Doing a U-turn on the childless
Of my group of long-time mates, I’m the only parent. This has been the case for nearly eight years now. And aside from one friend who tied the knot last year, and another who’s shacked up and trying for a baby, none of these early-40-somethings are close to joining me on the fatherhood journey.
While the demands of parenthood have resulted in some drift from periphery friends, I know, based on the findings of last year’s Movember Social Connectedness Study, and through some conversations I’ve had with my local dads’ group, that I’m lucky to still have these blokes in my life – particularly given their childless status.
They’ve learned to accept that I can’t fit them in as much as I would have liked, and have never pushed back when I said no. They celebrated with me for my 40th birthday; they’re great with my kids (my best mate, who is as single as they come, is a devoted godfather to my middle daughter) and I know they’re only a phone call away if I need them. It’s this loyalty and understanding that has helped me avoid completely falling off the social radar like so many fatherly compatriots.
But at times – more so as my partner and I battled through the magic and the murk of having three children in under four years – I held some resentment towards them.
At what I saw as a pathetic clinging to their youths.
At their boundless freedom.
Although they weren’t necessarily averse to becoming dads one day, I’d grouped my friends with the by-choice childfree; the many who simply aren’t interested in having kids.
I’d think such people were immature and unbelievably selfish in their actions; I couldn’t understand how their careers or anything else could take the place of what I understood was an accepted natural step forward in the journey of life.
What about legacy? What about the “unbridled joy” of parenthood?
While I love my three daughters with all my heart, my attitude toward the childless has shifted dramatically as my babies have grown out of nappies and assumed their own personalities, bringing about a fresh round of challenges. I now realise that the motives of the childless are far from immature; that they’re the ones who have taken the time to look inward and know what they really want in life.
They’re strong enough internally to put a hefty, perhaps uncapped, price on their freedom; they’ve mapped out things sufficiently in their hearts and heads to absorb the risk of middle-age regret.
Not for them is the default “kids are the logical next step”. They’re happy doing their own thing – even if that’s ultimately on a solo journey, or one that’s sans the pitter-patter of tiny feet.
Some of these people, perhaps, have also been scared off from taking what is surely one of the most game-changing leaps a person can take in life. Because having kids is bloody hard. Not hard like a million-miles-an-hour day at work or a gym workout; it’s unyielding, often thankless, and splintering. Not to mention expensive. Many of the childless have doubtlessly observed what parenthood has done to some of their friends. “They don’t look – and sound – like they’re enjoying themselves,” they must think. “In fact, they look – and sound – bloody miserable!”
…why should we chastise those that choose a path that they approve of, rather than what society approves of?
Personally speaking, having children has given me purpose and, underneath the layers of frustration and stress, a happy heart. But it’s also greatly strained my relationship with the person with whom I happily shared my life with before we procreated. The days of rolling conversation, shoulder-rubbing affection and popping Maltesers while cradling glasses of red on the couch are a distant memory. While we’re ever-hopeful of finding the path back, these days it’s kid-routine stuff and not a great deal else. Why would anyone, particularly someone as self-assured as many ‘anti-children’ people seem to be, take that on so voluntarily?
Children bring beauty, innocence and unconditional love to the table. They also provide you with something to leave behind when you exit the Big Dance. For the many that are undoubtedly born to be parents, these factors are affirmations that they ride on the tails of every day. But, it seems, for every good story there’s one in which a parent forgets the pressing need to look outward rather than inward during the all-consuming child-rearing years, and instead surrenders to anger, bleary-eyed confusion, guilt and a liberal dose of self-doubt arising from the parenting-community clique.
It’s an emotional roller coaster of a trade-off that’s bested even the most level-headed of folk, so why should we chastise those that choose a path that they approve of, rather than what society approves of?
And as for my mates: as you were. The more you don’t change, the saner I stay.