Living a meaningful life - with or without kids.
I'm a coach who works with women who wanted to be mothers, but it didn't work out. I help them deal with the grief of childlessness and craft a new dream. My practice emerges from my own journey learning to accept a life without kids. I'm part of the 1 in 5 women in North America and the UK now reaching their mid-40's without becoming mothers. At no other time in history have so many women remained childless toward the end of their fertility.
While many negative myths and stereotypes about us abound, one of the most persistent is the idea that we chose careers over kids. The reality is that only 10% of the women without children actively made the choice not to have kids. The rest are childless by circumstance, meaning that any number of circumstances prevented her from becoming a mom - including not finding a suitable partner in time, or not realizing that that you want one until it's too late. My own experience taught me that whether by choice, chance or a bit of both, grieving the end of one's fertility is a critical step on the path to acceptance. Another is finding purpose.
Yet it can be hard to imagine the possibility that a woman can find satisfaction in a life without children. If you haven't noticed, our culture is in the grips of full blown baby fever. The minute a famous woman marries or starts dating someone new, the bump watch begins. Most newly married couples, both gay and straight, will attest that it doesn't take long after the wedding for well-meaning relatives to begin asking how long till they get pregnant. For those struggling with infertility or who can't have kids of your own, the expectation is that you will go to whatever lengths necessary to become a parent.
There are many different messages at play here. There's the idea that parenthood is part of the natural progression to adulthood, or that the purpose of marriage is to have children. But perhaps the strongest assumption is the idea that until you have a child you don't know what purpose, meaning or fulfillment means. Prevailing thinking suggests that while a woman may do many things interesting and rewarding things in her life, it's becoming a mother that makes her life truly worthwhile.
Perpetuating the idea can have a devastating effect on childless women. How does one make peace with the idea that they have lost the one true path to fulfillment? It also helps to explain why women who choose not to have children may experience grief. By the time a women's reproductive years are coming to an end she will have spent over 40 years being bombarded with messages telling her becoming a mother will make her life complete. Believing that you might not get to have an experience can certainly create an intense longing for it.
It's also an assumption that isn't necessarily true. Despite the taboo, many mothers are now coming forward to admit that they don't find the experience rewarding. There is a growing movement on the internet of women expressing ambivalence about their role as mothers, while others are admitting full blown regret. The issue is not that they don't love their children - it's that they find motherhood not nearly as satisfying as they had hoped. To assume that motherhood will fill every women's life with purpose and a sense of meaning is based on the misguided assumption that we will all think and feel the same. While we all share the same need to live a meaningful life filled with purpose, the reality is that what it takes to fulfill it is different for all of us.
It's time to embrace an alternative assumption. We need to recognize that motherhood is just one just path, out of many, to living a life of meaning. So how can we do it? If you're a mom who found that motherhood wasn't all it was cracked up to be, be honest about your experience. If you know a woman struggling with the decision as to have a child, don't tell her that she'll regret it if she doesn't. And if you discover that a woman doesn't have kids, don't assume she chose not to. Let her know that you know lots of women living deeply fulfilling lives who are proof that a life without children can be just as meaningful as a life with them.
Contact Laurie at email@example.com to join her Facebook group Living your Best Life without Kids.