Thursday, December 3, 2009

Childless, or Not

In my last post I wrote about leaving your mark. Those of us with children usually feel that our offspring are our biggest contribution to the betterment of the planet and mankind in general. But, what about those that don’t reproduce? Is their role in the overall scheme of things any less worthy?

The Husband and I know, and are close to, several women and men that intentionally set out not to have children, for differing reasons. Here’s an excerpt from a study I nabbed off the Internet:

Objectives. Rapid growth in the size of the childless elderly population has prompted concerns about the negative effects of childlessness on psychological well-being. This study adds to this line of inquiry by examining the effects of childlessness on two important dimensions of elderly persons' psychological well-being: loneliness and depression.

Methods. Using the 1993 Asset and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old data set, the authors estimated logistic and ordinary least squares regression models of psychological well-being for a nationally representative sample of people aged 70 and older (N = 6,517).
Results. Childlessness per se did not significantly increase the prevalence of loneliness and depression at advanced ages, net of other factors. There also was no statistical evidence for the hypothesis that childlessness increases loneliness and depression for divorced, widowed, and never married elderly persons. Sex, however, altered how childlessness and marital status influenced psychological well-being. Divorced, widowed, and never married men who were childless had significantly higher rates of loneliness compared with women in comparable circumstances; divorced and widowed men who were childless also had significantly higher rates of depression than divorced and widowed women.

Those that have children tend to pity those that do not, and those without children resent being pitied. I ask you this: is it an accomplishment to reproduce?

Twelve notable women (childless) that left their mark in a significant manner on society as a whole in one way or another:
--Amelia Earheart
--Emily Dickinson
--Mother Teresa
--Oprah Winfrey
--Frida Kahlo
--Katherine Hepburn
--Edith Warton
--Susan B. Anthony
--Queen Elizabeth
--Zora Neale Hurston
--Marilyn Monroe
--The Duchess of Windsor

I offer these childless gentlemen equal representation:
--3 U.S. Presidents; James Madison, James Buchanan, James Polk
--Dick Cavett
--Leonardo Da Vinci
--J. Edgar Hoover
--Truman Capote
--Andy Warhol
--Hans Christian Anderson
--Lord Byron
--Montgomery Cliff
--Cole Porter
--David Hockney
--Sir Francis Bacon

Most of us set about living our lives, unaware of our personal impact on people and the environment around us. Like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, we can’t possibly know the ripples our very being is sending out to the universe. Every human being is essential.

The desire to judge others by our measure of what constitutes a live worth living is strong. Perhaps, when one assumes elevation over another, it serves to feed the ego. I say, different strokes for different folks. If you don’t want to have kids, then don’t have kids. If you want only one, that’s cool. If you want to have five—have five! I’ve been ridiculed (especially in certain circles in Los Angles) for having so many kids. Hey, my Irish Catholic grandmother had 15! When I had my fifth, she called me up a few days later, and said, “Elizabeth, you’re a third of the way through.” “Ha!” I replied. “I’ve gone and shut the factory down.”

When my dad lived in the memory care facility, many of his friends had children that they couldn’t remember, (right up till the end Dad knew he had children, he might mistake us for someone else, but he knew he had three kids), and those that didn’t have children existed in virtually the same state as those that did. Like they say, we come in this world alone and we leave alone.

Do our relationships with our fellow man define us? I’ve known reclusive people that prefer to be solitary, more in tune with nature than people. Introspective sorts. I don’t believe their lives are any less meaningful because they don’t seek the company of others.

I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes:

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well – Diane Ackerman

In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us –Virginia Woolf

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.


staceyjwarner said...

I believe what truly makes the world a magical place to live is our differences and how people chose to live...there is not right or wrong just wonderful in variances of in between.

much love

L.T. Elliot said...

This is why I think tolerance and kindness are essential to life. If we can appreciate someone else's right to choose, we can love them for who they are. I have a sister, very dear to me, who doesn't share my same religious views and we're very close friends. Neither of us need to feel the same way about each other's religion in order to respect it. We love each other and appreciate that our individual choices help us to become the best versions of ourselves. In the end, that's the best kind of choice. Just the choice to be better than I was yesterday.

Journaling Woman said...

I think our best gift to ourselves is to live a good life filled with love.

Children are a difficult job. But if I could do it all over again I would have my children and let them bleed me dry of money and beauty. :)

Jan Morrison said...

There are those who've had children without being awake and many people haven't had children but have been awake. Lots of my Buddhist teachers are childless and many religious leaders have chosen not to procreate (by the religion they chose to lead or their own reasons). I'm so glad I've got my own bio kids and many others that I help raise in some way and I'm so glad I've got friends, teachers and other dearbones in my life who haven't given birth but to their own conscience and their generosity of heart.

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

We are all unique in that there never has been, isn't and never will be another us. And each of us is special in our own way which makes life an endless and interesting experience!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Hey, Elizabeth! This is a great discussion!

I think children are so precious and when my friends get pregnant, I cheer for them. But I don't want to have children. I just have no desire to be a mother. I think most people think I'll change my mind when I get married, but I really don't think that will happen.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love the Ackerman quote!!

