In the book, 30 Lessons For Living:Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, author Karl Pillemer tells us what he learned from surveys and interviews of over 1500 of elder Americans, 65 and older. He calls them our “experts.” He ends with a section that encourages us to find the wisdom in people we know and gives questions to ask of “experts” in our lives. When I meet “experts” who are childfree, I like to do the same; in this case, with a childfree theme. One great “elder” I’ve met in this regard is…
…Jane White. She was born in 1943 and has had an interesting life. Jane began her career as a commercial illustrator, then at 52 got her Master’s in Social Work, and worked with those who are blind from HIV. Today, in her words, as a “kick ass business woman,” she runs a B&B and a pet service business. I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions:
Tell me about why you chose to have no children.
I’m what’s known as an early articulator. I just always knew. I think my lack of exposure to stereotypical family life and to small children growing up had something to do with it. Unlike many kids in the 40’s and 50s, it was role modeled for me. My parents had a large group of friends, and a surprising number, at least half, were childfree. I look back and it has occurred to me that maybe they didn’t have kids because they were depression scared and afraid to take on the financial responsibilities of parenthood. Imagine that! These people actually crunched the numbers and made logical decisions. Their lives certainly didn’t seem sad or empty.
Looking back and today, what have been the most positive aspects and downsides of being childfree?
I can honestly say there has been no downside for me. Over the years I was most cognizant and most grateful for my freedom when I watched friends going through some kind of hell because they had children. When I was in my 20s I was envied for being unencumbered. I had female friends who had completely given up their personal identity and poured all their life energy into their families. They often seemed to be living for validation they never really got. In my later years, I watched friends agonize over children whose lives had run off the rails. And now, at my age, it’s the grandchildren’s time to go rogue.
What advice would you give to those who are trying to decide whether to have kids?
First, I’d say that if you have doubts, even small niggling doubts, consider funneling your love of kids into something (involving children or not) other than parenthood. I say this because I have seen countless friends who had children without thinking much about it beforehand, and were totally unprepared for the reality of having a baby. As the years passed, they experienced major disappointments and stresses. My advice mirrors what I would say to anyone who aspires to something truly ambitious- Do all you can to make sure you know what you are getting into!
Thanks, Jane! Have you ever gotten words of wisdom from the elder childfree? Please share!