On the TIME magazine article “The Childfree Life: when having it all means not having children”, how it’s not offensive to me and why

August 8, 2013

There is something recognizable, the same, about people who have an amazing mother. It seems like a part of their inherent personality, but it’s more than that. It’s what they’ve had instilled in them, day after day, by her example and teaching. OH, to have people see that in my children.

This is a loved soul, I think, when I meet them. A soul well-loved.

Too many people in the world don’t get to have that sense that someone is there and crazy in love with them no matter what. Sometimes an aunt or a friend or a cousin or a grandma fills that gap, showing the child what true Love really looks like, and sometimes no one does.

At night I pray in my kids’ rooms. That they will feel wholly loved despite the times I have failed at showing it. That whatever is in the way, in them, would fall away so Love can trump insecurity or pessimism or distrust.

Last night Asher was up one hour after getting into bed. This never happens, but he suddenly remembered, in a bleary haze that he had forgotten to put his latest tiny tooth under his pillow. It came out while we were making granola bites in the kitchen. I actually was taking a photo of them working together so nicely (rare) for posterity right when he shouted, MOMMY! My tooth! It popped out!

photo (76)

We put it in a baggie and then the day went on and later I discovered said baggie, got confused about what it was for and threw it away. Those teeth are just so TINY. Then he was up and I gasped and we dug through the garbage and found it.

He held my hand on the way back to bed and he stopped a few times to kiss the tips of my fingers. I love you, I kept saying. I love you. He did this one last time after sneaking back up the ladder to his bunk, trying to not wake his brother. He asked for my hand and kissed just one fingertip and rolled over for sleep. I’m astonished at the things he thinks to do. Kissing fingertips. What is better?

My heart wants to explode with gratefulness so often. Having kids can frequently feel like a long hard journey into Selflessness, but as much as it is, sometimes it’s all very selfish, too. I get to have these people who love me this way. I get to be with them and watch them become so them. Too often I can use their daily grind needs and wants as an excuse to not do other things that the world needs me to do. This reality is what got me thinking (SHOCKING) about the recent controversy over the TIME magazine cover that was so obviously created just to get people fighting about which is better, which is more selfish, having children or having no children:

Screenshot 2013-08-06 at 8.57.51 PM

(photo credit – Time Magazine)

This cover begs for us to get all upset, but I’m not upset, partially because it’s so obvious that the childfree do not live a life on the beach, skinny and always smiling. Just ask them. (Also, I have a lot of childfree friends who are doing more work in the lives of children who need them than many parents.) I’m also not upset because the article itself isn’t quite as severe as the attention-grabbing cover, of course. But I will say that the underlying message of all of this begs for a bigger picture conversation. Maybe its being had, I don’t know. I’m simply thinking on it here.

The reality is that life is complicated for everyone, childless or not. And there are a million ways to make decisions and a hundred ways to justify making them. Sometimes they’re totally selfish decisions and sometimes they’re only partially selfish. We do a lot of things that we have to do, we parents and we childfree. We are all raising up other people in one way or another, in caring for our sick and aging parents as adults or working daily in a career with a team of very difficult personalities or juggling life with a difficult marriage all while handling our own internal battles–physical, emotional and spiritual.

As painful as life is, this is as it should be–hard. It is the sharp corners and roadblocks and detours that make us finally find our way to wanting to serve the rest of the world outside of ourselves. We fight that so hard, whether we have children or not.

Sure, it might be easier to schedule a day at the beach if you don’t have kids, and yes, there are many differences in the lives of couples with children and those with no children. But that isn’t the point, really. This cover and some of its article prove how easily we fall for something in any kind of decisions we make, and that is that one choice is good and one is bad, depending on the ease of the future outcome we can only imagine while we’re actually making the decision. Most of us, if we’re being honest, simply want to make choices that will make us happy and so often picturing this happiness fools us into picturing ease. Because we’ll be happy! It will feel good! The End! It’s not wrong to want to be happy, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying that we get confused:

Easy=Good. Hard=Bad.

Fighting for ease as our constant reality is fruitless. Most of us do it anyway, if we’re being honest. Life is so exhausting, of course we want to keep it as simple as possible and there are healthy ways to do that. But mostly, we drink copious amounts of booze or eat too much or spend too much time online fighting the fact that so much of life, in parenting or not, is hard. We are having internal tantrums like four year olds and taking it out on each other and in status updates and we’re getting sad. I don’t wanna! our insides are shouting. I don’t want to feel this pain. I don’t want to work hard. I don’t want this to be this hard! We do this to such an extreme that most of us can’t even SEE the need past the one that is felt inside our own skin.

