My friend Kim* is an amazing pediatric dentist. Not only is she highly skilled, but she is passionate about what she feels is her calling. I have always admired her and, quite honestly, have at times been envious as I see her in action, see how her patients l-o-v-e her, see how energized she is by her work. In fact, it doesn’t seem appropriate to call it “work” because she glows when she is in her element and even outside when she talks about it.
So I was stunned during a recent catching-up phone call when she announced she was letting go of her practice.
“It sucks the life out of me, it’s just takes too much energy, I’m exhausted,” she said.
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said, but that wasn’t entirely what I was thinking. See, Kim now also has a one-year-old daughter. Her job hadn’t changed. She’d never found it life-sucking before, quite the contrary. No, it is being a parent that is sapping her energy and making her too tired to continue to enjoy her job. I was saddened to hear that she was choosing to sacrifice her first great love, and also to hear that she was misplacing the blame.
But while I was quick to judge, once I took a step back and looked at the big picture, what I felt was compassion. I realized this was perhaps her way—consciously or unconsciously—of making peace with her sacrifice in her own mind. I do the same thing when people ask me why I don’t want kids and I respond by joking that my dogs take all the parenting urges out of me. Oh, I wanted kids, but I didn’t get to have them, and rather than have a complete meltdown in public, I deliver a half-baked “excuse.” I could easily imagine myself telling one of those strangers, “I just don’t have the energy to be a parent” versus revealing the real and painful reasons for my childfreeness.
When I think about it from my heart, I realize Kim and I aren’t all that different. We’ve both lost something we wanted, we’ve both sacrificed big dreams, and we’ve both lied to ourselves in an effort to salve the wounds. It makes me think that if we could be more honest with ourselves, and if we could then better communicate our real feelings with each other, there would be a smaller divide between the moms and non-moms.
We’re all women, doing the best we can with the paths we’ve been given. I hope that by being aware of this, the next time I am at the receiving end of a half-truth, I will bypass judgment and instead model understanding and compassion.
*Her name and details have been changed to protect her privacy.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s mostly at peace with her decision to be childfree.
I tend to be “too” honest, which can get overwhelming. I believe that most people who ask me are sincerely interested and when they hear the story, they begin to say, “But you can adopt . . . !” or many other things. But my life is much more complex than that and there are very good reasons, very sad reasons, very complicated reasons my husband and i are not parents and explanations can get too involved.
I’m honest with myself – and struggling not to be bitter. But i am also struggling to have a story that is brief. I generally say, “Oh, God hasn’t blessed us that way” and try to leave it at that. Our reasons are much too complicated for me to want to share, and i find it exhausting explaining all the reasons and defending where we are at, even to people i know who really care.
A psychologist i know told me that often when people try to “comfort” in a way that doesn’t fit me, they are trying to make themselves feel better and it doesn’t have very much to do with me. That doesn’t help a whole lot, except that it does release me from having to have the conversation.
I lied to a lot to people about why I didn’t have children because I just couldn’t talk about it. I was afraid I would break down and cry. I’m also a very private person and I only show my emotions to people I deeply trust. So I wasn’t about to reveal my painful secret to my co-workers, my husband’s friends and their wives, or even family members I didn’t feel close to. I instead made jokes about how children smell bad, I was enjoying my life too much to give it up for a baby, my career came first etc. I am now able to talk about it with people and tell my truth in an objective way without getting upset and I think this site had a lot to do with helping me get to this good place. For the first time (10 years after I was diagnosed with infertility) I was able to talk to my mother about it over the weekend and why we were not willing to do donor egg or adoption. I was able to express it in a way that she understood my feelings and offered me sympathy. We are not close at all but I really appreciated that moment and I think she did too.
Add me to the list of people who brush off the real feelings.
“You know me, I’m terrible with kids.” (not true, I’m good at engaging children)
“If I were in charge of a child I’d probably let them eat whatever and wonder why they had a stomach ache later.” (again, not true, I’m smart enough to know proper portions)
“My dogs keep me busy.” (not even close to being true. They are outside dogs and very independent from me)
“Hubby and I are too busy.” (real story, hubby and I are too busy salvaging a fledgling marriage to even think of inviting a little one into the mix)
Lying seems to be the safest way to get around nosey people.
“You’ll never have enough money.” (really? You want me to pay off my 40K debt before or after I have a kid?)
“When you have a child all the pettiness goes away and you focus on the kid.” (soooo, you are saying my husband will STOP being a closet alcoholic and stop acting like a selfish 12 year old. Great, should have had kids years ago.)
“When you have a child all the things you think you care about don’t matter. You’ll be so in love with that baby. (Yeah, and when will I have time to operate my home business that pays all the bills? I already work 60 plus hours a week.)
Clearly I need a positive change in my life. And I’m working on it. But if I’m going to add a new human at this point – it should probably be a therapist and not a helpless baby that I’m in charge of molding for the next 18 years.
Hence, the lies . . . .
Ladies, I appreciate your candid responses. Our openness with each other is one of the things I love most about this site. Thank you for sharing your perspectives.