21 September 2017

Life & Sole: Taboo of Childlessness… or Grieving Alone

Personally, I have not yet considered the issue of childlessness as a single person, nevertheless, I do have friends in their late thirties or early forties who have. We can easily recognise this issue for married couples, but have we ever thought of what the prospect of childlessness means to those, who as yet have not found their life partner. How can they cope with it? Is there acceptance, understanding or any recognition at all from the Church of their plight and grief?

We, as a society, like to put people into different boxes and rather often singles with no children are mistakenly viewed as childfree. Childfree may be defined as “those who make the voluntary choice not to have children.”

However, these people could in fact be childless, where the decision has not been theirs; it was not a choice to have no children. Frequently, we hear about the fantastic lifestyles of childfree people, who have a “charming and carefree life”, perhaps with a great career, with freedom and busy social lives. We do not hear so much about the lonely nights in an empty apartment where we come in as late as possible so we do not need to face the difficult reality of being alone. Yes, it may appear glamorous and often it is great but not everything is as it appears. I do not agree with this childfree view for all singles, nor do I agree that all singles have a problem with accepting the reality of not having children. There may be some who voluntarily choose it, just as some married couples do. There is also a group of people who think that they do not want children but this may only be a protective measure similar to Sharon’s case.

“I was a single, young, busy woman with a great career. I did not feel the need to have children. I always said if I have them that’s great, if not, that’s ok as well. I believed all this was true until I was faced with a diagnosis of cancer. I needed to have a hysterectomy. Suddenly I was facing a new reality; I was no longer in control of my own choice of whether or not to have children anymore. Yes, I am healed of cancer for now, but the deep sadness and inner grief hit me so hard and for a long period of time. I never realised how important the possibility was and my deep desire to have children until that point.”

Many singles are without children because of differing circumstances and not because of their own free choice. Childlessness is often acknowledged with married couples and is usually accompanied by a deep emotional process of grieving on the reality of not being able to have a child. Despite this acceptance for married couples to experience a grieving process, it is not normally recognised as an issue for single people. We grieve alone and think we are alone not realising others are experiencing the same issues. For some of us, it can be more intense than for others, but most of the time there will be some period in our life where we will feel the deep sadness inside us. Something as simple and usually harmless as baby-sitting can be really hard and even unbearable. Words like “don’t you worry, you still have plenty of time”, or, “I wish I had your freedom” will not really help.

In a way, this is grief which is not accepted and has been labelled by Melany Notkin as “disenfranchised grief”. When a woman or man is experiencing such feelings, they do not know how to mourn in the normal sense as their loss is not clear or understood by society, or perhaps even, by themselves. They often do not know what is happening and in turn are more sensitive to reactions from friends, family and the church family. A simple joke or casual conversation which seems quite normal, can cause more damage than help. We just need to accept that there is such a thing as grieving for not being able to have children, even in the case of single people.Let us pray with them and share with them the following verses in the Bible; “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3) or “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Responses from men and women in their mid-forties are different, not only because of gender and different ways of thinking but, especially for women, there is the added concern of their “biological clock”. I feel that women are in a more vulnerable position without devaluing the hardship for men also. However, women’s biological clocks are normally shorter than men’s. This places more pressure on women. She has to deal, not only with her singleness, but the fact that her ageing body limits her opportunities as time goes on. If many of us look back 10-15 years we may see the difference in our approach to dating. In the earlier years of dating our main focus was more often about finding the right partner but as we get older and more experienced and those deeper family desires emerge, it could be more about the potential that partner has to be a good father. How we approach our later dating,

without giving the impression that we are running out of time, or that we are desperate to have a family is difficult. People may say, “just be yourself” and “relax”. But with all of this pressure, it is hard for many women to relax. As Kate said,

“I do realise and I am fully aware that with every passing year, I am less striking to the men in my peer group, who have considerably greater numbers of younger, more fertile women to choose from. But what can I possibly do about that?”

This is a hard situation but we are not alone, God is with us and He will comfort us (Matthew 5:4, Psalm 119:50).

From a man’s point of view, things can be slightly different. Here is one such reaction.

“I am a man in my mid-forties and it is hard. I would like to get married and have a family later on. Yes, I hear the echo of women saying it is not so hard for us men. But I do want to have a wife with similar experiences, having grown up in a similar era. Nevertheless, if I would like to start a relationship with a woman in a similar age group, I realise that she would like to start a family very soon and that there is no option for me to have a longer time just with her. I know it is not her fault but neither is it mine. Therefore, I would rather try to date younger women, where we do have time to get to know each other for longer before starting a family.”

For some of us, he may sound insensitive, but on the other hand he just wants to spend some time alone with his wife…

I hope this does not sound like all people with families and children need to be afraid to talk about them. Not at all! Family and children are a blessing from the Lord and I do not think that anyone will disagree with me on this. All I would like to say is that we should recognise there is such a thing as singles grieving over the fact that they do not have children. Therefore, those of us in church communities should perhaps take a little more care in certain situations where childless singles are present. Do not completely stop talking about your kids, husband or family to singles. They are normal and created by God, but just happen to be functioning in an alternative situation. Therefore, whether single or married, man or woman, with children or without, let us endeavour to be sensitive to one another on Mothers Day this year and I pray for us all as Paul did:

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

Zuzana Polackova