Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Making Room For Other People’s Children January 15, 2011

I recently read Ian McEwan’s book, Enduring Love. In the story, the main character and his long-time partner are childless-not-by-choice. It’s not particularly relevant to the story, other than it colors their characters and their interactions with other people and their children.

McEwan writes that the couple had made room for children in their lives. They were godparents and had many other young relatives and children of friends who were a part of their lives. They even kept a spare bedroom in their apartment, and encouraged regular visits from the various children.

I found this arrangement strange. Although I still love children and have several who are a part of my life, I can’t imagine having the kind of relationships with other people’s children that would warrant keeping a spare room and regularly inviting them to stay.

So I’m wondering, what kind of relationship do you have with other people’s children? Have you literally made room for children in your lives? Or do they just come along as accessories to your friends and relatives?


8 Responses to “Making Room For Other People’s Children”

  1. Elena Says:

    It’s an advice often heard for childless-not-by-choice people: Be a godparent, spend time with your nephews/nieces.
    But having children around you is not something you can just build yourself, as little as having your own child. I don’t have any nephews and nieces – i only have one sister and her bf is as reluctant about becoming a father as my own ex-bf was. SInce i’m single because being childless broke our relationship apart, i don’t even get to see my ex’s nieces anymore. And none of my friends have chosen me as godmother so far, i don’t know why – or yes, i know: They often choose the childrens uncles/aunts to be godparents as well.
    Being around the children of friends is an ambivalent thing. Sometimes i enjoy it a lot, other times it hurts. I’m finding out that it depends a lot on the respective friend’s attitude toward parenting and toward me. I’ve also come to realize that none of my friends take up my offer of babysitting. They just won’t leave the kids with me and rather use their own parents as main babysitter – or a professional nanny, or their neighbours who have children of their own… I wouldn outright say they don’t trust me as a babysitter but it doesn’t seem an intuitive thing for them to do 😦
    I imagine it would be really nice to have one or several children in my life with whom i had a close relationship. But it’s not something that just happens to everybody. Friend’s kids can be really lovely to see but the relationship is with the parents and without any deeper link – such as being their aunt or godmother – i don’t think i could or should build a relationship with these kids which runs parallel to me being friends with their parents.

  2. Kathryn Says:

    Having children in our lives is important to us. But my sister (with whom i don’t have a great relationship) lives on the other side of the country, so i’ve never gotten to know her kids much. My hubby has nieces, nephews, and cousins’ kids thru his step family, but we don’t see any of those kids often, either.

    For our own long list of reasons, adoption and fostering will not work for us. Our community does not have a Big Brothers/Sisters program. I was actively searching for children we could mentor in order to have children in our lives.

    Thru someone i know (she was cleaning for us for a while), i got to know her kids a bit. THEY showed interest in wanting us in their lives. Her 12 year old son rather got it started. It has been at his showing desire to spend time with us that we have taken him to lunch and had him to spend the night at our house. We keep room for company in general because we live in a resort town and want to have company, but since we have the room, we don’t mind him coming over here. It is not an “official mentoring” experience, but we so enjoy spending time with these kids. My hubby calls it a “rent a kid” program when explaining it to our friends and family.

    We also feel good that perhaps we can be a positive experience for these kids. Their parents are doing something right, because these kids are about as nice as you can imagine, but the family is struggling. If nothing else, we can be “role models” of a good marriage and handling limited money well.

    I’ve no idea how long this will last. We’re just enjoying the “rent a kid” program while we have it.

  3. Mali Says:

    We don’t really have very close relationships with children. ALL my nieces and nephews live far away. The closest is my sister’s daughter, who is an 8 hour drive or expensive flight away. Whilst my husband and I have been named her guardians in her parents’ Wills, I know that she knows their friends so much better than she will ever know us. That hurts. My other nieces and nephews are either grown with children of their own (yes, ouch, I’m a great-aunt), or they live overseas.

