Revisiting: Unpopular authenticity: so…you don’t have kids?

*I'm working hard on my new book and finding myself with little time for new blog posts. I decided to bring back some older posts, that you might have missed... Hope you enjoy! -------------------

I was shamed by a nine-year-old the other day.

She stood there, hands on hips, glaring up at me. She'd just asked me if I had kids. I told her that I did not.

"Why?"

"I never felt that was the right choice for me."

She told me that my life was boring and sad.

It was actually pretty cute.

What took the sting out of her statement was the fact that grownups have been shaming me over this for quite some time. Sometimes they attempt to lessen the blow by saying something along the lines of - "you do what is right for you, but you should know that becoming a mother makes your soul expand and you become capable of love bigger than you've never imagined and it's the most valuable thing you could ever do with your life."

I always wonder how they know how big my love is.

People who decide not to be parents hear this a lot. (And actually, there are increasing numbers of us Childfree folks.) I've been questioned and cajoled and told that I'll change my mind. There seems to be this assumption that I've not quite thought this through, but the questions posed are always ones that I've asked myself a hundred times. I've never met a Childfree person who has come to the decision haphazardly.

Sometimes when people decide to say what they really think, they call me selfish and say I'm not really a woman. I'm still confused about why anyone cares if my husband and I have kids or not, but it sure seems like a bunch of them do.

I like kids. Even the ones who stand with hands on hips and call me boring and sad.

But in my 37 years of life, and 10 years of marriage, I've never once felt the ticking-clock twinge of wanting my own children. (And believe me, I've held babies and smelled their powdery heads, trying desperately to kickstart it, because I felt like I was defective.) But there isn't anything wrong with me. It's just not my thing. I'm also not interested in having a boat. I like boats. I'm sure it's super fun to have a boat. I'm happy for other people who enjoy their boats. I just don't feel the need to have my own.

And yes, I am aware that children are not boats - they are even better than boats and having a child brings much to one's life. I know it changes everything and brings buckets of joy and does all sorts of other things that I will never understand. I believe all of that. I've seen it in action.

But raising children is an incredibly important job and it just doesn’t make sense to hand it to someone like me who doesn’t want it. If I were half as interested in having a child as I am in volunteering at an animal shelter, I would do it. It’s like choosing a President who is fonder of ceramics than politics. Who is that good for?

If you choose to grow and learn and leave your legacy by having a kid – I think that's awesome. And while you do that, I'll work on improving the world that kid will eventually inherit. That just seems like good tag team long-term planning. It's easy to imagine that childfree folks spend their entire lives thinking only of themselves, sleeping in late and getting drunk at brunch. But I promise that I'm doing my part to contribute to the world, just in a different way than parents. (I'll skip the part where I list all the important, non-selfish things I do - it'll make me sound boastful and more than a little defensive.)

But the real reason I'm writing about this is because it's indicative of an issue I keep seeing everywhere, something that causes a lot of suffering. I know moms who work outside the home and moms who don't. Both have been bashed and abused for that decision. I know homeschoolers and Montessori lovers and public school parents - all of whom feel they have to defend their decisions. And the judgment doesn't stop with parenting issues. I know painters and sales people and jazz singers and almost all of them feel like they need to justify what they do with their lives because someone is always waiting in the wings to tell them they are doing the wrong thing.

There are so many critics out there and we tend to internalize the disapproval and feel like we are constantly failing. Why does it matter that my husband and I don't have kids? It doesn't. It's not really that interesting, but people keep asking about it so I'm happy to discuss it.

Why does it matter what personal decisions any of us make for ourselves? I wonder what the world would be like if we assumed that everyone was doing their best. What if people made different decisions and we didn't see that as a threat to the validity of our own choices? What if we kept our eyes on our own papers - our own lives and families - and stopped bashing our neighbor for not buying organic? Things would be incredibly dull if we were all the same. What if we celebrated the fact that life is not homogenous and realized that everyone is doing what they needed to do to wade through this challenging world?

Because when it comes down to it, if you're spending your time criticizing someone else's personal choices, it just makes you seem insecure about your own life.

As for me, I like being able to act as the designated driver for the Girl’s Nights when my mommy friends can let loose. It seems that my “alternative lifestyle” has its perks for all, but most importantly, I get to live my life authentically -- even if it's hard to explain that to a deeply offended nine-year-old.

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Him & me

Him & me

We recently passed the twenty-year anniversary of the day my husband and I met. Our eyes met across a room and I knew immediately that I would spend the rest of my life with him.

Except that's not at all what happened.

Actually, if you ask him about the evening we met, he'll tell you that his first impression of me was that I looked very young and very scared. (He's right. I was 17, and we were out with a bunch of people at a crowded movie opening. See: introvert.)

