Sunday, November 10, 2013

Family Maiden Aunt

With my brother's wedding coming up, it has dawned on me that I am in that slightly uncomfortable place that Bridget Jones was so well known for -  being single and childless. Yep, I'm now the family maiden aunt. But don't worry, I'm not completely alone. Apart from good ol' bridget, there is also a close family member not in a committed relationship... my three year old nephew!! So the two of us singles will be bunkmates for the duration of the wedding. Sigh. Back home, things are not much more impressive. I'm living in a share house again, and my assets include a wardrobe that I found on the side of the road, a chest of drawers that has been with me since childhood, and my shoes are lovingly arranged on four bricks and a length of wood that was lying about in our garden. All that's missing from the picture of the poverty stricken, lonely spinster is a cat.

Not a bad companion, really

And like Judy Small, in her ditty about being the family maiden aunt, I may have experienced some inadvertent sighing and shaking of heads from extended family members. Topics of inquiry in my early thirties focused on things like "when are you getting married?" and "do you think you'll have kids?" Now that all that's been covered, and it seems apparent that I won't do either, there's just an awkward silence. Some people are almost too enthusiastic about my work - possibly afraid to touch on more personal matters, some seem wistful and a bit starry eyed when we talk about the things I have done recently like travel and work and activism and adventures. With others there is definitely the impression that I have taken the easy, selfish road.

So, I guess I want to explain. When I was younger I did imagine myself as a parent and a partner. I had a dream that I still occasionally indulge in... it's of a slightly rural, sustainable house, with a vegie patch, chickens, kids, and maybe even a few children. (The kids are the young goats, if that wasn't clear). During my teens and then again in my late twenties I spent a lot of time babysitting and as a nanny. I would return home utterly exhausted, but happy -  boring friends and family with stories of how Connor insisted we start populating his ant farm then and there, or how Lexi so beautifully explained to me why she was angry and what her needs were. Definitely the most rewarding work I have ever done has been with children, so I have some idea of what I'm missing out on. But don't feel pity for me. I've made some choices in life that have taken me on a different path. It's taken a fair bit of "work" for me to get to that place of acceptance, recognising that where I am is a result both these choices and the cards I've been dealt, but I'm pretty much there now.

I am okay with this, because I know there are certain things that I can do because I'm not tied down. There are perks. I can do the work I love without worrying about anybody missing me back home when I travel. I can be the person who attends a rally, or evening meeting because I don't have other obligations. I can fly down to Hobart to spend my day off with my nephew and or spend it helping a friend. I can walk the Overland Track for five days. I can sleep in on a Sunday.  And I am not under any illusions about how hard parenting can be sometimes. I have seen my own parents, and now most of my friends, at the end of their tethers, and struggling to keep it together at times. I take my hat off to you all. But don't envy me. You made your life choices, and there are perks for you too - cuddles in bed on a Sunday morning, 50 million facebook likes because your child just blew a bubble, and knowing that somebody small loves you a whole lot.

The perks - having adventures AND cuddles
Then there is the thing about leading a meaningful life. I have heard so many people say things to me like "my job was getting a bit dull, so I thought having kids would give me a purpose again" or "this parenting gig is the most rewarding role I have ever taken on". Sometimes I feel judged because there's an unspoken assumption that the only way to find meaning in life is through having children, and by extension, if you don't have children your life must be fairly meaningless. Occasionally I have bought into this view, and judged myself quite harshly as a result. But, when I think about the parents I really admire, they are the ones who are already engaged in lots of activities, and care about issues. Their children simply augment their lives rather than providing all their raison d'etre. Secondly, many people whose lives were particularly meaningful because they changed history through leading significant social or spiritual movements, were either childless or received criticism for abandoning their children and partner in preference for this spiritual or ethical cause. I recently read that the Buddha left for a 6 year pilgrimage soon after his first child was born. Sometimes I think there is so much to be done in the world, that we need a certain proportion of single, childless people to do the other, non-child-related meaningful stuff, unencumbered by family obligations.

So, luckily the wedding is going to be a very inclusive one, and outside of our immediate family there will be lots of people there who don't fit the conventional mould, many of whom are close friends of mine. And sometimes I feel so touched that my beautiful friends with children want to connect with silly old me, and I am reminded that we will always have our values and love for one another in common, even if we don't share being parents. But, if you find yourself feeling awkward about talking with me at the wedding or any other event, remember that I might have taken a different path, but I'm not from another planet, and I am able to engage in conversation on a number of topics, including other people's partners and offspring. I don't want to be treated with pity, envy or judgement. I would love, though, to find out what's really happening in your life, and what gives it meaning. And who knows what the future will hold. Perhaps I'll foster, adopt or step-parent some amazing little people one day, and then we can talk about that too!


WS said...

I really enjoyed this post. Although I am a gay man, and not a middle aged woman, I feel many similar pressures. Beautifully articulated. x

Aletia said...

Thank you, W ;)

Anonymous said...

Some great comments here and elsewhere on the blog that I have somehow missed so far. I would add that raising children is also a particularly valuable way to helping others and serving society. Loving your writing, Leash! Lucy