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Living a meaningful life without children

by Tansy Boggon

For those of us who face childlessness by consequence, potentially after years of trying to have children, reorientating ourselves to create a meaningful life can be a struggle.

I had a lady reach out to let me know she resonated with my blog, MyOtherhood: accepting childlessness by consequence, not choice. Surprisingly, it is one of my most searched for and read blogs.

I say surprisingly because my website is mostly about enjoying food without rules, guilt and shame. However, maybe it’s not surprising at all, given that childlessness is something of a taboo topic.

There is almost a shame of not having children and a feeling that we don’t fit in or will be misunderstood by others.

Grieving childlessness

I wrote the MyOtherhood blog to share the feelings I have in not being able to have children and the responses I wish I could give rather than remain quiet when they say things like, ‘it will happen’ or ‘you’re lucky not to have children.’ There is an assumption (or dismissal) that being childless means your life must be so much easier and carefree. However, this ignores the grief that many of us who haven’t had children may feel.

Writing the blog was my way of speaking out and sharing with others that not being able to have children can be emotionally scarring and not as simple as get on with life. Pangs of sadness continue to arise from time-to-time and I don’t believe that is something you ever get over. It is a true loss, which unfortunately is not well understood.

I think many people assume you go, oh well, that’s not going to happen, let’s have lots of fun—booze-up, travel and have a raunchy sex life. Yet, for many people, it is more like, I don’t know what the point of getting out of bed is, let alone having sex.

It has never got to this point for my husband and I. However, I understand the thinking of what is it all for? What is the point? Is my life meaningful and worthwhile?

Finding meaning in a life without children

The lady who reached out to me in response to the MyOtherhood blog told me that she resonated with what I’d said but wanted to know: How do you cope with this sense of loss? How do you fill your time?

She spoke of being ‘stuck’, of feeling that she and her partner were just going to become boring old people before old age.

And these are fair concerns given that it is conventional for us to (or assume we can) live our twenties free and easy, settle down, have kids and retire soon after they leave home. By default, the kids’ chapter of life can provide the meaning of life for a good twenty years. Consequently, for many parents, for a good twenty years, they don’t have to ponder the question: what is the purpose of my life? Because their job, their purpose, is to raise well-adjusted kids.

Now, I admit this is grossly presumptive and I want to point out that this is definitely not the case for all who have children. Yet this in itself is an important point. Although kids can bring meaning, they may not. There is no guarantee that they will create purpose in your life or that your life will be filled with joy. Having children can be challenging. And it can cause some people to lose themselves.

Finding yourself without children

Over the past ten years, during our trying and then accepting we couldn’t have kids, I befriended many women in their fifties whose children were approaching or had left home. I am drawn to women at that stage of life where they ask themselves, what now? Who am I? What is the point? What do I want to do and achieve now that I have a significant chunk of time left?

I’ve had friends go back to university when their kids were teenagers. Others have moved overseas or travelled. I’ve had others decide to become full-time artists. Or pursue some other off-the-wall dream that they couldn’t do when they had the responsibility and financial burden of children.

It is this mentality that I have ‘channelled’ in the past years, once children were a definite, it ain’t happening.

I acknowledge that those who have had children and now find themselves alone is a considerably different experience to never having your own children. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is often grief there too. I think considering this has given me some comfort, as having children is not a guarantee for a fulfilled life or not to die alone. It is somewhat universal that most of us, at some point, have to learn how to live without the dependence of children. It’s just that those of us that have found ourselves childless have to do it without the joy of ever having had children.

Tapping into my inner child has helped me accept my childless life

I promise you that accepting our childlessness hasn’t been easy. I’ve had many moments over the past few years of feeling lost and uncertain. Moments of trying something and when it didn’t work out feeling like a complete failure—having kids failed and now this. Is anything ever going to go my way?

I’ve had plenty of tearful moments, and still do.

Yet, what I’ve found that has helped me most is to tap into the child within me.

I love being around children. I love the way they see the world without the constraints and sensibilities that we do as adults. Children enable us to be playful and goofy. And I’ve come to realise that even in middle age (phew, I’m now officially middle age), I can tap into the childlike creative and curious aspects of myself.

Over the past few years, I’ve taken the time to remember what I was like as a child, to remember my childhood dreams and what used to light me up (and still does). I’ve considered what of that childlike enthusiasm and energy I can bring into my life now. And I’ve reflected on the ideas and dreams I had before I wanted to have children.

Now, with this focus, I find I can be lighter and more playful in my pursuits. I can do things that bring me immense joy and delight without the weight of what I should or should not be doing for a worthy life.

Bringing joy into my life

I know that others who have been unable to have children talk of finding meaning in other things, of finding different ways to be mothering and nurturing. Some consider what they will leave behind if they don’t have children—what is their legacy?

However, for me, the mothering instinct is so strong (and painful) that I do not require anything to channel it. Instead, I require activities that bring joy in just being me. And I think that is okay.

