Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You love him, but can you love his family, too?



When you marry someone, you marry their family. You marry their demanding mother, their goofy father, their sister who has “issues,” their aged grandparents, their rich Uncle Jack and all the in-laws and outlaws connected to them. If they have been married before, you also marry their kids and their ex. Maybe you only want this man or this woman, but you get the others, too.

Sometimes it’s a blessing. Maybe your own family isn’t so great and you can’t wait to jump into a new family. Sometimes it’s the other way around.

I’ve been lucky. I was married twice, and both sets of in-laws were pretty great. Not perfect, but good-hearted, sober and crime-free. No kids were involved with the first marriage; we were still kids ourselves. But when I hooked up with Fred, I became stepmother to two sons and a daughter and co-parent with their mother. For the most part, we all got along. We’ve had our quirks and disconnects over the years. We’ve fought, we’ve cried, and we’ve held each other in hard times. It is not easy melding into someone’s established family, but I love those kids and wish I saw them more often, and I consider their mom a friend.

Widowed now, I wonder about getting married again and think I just don’t have the energy to fit into another man’s family. His parents and grandparents might not be alive anymore, but there will probably be siblings, nieces, nephews and in-laws, plus children and grandchildren who will not be interested in having another mom or grandma. There’s no way I could catch up all the years I wasn’t in their lives. There are other issues. A man my age will also have property and financial matters to deal with, and his interests may be totally different from mine. It’s too late to grow together or to share a lifetime of memories. So I’m thinking I’ll do like my grandmother and great-grandmother and declare my late husband the last husband.

What has brought all this to mind? For the first time in 30 years, somebody asked me out. I had my first date yesterday with someone other than Fred. We went to lunch. He’s nice and he claims to really like me, but there were no sparks. Will I see him again? Maybe, but just as a friend.

What has all this got to do with you and childlessness? A lot of readers here are either married or considering getting married to people who already have kids. Quite a few are thinking about leaving childless marriages in the hope of having children with someone else. I think you should do whatever feels right. I never hesitated for a minute about taking on Fred’s children and family. In fact, I often thanked my husband for giving me this family.

All I’m saying is when you take on a spouse, you take on his or her baggage. Sometimes those bags can be damned heavy.

What about you? What are your experiences merging into your loved one’s family, with or without children? Blessing or disaster? I’d love to know. Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Over-40 wisdom for childless women

Today I'm yielding my platform to Jody Day of Gateway Women who on her 50th birthday has published a marvelous post titled "Things I Wish I'd Known at 40." She offers the truth about fertility, menopause, grief, relationships, society's views of childless women, and the joys of life beyond the childless dream.

Lines I love in this post include:
"Freed from chasing the dream (and fantasy) of motherhood, you begin to realise old dreams and create new ones."

"The life you're going to create instead of motherhood is going to be richer and more fulfilling than you can yet imagine, and in ways you cannot yet imagine." 

Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, is also the author of Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children, a great book about dealing with childlessness.

I can think of a lot of things I wish I had known when I was 40. Foremost would be realizing how short and precious life is and how important it is not to waste any of it moping about things that aren't going to change.

What about you? If you're past 40, what do you wish you had known before? What advice would you give to our younger readers. I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Should she stand by her man who doesn't want kids?

 What is this, 1914?


 A reader asked me that the other day after I advised a childless woman to stick with the man she had rather than get divorced in her 40s in the hope of finding another guy with whom she could have children. I tried to explain that at her age, the odds of finding another Mr. Right and getting pregnant were lousy. She was not happy with my advice. 

I flip-flopped with the next commenter, who was in her early 30s. I told her to go for it.

 Today, I received a comment from a woman whose fiance of 13 years just told her he has decided he doesn't want kids. I told her to keep talking.


Nearly every day, I receive comments from people, mostly women, who don’t know what to do. Their mate is unable or unwilling to have children with them. They may have said they would be happy to have babies before, but now they don’t want to. Often there are stepchildren who make things more complicated. The couple either fights about it all the time or they can’t talk about it. What should they do?

Dear God, I wish I knew.

