberating. I wish the same for all of you.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Childfree Confessions, #7 (nieces/nephews)

I dread the day that either of my siblings has a child.

I consider my brother and sister to be two of my dearest friends, not necessarily because I am related to them but because they are genuinely wonderful and interesting people. Though my sister lives about 450 miles west of me and my brother lives about 450 miles east of me, we make the effort to see each other several times a year and keep up regularly through facebook.

My brother, unmarried and in his thirties, seems to be on the fence about children. At one point he told me that he thought he was now too old to become a father; but his girlfriend is in her late twenties, and she might have the power to convince him otherwise. My younger sister, on the other hand, has long talked about someday having a baby. She is willing to wait for the right man and the right time, but her desire for a child is strong.

Those of you who have read enough of my blog have picked up on the fact that I don’t particularly like children in general, although I would never harm them or wish any harm to come upon them. I cry for the orphans when anyone insists upon having “their own” child, I mourn the loss of relationships, I am saddened by the negative effect parenthood has had on most people I know, and I am disgusted by the idolatrous obsession people have with children. When I imagine either of my siblings having a child, these concerns and feelings become even more poignant, if not frightening. I wonder if I could bear the loss of the friendships we have, and I worry about whether or not I could bond with nieces and nephews.

Over the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, I caught a glimpse of what could come. My brother adopted a puppy from a rescue organization, and this puppy is the cutest, sweetest, funniest little guy so full of personality. (Don’t even get me started on animals!) My mother, sister, brother, and brother’s girlfriend, and the puppy gathered at my home shortly before Thanksgiving. The puppy needed a great deal of attention as he was still being trained and still needed frequent trips outside; this meant that someone had to have an eye on him at every moment. And with him being so adorable and hilarious, we all wanted to play with him and watch what he would do. An entire evening revolved around watching the puppy bound around the living room, talking about the puppy, listening to the puppy, and thinking about the puppy. After a few hours, I did start to bore of it, and it struck me, “This is what life would be like if one of us brought a child into the picture.” The only difference is that I love animals, but I find children annoying. I could imagine the entire family sitting around the room obsessing about the child while I yawned and wished to be somewhere else.

Selfishly, I hold out some hope that neither of my siblings will have children. My brother loves his dog but has acknowledged the unexpected amount of work involved in caring for him; maybe that will cause my brother to lean further toward the childfree side of the fence. With her career, her world travels, and her lack of interest in dating, I could imagine my sister ending up childless by circumstance, running out of time because her life was so full of other amazing things. Of course, I feel quite conflicted about this. I love her dearly and want the best for her. I would be deeply saddened if she were childless and regretful of it.

I suppose that all I can do for now is cherish the relationships I have with my brother and sister and hope for the best in the future. Their lives do not revolve around my desires, nor should they, and I love them too much to begrudge them any happiness.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Random Thoughts on New Year’s Day

Thank you to everyone who has read, followed, or commented on my blog in 2009. It is both flattering and humbling to know that other people have an interest in what I have to say, and I hope that my ramblings, rantings, and insights will continue to bless you and others in 2010.

A couple of days ago, I was pondering how long it had been since my last post. I realized that my lack of inspiration is probably mostly due to how little I have read my Bible lately. It seems that my richest writings and ideas come when I am taking the time to carefully read and think about what God has to say; to dissect what is actually in the Bible and why it is there versus what my culture or what the church as an organization has added to or inferred from it. I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but it might be reasonable to resolve to read my Bible more often in the coming year.

I tend to keep a very small circle of friends, and so on New Year’s Eve I found myself in the company of a select group of people: my Christian husband, an agnostic schoolteacher, an atheist physicist/engineer, and a pair of psychologists who believe strongly in a spiritual realm, but are not committed to any sort of religion (perhaps one might consider them to be agnostic); and for a little while, the psychologists’ 20-year-old-philosopher son joined us. Being an introvert, I tend to prefer listening to talking, and I also tend to be quite closed with people. Consequently, when it comes to my faith, I am not a charismatic evangelist but rather an “infiltrator”* who will share my faith only with those who express a genuine interest. As our conversation broke the social rule of not discussing religion or politics, I listened thoughtfully to what everyone at the table had to say until the point-blank question was directed at me, “Do you ascribe to any religion?” In the safety of these open-minded thinkers, none of whom had any interest in criticizing or converting anyone, I began with a terse answer and a subtle invitation to probe further. At one point, the atheist asked me for the “Reader’s Digest version” of what I believed Christianity was all about, and everyone at the table gave me their full attention as I described our depraved nature, our separation from God, and our opportunity for redemption. The dialogue that followed included some healthy debate on whether or not the scientific method can have anything to do with spirituality, difference of opinion about logical inferences that can be made from what we observe (for instance, “Your belief in X would bring me to the opposite conclusion, that there must not be any God”), and other philosophical theories. Though we of course did not come to any sort of consensus on the spiritual, I was awed with the opportunity to share my beliefs, and I am grateful for the continued feeling of God’s presence giving me quiet confidence. I love having my faith (respectfully) questioned or challenged. It makes me a better thinker, which in turn makes me a stronger Christian.

I will leave today’s ramblings with one last thought. As I settled down at my computer to write and reflect on last night’s events, I was reminded of a quote from Dr. Francis Collins, the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute: "[R]eason alone cannot prove the existence of God. Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required."

*When I call myself an “infiltrator,” I do not mean to imply that I have any nefarious intentions. People who are attracted to my talents and interests or to my calm, quiet demeanor often become curious about what makes me tick, and so they are the ones who initiate conversations about my beliefs. If I were to evangelize, I might have otherwise turned off these people. Instead, it comes naturally for me to “hook” certain people so that they want to engage me.

Happy New Year!