Thursday, June 9, 2011

45 Going on 30

Recently I made a new realization about myself concerning my state of childfreedom.

It happened when I was spending the day with my 5 year old niece. It was a full day of one-on-one fun with little Amy who I just love to pieces. I picked her up from my brother's house and we took a day trip to the Jersey shore. We had several hours together on the beach and then we walked the boardwalk. We had a lot of fun.

The realization I made is that I feel young because I am childfree.

I am 45 years old, but despite this fact, I feel about 30. I am frequently told I look about 35. I dress like a 30 year old. I have a good amount of energy. I have a silly sense of humor. I am always up for trying new things - in fact, I constantly seek out new experiences. I am always on the lookout for my next new endeavor - what class might I take next? What skill might I learn? Who's up for an adventure? Anyone want to go skiing? Hiking? Camping? Ice skating? Anyone want to spend the day at an amusement park with me? I'll ride the biggest rollercoasters and I'll share a funnel cake with you.

Many people claim that having kids makes a person feel younger because they are surrounded by youth and "young" things, like kiddie music, kiddie activities, kiddie t.v. shows and so forth. I would like to make the opposite argument. No matter what "young" things I am around, I feel older when I am with children, even the ones I adore and particularly children in my care. Suddenly, I go from feeling like a hip, young, carefree woman to feeling like a school marm. My mental state shifts from fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants spontaneity and anything goes, to hyper alertness, seriousness and concern. This child could die in my care. This child has to be watched. This child could be abducted. This child could choke on something. I can't drift off to sleep under my umbrella on the beach. I can't let my attention wander. I can't suddenly change my mind about a nutritious lunch and feast on cookies instead. I can't ignore the clock. There are curfews to be met and mealtimes not to be missed. There is medication to be dispensed. There must be a bathroom nearby, a ready change of clothes, a full tank of gas and a fully-charged cell phone. I must be 100% plugged in at all times.

The contrast in age and maturity between my little niece and me makes me feel really old. I have a similar experience when walking through the local university campus on my lunch hour. My image of myself of a young woman is blown the second I am surrounded by 19 year olds who are walking to class in belly shirts with pajama pants and flip flops. I am smacked in the face by the fact that I am a mature woman and not a young, poorly-attired, wide-eyed upstart wondering what's on the horizon.

I like pretending I am young and most days I live happily in my state of delusion with little to contradict it. After all, most people my age seem much older (probably because they're parents), so it's easy to masquerade as a 30 year old. They - with their bloodshot, wrinkle-rimmed eyes, unkempt graying hair, lack of mojo and empty wallets - seem a sharp contrast to me, so I imagine I am from the young, hip generation and they are old folks.

It also must be said that part of my feeling of youthfulness comes from the flexibility I am afforded in life, thanks to not having kids. Sure, I am married and own a home - two hallmark achievements of maturity - but I like the fact that if we really wanted to, hubby and I could uproot ourselves and start an entirely new life someplace else without much to stop us. The house can be sold and new jobs can be found (well, maybe not too easy right now, but you get the idea). The point is, we don't have to worry about how a big change would impact the fragile pyche of a developing child. We don't have to worry about school districts or family-friendly neighborhoods. We don't have to worry about whether our child would be able to adapt to his new environment, make new friends, or whether the move would prove to be a disaster. We'd only have to worry about ourselves, and we're old and tough enough to know we can handle it.

There is so much to love about childfreedom and it occurs to me now that I need to talk about this more. Childfreedom is so often seen as a life without something - that the false perception of lack can sometimes overshadow the reality of the fullness, flexibility and vibrancy that we are so gratefully afforded thanks to this one very simple and important life choice. Feeling young is just one small benefit in the very long list of ways we have it so great. There is no gaping void in the life of childfreedom.  There is only precious open space to fill however we like. How do you fill your space?


Nibbles said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing! To answer your closing question: I am very concerned about health and economic development in poor countries. I take the financial freedom that my childfree status affords me and use it to donate a set percentage of my income to organizations that address these problems.

Jess said...

I fill it with crafting, hanging out with my husband and our brand new chihuahua Taco, and learning new skills (right now I'm working on mastering Spanish) and beginning to get back into playing the piano.

Spectra said...