My friends, I am not the goddess of all wisdom. I wish I could solve your problems, but I’m human. My views are necessarily tainted by my own experiences and by the fact that I’m Catholic, white and was raised in California by traditional parents of western European heritage in the 1950s and ‘60s. I’m also very practical. I don’t believe in diving out of a boat where you might be unhappy but at least you won’t drown in the hope that another, more beautiful boat will happen along. I also believe that most of us are lucky to meet one perfect life partner in a lifetime. If this is old-fashioned, so be it.

When I was a kid, back in the pre-birth control days, couples who were unable to have children stuck together. Often they adopted, but not always. People who simply didn’t want children either didn’t get married or they sucked it up and had them anyway because if you were having sex it was a lot harder to avoid. It was also more difficult to get a divorce. Things seemed simpler. You fell in love, you got married, and you had babies. Were some people brutally unhappy, feeling totally trapped? I’m sure they were.

But it is not 1914 or even 1954. It’s a new century in which nearly anything is possible. With so many choices, it’s hard to know what to do. I need your help. Feel free to respond to comments at any of the posts here with your own advice and experiences. Together we’ll figure it out.






Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Teaching My Baby Dog to Swim at Beaver Creek



I might have sounded like a crazy person at the beach yesterday. The weather was perfect. I decided to take an afternoon off and help my dog Annie learn to swim. At Ona Beach, just a little south of where I live on the Oregon Coast, Beaver Creek ends in a wide, relatively shallow finger of water that runs into the ocean. To get to the beach, you have to walk a long trail from the parking lot through the picnic area and a bit of woodland. Then you cross a small wooden bridge and finally hit sand.

I talked to Annie all the way along. I usually do. In between discussing my life with her and giving commands—No! Off! Don’t eat that! This way!—I found myself teaching her. “This is where we had that picnic. That’s Salal. Those people are from New Mexico. That’s called a velella velella (blobby creatures on the sand that looked like yellow Jell-O).

And then we got to the water. Annie’s a little nuts, so I don’t dare let her off the leash. If she swims, I swim. Annie splashed into a shallow area that isn’t deep enough for swimming and flattened herself in among the rocks. I urged her up and led her to deeper water. She got anxious and pulled me back out. Standing on the shore, I pointed out tiny fish swimming along the edge of the water. She was busy with a smell in the weeds. Eventually I lured her back into the creek and started toward the deep part.

The cool water rose up my shorts, but I didn’t care how wet I got. I was busy shouting encouragement. “Come on, girl. You can do it. Just a little more.” As her paws left the ground and she started to dog-paddle, I was screaming, “Oh, look! You’re swimming! Look at you! I knew you could do it!”

A family nearby watched us. “She’s swimming!” I called. Soon everyone within earshot was watching. Some teenagers came down close. I know it’s not that big a deal. Most dogs can swim. The human kids were having a good time in the water already. But this was Annie, and I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. Our weather is usually too cold, and I’m usually so busy I don’t get to beach nearly as much as I’d like to.

Annie clambered out, shook water and sand on everyone, and accepted some petting from her admirers. Then she led me on a long walk across the sand. I felt wonderful, young, alive, and happy. I did not miss having human children or even a husband—Fred didn’t like the beach much anyway. Too sandy.

Walking back across the bridge, I got into a conversation with a woman from Los Angeles who was hunting for agates. “I guess the dog needs her walk,” she said.

“Oh yes,” I replied. “And so does her mom.” It didn’t seem the least bit weird.

Dear friends, I’d love to have children and maybe you would, too, but life without them doesn’t have to be all grief and regrets. I would love it if you would share some of your happy childless experiences here in the comments.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Being without children is not always a bad thing

I sat alone at a table at Georgie's restaurant yesterday reading a book and occasionally looking out at the ocean as the waves roared and crashed not far away. My salmon sandwich on focaccia bread was delicious. I didn't mind the mayonnaise-pesto sauce running down my fingers. The iced tea was crisp and cold, and my waiter was handsome and helpful.

At the two big tables nearby, mothers and grandmothers wrangled children under age four, talking them through the menu, then entertaining them as they waited for their food. The men admired the view or talked about sports while the women played 20 questions with the kids. "Shall we color a picture?" "What color do you want? Red? Blue?" "Do you want French fries with your hot dog?" "After we eat, do you want to go look at boats or go play on the beach?"