If we make any decision in order to steer away from the harder thing, it steals from us because a) we humans are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and it feels really good to do the hard things and b) unfortunately, life is still going to do some sort of trick in which you still get the smackdown. That’s just life and fighting it is exhausting.

A day at the beach is good. A day at the beach is rare, for most of us, maybe even all of us, children or no children. We all find ourselves reaching out and begging for life to be easier sometimes, because we need to ask for help. We need each other, our family and our friends, whatever form that takes. We need to want to help each other. We need to choose to do hard things, because the Love Spirit in each of us can.

It doesn’t really matter if we’re parents or not parents, what matters is that we’re loving people in a way that teaches them to love themselves. Families are meant to create that, to live it out, a grand design to showcase unconditional love, but we mess that up a lot. The addicted and hurting and left behind and used up and abused and neglected remain. Whether we have children of our own or not, it is good, so good, to be the fingertips for kisses in the lives of those hurting ones.

Somehow, this magazine cover got me thinking about that, so thank you, TIME magazine. There is always a much bigger picture beyond the hype.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie August 8, 2013 at 10:44 am

The WHOLE “Fighting for ease as our constant reality is fruitless.” paragraph made me cry, and want to hug you. Thank you for existing. Thank you for being such an extraordinary humanist and human being. It makes life better for everyone you reach.
Laurie recently posted..After Insurance & Sick Leave: A New Life at What Cost?

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Baroness Black August 8, 2013 at 11:09 am

This, I love!
I would also add that while for many either having children or not having them is a choice; I also know many couples who would love to have children and can’t, and similarly couples who have children (or certainly childcare responsibilities, eg. family member who can’t look after their children, marrying someone with children from a previous relationship, etc.) although they might not have made that choice in a completely free environment.
Sometimes couples are just playing the hand that’s dealt them as best they can! :-)
Baroness Black recently posted..We’re all together again!

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Stacy August 8, 2013 at 11:15 am

I to re-read the “fighting for ease as our constant reality is fruitless” paragraph a few times to let it sink in! Great post – thank you.

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Jenni Chiu @MommyNaniBooboo August 8, 2013 at 11:16 am

I very much feel the same way and expressed some of the same sentiments the other day in blog post. It’s often hard to give ourselves (and others) permission to be happy – let people do it whenever they can.

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Kristin Shaw (Two Cannoli) August 8, 2013 at 11:37 am

In some cases, there are people who had tough childhoods and they are afraid to repeat that with their own children. I understand. I don’t judge them. Some don’t want to be parents because they don’t think they would be good parents. I think it’s OK to make those decisions, and it would be wonderful if everyone would just be happy in their own skin and not compare. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to have a child and I can’t imagine not having one. But everyone is not just like me.
Thank you for your beautiful words.
Kristin Shaw (Two Cannoli) recently posted..More than words

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Ann August 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

Whatever your write–it makes me want to be a better parent and human. This does that too.

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Jenny August 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

Heather, this resonated with me so much. “As painful as life is, this is as it should be–hard. It is the sharp corners and roadblocks and detours that make us finally find our way to wanting to serve the rest of the world outside of ourselves.” It is so easy for me to throw a fit and a tantrum instead of sitting with those hard, uncomfortable feelings.
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Suzy Soro (@HotComesToDie) August 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

From the age of 15 I wanted to be an entertainer. And that’s what I became. I never wanted kids, never wanted a husband, always wanted to be in show business. Of the 37 of us in No Kidding, (the child-free book mentioned and excerpted in Time.com, don’t know if it’s in the Time magazine in-the-flesh article) we all felt the same way. Our calling was show business. And like The Secret says, “Thoughts become things.”

You really do attract what you want in life.
Suzy Soro (@HotComesToDie) recently posted..My Best (Shoe) Friends

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Shannon August 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm

I love this. I love what you say about “a soul well loved.” It is truly what I want my children to feel and what I feel I sometimes fail at providing. I needed to see it put into words.
As far as the whole article goes, I haven’t read it, but have read about it. I don’t understand the constant competition for who has it easier or harder between the parents and non-parents, between the parents of one versus the parents of ten, between the parents of toddlers versus the parents of teenagers. Between men and women. Between stay at home moms versus working moms. Life is hard and glorious all at once. A beautiful mess.
Thanks so much for your words. They are such a gift.
Shannon recently posted..40 Things

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Gianna August 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm

have you heard the some with the lyrics, “What if your blessings come through raindrops, what if you healing comes through tear? What if a thousand sleepless nights is what it takes to know you’re near? What if the trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?”

