Relationships are, by default, complicated. It doesn’t help that we have to balance so many of them in our lifetime, which is exceptionally difficult considering humans literally cannot multitask efficiently.
Not unlike many spouses, I view my marriage as the most important connection in my life and thus, most of my ‘relationship energy’ is funneled into its maintenance. However, this doesn’t mean I neglect my other relationships – friendships with close friends, my family, my in-laws, even my workmates – the list goes on and on.
By very definition, a relationship is the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected. But what happens when there is a break in what connects us?
For instance, I had a very close friend when I was a teenager. We spent a lot of time together doing the typical teenagery, boundary-pushing things and formed a bond based on shared interest. This friend is now married with a young child, owns a business, and lives some two hours away. The glue of our relationship – essentially, immaturity and convenience – had come undone as we aged. Many refer to this phenomenon as growing apart.
Unfortunately for the childfree, mainly those of us who are still in the “child-birthing years”, we experience this loss of connection at a seemingly more frequent rate. Many of our closest friends have gone on to have children and the bond that once held us together is severed. Rightly so; most of that ‘relationship energy’ is now set aside for their most important connection – the relationship with their child(ren).
But what about those relationships that have been affected, but not broken, by our decision to be childfree?
My Relationship With My Husband
As I discussed in my last post, my husband and I both assumed we would have children at some point in our lives. Therefore, we never really discussed what would happen if we didn’t. That is, until we did.
Ever since our dating days, Colin and I have talked about most anything we could think of – from silly things like my irrational fear of sharks in hot tubs to more serious matters, like the darkest parts of our depression. We always found ourselves struggling while discussing when we were going to start having children, though. We would attempt to, of course, but our conversations mimicked the awkwardness of Sex Ed class in high school.
I remember talking this over with a friend of mine. “You’re probably not ready,” she told me. Fair enough. What I didn’t realize at that time was that I would never be ready. It took me a while to realize that this didn’t symbolize immaturity.
People often refer to having children as “the next step” but this implies progression. Having children, however, is a lateral move. A woman with a child is no more advanced than is a woman with none. Both women will advance in years and life experience. They will do so separately and differently, but at the same rate nonetheless.
Once Colin and I began discussing not wanting children, we got to discussing what we do want. With those conversations, our relationship grew deeper, as cliche as that may sound. We also stopped the awkward stares and the fumbling for words because our new discussions were founded on what we actually believe in, instead of societal expectations.
My Relationship With My Mother
A patron says to the zookeeper, “Wow. I could never do your job. Not because I think it would be too challenging for me, but because I would absolutely hate it. Actually, I think I’d also grow to hate myself. You know what I want to do? The exact opposite of what you’ve done because that, I believe, is true happiness.”
Change “patron” to “I”, change “zookeeper” to “my mom”, and there you have the worst conversation on the planet. Of course, this isn’t how I really explained my decision to be childfree to my mom, but this is what many parents think they hear when their child shares his/her decision.
I am incredibly fortunate to have parents who respect my decision not to have children. This isn’t the case for everyone, sadly, so the impact this has on your relationship may vary.
My own mom had experienced a rough pregnancy with me, her third and final child. It didn’t get easier once I was born, either. I’ve heard I wasn’t the calmest, nor the happiest, of kids. Basically, I was (am?) a whole lot of work. When I was young, my mom was solely my mom. From the mindset of a selfish kid, I just knew that being selfless was her purpose. It really wasn’t until I moved out and had the opportunity to observe my parents as empty-nesters – this really adorable couple that eats dinner at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and watch matinee films every Wednesday – that I realized, Wait a minute. My mom is just a person who happens to have had kids.
I’ve had more time to reflect on this as time has gone on and, although she’s never told me that she could picture herself being childfree, I could see it. Becoming a mom was an important aspect of her life, but it wasn’t her whole life. I suppose this is why she didn’t take offense when I explained my stance on kids.
Now, my mom and I discuss the benefits of a childfree lifestyle and we have both come to have a greater understanding of one another.
My Relationship With My Friends (Who Have Kids)
At the outset of this post, I told you about the friend I grew apart from. Our biggest difference is the fact that she has kids and the fact that I do not. However, I do have friends who are parents. One in particular I am quite close with. While we have different priorities, we share similar interests. This is how we initially formed a connection. We are also both writers, educators, and share the same cryptic sense of humor. She also respects my choice to not have children and I adore her kids.
It’s not impossible to be childfree and have parents as friends. I’d even go so far as to recommend it. When we interact and form bonds with people from different backgrounds and lifestyles, we grow. And unlike having children, that is progressive.
Just about every major life decision we make impacts our relationships. Some for better, and yes, some for worse. How have you seen your relationships change since deciding to be childfree? Comment below.