I’ve sometimes wondered why I became much more content, compared to the anguish of my late thirties, when I learnt that having children was a virtual impossibility. It may seem obvious to others, but it took until midlife for me to realise that the absence of possibility can be a good thing, not a hopeless and bleak thing. I couldn’t live in the present when my future was dramatically unknowable: would I or wouldn’t I undergo the huge transformation of parenthood, with all its attendant practical worries (where will I even PUT a baby in this house, etc), and when the hell would it happen?
Living for the future in your teens and twenties is exciting: I can still conjure that feeling, when certain 1980s songs play, of unbridled possibility; life stretching ahead of me, unknown and exhilarating, full of mad hopes. Sensations that you no longer have at 47, but I don’t mean this to be a sad post.
Pretty much knowing how my life will likely pan out has allowed me to finally achieve success at living in the moment. I actively crave the endless peace and quiet that I feared in my thirties. A swim in the cold waters of Scotland on a calm day is an almost religious experience now, whereas ten years ago there wasn’t even space in my head for something so pointless: it was too full of unrealised future possibilities and opportunities that needed addressing urgently.
I thought, then, that children might be an instant rebuttal to all the existential worries that I had about not fulfilling my potential. I know now, from observation, that children are something but they are not this.
Younger people will read all this as bleak and middle-aged, precisely because they are not middle-aged and have not yet realised that everything our culture teaches us about success and fulfillment is mostly wrong. Living for the future and striving for more is stressful. Wanting to be more successful is anxiety-inducing. Waiting for something big and significant to happen is just limbo if you don’t know how to bring it about.
In the context of this blog, what I mean to say is: don’t imagine at 39 that you will grieve forever about the fact that your future seems to be an unpunctuated slide to the grave because you’ll never have kids. When the window of possibility closes you might just be a lot happier.
I started to think about this recently when reading Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers On The Decision NOT To Have Kids
It’s interesting that a number of the female writers did not outright DECIDE to not have kids, rather, they chose to stop trying to have them. It’s significant that several of them had a species of crisis in their late thirties – sometimes prompted by the society around them – and tried to have children, later realising that they were content without them. Most of them had existential doubts and concerns around not becoming parents, but were ultimately happy with their choice and found their lives more ‘mindful’ and content because of it.
All of them demonstrate that the only bleak and pointless thing about a middle-aged life without children is thinking that your life is bleak and pointless because you don’t have children.