My young nephew has no qualms about asking the most personal questions, and he’s so earnest and compassionate that usually I can’t help but give him an honest response. He’s asked why I don’t have any children, and also what happened to my first husband. I’ve told him the truth in both cases and he’s appreciated that, as far as I can tell.
Recently he asked, “Don’t you and Jose get lonely without any children.”
“No,” I told him. “We have lots of friends, and we have Felicity, our cat, plus we have lots of nieces and nephews.”
Somehow though, this response didn’t seem to satisfy him. Perhaps because it doesn’t satisfy me either. Do I get lonely because I don’t have children? Not really. Most of the time I wish I had more time alone with my own thoughts, rather than less, but do I feel a sense of loneliness sometimes, even when I’m around other people? I do. Sometimes.
Sometimes I feel that the connections I have with others are more tenuous than they would be with a child. My brothers have their own children and, while we’re still close, our connections have weakened as the bond with their children has grown. Somewhere inside me is a tiny empty hole that nothing can fill. Most of the time I’m not even aware of it, it’s so small. But every now and then I’ll experience a melancholy sensation that feels like loneliness and feels as if it could only be filled with children.
Jennifer Gill says
I think I’m similar to you in wishing I had more time to just BE; it seems there’s always something (a cat, a mess, a friend who needs less alone time than I…) demanding my attention. I also sometimes feel that tiny empty hole. But I suspect that having children is much like other major life events that we look forward to with outer-fueled expectations – they say a child is a part of you, but really, no, although it’s made with your DNA, once it’s separate it’s its own entity. In some ways, it might be lonelier still to feel that empty hole is still there even with a child.
It’s interesting that your nephew wondered if “you AND Jose” get lonely without children. I don’t think I differentiated between children and adults so much, even as a youngster, so it wouldn’t have occurred to me that two people together should be lonely. But I also became conscious fairly early on that disconnection can feel much lonelier than solitude.
I do get those melancholy moments where I dream about the child I might have had. Mostly about being around to guard the pure creativity, to gently encourage and exult in the joys of innocence and discovery. Since life never happens exactly like that, though, I can keep that perfectly innocent child safe and unharmed, and better still I never have to disappoint her (nor have to see her feelings hurt by someone else’s horrible offspring…). I wonder if that kind of daydream is part of why people have more children, why parents of teenagers suddenly “need” to have another baby. To get it right.
As for the tenuous connections with others, isn’t that really more the others who let the ties loosen, because they are focusing on their children? Which is natural, I understand, and if you wanted to focus on their children you could likely keep the connection feeling more vital. But my friends without children remain constant and our connections develop through interaction and shared experience. Not to say that can’t happen with friends who have children, and perhaps for me it has something to do with schedules and not having to always pursue kid-friendly activities. There’s also that quest for meaning that seems to be satisfied by having a child. Or maybe transferred to the child.
Very interesting things to think about. Thank you!