I am a lot like you, Childfreeee. I'm almost 30, but I feel so much younger because I don't have kids. First off, I have time to exercise almost every day, so I do have a great body--any person that claims your body totally bounces back after having kids is lying. It definitely takes a toll on you. My sister is younger than me, but has two kids and another on the way and is constantly sleep-deprived and stressed out. You can't tell me that that isn't damaging to your health AND your looks.

natasha said...

I've never seen my brother-in-law happier than when he was watching cartoons with his baby, and I've never seen his partner happier than when she was buying new things for the house for the baby. After years of mindless escapism 'finding themselves' in India and copious amounts of drugs they moved onto a new mindless escapism - babies (with no job to support babies). We have a tv program in the UK called One Born Every Minute, about childbirth complete with schmaltzy music. The makers of the program have said that it's about 'the early morning moment when the snow isn't spoiled yet.' Too many people focus on birth, the promised bliss and cosy, 'I'm special' feelings, and not the lifelong consequences. What are my BIL as his partner doing now? They're stuck in a 20+ year cycle of slow disappointment, cliche, petty, insular worries and trying to scrape together huge school fees ($50,000 a year) because the baby that promised so much must have the best of everything and they're obliged to provide it.

What do I do? I love and I learn. I love my partner and the people who already exist instead of yearning for escapism in babies. I help people at an age in their lives (late teens early 20s) when most of their parents would rather they were smiley babies again. There's not a single positive attribute of child-rearing that you can't express without a child of your own - give solace, provide sanctuary, give meaning, inspire, support, love and learn. The only thing you haven't done is reproduce - a process you can now do while completely unconscious.

I agree that there's no void in childfreedom. If anything, in my experience, the people who were 'barren' were the ones who had a child to try to fill their void and are just as empty now.

Christy said...

Being around kids does anything but keep you young! I feel like these people who need to "see things again for the first time through the eyes of a child" are trying to replace/relive a childhood that didn't follow the script that they always heard it should. In other words, people who are unhappy with their own childhood. I also find it strange that they seem to need a child in their presence to have permission from society to enjoy what are considered child-oriented things, like dolls or carousels or trips to Disney World. Nobody can fix that fear of disapproval and no one can give you back your childhood. I would rather move forward and fill my life with all the wonderful and much more varied things that adulthood has to offer.

Childfree Travel said...

I love this perspective. Especially that having kids makes you older, not younger.

Marta said...

Great post! Great blog!
I agree 100%.

It's nice to find people who think like I do, because my whole family and almost all my friends look at me and say "oh, poor you, you don't have children" and it's so hard having to say 100 times that I am happy the way I am and that I never had kids because I did't want to... they look at me in disbelief ... I am so tired of repeating but they really can't understand.
I am Brazilian and here in my country there's not too many people who think this way, I sometimes fell like an
Anyway, I am glad I found this blog and all this people who comment here!!!

Mali said...

This is a really good point, and one I haven't thought of before. I also feel older when I'm around children, or friends with children. One of my friends - only a year older than you - is a grandmother. Now THAT makes me feel really old!

Dave said...

Two points I want to make here,

The first is that I have found something bigger than childfreedom (although that freedom is huge, for sure). Financial Independence (FI) is the next step after childfreedom because without having to work at all any more I can truly come and go as I please. I would not have been able to be FI had I not also been CF. But I needed to be free of work as well as kids to be free.

The volunteer work I do with some kids (ages 10-14) in the School Scrabble program makes me feel young. I find having some kids around in small dosages gives me just enough of a "kid fix" to make me feel young. It is an ego trip, for sure, without the burdens of having them around anything near 24/7 while relying on the teachers to keep them under control.

As I and others have written before, being able to "give them back" to their parents after we are done with them and come home to our nice, quiet homes is very nice, too.

Lisa said...

Oh, it's so nice to not feel alone! I fill my time with being a Dog Mom, a wife, practicing yoga, learning to throw pottery and writing. I absolutely feel younger than my friends who have kids - I'm 32 and get carded constantly. I think sleep has a lot to do with it! I feel great choosing a simpler, less hectic lifestyle. Thanks so much for this blog.

Sea_creature said...

Heya! Thank you for the birthday wishes on my blog. Yes, I have been told that I look young for my age, too.

