Sunday, May 12, 2013

True Joy

I've been thinking about this post for a while. It's something I started writing a while back. It's been re-written so many times I sometimes come back to it and don't even recognize it. I just can't get it quite right. I don't have the words, the combination of words, to know how to explain what a complicated issue this is for me. It's a topic that swooshes in and out of my brain with great regularity. It's a topic of great discussion, debate and celebration. It can also be a topic of despair, triumph and confusion. World peace? No. The national debt? Uh-uh. Is Lindsay Lohan actually a robot sent from Mars to bewitch us with her addictive personality? Nope.

I want to talk about motherhood. Because on this day that we celebrate mothers, I always get just a bit defensive. See, I made the choice not to have children. Yes, there was a time in my life when I wanted to have them. I was 9 and thought having a dozen kids would be fun. I also wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It was the 70's, so I was probably stoned. (Just kidding - I was 9) Through my 20's I thought I might one day have kids. When I was married, we tried to get pregnant. It didn't happen, then I was divorced. But the really weird thing through all of this was that I always knew I wouldn't have kids.

Don't get me wrong. The idea of having a baby has always been and will always be intriguing to me. I wish I could have experienced pregnancy and childbirth, just so I could be in on the mystery. An actual item on my bucket list is to be present at the birth of a child. Let me know if I can come watch. Seriously. I think it would be a gross, magnificent, humbling experience.

But even though I'm curious about pregnancy and childbirth, the thought of being responsible for the raising of another human being is beyond my comprehension, or to be honest, my interest. There you have it. I am supremely selfish. This is a bit of a chicken/egg situation - am I selfish because I never had kids? Or never had kids because I'm selfish? I have no idea.

While I'm comfortable with not having kids, I find myself often defensive. And there is one specific comment that has been bouncing around my brain, rubbing my psyche raw. I've had several people tell me (and viewed many memes posted on FB) that I will never know true joy until I am a mother. This comment, meant to celebrate the unique connection mothers have with their children, makes me incredibly defensive. You see, it insinuates that my choice leaves me an incomplete person. That I don't know "true joy." I find that elitist and a bit insulting. Perhaps that's my jealousy speaking. Because even though I chose not to have kids, I do wonder about that magical connection. But I would also argue that even without kids, I have a full, complete, truly joyful life.

I guess I'm trying to say that not having kids is OK. It's a choice that doesn't get much discussion or validation in our culture. There is often pity directed at a woman over 40 who has not had children. And I'm kind of sick of it. And I'm sick of the "crazy cat-lady" stigma that comes with it as well. Fine. I have cats and am a bit crazy - but again, that's what I chose.

I also chose a profession that allows me to experience some mothering. While I have never changed their diapers or watched their first steps, my students allow me to mother in other ways. I have helped them pick majors, counseled them through relationships, given them a "come to Jesus" lecture when needed, driven them across the country in a mini-van, fed them, clothed them, applied bandaids and watched them take their first steps into adulthood. This is how I fulfill my need to mother. And it is perfectly satisfying. Perfectly challenging. The perfect, true joy.


  1. KJ-I completely understand! As someone who has benefited from your mothering, let me wish you a Happy Mother's Day. You helped me make very important decisions in my life which have molded who I am today!
    Love you-

  2. My experiences mirror yours, except I don't really think I ever wanted motherhood. It's a shame for my mom, who would have been a wonderful grandmother. But I didn't marry until 43, and when he asked me about it and I said, "I don't know... Do you? Because if you really DO..." - he exhaled and said that he really didn't feel strongly either way, but if I had really wanted to... And we concluded that to have a baby, at least one of the parents should really want to. So we're childless by choice - or by apathy.

    We both teach kids for a living (he's an elementary school teachers, I'm at the community college), so we're both getting some of this experience. And it's actually selfless these days to choose to continue to teach school and help raise other people's children. So I'm going to focus on that, and try not to be defensive when other childful people try to judge the level of joy in my life as "less than."