It's always bewildering how some people can't stand tall unless they're stomping on someone else. Thankfully, I think most people are far beyond that

Stacy Post said...

Love the quotes, Elizabeth!

Joanne said...

It's a big beautiful world out there, with so many wonderful options and choices on how to live our lives. Respect, admiration and understanding leads to a rich, full life. To each his own, in peace, is my vision.

ellen abbott said...

I can't say which is better. I know people who do not have kids either through design or just because it never happened. I wouldn't begin to judge. I will say this though, having kids is the complete human experience.

Maggie May said...

Such wonderful quotes! And somehow I missed that you had five kids...awesome...I have three and would love five :) My husband is Irish Catholic and his dad is from a family of 11.

Fireblossom said...

I LOVE your lists of childless people. My very favorite, Emily Dickinson, is on it!

Marguerite said...

Having children is not for everyone, that's for sure. Wow, 15 children, that is incredible!! Great quotes and post! "Live and let live"!

Cloudia said...

My husband and I are the children in our home...

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Well, I had one more than you...five daughters and one son. I say to each their own. But if you have kids, realize it's years and years of commitment. Not everyone is willing to step away from coming in first.


Nancy said...

I think people make a mistake thinking their children will aleviate lonliness when they age. I have known too many that find that is not the case. On the other hand, I know people without children who look for individuals to help them in the aging process.

You're right that we come into this world alone and we leave it alone and if along the way we make things better for those on the journey with us - then I say that is a life well lived.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Like many other life choices we make, kids can be a great joy or a sad disappointment. We can leave a mark in many ways, but depending on our children to define who we were is probably not a good idea.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

I agree people choose THEIR life- no one else's.

I chose not to have kids thinking I'd make a horrible parent as I'm dead selfish and had no sensible role models. I got tricked into the parenting thing. I was using birth control in both instances. In the end I have managed, I've found away for my life to live with theirs. But really - as I've said it should be a choice like everything else.

The most important think as Jan has said is to be awake- live the width of your life as the fabulous quote says. Anyone can live the length- but the width takes conciousness.

Alix said...

Funny coincidence.... I got my first Christmas card yesterday from my cousin Lynn. She and her husband have been very happily married forever and live in Charleston in a big rambling home with two cats. They never wanted children and have lived a life of personal growth (both have their PhD's in Pharmacology) and lots of golf. They pick up and go whenever they want and they live life fully. Why they never wanted children I will never know, but I greatly admire people who make the decisions that are true and responsible for them. On the other hand, my heart goes out to those (my step-son and his wife) who desperately want a child, but cannot.

Our marks are left on the world in many ways... not only through our progeny, but by our footprints.

Tabitha Bird said...

I agree with Stacey. I also think that having children is a great accomplishment, especially if you raise them and they turn out to be decent human beings. Being a mother is an amazing job and one of the most important ones that exist. That said, if a couple chose not to have children or cannot have children I don't think they are 'less' for the choice. I too respect some wonderful people who have chosen not to have children. They are contributing to their lives and legacies in other equally important ways.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great quotes!

I know several people who've opted for that route. I think their lives are just as fulfilling, but in different ways.

That being said, I wouldn't trade my motherhood for anything.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Tom Bailey said...

These are really important things to consider and living your life to apease others by having children can be just a fruitless.

There might be more gender issues involved in this...

Women seem to suffer more from comments and questions from other women than men do... so from my viewpoint it comes down to the way that women see other women than how men view it.

Questions like
When are you getting married?
When are you going to have kids?

These seem to be more woman to woman questions then men to men questions.. and they seem to make women uncomfortable and put them in a position where they have to defend themselves.

Interesting thoughts and questions you have.... Thank you for sharing them.

Best regards,
Tom Bailey

lakeviewer said...

Food for thought here. We define happiness differently. We define family differently. To each, I say, go for what you think is important.

Crystal said...

"Is it an accomplishment to reproduce? "

That's the question I want to answer: I believe the TRUE accomplishment in reproducing is first, have them for the right reasons. I have a post in my blog about that. Too many people are having children for all the wrong reasons. And secondly, the accomplishment in reproducing is that you have not wavered in your place as a parent.

Wonderful post! I'm so glad that everyone can leave their mark, whether it be through children or other means.

Carla Gade said...

That was a good post! I saw a sign the other day and it said, "Don't count your days, make your days count." Children or not, I hope we all can do this. Leaving our mark on this world, making it a little nicer.

BTW, Lord Byron had one child - Ada Lovelace. She was just as interesting as her father.

Pip Kin said...

I don't think a woman's value should be defined by whether or not she has children. I guess we are physiologically designed to reproduce, but whether that is the most valuable thing to do with one's life is debatable - after all we are living in times of climate crisis - is blindly adding to the human population the best way to go?

Anonymous said...

This one is making me think. First off, it takes an act of courage to decide not to have children and to stick to that decision. I think it is a responsible thing to do. As the mother of five I have to say that my children are a huge part of my life, but the bit that they are not is by turns diluted and condensed by their presence. If I have 20 minutes to write I will use it - between nappy changes or school pickups. I respect everyone's decision to be the best that they can be, knowing though, that it should start with an active decision. Great blog Elizabeth.