A Kid on the Side

Tales of life with--and without--children

| January/February 2001 Issue

I don’t understand people who can’t see how hard parenting is. I want to shake them and say, "Don’t you have eyes? Can’t you see the concentrated time, maturity, social skills, and teaching ability required to raise healthy children?" Not everybody is suited to the job, but most women are able to assist in parenting as aunts and godmothers if they choose. I’m satisfied playing those roles.

We who don’t have children often have more time and money than our siblings and friends who are parents. That means we can play integral roles in their families—not only giving parents a needed break but also providing financial and other re-sources for their children. There’s always been a large cadre of well-educated single women in the African American community who have traditionally provided leadership, resources, and expertise in various ways. There’s also a strong tradition of single, childless women interacting well with the children of their friends and other family members.

Children are such a gift to me now. I didn’t feel that way in my 20s and 30s because I was preoccupied with other things. Today I try to let all the children in my life know how special they are to me. Interactions with kids don’t have to be a big deal. Sometimes I just send a card to one of my small friends. Children love to receive mail, love to know you’re thinking about them. I have a pen pal who just graduated from high school. I’ve been writing to her since she was 11, providing another adult voice in her life.

Children love to have relationships with adults that don’t entail discipline. And single parents need friends who can be buffers when they’re exhausted or at wit’s end, someone to say, "I’m going to take the kids for the weekend. Don’t worry about them." When I was growing up, sometimes my mother needed that break, and there were a few women who would take us children for a couple of weeks at a time. This is a great gift to give parents and children, and of all the contributions I make to family and friends, this one requires the most discipline because it takes the most time.

I’ve worked with schoolchildren on several occasions, and I see significant levels of depression among them, which is scary. Some kids are spaced out for the first two hours of the day; others are just plain neglected, and they’re "limping." I’ve also worked with children who are loved and nurtured, and they believe that they can conquer the world—they’re present, energetic, and healthy.

I’m convinced that if we just paid attention to the children who are already on the planet, we’d have our hands full. We all don’t need our own kids to nurture. There are so many opportunities to care for children in ways that are loving to them and respectful of our own skills.

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