Child free, not childless

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I have been married, but I have no children. The same is true of three close friends. Back in the days when we should have been having babies, the 1950s and ’60s, we were off doing other things.

To shun motherhood during that conservative family-oriented era opened us up for a great deal of scrutiny. So prevalent was the idea of family life, we were thought odd, and looked upon with disapproval — even shamed.

Now that we’ve all reached grandparent — even great-grandparent — age, I queried if any of them is sorry today. 

“Never once in my 76 years have I felt cheated by not having a child,” said Jo from Edina, who enjoyed a long career as a teacher. “Life has been rich and fulfilling and lived on my terms. Some women tell me they feel sorry for me,” she said. “There is a certain arrogance in that statement. It’s all a matter of choice.”

Bernice of Oakdale owned and operated a small retail gift and jewelry store. 

She replied, “No, I’m not sorry. I feel as though I am ‘mom’ to all children. I cringe when I see a little one ignored or not well cared for. Some people use the term ‘child free’ as opposed to ‘childless.’ I haven’t decided which one I prefer.”

“I didn’t really care if I had children or not,” said Jane from South Minneapolis, who had a challenging career as an executive secretary. “Women age differently according to their lifestyle. Those with children age with their children: They become grandmothers and think along those lines. Women without children remain young.”

As for me, I had the opportunity to marry young and have a family, but chose instead to put myself through the University of Minnesota while working as an airline stewardess. Older women going to school was unheard of then: When I walked into a classroom the other students mistook me for the teacher! It took 12 years, but I received my bachelor’s degree in 1974. I guess I just don’t have the “mommy gene.” 

I’ve never been sorry. The objections we faced, of placing career over motherhood, aren’t there for young women today. They, instead, are encouraged to move forward — even going so far as to run for President of the United States. 

So, bravo for us! We pioneered for them. We broke from tradition early on, charting our own course — as did another friend of mine, Louise.

Louise, conversely, wanted children — but could not conceive. 

“Being unable to have children was a factor in deciding to become a teacher so I could help shape hundreds of children’s lives for the better,” she said.  

Louise also sponsored a young girl in Peru through PLAN International. She was matched with a 7-year-old girl through Big Brothers Big Sisters. She befriended a young single mom and enjoyed spoiling her two children.

“I often wondered whether I should accept a rose on Mother’s Day when women are honored at my church,” she said. “I think this year I will accept that rose.”

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].