Living life on your own terms

When I started this blog and was choosing a title, I wanted a title that I felt would be representative of my life as a whole and initially, I felt that ‘paddling your own canoe’ pretty much covered it. However, WordPress informed me that that domain name was already in use so I Googled idioms that suggested the same concepts of freedom and independence that I valued and ‘standing on your own two feet’ came up. The English language teacher in me liked that one and it’s something that appealed to me too because of the truth in it. It’s something that I value enormously and that I struggle with at times and that I am constantly striving for in my life.

I’ve struggled ever since I was an angst-ridden teenager with anxiety, self-esteem issues and low mood and when my health (both physical and mental) was/is good, I’ve felt content and that I am managing and on top of things and being independent. However, as a 41 year old who’s out of a job at the moment, single and back living at home while trying to save for a deposit for my own home at some point, it has been a challenge to turn my thoughts around from feelings of failure to feeling that this is just a temporary setback and that it doesn’t represent reality. Someone told me a while ago that I was ‘brave’ and I realised it was true. I have done so many things in my life that have scared and terrified me and that have taken me out of my comfort zone. It hasn’t made for an easy life at times and there’s been lots of heartbreak, sadness and loneliness along the way but I know that I’ve always been true to myself, even when it would have been easier to do the conventional thing.

I guess I’m thinking about this now because of an article that’s going to be published in the next few weeks that I was interviewed for by a journalist-it’s about my decision to be child-free. It’s one of those things that I doubt men ever get questioned about or ever feel they have to justify-I mean can you imagine a man being asked why he didn’t have kids? And yet, as a woman, it’s just assumed that once you reach a certain age, you’ll have them and strangers (often other women) innocently enquire ‘do you have kids yourself?’ As a woman, once all your peers start having children and you persist in not having them, there is a sense of being on the outside looking in, not belonging to this particular club, even if you didn’t want to belong to that club in the first place! There’s a shared experience that you’ll never have with other women, conversations and events you’ll be excluded from- the baptisms and christenings and first days of school and Communions and Confirmations etc. All those rites of passage that parents experience as their children grow up. And that is something that you’ll just simply have to accept.

As I write this, my best friend’s daughter was making her Communion today and my friend was over the moon about it. To be honest, I don’t really get why, I mean what’s so exciting about getting married to Jesus- but I get that she (my friend) is excited about it so I’m happy for her. Different strokes for different folks, right? My brother and my sister-in-law have also just had another baby as has a young cousin, sending family and friends into ecstasies of rapture about their cuteness and how much hair they have…..

Part of me, whilst being happy about having a niece as well as a nephew now, also secretly (or perhaps not so secretly!) thinks ‘does the world really need any more humans in it right now?’, ‘Isn’t it already over-populated and aren’t we already doing enough damage to our planet without adding another human to the mix?! On top of that, don’t they read the newspapers or listen to the radio? Do they not know what kind of world they’re bringing a child into? Part of me thinks choosing to have a child is the ultimate act of optimism-a triumph of hope over experience as they say! Certainly, it is in the middle of a pandemic, in a world where Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro seem determined to destroy the environment, eradicate human rights and generally do away with all the advances we’ve made as a species….

Perhaps I’m simply being too pessimistic, though I prefer to think of it as realistic. I’ve never had a ticking biological clock or experienced a yearning to have children. I joke that being a teacher is one of the best contraceptives. I think the truth is that I want to live life on my own terms and I don’t want to be defined by my ability to give birth. I think a lot about what gives meaning and value to a life and what happiness is and for me, I guess freedom and choice are part of that. It’s a luxury that many don’t have and I appreciate that I am fortunate in many respects. Too often, we focus on what we don’t have in our lives- I know I have been doing too much of that lately-instead of focussing on what we do have and the other day, I had an epiphany moment where I experienced a deep sense of gratitude for all that I do have in my life right now- my family, my friends, a comfortable roof over my head and plenty to eat, my education and my freedom to do as I wish. If I wanted to tomorrow, I could literally bugger off and move to Barbados. I’m free to do that. I wouldn’t have to take anyone else’s wants or needs into consideration. I am entirely free to pursue what makes me happy and to attend to my own needs. How often do women get to say that?

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