Volunteer – A Meaningful Life Without Kids

How to have a meaningful life without kids – Part 2/5 – Volunteer

The American Spinster - VolunteerIf volunteering doesn’t sound like your thing, remember that there’s more to it than soup kitchens and dog walking (both of which are incredibly helpful, by the way). My high school experiences with volunteering were slightly – for lack of a better word – disappointing. We’d all carpool over to someplace, do a minimal amount of work (such as sealing a stack of envelopes), and then go back to school. It seemed like a highly inefficient process to me, and led me to believe that volunteering was just a way for people to feel like they were doing good without getting much accomplished.

However, when I began taking college classes, I had a completely different experience. The lab portion of a GenEd biology course took place at the local park/wildlife preserve. Our goal was to create a set of retention ponds. This was in Florida in an area experiencing rapid expansion that had a noticeable impact on local wildlife. The ponds were more to provide a new, safe ecosystem for animals than to prevent flooding. It sounded fairly dull… but it was anything but.

The American Spinster - Volunteer
Yep, this was my life for 9 weeks.

The ponds had already been dug and water had accumulated. The class of 20 or so students went out on a weekly basis and took water samples, donned rubber coveralls to wade into the pond and plant duckwead, and even taught a group of middle school students about our work there. I was tanned, sore, tired, and smelled like pond water at the end of each day. And it was amazing. Afterward, every time I drove past the park, I felt a sense of pride, because I’d actually done legit work to create those ponds.

I realize now that as a high schooler, my volunteer experiences were meant to introduce me to the idea of volunteering in a way that didn’t require my parents to sign a liability waiver. As an adult, I can now do work that has a real, positive impact on those around me.

Getting Started

So what can you do? You can certainly find local groups with which to volunteer. But as a free agent, your options are limitless. Organize something yourself. Create the Good has a library of resources about starting your own volunteering efforts. You can clean a river or for something less intense and more long-term, start a community garden.

The American Spinster - Volunteer
Volunteering can simply be doing something you already love.

Singer, songwriter, and activist Zoe Boekbinder (incidentally a single, childfree woman) started the Prison Music Project. The project connects prisoners to music, helping lower recidivism and improve conditions. One woman started this project. You could do just as much.

Zoe Boekbinder's Prison Music Project
Give something you love a life of its own.

The American Spinster - VolunteerIf you’d like to leave the house but not have to fill out any forms or commit to being anywhere at a certain time, you can improve your community by simply picking up litter. Get a pair of gloves, a trash bag, and go. Your community will probably never thank you for it, but you’re doing this for personal fulfillment, not praise.

Or, try this resource for computer-based ways to volunteer: helpfromhome.org.

There are so many ways to turn what you love into something that contributes to the community. This is how you have a meaningful life.

How to Have a Meaningful Life without Kids
Part 2/5 – Volunteer

Next up in the series: Part 3/5 – Learn and Teach.

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How to Have a Meaningful Life without Kids

How to Have a Meaningful Life without Kids

Part 1/5: Why you don’t need kids to be fulfilled.

The Myth: “Your life just doesn’t have meaning until you have kids.”

One of the many warnings matronly women like to give childfree women and couples is that their lives will be shallow without children. Sure, you can do whatever you want now, but all the glitz of travel and caviar will wear off one day, and then you’ll be alone. Alone with no real meaning in your life, because you spent your youth focusing on yourself (and/or your spouse) instead of something greater.

How to have a meaningful life without kids.
I’ll just sit here by myself wishing I’d had children.

This has a sobering ring to it, but it’s hardly a criticism exclusive to (or necessarily of) single women. I’m sure we can all think of people who had children and still find themselves alone in their old age when their children have gone on to have children of their own.

The idea that only children can give a woman’s a deeper, long-lasting life meaning also implies that most childfree women are just too self-absorbed to have any greater meaning in life than their own gratification. That’s to say nothing of the fact that children don’t exist just to provide meaning to an adult’s life. They’re individuals in their own right, who shouldn’t be treated as a means to an end (the end being the fulfilling life and happy retirement).

The Reality:

Women are realizing more and more that the idea that was broadcast to the Victorian woman and which persisted until the late 20th century is wrong. The idea that the only way for a woman to feel fulfilled and receive lasting love was to have a child.

Not only are there other ways to obtain love and fulfillment, but the belief that children = happiness has led to generations of unfulfilled and dissatisfied mothers feeling like they got a raw deal. Their children grow up and – of all the nerve – have lives of their own. At the end of her life, she’s left alone, and shifts her desire for love to the hope of grandchildren.

Yes, maybe I’m painting an overly dark picture. After all, most people move onto other things in their later years, like volunteer work. Once they get over the sadness of an empty nest, many women find a job, or if they have a career already, move into community service after they retire. A woman who raises children can still find fulfillment after her children have grown up and moved away.

Which of course begs the question, is doing good in the world just a poor substitute for the love of a child, or does it just take most people that long to realize that they can get true, lasting happiness in other ways?

How to have a meaningful life without kids
I’ll just sit here waiting for my bus to carry me to my next adventure.

Children are not the only means to a meaningful life. There are many ways for childfree women to contribute to society, improve the world in which we live, and find genuine satisfaction.

This week and next, I’m going to look at several ways to lead a fulfilling life without having kids. Coming up next: Part 2/5 – Volunteering Like You Mean It.

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