I never made a choice not to have children

Kim McKinney

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It was never my decision.

If you had told me when I was in my twenties that I would never be a mother, I would have never believed you. Or I would have been inconsolable if I did.

It was all I ever really thought I wanted. I was raised to have a family. Getting married and having babies did not appear to be an option. It’s what we all do, right? It seemed as though it was merely a question of when it was going to happen for me.

But it didn’t happen. I never got married or even had a long-term relationship of any substance that would get me thinking in that direction. I never wanted to parent alone. My first job out of college was working at a children’s home as a houseparent, and I knew how very hard it was to deal with it by yourself; and as a houseparent, I got days off. Single parents are amazing, but I didn't want to set down that path by choice.

When I moved back to my hometown in my late 30s, close to my four siblings and my parents, I briefly considered fostering. Financially I was in a place where I could, but I worked long hours and loved travel. I couldn’t even justify a pet, let alone taking care of another person who had grown up with little stability and a warped idea of family life. They deserve a lot of focus and attention and I didn’t believe I could give enough.

Life continued — and it was good. Even though I thought my destiny was to have children, I never went through the emotional turmoil that some of my friends did. I always felt it would happen. Until peri-menopause struck, and I realized it wouldn’t. It was not crushing. Over time I had come to terms with it, without ever realizing it was happening.

I always had children in my life, though. My four siblings all had kids, and the main reason I moved back to my hometown was so that I could be closer to my nieces and nephews. I was especially close to my three youngest nieces. They spent many nights at my house, and where my siblings had to provide the necessities, I got to give the luxuries.

I took them shopping. I took them to their first concert. I took them to movies and plays, and any fun thing that girls love to do. We drove around in my car, where I played 70s disco, all of us singing at the top of our lungs. Being the “fun aunt” is fantastic.

On occasion, I’ll still get a text from one of them that contains a video of them and a group of their friends, singing songs from that time such as “I Will Survive.” I particularly love that these girls learned that concept through music. I never wanted them to feel that a relationship would define them or would devastate them if it ended.

I went to plays, and pageants, talent shows, science fairs, spelling bees, and to school for lunch with them and their friends. I went to ballgames for my nieces and nephews who played sports and, at least for the children of my youngest sister, I was as involved as any parent. I did my shifts at the concession stand during games, cheered loudly for all the kids, and even brought snacks on occasion. My sister signed me up.

I volunteered in all kinds of programs for kids. Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Communities in Schools, church youth groups.

I had two godchildren for whom I would be the guardian if anything happened to their parents. They were a military family, so throughout their childhood, I made sure I traveled to wherever they lived. As they grew, they knew me well. I never thought anything would happen to their parents, but just in case they needed to be comfortable with me and see me as a constant in their lives. I taught my godson that he needed to know how to cook a few meals for his dates (no, I don't think he ever really learned this), and I went shopping for prom dresses with my goddaughter. I’ve been there for big moments and small. Though now grown, they think of me as family.

As I reflect on life, I remember sometimes our deepest desires are not what will give us the best life. I got to have children, without having full responsibility for raising them. I didn’t just have one or two to be the apples of my eye, but a whole bushel that I got to share.

There are times when I get angry about the comments of certain people. Mostly parents.

“You’ve never been a parent. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Well, it’s quite easy for you to say, since you haven’t raised a child.”
“When you’re a parent, you know these things.”

A few thoughts from the non-parent.

  • Because you have children, it does not necessarily mean you are a good parent.
  • Sometimes the fact that your children turned out well is because of your parenting. Sometimes it is despite it.
  • Sometimes children do not turn out well. It may have been your fault or have absolutely nothing to do with you.
  • No additional wisdom comes upon people merely because they have a child, nor do extra measures of love. Because that is your experience, never assume it is the same for others. Not all have taken it as seriously as you.
  • You may be an expert on parenting your children, but that expertise does not necessarily transfer to parenting other children.
  • There are people on this planet who notice children who may not be getting the love and nurturing they need and attempt to fill in. These may or may not be other parents.
  • Almost every single time a parent has said to me, “My child would never do that,” I knew their child had.

I’ve been able to be part of a village that raises a lot of children. Both kids and parents trust me, love me, confide in me, and support me. I do the same to them.

Most of my nieces and nephews have grown up, and now I’m getting to experience the joys of loving their children. I’d never have thought that I’d have such special relationships with this next generation. I thought I would be in the background of their lives, simply watching.

But I get to be front and center. Here are more kids who love me and trust me and confide in me. Kids who don’t look at me as an aloof elder, but simply as their friend Aunt Kim. It’s fantastic to get a text from a great-niece that says, “Do you want to go out tonight?” Yes, I do!

My family or close friends have never undermined me for not being a parent. I’ve been honored on Mother’s Day by them and their children and respected for the role I have had in their lives. I believe it is one of my great purposes. Some people raise the children they birthed or adopted, while I have been able to help raise the kids around me as it was needed.

You may hear me give advice about raising kids on occasion. Don’t discount it. While you were raising your children, I was watching many families and taking notes, and talking to lots of both parents and kids along the way. It is no less critical a job than a parent and simply different expertise than a parent who primarily has to focus on their children.

Sometimes parents fall short or need reinforcements. That’s where people like me come in. We love kids, and often they gravitate to us because they feel that love force field.

People don’t have children for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it is by chance and sometimes it is by choice. It seldom is because they couldn’t do the job, and those who did make a choice to have children are better qualified. Those who choose not to have children, as a whole, are not more selfish than those who choose to parent. Isn’t the choice to have children sometimes selfish?

Given a choice, I probably would have opted to have children. Not really having had an opportunity, I recognize the joys I experience that parents often don’t.

I love when I see the eyes of a child light up when I walk in a room. No, they may not call me mother, but they call me friend. At any age.

To those who have tried to make me or other childless people feel inadequate or questioned us as to our situation, shame on you. While those closest to me protected and defended me from hurtful comments as they were able, I have seen you hurt others. I have seen more than one woman burst into tears at a baby shower because of careless comments. You sometimes cut deep with your "innocent" words.

It's very possible that people have reasons for not having children that they don't care to share with you. It's not your business and you may be picking at their scab until they lose blood. Why?

Not all of us will have children - and that's OK. Some of us are here for other reasons. Let us deal with it as we are able. You don't need to be involved unless asked. Even then, tread lightly.

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I love stories of people and places and enjoy telling these stories. I live in my hometown of Statesville, NC, in the Charlotte area, and love to show how lovely life is here. More is going on than may meet the eye. I also enjoy expanding throughout North Carolina to show the places and activities and people that make me believe life is fascinating and travel as much as I can, so write about that, too. I also have a passion for justice and a special interest in accessible healthcare, including treatment for drug and alcohol dependency. I am a woman of faith, joy, laughter, adventure, and live life to the full. Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kimmckinney719 or my blog KimberleyMcKinney.com or https://kimmckinney719.medium.com.

Statesville, NC
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