As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that many of my friends have children as well as grandchildren. It’s a club that I am not a part of. Sometimes I look at them and I am envious because they have a lineage that will follow them. Descendants will refer to them in the years to come, combing over pictures and other memorabilia.
I’ve been with my partner for thirty years. Being a gay couple back in the 60s and 70s was not easy, nor was it socially sanctioned to entertain the notion of having children.
But having children wasn’t high on my bucket list for other reasons as well.
I came from a family of six kids and with eight people in the house, things were very crowded. I never had my own room until I was fifteen because I had to share a double bed with my twin sister, with our older sister slumped in a small single bed across the room.
I was also never alone in the bathroom and there was rarely enough water. Food was very scarce, and I always had to worry about my older siblings trying to grab food off my plate.
We also had mental illness in my family and I think that mainly contributed to my desire not to have children. Although I wasn’t afflicted with manic depression like my father and a few of my brothers, I was always worried that the gene was somehow buried inside of me. The idea of dealing with something like that made me too frightened to have children of my own.
I saw how much my mother suffered with our poverty, and dealing with my father and brother’s illnesses. I didn’t want that. Kids were expensive and remembering my mother’s struggles with trying to raise all of us by herself made me not want to bear children. At one point in time she asked me if I had considered having children. I told her that it had crossed my mind. She warned me that I would have to sacrifice quite a bit of my independence if I had kids. Perhaps she knew it wouldn’t be right for me.
I’m glad she shared her wisdom. In retrospect, I’m sure she would have preferred having fewer children herself or none at all. But she was Catholic, and the only birth control she used was the rhythm method. I guess that didn’t work very well for her.
My family, already four kids, with two more on the way. Photo courtesy of Teresa McGrath
I worked with kids on and off for many years and I really enjoyed them. But they could always go home to somebody else who had to deal with their temper tantrums, expense and health issues.
In addition, my partner Erika was never afflicted with a strong maternal gene. Having kids never entered the conversation. Besides, she was used to being babied by her mother and, as I got to know her, I realized that I was more the parenting type.
I was the one who took care of the pets, taking them out for walks, dealing with the vet, feeding them and handling the cat box and dog poop. I didn’t mind at the time because I was always up earlier and I guess that satisfied a certain maternal instinct for me.
One of my "children." Photo by Mary McGrath
I also know that having children doesn’t mean that they are going to love you and care for you as you get older. I’m sure a number of seniors are surprised by their children’s negligence as they deal with the challenges of growing old themselves.
I know that, as I get older, I will hire somebody to come in and care for me if my partner is unable or not wanting to do so. Ideally, this person would be a combination nurse, physical therapist, chef, maid and travel organizer. That would cover most of my needs!
At least if you hire somebody they are being compensated for taking care of you. You don’t have that with children. Some kids are very generous in that way but others couldn’t care less. Sometimes they are just waiting for you to die so they can get what they think they deserve.