At one table, the kids were pretty well behaved, but at the other with one infant and two high-chair kids, it got a little noisy. One boy screamed as he was lowered into the high chair. As soon as he quieted down, his brother or cousin started screeching "I want! I want!" every 30 seconds. Nobody shushed him or suggested he say, "Please." Meanwhile, I enjoyed my lunch and my book and my ocean view. I did not wish for one second that one of those kids was mine.

After lunch, I drove to the nearby Yaquina Bay State Park, where I settled with my notebook at a warm picnic table overlooking the beach and wrote for a while. I could see a large family having a picnic at another table. All ages, lots of food. I do miss family picnics. But I was glad to have my quiet time in the sun.

Sometimes I wonder if I ever had the patience to do the mom thing. I'm sure I would have figured out how to handle my children's needs along with my own, and I know kids don't remain toddlers forever. With luck they grow up into self-sufficient adults with their own children, and they go live in their own houses. But maybe God knew what he was doing.

I cried a lot about not having children back in my 30s and 40s, the ages of most of you who write to me here. It hurt. Still does sometimes. But I can assure you from the perspective of almost a decade past menopause, that it's okay. Life without children can be good, especially if you have other interests that keep you happy and busy. And there are other ways to mother.

If you're in a decision-making mode, go with your gut. Great life partners are not that easy to find. If you have one and all is well except for not agreeing about babies, consider that life can be all right even if you don't have children. But if the relationship is not good, for God's sake, get out of it and look for someone who will make you happy and, with luck, also have children with you.

I welcome your comments. 




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What Should This Childless Woman Do?

Dear friends, 
Every day I receive comments from readers about their childless situations. More than 230 people, mostly anonymous, have responded to a 2007 post titled "Are You Grieving Over Your Lack of Children?" It is the most popular post on this blog, and there's an ocean of tears behind these comments. Sometimes the comments are so troubling I don't know what to say, and I hate to see them buried in the comments of a seven-year-old post. Today I'm offering this comment and my response. I hope that you readers will chime in with your own experiences and advice.
Anonymous said...
I've just turned 35 and have been with my partner for 13 years. I always knew he didn't want children, and I always said that I did (although in practice I feel like I've never really decided either way, because my opinion has never mattered). We talked about it, on and off, for years, never finding a solution to our different wishes, but staying together anyway.

Then last year I met a wonderful (but emotionally damaged) man who I fell in love with, much to my distress. I felt strongly that I wanted to have children with him (despite some really obvious, serious flaws in his suitability as a partner!) and although he says he couldn't have a relationship with me while he's so emotionally messed up, we did once have a quiet, nervous conversation about how we would both like to have children and... maybe... together.

I haven't started a relationship with this man, although I still long to, however misguided I know it would be. But the feelings have overwhelmed me and the relationship I have with my partner. I've talked to my partner again this weekend about the long-term issues in our relationship, including children. He's adamant he doesn't want them and is prepared for me to leave him if I feel I have to. I'm left with trying to decide whether to stay in a good but definitely imperfect relationship with a man who I love, without children, forever, whether to leave him and pursue the man I know will break my heart, but who *might* just give me children in the meantime, or whether to give up on all of it and live in a little house on my own with a cat. I have time left, but not much, and the pressure is making me insane. If anyone has tips on making childlessness feel like your own decision... those would be very welcome.
Sue Fagalde Lick said...
Anonymous June 15, it sounds like the relationship you have and the one you are considering are both unhealthy and destined to give you lots of heartache. I know you want children, but I wouldn't advise pursuing a relationship with a man who says himself that he's too messed up just because you might have a child together. As for making childlessness feel like your own decision, you can't force that. Either it is your decision or you do your best to accept that circumstances didn't work out for you.
I'm feeling old and cranky this morning. Anybody else have more encouraging advice?

Dear readers, what do you think?


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Take a Lesson from Dolly Parton

Today while I'm busy with other things, I just want to share this article with you. It's about country star Dolly Parton, who puts a happy spin on not having children. "Dolly Parton is Aunt Granny to her Nieces and Nephews."  She's living proof that even if you don't have biological children, if you reach out to others who do have kids you can have children and grandchildren in your life. I know it's not easy. I spend plenty of time whining about being alone. But it is possible. Enjoy.