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I wanted to share this wonderfully brave and honest blog post — well worth reading!

 

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In my graduate program there is a huge age-and-life-experience divide. Most students are in their young-to-mid 20s, unmarried with no children. A significant group is in their 40s and 50s, almost all married or divorced with children. I, a childless stepmother at 34, sit squarely between these two camps.

And not for the first time in the past year, I witnessed the parents smugly patronizing the non-parents.

It started out innocently enough. My professor was talking about the impact that children have on a marriage. And suddenly he said, “When you have children, your capacity for love instantly expands. It really affects how you do therapy.”

That’s right, folks. Having kids not only makes you more loving, it makes you a better therapist!

Well, you can bet the parents in the class jumped all over that jazz. They were all glowing and sharing anecdotes about their marvelous expansive love.

Oh, but wait. Before anyone could get too annoyed, too offended, there came the attempt to level the playing field…

“That’s not to say that you have to have kids to be a good therapist,” my professor hastily explained. “There are lots of ways to get in touch with that kind of love.” He went on to say that one of the best marriage counselors he knows is a nun.

I believe he meant it. But the damage was done. The non-parents got the good old patronizing pat on the head. I’ve seen this same treatment over and over again: Having children is the most meaningful thing in the world! they gush. Oh, but there are lots of meaningful things in the world. Don’t you worry, now. And then they go on their self-satisfied way, feeling like they’ve exonerated themselves from rudeness while still having made their superiority perfectly clear.

Witnessing all this, I felt worse for the other non-parents than for myself. After all, my classmates know I’m a stepmother, and never would I admit to them that my experience in that capacity has been any less satisfying than their own lives as parents. And perhaps before too long I’ll have a biological child of my own.

But I still wanted to punch them all.

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When you’re childless, it’s often hard not to feel like the only one. Growing up, I did not know a single woman who did not have children! And the few childless men I knew were those who’d “screwed up” in life, never managing to get steady jobs let alone the wives and children that would make them “normal.”

Luckily, my horizons have broadened as an adult. I know several child-free men and women, and countless wonderful stepparents who do not have biological children. The notion that childless people are somehow weird, cold, or deficient has been permanently stamped from my psyche.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to avoid feelings of difference and isolation when friend after friend starts a family, when every other woman at the mall sports a bump beneath her flowing tunic. (And now even the fashion industry has all of us wearing maternity clothes! What gives?) I don’t really consider myself childless, and yet I’ve never been pregnant nor raised an infant or toddler. I’m much more likely to squeal over dogs than babies. In short, I’m different from most adult women I meet, and it usually feels like I’m padding around in my own tiny puddle while everyone else is diving into the ocean.

But it turns out that my pool is much more crowded than I thought. According to a 2005 study of US women, 28% of those ages 30-34, and 19% of those ages 40-44, were childless in 2004. Given fertility limitations, most of that 19% probably remains childless for the duration. And that’s not such a bad number as far as company is concerned!

Given that the vast majority of U.S. adults—96%—gets married at least once, a significant portion of those remaining childless are probably child-free by choice. I view this as a positive—a further broadening of minds and options. As more and more people demonstrate that not having children can be a viable, positive choice for the marriage and the individual, the stigma against childlessness will (hopefully) continue to erode. And that’s a good thing for the childless, the child-free, and those of us who are somewhere in between!

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