I think you hit the nail on the head. I didn’t read the article. I didn’t want to get defensive. I cheer for you if you chose that life. I mourn for you if you didn’t and you don’t want it but it’s what you have. I relate with those of you who have children.

It’s all tough. It’s going to be. And it’s not necessarily bad. It could be a blessing.
I got into a huge fight with my neighbor a year ago. We haven’t talked for a year. I cried so many tears over this fight. So many tears.

I have now learned that she and her husband have gotten a divorce. Now, while that’s super sad and I don’t wish the pain on anyone, it took that awful horrible fight to stay away from my neighbor which protected me from getting involved in something I shouldn’t be a part of.

So glad that I can see that now.

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carrie kelleher August 9, 2013 at 12:06 pm

This post really spoke to me. Thank you!!

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kelli anderson August 9, 2013 at 2:44 pm

yes yes yes! thank you for this perfect response. a much needed message

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Brie August 9, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Thank you for saying this. I don’t know why others need to take other people ‘s choices personally, and as a person that doesn’t ever want kids it puts you in a weird position because as the article pointed out 1) you have to explain your decision to people (no one is ever asked to explain why they chose to have children) and 2) when you explain people seem to take your own personal feelings about your life as some sort of disapproval or disdain for theirs, which it in no way is! I am glad Time tried to explain what women who choose not to have children are put through and how they are judged for not having children – and the article points out correctly – this is just women, men of course are never judged for their choices. I think the line that struck me the most was that we as women have this pressure to be independent and have these lives full of all sorts of interests – and society can make a woman feel like a failure as to “self-actualization” if she isn’t “having it all” – when in honesty like the article pointed out correctly is almost impossible if you are a parent you have little time to yourself with children – so you fail at the societal ideal. But as a woman if you choose a life without kids and have this time to focus on “you” and have independence than you are looked at as selfish and even as a symptom and even cause of what’s wrong in the world. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. At least for a woman. And this is sad, it shouldn’t be this way and we should all respect and not each others choices on life and understand that certain life choices are not for everyone, including children, and I am glad you showed that kind of grace here ;)

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Leigh Ann August 11, 2013 at 11:01 am

I’m so curious – not judgmental – about couples who make the conscious decision NOT to have children. Because I think you really have to have a solid grasp on yourself to be able to do that, to KNOW you don’t want to have kids. What makes me sad is the people who put off having children because they’re afraid of giving up their current lifestyle of going out, traveling, and “having fun.” Those are the ones who are missing out, I feel.
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Lisa August 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I’m so sorry to say, Leigh Ann, but your comment does come across as judgmental.
It is stoll their valid choice to not have kids for whatever reasons they choose. They are the only ones who can decide if they are missing out. To suggest that they are seems (to me) to be patronizing.
Besides….better to not have kids in that type of situation, then to have them and not have their needs met because the parents are resentful or not spending the time and energy that is required in raising children.

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ava August 16, 2013 at 4:00 am

Your comment does sound judgmental, actually, putting quotes around “having fun.” I chose a childless life for a lot of reasons, including my dedication to my work and the freedom to travel extensively. I also just don’t want the job of raising kids. I chose my calling. I love my life the way it is. There are alway tradeoffs but I will give up parenthood readily if it means I can have a life of creative fulfillment and broad travel and time to develop myself as a person. I have known since I was twelve that motherhood is not for me. I am glad that I heeded that inner voice above imnense societal pressure to have kids. I would be miserable as a mom.

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Suebob August 12, 2013 at 10:46 am

This is beautiful, Heather.

Sometimes we make our life choices, and other times they are made for us. I always get a little bristly when people assume that my choices weren’t deeply thought through, because they were.
Suebob recently posted..Munising? Munising!

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Laura June August 15, 2013 at 10:27 am

This is exactly what I needed to hear right now. Life is hard and I often find myself asking “Why can’t I just get a break, just a small one? One hour where the burden doesn’t feel so crushing?” The truth is that is not life. EVERYONE has their struggles, their hardships, their demons, their own sacrifices. And NONE of those have anything to do with having kids or not. What a great message to glean from an article so obviously written to start a battle.
Laura June recently posted..Tuning In, Tuning Out

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