Sunday, August 30, 2015

A love letter to my friends without children

Dear single friends and friends without children,

     Lately, more than one of you has shared with me stories of things that are said to you by married women with children.  Women like me.  Apparently, my tribe actually says things to you that indicate a pretended incomprehension of your state.  Why are you still single?  Why don't you have children?  And implied: What's wrong with you?  Don't you see how blessed I am?  How I've made the right choice?  Don't you see how safe and protected I am?

     When you tell me these things, when I hear that mothers have tried for some reason to make you think you are lesser, my heart aches for you--but I also feel angry.  Because those women have no right to tell anyone how to live.  

     And I want to tell you something.  Children are a blessing, of course.  But many things in life are a blessing.  Meaningful work is a blessing.  The chance to develop your talents is a blessing.  Giving to others is a blessing.  We are many-dimensioned creatures; parenthood is one limited dimension only, and at least for me it can never be the whole of my life.  The compass of our lives is measured out in intentional participation in the world; in creativity, projects, endeavors, improvement.  In love.

    Children might make your life fuller.  And they might not.  We parents do not own our children.  We bring them into the world and do our best to love them; but their thoughts and their actions are not, and never can be, ours.  They are their own people, if we do our jobs correctly, just as we belong irreducibly and inalienably to ourselves.  Every person is ultimately a mystery to others.  Our children are no exception.  Any woman who has children so that she will not die alone is a fool.

     It could well be that you feel grief because of your childless state.  And if you do, my heart aches again for you, and much more sharply this time.  I am so sorry for the empty space that you contemplate.  And no words of mine will fill it.  But I am sorry for your pain.  

     We all walk an unpredictable path in this life, and parenthood does not change that.  You and I are in every essential the same.

     There's something else I want to tell you.  I treasure you in part precisely because you don't have children.  I love my daughters, of course, but with my adult friends I want to talk about things other than the world of children.  I want to know what interests and drives you, what projects you're engaged in, where you are headed.  I want to know where you're going on vacation and what you're doing for fun.  Yes, of course I have mom-friends with whom I talk about these things, but part of our relationship is always consumed by logistics and playdates and birthday parties.  Those conversations always carry the comfort of mutual experience.  But you, my single and child-free friends, are never encumbered by such things.  And you and I can therefore be together without the encumbrances.

     I am not defined by my children, and in some quarters of our society this is rank heresy.  So be it.  Virginia Woolf declared the necessity of a room of one's own and five hundred pounds, and so do I.  You, my friends, are one of my keys to that room.

With my love.
Mary Kelly

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