‘I was put on this earth to be a mother,’ my childless friend lamented. ‘What will I do with my life?’
Such is the lament of many childless women. Men also grieve the lost chance of fatherhood. When you truly believe your purpose in life is to raise children and, if you are Christian, teach your children about God, childlessness can leave you floundering.
Such loss must be grieved.
Such loss must be grieved. It is difficult to believe one can find new meaning in life after it has been devastated by childlessness. But it is possible. You can find meaning, satisfaction, even joy after childlessness.
But how, I hear you ask? Good question.
Here are my top tips for discovering new meaning:
We’re talking about re-discovering joy.
- Look backward. Think back to when you were a child. What did you love doing? What were you naturally good at? What games or activities did you lose yourself in for hours on end? It doesn’t matter how silly or little it is. It doesn’t matter if you can’t make money from it. We’re not talking about re-training for a new career. (Although for you, that may be a path forward.) We’re talking about re-discovering joy.
- Try something you suck at. Adulting can get very serious. It’s good once in a while to do something you are not good at and embrace the disaster of it. The goal is not achievement but play. Enjoy the experience of not knowing what you are doing!
- Go wild. There are no stupid ideas when it comes to re-invention. You might like to try yodelling. Or painting a Picasso. You might travel to the Amazon and live a tribal life. Perhaps you could be a motivational speaker or monkey husbander or missionary to the Middle East. What captures your attention? What makes your heart beat faster? What gives you a thrill of excitement (mixed, perhaps, with terror)? Follow that which captivates you.
- Substitutions. Consider finding a substitute for children. (No, I am not endorsing kidnapping!) Think about children in your life who you could spend time with: nephews, nieces, kids next door, kids at your church, local sports teams, scouts or guides, scripture classes, kids’ camps. You might consider child sponsorship or mentorship programs. You could build relationships with children who really need it, and it could give you an outlet for those parenting instincts.
- Give back. There are many ways to care for your community. You could take up the cause of the homeless. You could volunteer at a local charity. You could care for rescue animals. You could join your local firefighting crew. You could start a book club. There are infinite ways to contribute to society, limited only by your imagination.
- Be a childless champion. Consider channelling your childless experiences into a childless cause. Speak about childlessness at your church and workplace. Write about it. Start a support group. Throw ‘love showers’ for your childless friends who never had a baby shower. Raise the profile of childless people.
- Trust yourself. You know yourself better than anyone. Trust yourself enough to try new things, to return to old past-times and passions, to experiment and fail and try again. Trust yourself to find yourself again, yes, even after the old you has died.
Trust yourself to find yourself again.
As bad as the grief of childlessness can be (and it can be heart-breaking), allow a little bit of room in your heart for hope. There are possibilities your life may yet hold, possibilities for self-discovery, for re-invention, for meaning-making beyond the death of dreams.
Try something. I don’t know if it will be a success or not. But–and this is the good bit–you have the capacity to try. No matter how crazy or simple your idea seems, you can attempt anything you want.
I wonder what glorious new meaning you will find for your life.
Have you known the heartache of childlessness? How have you experimented with new possibilities? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.