One to One Coaching

I offer free 30 minute telephone/Skype consultations for people wanting to find out more about coaching on the 'baby decision'. Email me at mailto:beth@ticktockcoaching.co.uk and assistant Laura will respond and arrange an appointment with you. Visit http://www.ticktockcoaching.co.uk/ for more information about my coaching services.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Choosing to be Childfree

In regards to this decision, there are often fears that people have that if they choose a childfree life, they might regret it when they are older. That's why I felt it was really important to talk to older women who had made the positive choice to be childfree. I've done one interview with an older woman in who had done this and I think her story is so positive and interesting.

In her early 60’s, Margaret is an artist and Librarian, living happily on her own in South London. She was brought up in ‘an austere age’, the 1940’s by her widowed mother, whose strength and independence she admired. While her sister always loved looking after younger children, she thought it was boring. ‘Even at that early age, I was put off looking after little kids; I wanted to get away from them!’

She started working in public libraries and briefly dabbled in teaching. ‘I’ve always been interested in education and helping kids get a good education, particularly kids from a similar working class background. I benefited enormously from the 1945 education act and I got an excellent education. So I started teaching in Bermondsey but I soon realised I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. I sympathised too much with the kids and took too much home with me.’ So I went back to work for the libraries and did my Librarianship training.’

In her mid twenties, she toyed with the idea of going to art school and started to build her portfolio. Having kids would have got in the way and ‘put me off what I wanted to do. If I had had a child, I wouldn’t have gone to art school’ She went to Camberwell College of Arts at the age of 33. ‘I enjoyed it so much, they were the best years of my life. It was so open and free, it taught me to take nothing for granted, it broadened my mind and stretched me. I just grabbed it with both hands. My family, being from quite a working class background couldn’t really understand, they thought I was just off the wall, crazy! But they accepted me.’

Margaret’s desire to be childfree had an impact on her relationships. At university, she had a relationship with a student 11 years younger than her and one of the reasons she thinks they broke up was that ‘in the back of my mind was the knowledge that he might want to have kids and I didn’t. I didn’t want him to be bitter or be a martyr, so I ended it.’ She nearly got married at age 24 but called it off 2 weeks before. ‘It was during the Cold War and I felt strongly that I didn’t want to bring a child into this world. He disagreed and felt that children were lovely and could bring you a lot. I didn’t think it was just about what children could bring you but what you could bring a child.’

There was one moment in her life when she did want a child. Margaret had a passionate affair with a married man, 25 years her senior who was the love of her life. ‘I wanted to have a child with him and he would have been a wonderful father.’ The affair ended and so did Margaret’s desire for a child.

The culture of the period she grew up in influenced Margaret and her decision. ‘I always wanted to be a strong and independent woman – not dependent on a man. I’ve always had boyfriends but they’ve never been the centre of my world. In the 60’s, even though there was a lot of talk about liberation, you didn’t have a child on your own if you could help it so the idea of having a child as a single parent was not an option. The idea was that you married and had kids – that was it. If you weren’t married, you were on the shelf, you were a spinster. I think there was a lot more pressure to ‘fit in’, to be socially acceptable, to fit a neat, little box. Now, there is much more freedom to live how you want to.

The decision for Margaret has never been cut and dried. ‘I do feel like I have missed out on some things and now, when I see some of my friends with their grandchildren, I do have a slight pang. Of course, I have the usual worry of who will look after me when I’m old but I have other friends who are single, and we have agreed that we will all end up in some big house together and look after each other!. I would have liked to have brought a kid up ‘from scratch’, to see a child’s development from the beginning.

'I became very close to my cousin’s son. The same things made us laugh, he was very funny and so interesting. I think I influenced him a lot and we stayed close even when he was a teenager. He was very special - not just to me, but to everyone he knew. He had strong views about the world, rooted in socialism. He invented things which were taken up by industry (he attended a school for gifted children in the summer vacations). He was also extremely entertaining with a really witty sense of humour. He was very challenging, and taught me a great deal. He died at the age of 17 of Cystic Fibrosis, which means he managed to fit a lot into a short life. His death was a deep tragedy for me.’

Margaret doesn’t regret her decision not to have children. ‘I wouldn’t do it any differently if I could go back. I’m sure that if I had had children, I would have been as positive about that life as well. I wouldn’t have gone to art school and I wouldn’t have led the life I did though.

My art can be my legacy, my ‘babies’ live on in the British Museum and the V&A!

4 comments:

Kaycie said...

She sounds like a very interesting woman.

Even though happy with her life, she imagines what it might have meant to her to raise a child.

Even though happy with my life, I imagine what it might have meant had I been on my own.

I think that is probably universal.

Beth said...

That's what I am really enjoying now - talking to different people who are really reflecting on their life and their life choices.

And I particularly like talking to older women like Margaret - who are looking back on their life. I think it's really helpful for people in their 20's and 30's who are facing this decision.

and yes, I think you are right. I think we all think about the parall roads we could have taken. And it's not about regretting those choices - it's knowing that we would have had different lifes had we choosen another path.

I'm looking forward to your story as well Kaycie - will be getting my questionnaire together very soon!

decided said...

She certainly sounds like an interesting woman.

While she did not have very strong maternal instincts, she was more than happy to spend time with children that she connected with.

I'm sure people have 'what ifs' about many different decisions in their lives. I only hope that people have the chance to make well-thought-through decisions and then commit themselves to the life paths they have chosen.

Beth said...

Hi decided!

That's what drew me to coaching - was the chance to help people through important points of decision or periods of stuckness to really think about what they want in life and then how to get there.

I also think that sometimes things happen to us that aren't in our control or don't fit exactly with our vision of the future - for example, women who find they have fertility problems who might really want children but find they don't have the choice to have their own children. Or maybe people who have been single or divorced. Anyway, I saw this article which really re-sonated with me - about not holding on to our regrets - acknowledging them and giving them some space but not letting ourselves be defined by them.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/01/health/research/01mind.html?_r=1&oref=slogin