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.
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).
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?
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.