At my mother’s funeral I was holding my 11-month-old nephew when a family friend asked: “When are you going to have children?” He’s the kindest man but the question felt like a sledgehammer blow.
It’s a question I get a lot and I am sick of answering it. You feel like you have to divulge details of your personal life to satisfy someone else’s curiosity. I have worked hard to not care what other people think of me but some people assume that I still live like a 20-year-old when I’m in my 40s.
I’m not out clubbing every week or drinking excessively or sleeping around. I have responsibilities like anyone else. They just don’t involve children. I still have bills to pay, my health to maintain, work obligations to uphold. The assumptions hurt a lot because I feel like I’m being told I don’t carry my weight in society.
Being childless was not the choice; not being with the wrong man was
Right from the day dot I have loved children. I had so many people telling me from an early age that I should be a kindergarten teacher because I was always clucky. I really felt that ticking clock from the time I was 30 and my younger brother got married. I remember my mother saying: “Time’s running out!” or, “It would be nice if you found someone.”
People said: “You’ll be so happy if you have children. And I thought: “I’m actually happy as I am but will I be happier if I have children?” I now think there are two kinds of happy – with and without kids. In fact, there are all kinds of happy.
Singled out: why can’t we believe unmarried, childless women are happy?
If I had found someone to have kids with, I would have. However, I didn’t find that person so the choice was not to have children with the wrong person. Being childless was not the choice; not being with the wrong man was.
Realising I wasn’t going to have children was a long, drawn-out process. For a long time you still live with a little hope – but the closer I got to my 40s, the more I realised that wasn’t going to happen. I went to see a counsellor who was brilliant at teaching me strategies to realise that I am not worthless because I am childless.
Not having children brings on feelings of grief but I’ve come to accept those. I see my mother’s death as a big dark ball that sits on my shoulders. It’s always there but you get used to it. It’s the same with not having children. It’s always there but you get used to it and become comfortable with it.
I have friends in the same boat as me and a lot of assumptions are made about us. Some people presume I’m a lesbian. Others think I hate men, that there’s something wrong with me because I wasn’t able to find someone to have children with, or that life is easy and I don’t have anything to worry about.
Society tells you that you have to be married with children to be happy and fulfilled
Once you get comfortable with the reality you look for the positives, and there are plenty. I can go on a spontaneous trip if I want. I have time to do things for others.
I have a lot of children in my life. I take great pride in being told I’m the world’s greatest aunty and I have a lot of love to give. At 36, I started a new career as a teacher. I come from a long line of teachers so I feel it’s in my blood. When people ask if I have children I say: “I have 19 of them.”
Society tells you that you have to be married with children to be happy and fulfilled but I’ve realised you can be all those things without children and a life partner.
I’m open to having someone in my life but I’m not willing to put up with someone who’s not good for me. When my mum passed away, it was her wish for me to be settled. I don’t know if she fully understood that I could be happy and settled on my own.
I have a great life. I have good friends and I’m really happy with where I am in life. People need to understand that not everyone’s life works out the way they want, and that’s OK.
This story is republished with permission from Tonic