I fill my childfree time with outdoor activities like biking, jogging and recently learning how to snowboard. I also love being a pet mommy to a small zoo at home. I'm trying to get back into my art as well. I used to love drawing and I want to find joy in it again.

And of course there is the uninterruupted time I get to spend with my hubby, trying new restaurants, watching movies and just being silly together.

marin said...

We did it, I mean, last year we quit our 10 plus years jobs and moved to a tropical paradise .Now we are managing to build our dream house on a low budget and open a cafè.
Friends who shared similar plans decided to have kids instead.

I love the fact that I have time to study, to improve my skills to make my life as I feel it was intended to be, and that I can give all the love my husband deserves. Reproduce is common and easy, find and marry one’s soul mate is a rare event, as win the lottery. I feel blessed.

When we married we didn’t have any party but started a life long saving, about one dollar a day to donate to organization which support women and chidren victims of civil war and abused pets, and as our financial situation will get better we’d like to do more.
I feel relieved when I think that after we’ll die all our possessions will go to these organizations instead to someone we create to give our genes immortality.

Temujin said...

Sometimes when I read what other childfree people write, I feel like I'm wasting my time -- everyone seems to be making the world a better place or traveling all over the world or making great works of art! Maybe I'm imagining things, but sometimes there seems to be a bit of competitive peer pressure in CF forums, like seeing who is maximizing their free time in the most envious way. I'm just living and trying to find happiness the best I can, I guess.

I still don't feel like there's some void to fill up. Could be denial or contrariness, but I refuse to think in terms of what I do "instead of" having children. No one asks you when you're 18 how you could possibly fill up your spare time without being a parent. So, what's the difference with being 41?

Sorry, still a little grumbly about the whole thing....

Dave said...

I don't think you're being 'grumbly' Temujin and it's not limited to only the CF.
People on the internet (CF, parents, kids, singles, everyone), tend to over-state their positive attributes far more than their negative ones so take all the "I'm expanding my skills / taking an interesting class / learning Pig Latin / while donating 20 hrs of my time per month to helping lepers" with a healthy grain of salt.

Childfreeeee said...

I don't think you're being grumbly either. No matter what path a person chooses to take in life, there are always expectations about the best way to live.

I think the point is: whether you are travelling to Africa to help starving orphans or just working a regular job and having a few beers with friends on the weekends, the childfree life is not the lonely, empty void that people imagine it to be. We're not sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, feeling like our lives have no meaning or purpose just because our lives do not revolve around kids 24/7.

I love the fact that I am the orchestrator of my own life. Parents' lives are orchestrated FOR THEM for at least 20 years thanks to one decision which most have not given much thought to.

Valerie said...

As usual, a very thoughtful and insightful post. You brought to light some very good points about what it is to feel young. I think some people have kids to experience their childhood again, but they realize it isn't so fun when you're the parent.

Tante Fledermaus said...

When people ask me what I do "instead" of raising children, I answer as truthfully as I can-
"Whatever the hell I want."
The day I realized I didn't have to have kids was like being granted a pardon after having been on death row. I truly planned kids like I was planning my death. And suddenly, gloriously- "Hey, it's not mandatory."
And my life was mine again.

marin said...

Even if I think that compete to be (not pretend to be) happy, educated and altruistic would be the best of the competitions, compete isn’t my intention.
I want to do things I can be proud of and I want others to think of me as a good person.
Know about other people learning, donating and volunteering, gives me hope, inspiration and the feeling it makes the world a better place.
To me are good news.

Gillian said...

I fill my time with music. My other half and I are 37 years old and we're never in the house. We go to 5 music festivals a year all of which involve staying in hotels away from home and one is overseas. As well as that we go clubbing at least twice a month, go to gigs constantly, parties, out for dinner... We're never in.

We like our alternative music (EBM, industrial etc), which for some reason, seems to contain a lot of childfree people. We never feel old at gigs as there are plenty of people the same age as us if not older who are in couples but childfree. It's a great scene in which people are accepted for who they are with no judgement.

Anonymous said...

