Somehow, in the last year or so, I have started a new arc in life. I guess, I have always been on this arc, and didn't know it until the last year or so, and thus "new" to me. I am now in a childless couple.
To clarify, my sweetie has children. He hasn't lived with them in about 10 years, although the eldest moved in with us for about a month this spring while getting on her feet. They visit regularly, but parenting has not been a big part of his life since the divorce. Being parents to two teenagers we don't live with mostly involves catching up when they are here, providing food and entertainment and quality time, and dropping them home again. He texts with the eldest, and occasionally hears from the youngest. But mostly, not.
We aren't making babies, after all. I am aware that this status could change, unexpectedly, but we are not on the baby making track. Why this is a new part of my life comes down to this being the first time in my life that I wasn't expecting to become a mother some day. I have shifted from "will we? when will it happen? how many?" to, "Let's start making more elaborate travel plans". More importantly, I have to start clearing out the baby making mental clutter that I have accumulated for the last 40 years.
I look at my friends with children, family members, other people, and watch what they do. I have been taking notes for years, do this, don't do that, maybe that works, I would never.... and those notes are now becoming irrelevant. When you talk with your friends who are now facing parent decision making- and as a couple, the vast divide on how to do it- there is the input expected from supportive friend. As I spend less and less time with people in general- work, life, travel, quiet time- I realize that I will be spending time with fewer children. I expect maybe one or two more births in my social circle, max. Family is done, most of my friends are too old. Or, the committed childless.
We spent a long weekend up in Flagstaff, visiting family. My cousin's girlfriend graciously offered us her apartment. We would have brought the youngest, but she had other commitments and we couldn't change the dates with work. Our vacation times, outside of national holidays, mostly coincide with when it is convenient for us to take time off with respect to our colleauges, not our family. I can't take a day off without a few weeks notice. Instead, a friend of ours joined us about half way through. She is also childless, as are my younger cousins. Who also plan to remain childless. It could change, they are young enough, but they are clear they do not want to be parents. For them, and their lifestyles, I think that is an excellent choice.
Another friend was also in town for the weekend, as she has the summer off from teaching, and her parents own a home there. She spends most of the week with her four year old, and her parents, and sometimes her brother and his kids. Making plans to meet up was not impossible, but rotated entirely around the mood and schedule of the 4 year old. I have to admit, this is getting old. Trying to bring a child into a wine bar to hear music is not okay. Not because it is a bar, but because the other patrons are there to get away from children. Sometimes it doesn't matter if it is child friendly or not, small unruly children change the entire dynamic of a meeting. Accommodating visits becomes a one way street, between the childless and childful. The childless are always expected to acquiesce space, time, understanding.
I have noticed this phenomenon time and again, seeing how friendships also change- and relationships with family members. I certainly don't expect a child to develop free agency, but I do expect the parent to retain some semblance of it. It is one thing to be limited in availability because of your child, that is normal parenting. It is another altogether to refuse to acknowledge that your parenting style imposes on everyone else you know.
One of my good friends is moving soon, in about a month. Aside from our unusual affinity for things I share with only her, like knitting and cooking, our friendship also flourished because of her committed childless status. She is single, by choice, and spends zero time looking for a man to take care of her or make babies. This does not mean she has endless free time, it just means that our friendship got to grow in ways more meaningful to me than tips on breastfeeding and diapering. She, like I, is a loving auntie godmother. I will miss her, naturally, but I will also be losing a part of my life that I didn't realize I had cultivated. The childless zone.
Like making new future plans that don't have to accommodate the care, feeding, educating, and parenting of a child of my own, my social life consists of a variety of friendships. Two of my four closest friends are single and childless. I see them the most, because we can. We can have a glass of wine if we want, or go see a movie last minute, or pick a new restaurant based entirely on our own desire. That might sound selfish, but it isn't. Friends with kids can only see you ALONE with advanced planning, and that doesn't always work out. Usually, they just schlep the kid along and assume you are okay with it. Sometimes, you really don't want children around. As a non-parent, I don't understand the all encompassing love that is their affection for the child. As a parent, they have forgotten what it was like to be a non-parent.
It has been in this last year that I have recognized the shift within myself to being a potential future parent to an unlikely future parent. I catch myself thinking of what I would do, realizing I will never have to go through a whole bunch of things I have been mentally preparing for. Sure, there are extenuating circumstances in which I could become a parent, and I would then have to jump into the role of all encompassing loving parent with enthusiasm I have been giving up. I know that having a family is not just a lifestyle decision, it is life itself, and everything else falls to the wayside.
For those of us whose own life is life itself, there is no wayside. Who I am is who I am, what I do is what I do. I am now conscienciously choosing to expand my life towards a different trajectory- and want to feel free to leave behind all the baggage that comes with hopeful parenting. I don't feel envy or sorrow. I don't want those things anymore, and I don't want to feel bad for not wanting it. I have sympathy, but I also need some sympathy in return. I have often joked that having small children should be sufficient birth control, and now I see that watching other people parent while you are childless is a great campaign for population control.