I don’t believe that we have to do anything, in particular, to make our life worthwhile. A meaningful life is not about what we achieve or create. I believe a meaningful life is about how we live the life that we’ve been dealt, not what we leave behind or how people think of us once we’re gone. I think it is about the joy we bring into the world right now.

For me, I know that my priority is to live a joyful life that is genuine to who I am. And I’ve surprised myself with what I’ve found myself drawn to do.

I’m writing for joy

When I got out of thinking about what I should do to create a meaningful life and focused on what brings me joy, I found myself writing. I have now written children’s books (currently with my publisher) that resonate with my inner child. I do hope that they bring others joy. However, first and foremost, the intention was to bring joy into my life.

I admit that the thought briefly crossed my mind, who am I to write children’s books when I don’t have children? However, I have been a child myself and can tap into the creative, fantasy world of my inner child. So why not? Dr Seuss didn’t have children. Nor did Beatrix Potter, author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Yet both were wildly successful children’s authors.

In addition to the children’s books I’ve written and plan to write, I have also written my first novel (yet to be published). Now I am working on a sequel, which addresses weight stigma and childlessness. I am only in the outlining and research phase of the sequel novel. Still, I am already feeling how this will be therapeutic for me and hopefully for others who have experienced childlessness without choice or want to understand those who have.

Let’s stay in touch

I hope that if you are interested in my words on childlessness not by choice, children’s books or fictional stories that address weight stigma and childlessness, you join up to my newsletter. That way I can keep you posted on when books are released or when I write other blogs like this one. Also, let me know in the comments below what of this blog you resonate with. I think the more we can share our stories, the less alone we feel. That is why I share.

Love and joy,

xxx

Tansy

PS. the photo on this post is of my childhood toy, Monkey, who is now over forty years old and still brings out the child in me.

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6 comments

Lonneke November 5, 2021 - 11:03 pm

Dear Tansy,

Thank you so much for your post. I’m struggling too. I tried to invent another purpose for me, but I just can’t find any that seems important enough. It’s wonderful that you love to write and you can put something of yourself in your stories.

Reply
Tansy Boggon November 9, 2021 - 7:41 pm

Thank you for your kind comment, Lonneke.

We can put so much pressure on ourselves to do something worthy when parenthood is no longer an option. Yet what is worthy is everchanging and subjective.

I love to write. It is something that brings me much joy. And joy is my priority. Sharing what I write and how it helps others is secondary and out of my hands, as I don’t know what will move people or bring them joy.

I hope you can embrace the things in life that bring you joy while knowing that you don’t need to do or change anything to be enough just as you are.

xxx

Reply
Elise February 5, 2022 - 2:06 pm

Hi Tansy,
Omg! Just being you is validation and support enough for me. A clinical nutritionist who is also childless. Just knowing someone else exists in this unique pocket gives me comfort. Despite 3 years since we had to make the tough decision and begin to grieve our lifelong loss, shifting from being a Primary School teacher and back into a nutrition role – still that sense of grief – shame that the scientist in me couldn’t solve this problem was and is difficult to swallow. But coming across your site tonight – brings me comfort. Thank you.

Reply
Tansy Boggon February 5, 2022 - 10:03 pm

Thanks for reaching out, Elise.

Absolutely, it can be a struggle for us scientifically minded and helping professionals to accept our circumstances when our tendency is to problem solve and explain why. Yet often there is no answer as to ‘why’ or ‘why me’.

I’m am pleased you found your way here and have connected with me.

x

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Tyler February 9, 2022 - 10:20 am

Hi, Tansy, I stumbled upon your children’s book, “The Superheroes on Your Plate”, and subsequently this blog which completely drew me in. As the father of three bright and noisy children between the ages of 5 and 10 years it is unlikely I will fully understand the enduring grief you, your husband, and similarly placed couples deal with. So I will try to empathise instead from a point of gratitude for my situation. Many times I have looked at my children and been overwhelmed. Sometimes by thoughts of what we could have done differently (if anything) to prevent the health issues our middle child was born with. Or thoughts of how a situation could have played out worse from a near miss accident. The tears elicited by these moments of grief stem from the love I have for my kids. But that emotional drain is more than replaced when I reflect in the knowledge that in the same way I love my kids, someone first loved me. And, yes, that usually involves more tears.
Whether its the love of our parents, or a supernatural creator, I am loved. And for that I am truly grateful.
Tansy, your writing is beautiful, and has a flow that speaks easily to me and many others. You, Tansy, are loved!

PS. consider having your stories told in an audiobook format. The listening world deserves it.

Reply
Tansy Boggon February 13, 2022 - 10:59 pm

Thank you so much, Tyler, for reaching out, for your kind words and for sharing the grief you have felt, which, as you state, stems from love.

We each live different paths, but through empathy and curiosity, we can gain perspective and compassion for ourselves and one another.

I thank you for this.

Love,
Tansy xx

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