Guest Author - Lori Bradley
Whether determinedly childfree, or reluctantly childless, people without kids go through a period of mourning. For me, grief descends now and then, and is related not so much to not having kids of my own, but feeling excluded from aspects of our child-centered society - all the parent/child activities that fill the daily, yearly lives of some of my friends and family members.
Eventually the sadness lifts and I think, "OK, what's next?" On good days, I see an inviting open horizon, uncluttered by child-oriented concerns: school meetings, carpools, and incessantly saving for expensive college educations. I have a measure of freedom. What do I want to do with it? I often think how my life would have been different if I'd had children. And I wonder, how do other childfree couples fill lives not focused on caring for kids?
My husband and I spend more time on work and have more time to pursue art and writing projects. I know we would never have chosen to renovate a ramshackle hundred-year old house in an urban neighborhood if we had small kids when we moved to this area. We'd have certainly moved to a suburban house with a small school system, safe bus route, and room for kids to play outdoors.
The irony is that I've found a closer bond with community in the city, one that constantly eluded me growing up in an American exurbia of homes scattered across large lawns. I always felt something was missing - that sense of support where attention moves beyond the nuclear family to the population at large.
This is a struggling city, but people pull together to help families suffering foreclosure, to stock food banks, to care for the homeless, to create community centers and activities for "at-risk" youth. There's an active arts and writing sub-community, and people really get to know each other. And there's none of the cool standoffishness I found in the 'burbs. People greet each other heartily at the coffee shop and market. When someone asks how you are doing they really seem to care. This city feels like a large, extended family, one I'd never have discovered if I'd had kids of my own.
And, prior to moving into our city house, we lived for three sweet, transient years in summer cottages-by-sea. We packed the bulk of our stuff into storage and lived during the teaching season in tiny windswept cottages that are affordable off-season, but have outrageous summer rents. My parents left an unused trailer by a river in the Adirondacks, so for three consecutive summers we retreated to it, living a childhood dream of camping all summer long.
I know my husband and I would never have spent those summers camping by the river and winters on the beach if we'd had small kids. We'd have opted to be closer to a school in the winter. And, yes, it's feasible to spend a summer camping with children but certainly not easy to pull contemporary kids away from TV, friends, and computers for three solid months.
Important for us, stepping outside the routine rat race of suburban life helped us see how we can live saner lives - with less impact on the environment. We didn't need two cars. We shopped at local farm stands and dairies for the bulk of our food. We weren't commuting hundreds of miles each day to support summer jobs and car pools. When we finally settled in the city we brought these lessons with us. And, of course, it's certainly possible to simplify and live less environmentally impactful lives with kids, it's just much more difficult.
It's a time worn chestnut, but it does help to count your blessings when you're feeling a loss. So, it helps me fight depression to reflect on how absolutely wonderful aspects of our lives have been without kids. It also helps to read inspirational stories of other childfree couples. Two of my favorite kid-free couples are Margret and H.A. Rey and Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz.
Margret and H.A. Rey escaped Nazi-occupied France and moved to New York City. Among their few possessions they carried along notebooks and sketches that later evolved into the beloved childhood book character, Curious George. The Rey's never had kids of their own, but they still bring joy to new generations of children through stories and delightful illustrations of the gregarious George.
After H.A. died, Margret kept the character alive by partnering with other artists and writers, creating seventy more books, animated films and television shows. A family friend commented that Margret never gave birth because Curious George was her child. Margret often modeled for her illustrator husband, bending her tiny limber body into George's monkey poses - a sweet, intimate activity. George continued to shape the bond between Margret and her husband, even after H.A. passed away.
Georgia O'Keefe and husband Alfred Stieglitz didn't have the ideal marriage of the Rey's, but he was her mentor and early inspiration. Stieglitz was a relentless promoter of O'Keefe's artwork and his influence surely had an impact on her later prominence and acceptance into the canon of the world's great artists.
In her mid-forties, O'Keefe seriously began thinking about having children and wanted her husband to comply with her wishes. He refused. He told her that children would drain her creative spirit and be her downfall as an artist. Stieglitz took a firm stand against having kids and that may have been the beginning of the end of their marriage.
Soon after, O'Keefe left her husband and began her famed retreat to the American West, creating some of the most iconic paintings in the history of art. Although separated, Stieglitz remained a strong supporter of O'Keefe's work. His dedication to a childfree marriage surely impacted her creativity. And he was probably right - the long, solitary desert sojourn that spawned her best work wouldn't have taken place if children became the focus of her creative spirit.
When I'm thinking along these lines, about these amazing people, I always come back to the conclusion that no life is ever empty. Every decision made is a barrier to potential events, yet makes new events possible. Once we stop judging and comparing what is valuable or not, everything is possible and precious.
If you have your own favorite well-known or accomplished childfree people or couples please write and let me know. I'll continue the story.