I agree, surrounding yourself with kids make you feel old, not young! If you ask me how old I am, I'd say (by gut) about 26. In reality I'm 35. I believe that it has a lot to do with the fact I don't have kids. When ever I am surrounded by youngsters, I start using phrases like "when I was your age..." :D

What I do with my time... Whoh, what ever I want. :D For one thing, I let my husband work for his business for the 5th year without making a profit. He's happy, but if we had kids or wanted them it would be impossible. (He's not only starting a new business, but also creating a whole new industry so it takes a bit of work and time!)

Renae said...

I'm 26 and have been married for 7 years, I cant imagine having kids and loosing my freedom. I face the "you'll change later" almost daily. Its so refreshing to know that we are not alone in our choice. When I read the part of what class or what skill you want to take. I was happy that's how I think about my free time. Thank you.

Anna said...

Temujin you took the words out of my mouth. I don't feel like I need to fill my time without kids, I love sleeping in on the weekends and then often lazing around for most of the day with my fiance, maybe going over to friends house late into the night then sleeping in late again the next day. I do enjoy having weekday evenings free to go to exercise classes, movies, afterwork drinks etc but I don't think my social life is particularly active for a 28 year old. I just like the idea that I am free to do anything if I choose, but I'm not concerned with having to do anything or having to fill my life with any amazing goal or accomplishment to replace the "accomplishment" of procreating. We actually have heaps of time for kids if we chose to have them but I would rather do nothing.

Temujin said...

I think the difference in the amount of 'spare time' is just one component. There's also the ability to be more spontaneous that comes with being unencumbered by kids. It's the flexibility of the free time, not just the number of hours.

I know single parents who can pack in a lot of activities for themselves. They are not totally enslaved, but it takes superhuman organization and a lot of negotiation to make their hobbies happen. Much easier to do without young'uns.

CFVixen said...

Another great post!

How do I fill my time? Well, to be honest, I feel our lives are so full as they are that I don't know WHERE I would fit raising kids in.

DH and I love biking, walking, improving and decorating our home, visiting with our families and friends, traveling, working out, going to movies, eating out, etc. I also love reading, baking, and going to book clubs. In addition, I am planning on taking some painting classes this fall (if I have time). Between all of these things we enjoy, there is also cleaning/maintaining the house and our careers.

Where exactly would the kids fit in?

Diane said...

I do some volunteer work (well a lot I guess) and some traveling, but mostly the free time I have due to not being a parent is just necessary to keep me sane. I need a LOT more "me" time than your average person. Even things I enjoy, like spending time with friends will stress me out if I don't also have a lot of time to just be by myself and do nothing if I want to. Even a lot of my volunteer work is done when it's convenient for me and a lot of it is stuff I can do at home from my computer.

Laurie Hall said...

Excellent post. I am 50, got married at 40 (first and only time). We decided it was too late for us to start the kid thing. I'm really happy with my decision although I won't have kids or grandkids to dolt over like my sisters and brother. My biggest fear about not having kids is that I'll be 80 and sitting by myself with no one to visit me. Sorry, it's the truth! Need to get over that one.

Otherwise, I am one of those...too selfish to have kids, I guess. Love my life. Always learning new things, traveling, sleeping in on weekends, eating at fine restaurants, staying fit. And guess what, my husband and I are the envy of our neighborhood because we still look at each other with googly eyes.

All your points are right on! Wish I'd written this post.

Anonymous said...

I can definitely relate to this! I am 35 and have felt the same age (27) since I was about 19 years old. I was very mature for a college student and now, most would agree I am somewhat immature for 35. That is perfectly fine with me. I love my life and can't imagine feeling any other way. When I look at most 35 year olds I just do not relate to them at all. Because of my geographic location, most women my age are married with school age (or older) children. This is difficult for me to even IMAGINE. I currently work in a small office with all women; I'm smack dab in the middle as the others are in their late 20's or mid 40's. I feel late 20's. I don't think I have Peter Pan syndrome or anything like that...I do not go out of my way to act younger, and I'm a married homeowner etc. But I just don't ever want to become that stereotypical adult and mother that society would like for me to be at this age.

When I'm around children, though, I actually feel much younger than my age. I avoid being in a position of responsibility for friends' kids so my only contact with them is brief and carefree. Some have actually asked their moms if I am a teenager or an adult because I act "silly" or don't act like their moms do. It is funny to me.