Many people still equate "childless woman" with "career woman" -- if you don't have children, well, you must have a fabulous career instead, right? You obviously have more time to throw yourself into your job, work long hours and climb the corporate ladder, right? (Conversely, if you want a high-powered career, are you really going to have the time to devote to a family? -- This either/or thinking was very common years ago, and still persists in some quarters.)
But what if we don't have children, and don't WANT a high-powered career either?
A few excerpts from the article:
Work can be the thing we do in order to enjoy our free time—it doesn’t have to be a lifelong career, and we don’t always need to be pushing to be the boss. Forget having it “all”—why aren’t women allowed to just have “some,” and be happy with it? ...Perhaps we are finally waking up to the idea that we’ve been conned—that in falling into the optimized lifestyle trap, we’re missing out on the life we actually deserve...
The biggest barrier women face seems to be the idea that we have inherent worth: that we deserve to be alive, deserve to be happy, even if we are doing “nothing.” [ed note: and even if we don't have children] [Women's empowerment coach Hueina] Su echoed this idea – saying that If you want to de-optimize your life, it’s critical to believe that you are inherently worthy, and to identify what success and happiness means to you. “We must learn to redefine success for ourselves, instead of letting society and other people dictate how we live our lives,” she saidI've written in the past here about my lukewarm feelings toward my job/career (even before I lost it, lol). I worked to live, I did not live to work... but I sometimes felt kind of guilty... that I SHOULD want more our of my working life. Supervisors would ask me the obligatory review questions about where I saw myself in five years and what job I wanted to do next... I had no good answers. I was happy doing what I was doing. I had no great desire to manage people, and while I was happy to stretch myself to a certain extent (trying speechwriting & drafting executive correspondence & official messages, after years working on the staff newsletter, for example), making the leap to an entirely different department or area of the company did not interest me in the least.
Losing my job -- at a stage in my life where I was able to take early retirement (a reduced pension, but still a pension nevertheless) -- offered me an "out" -- and I took it -- but I still harboured a lot of guilty feelings: I was way too young to just retire, I still had a lot to offer (if I could convince a potential employer to look past my age...! -- too young to retire, perhaps, but also too old to be hired for another job...). I should be out there working and adding to our retirement savings for at least another 5-10 years (even though a financial planner assured me & dh that we could afford to do this now), because that's what most people my age were still doing. (So far, he's been right, and it's been working out just fine.)
"What do you do with all that time?" people ask me -- and I feel guilty that I don't have any stories about fabulous trips or meaningful volunteer work or even a full social calendar of luncheons & outings with girlfriends to tell them about. (As one retirement planner pointed out in an article I read, even the fabulously rich will not find themselves travelling 365 days a year... you have to find other ways to fill your time.) I read, I putter around on this blog & on other social media, I listen to podcasts and watch TV. Once a week or so, we drop by BIL's house (or they come by here, or we head across the city to visit stepMIL, once every few weeks). We clean the house and do the laundry and run errands and go to the supermarket and to the mall, and we browse at the local mega-bookstore a couple of times a week. We go out for a simple lunch a couple of times a week, and out for dinner on Saturday nights, a habit we established early on in our marriage.
So the days pass, and while I can't always tell you where the time has gone, I can tell you it always goes by too quickly -- and that I'm seldom bored, and generally happy with my jobless, childless life. When people ask dh "what do you do with your time, now that you're retired?" he now responds "Whatever I want!" lol That usually shuts them up. I think I'm going to adopt it too, lol.
I've had a partially written draft in my draft folder for quite a while now along these same lines. It began a couple of years ago when a childless-not-by-choice/loss mom friend (& past/occasional blogger ;) ) posted an article on Facebook titled "What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?" She confessed that she struggled with the guilt of not being more or doing more or wanting more -- with the idea that "I'm enough."
"Maybe it's the fact that I've been beaten to a bloody pulp by life -- maybe that's why I crave a drama-free, quiet, simple existence," she mused.
I could certainly relate to that... and I'm sure a lot of childless-not-by-choice women can too. Infertility & loss (and the fallout from them) have already provided us with plenty enough drama to last a lifetime, and then some...!
The thought that we need to do more, be more, is something that many people struggle with, whether or not they have kids. But the absence of children in our lives makes some of us feel like we need to do something else, something BIG, as "compensation," to fill that hole in our lives, to prove our worth to society. Why not climb the corporate ladder (or run off to do missionary work in Africa... etc. etc.) -- after all, we can!
But it's one thing to do something "because we can." Is it something we SHOULD do? Is it something that we WANT to do? Is it something that's right for us personally, for our goals and values?
And by the way, who says that it's a "mediocre life" -- mediocre by whose standards?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject!
Here are a couple more great articles on this theme:
- You’re probably searching for a better life—but what if you already have it?
- Not Leadership Material? Good. The World Needs Followers. (by Susan Cain, author of "Quiet")
- Making Decisions and Defending Them (This article specifically addresses the issue of childlessness and pressure from others to have children.)
- You’ll Never Be Famous — And That’s O.K.
- Living an Ordinary Life (The Stirrup Queen's reaction to the story above)