And if you ask me about the night we met? I'll feel like a big jerk as I'll be compelled to admit that I don't remember meeting him.

But we must have met because suddenly we were friends.  And for years we hung out, we went to Rock 'n Bowl and Disneyland. He let my boyfriend borrow a nice shirt for a premiere. I passed his girlfriend toilet paper under the bathroom stall at The Cheesecake Factory. There were break-ups and get-back-togethers and more break-ups. I complained to him about all the alcoholic pretty boys with private planes, mommy issues and little concern with ditching me at a bar.

And then one day, after being friends for four years, something changed with me and J - and it was more.

I kind of wish it had been love at first sight, but the vast majority of the time, the fairy tale doesn't look the way you thought it would. Mostly, the fairy tale is bullshit.

The most fairy tale thing about us is that we are happy. Someone just told meit made her happy to be around us because it's clear that J and I really like each other. She assumed we were newlyweds.

We are kind of like that. I automatically grin when his car pulls into the driveway. He still opens doors for me and watches my ass walk up the stairs. But it's also a real relationship. He re-washes the dishes because I am lazy about it and leave crusty stuff in the corners of the pan and we disagree about appropriate thermostat temperature and how much MSNBC is reasonable. Marriage is a partnership. If both people have personalities and opinions and an affinity for honesty, that partnership is going to have challenges.

We work at it. We don't fall for these rom-com ideas of what marriage should be. And even in the moments when we disagree about something fundamental or when it seems like it might be fun to go get all fluttery-heart, weak-kneed with someone else - we have this foundation of respect for our relationship and the life we have created together.

Sometimes people ask me for advice and while I have a history of spectacular failures in my past, the last sixteen years of partnership with J have taught me a thing or two. The first step is ditching these romanticized ideas about relationships, then we can get to the real stuff.

Go to bed mad Life is not a sitcom; not everything can be neatly wrapped up in twenty-two minutes. Everyone needs space to think things out and gain some perspective. Rarely is one o'clock in the morning the best time to find a resolution for real-life problems.

Start seeing other people It's never good to have your partner be your only outlet for social interaction. Don't isolate. Don't get lost. Going out with my friends is not frivolous; it's essential to my mental wellness.

Don’t talk about it  I have to write things out. My mouth moves faster than my brain and writing helps me be clear, complete and less whipped into an emotional frenzy. Sometimes I give him the letter, sometimes that's not necessary because writing it down is actually all I needed.

Make sure neither one of you gets what you want Compromise is key. I try to not get stuck with this idea about being right and winning. The real win is a peaceful and fulfilling relationship, even if it means bending a bit and watching yet another Jason Statham movie.

Talk behind his back Venting can be really helpful and an honest reaction to the situation is invaluable. I have specific, time-tested friends for this; people who will shoot straight and won’t go blabbing my business. I also make sure I am not talking to my friend instead of talking to my guy.

Be evasive Sometimes, I need to change the subject. For in-depth issues, sometimes a break from the discussion is in order. Doing something fun together that we both enjoy is entirely invigorating and offers important bigger-picture perspective. For us, that often means yoga. When we go to class together, we feel more connected.

Talk about yourself a lot Sadly, he's not a mind reader. If I need something that I am not getting from the relationship, I have to actually verbalize that. Assuming that he “should” know never works well. Then I need to reciprocate by asking him what he needs. And I need to actually listen.

Treat your partner like they are a cop Being polite goes a long way. I say please when I ask for something. I say thank you when he is helpful. I suck it up and apologize when I’ve done something wrong. These daily decencies tend to go out the window when you’ve been together awhile. Loving kindness and gratitude are wonderful spiritual practices.

Pretend it didn’t happen At a certain point, some issues just need to be released. I mean seriously released, not to be dug up again two years later. In all relationships, if I can forgive, I do my best to forgive completely. It's more healing for me than for the person I'm forgiving - it's really for my own benefit. Acceptance is incredibly powerful. It's not the same as condoning someone's actions, it's simply the act of not allowing it to have power over your life anymore.

Lie down. The oxytocin and endorphins that are activated during sexual activity are great for the mental state. It lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. Sex clearly isn’t just physical, it’s about maintaining and strengthening the emotional connections with a partner. Oh yeah, and it's fun.

We lucked out, J and me.  Two decades into this relationship, I've noticed that he turned into an even better guy than the one I married. We have both changed a lot, but we changed for the better - we changed together.

I used to think that the most romantic thing in the world was falling in love. But I've learned that there is something even more romantic than that fluttery heart, weak-kneed stuff: choosing to stay in love.