    My friends have rarely included me in their children’s lives. I make the effort, give Christmas and birthday presents, and have been asked to babysit three times over 13 years. No invitations to birthday parties, one invitation to a school play, one invitation to a sports event. Not that I’m counting!!! How I feel about this is a bit of a mystery to me. You’ve got me thinking.

  4. Sue Says:

    As far as the child’s room in the story goes, I find that creepy.

    We don’t have any nieces or nephews, and my husband has one godchild who lives a few states away. We have a close relationship with my closest friend’s daughter and we just love her to pieces. We have always been referred to as aunt and uncle and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We had another super close relationship with other friends’ son but they moved and we don’t get too see him as often. It’s only a 45 minute drive but his parents’ lives got so busy they barely had enough time to spend with their son, let alone us. I really miss that relationship too. We used to be two of his favorite people and now he barely knows who we are.

    As much as I love those two kids, my guest room was set up with adult out of town guests in mind. A kid could easily sleep over in that room if needed, but in this house, you won’t find any toys to play with or a teddy bear to cuddle with.

  5. Laura Nye Says:

    My new career has me spending all day, every day with kids. 🙂 Two years ago I went back to school to become a speech-language pathologist. I still need to go to grad school and earn my master’s to become a fully accredited SLP, but in the mean time I’m working as a pediatric speech therapist. I go to kids’ schools, day care centers, Head Start centers, and their homes to do speech therapy. I chose this profession when I still thought I’d be a mom someday.
    When I got the phone call from my GYN office telling me I would never ever be a bio-mom (FSH 24), I was driving to my first ever speech therapy session. I had to dry up my tears, pull myself together and treat a child with autism. Sometimes I leave houses feeling relieved to escape the chaos created by lots of active kids and other times I feel deeply sad. Maybe after grad school I’ll focus on treating adults with communication disorders, but for now working with children might be a little therapeutic for me.
    I also struggle with my relationship to my friends’ kids. Sometimes I think I want a bigger role in their lives and sometimes I want to pretend they don’t exist. Still trying to sort all that out.

  6. loribeth Says:

    Dh & I have two nephews, his brother’s kids. They live about an hour away from us. I think we’ve been a good aunt & uncle to them — but at the same time, as I wrote once in my blog (, if I had known they were going to be IT, I would have doted on them a whole lot more. They’re pretty much grown up now (18 & 22).

    We also used to dote on dh’s cousins’ two daughters, who live quite close to us. We used to babysit them once in awhile, & treated them like little nieces. Birthday & Christmas gifts, etc. Our families gradually drifted apart, though. In my own mind, the turning point was when our daughter was stillborn, although I’ve never quite been able to figure out why. The girls got older & more involved in school & activities & their friends, & we saw less & less of them (they’re grownup now too, 17 & 19). They live two blocks away from us, & these days, we see the family at the same weddings & funerals that we see all the other relatives at. It’s sad. 😦

  7. mccxxiii Says:

    I am feeling extremely conflicted right now about the cultivate-relationships-with-others’-children advice.

    Intellectually I understand it, but I can’t get past the fact that it seems so hollow, fake, second-best. Being an auntie *isn’t* the same as being a mother. Babysitting friends’ kids *isn’t* the same as being a mother. Big Brother/Big Sister … totally worthwhile and valuable, but it’s NOT parenthood.

    Most days I think that all of these things are just a stab in the heart that reminds me of what I’m never going to have and never going to be. Doing them makes me feel like a poseur, like people are looking at me with pity … “oh, how sad, she’s not a mom but she’s trying to act like she is.”

    I know this isn’t a charitable reaction, but I really don’t want to be around anybody else’s children. I don’t want to be around ANY children. I don’t want to constantly reminded of my lack and my loss and my shortcomings and my nevers.

    I guess I mean that if I can’t do it “right” I don’t want to do it at all…

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