A Kid on the Side

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.

PRINCESS JACKSON-SMITH

Not having had children has allowed me to arrange my life in a certain way, but if I care about my world then I still am responsible to society. I have the time, energy, and financial leeway that lots of parents don’t have, and I can share these with children in my community.

Children everywhere are in need of adult relationships beyond their parents, and those of us who are not parents should bring our influence and talents to bear. It can be as simple as just listening to a child.

My husband, Richard, and I have a friend who is 5 years old. His mother is a single parent who travels on her job, so he stays with us from time to time. What makes this arrangement workable is that we can decide when to have him and for how long. We adore having him and we miss him when we haven’t seen him for a while. But we know when his visits are going to happen and when they’re going to end, and we can plan for them as we would for any other activity.

We can see how tired his mother is, and we sometimes invite him over just to give her a respite. She says things like, “You can’t imagine how great it is just to have a peaceful bath.” And I think, a bath is a luxury? I’d be crazed! I’m not made that way. I could probably handle motherhood the Jackie Kennedy way, where a nanny deals with the children most of the day, and Richard and I play and read and do other things that we like to do. For me, the joys of being a mother would not compensate for being tied down, always having to be alert, and the fact that the responsibility never ends. I’m 50, and I’m still my mother’s baby!

My brother is 40 and never married. Recently we discussed the possibility of his having children, and he does envision himself a father someday. I like to envision myself as Auntie Princess. It’ll be Christian Dior diapers all the way.

From Pride and Joy: The Lives and Passions of Women Without Children (Beyond Words, 1998).

Research assistance by Sanhita SinhaRoy and Kelly Harms.

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