All day long we have voices fighting for our attention - our own voice, pushing us to be the best; the voices of all those who surround us, with their demands and expectations; the voices of our culture and all the societal pressures dictating who we are and what should give us our identity and purpose. It can be a deafening sound, leaving us overwhelmed and longing for peace and quiet.
I long for that peace and quiet (hence my dedicated exploration of stillness and resting in God). And occasionally I find it but too often I forfeit my stillness for the cacophony of the world. I want to live for an audience of One. I have learned (and have had to re-learn, countless times) that everything else falls in place if I am still enough to listen for God's voice and allow His Spirit to lead me throughout each day. Unfortunately, the battlefield of my mind is active and the fight for my attention is unrelenting.
One of these unrelenting voices is a megaphone proclamation of what a "true" family looks like. My husband and I do not have children and with that come a lot of judgement and criticism. Nearly every day there is some comment made, sometimes directly, sometimes a general statement, about how people without children just don't "get it", how much more difficult life is with children, how we couldn't possibly understand just how hard it is, how much easier and luxurious life my life is and how self-absorbed those without children are. In the same breath of criticism we are urged to get on board and have children, with any and all motives questioned for a life that doesn't include kids. I am weary from fighting this battle, fighting the message that I am somehow less significant and lack purpose in my life because I do not have children.
Please do not assume that a life without children is a selfish life of frivolity. It's not all bonbons and soap operas. We all, God-willing, have 24 hours each day that we are given - yours may revolve around raising your children and mine, at this point in time, do not. But we all have struggles and challenges. To say that yours are greater than mine and vice versa, makes life a competition when what we really need is people of all ages and from all life experiences to come together. We each battle different things - we each have different areas of gifting - we grieve differently - we cope differently - we unwind differently - we celebrate differently. We all experience things in a personal way, totally unique to ourselves and although we can come alongside one another and relate on some level to what they are going through we will never be able to fully step into another person's shoes. Would there not be tremendous value in opening up our world and allowing people to share a perspective that comes from a different place than our own?
And please do not assume that I am oblivious or callous to the weight of responsibility, the emotional roller coaster, the level of stress and worry for a life in which you are now responsible, the shift in lifestyle, the depth of sleeplessness and selflessness that all comes with being a parent. From my point of view, becoming a parent is one of the most difficult jobs on the planet and I am filled with admiration. Becoming a parent is also an honour and a privilege that not everyone will experience or is called to experience.
I had just finished writing the first draft of this post when this very issue, not surprisingly, came up at a Christmas party I attended. I decided to be vulnerable and share (with these people that I just met) that this is a very tender subject, in the hopes of not having to deal with the chastising all through dinner. I simply shared that what others say can add tremendous pressure to an already personal and delicate issue. But to no avail - the comments flew at us all evening long. "Oh, when you have children you'll understand." "You better not wait too much longer to have kids now; time's running out; you'll be too old." (That's a new one for me, normally I get, "You've still got time.") The other childless couple at the table wasn't safe from the jabs either. And although we squirmed and tried to quickly divert each one, politely smiling and attempting to shift the conversation, the comments kept coming and getting more personal. It felt reminiscent of grade school when you're constantly reminded that you don't fit in - and you were just sitting there, eating your bologna sandwich, minding your own business. There is a weighty cultural assumption that the norm is to have children and outside of that is somehow wrong or dysfunctional.
I am not going to get into whether or not my husband and I can have children, whether or not we ever want children, whether or not we ever should have children - because it's an extremely personal issue and couples without children should never have to explain or justify why they do not have them. I regret allowing myself to feel intimidated and backed into a corner, trying desperately to earn acceptance and understanding on the countless times I have been, and continue to be, questioned about not having children.
If we ever do have children I want to know that the voice we listened to was the One who created us and brought us together. I think I would feel more regret in having children because I felt pressured by all the other voices in my head than the potential regret of not having children at all. If God is the author of our lives then I don't want to rewrite the story He has for me. He will lead us - we only need to listen for His voice.
Those without children may not fully understand the depth of the emotional and physical highs and lows of parenting, but that does not discredit them from the conversation, from living a full and rich life of purpose, nor does it welcome, nor condone sneers of judgement. We pride ourselves in being such an open, progressive Western society but I don't believe we are very good at celebrating differences or accepting the parts of life that lie outside of our cultural norms. It is a beautiful thing to be married and have children, nurturing them and teaching them to be responsible, respectful, God-honouring human beings. But it is also beautiful to be single, to be a couple, to adopt children, or to not have children. Families come in all shapes and sizes and we need to be cautious that we are inviting everyone to the party, allowing everyone to have a voice. The calling and timing of God is not ours to mess with. We don't want to become another voice in their head leading them astray and telling them that they don't measure up.