Welcome everyone! It’s week twenty of the “On Being Childfree” blog series (wow!) and I’m particularly excited today because we have our first family link up! Today’s poster Kimberly hails from Wyoming and is the sister of our guest story from last week, Danielle. Her story is however, quite different having never wanted children of her own but demonstrating a remarkable ability to be a ‘mother’ in a non-biological way to many who have needed her. Please do read, leave a comment and share as much as you can, I’m really willing this to grow and grow so that we can help as many people as possible who may be going through something similar.
We Are: Kimberly, 53 and Jock, 64
Home Is: Our family ranch in Wyoming
We Do: I work as the Director of Marketing & Fundraising for Team Africa Rising (www.teamafricarising.org) the non profit I founded with my husband to help cyclists in Africa. We’re also turning our ranch into a guest ranch for individuals, groups and retreats.
The Non-Committal Committment
The childfree by choice journey started as more of a non-committal attitude about children and having a family. It was a “maybe someday” or “I still have time” or “we’ll see” which continued evolving right up until I hit menopause and no longer had to make a decision. Time had made it for me, and I was relieved.
There was never a vocal pronouncement I would not have children or that in some way, I had made a decision early on to determine this trajectory in life. I settled into my cozy warmth of non-committal. I was happy there, however, deep down inside, I knew I never had the burning desire to be a mother. I had 37 days somewhere in my 30’s I thought having a child would be nice. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I did not want to, and perhaps I was feeling pressure from the world around me to do so. I have never been a good follower, do what everyone else does kind of person. I most feared the middle-class suburban life in Kansas with the prerequisite 2.6 kids and a Dodge Minivan. Although I left the door open, I also knew I wanted a different experience than the lives around me. I was the pixie dust spewing unicorn in the room.
When I was nine, my sister, Danielle, was born. My younger brother and I were not all that thrilled by the new baby, although she is quite loved and adored today. I changed some diapers, babysat for short periods, but never once did I think to myself, “someday I would like my own baby.” I was more annoyed. I wasn’t outside riding my bike or playing ball with my friends. Danielle was a baby, bald, pooping, spitting-up, and needing constant attention. I saw nothing exciting or evoking deep maternal instincts.
Babysitting was the bane of my existence as a preteen and teen. I always wanted to make money. I would do chores, mow lawns, shovel driveways and my mom would always say, “so and so wants you to babysit”…..MOAN….I could make more money mowing lawns than watching some kid drool in his stroller. As I got older, it became more apparent, the maternal instinct was not evolving. My last job before I turned sixteen was a summer babysitting job. Five days a week, eight hours a day. I got fired because I invited a friend over to keep me company as I was going slowly stir crazy with two kids under 10 in my charge.
I realize I might come across harsh, selfish, uncaring, and without a nurturing, empathetic soul in my body, but it wasn’t the case. I knew to have children was not my ultimate goal in life. I wanted the freedom to pursue my dreams untethered.
By 21, I owned my own business with my boyfriend, who later became my first husband. We worked like madmen and partied like rock stars. There is nothing I wanted to change. I enjoyed life, sucking it all in.
By my late 20’s I finally married my boyfriend (I have a non-committal life theme). We sold our first business and started another company, so there was definitely no time to think about having a family. I also married someone who when asked when we were going to have kids would say, “maybe someday.” As our friends went from couples to families with kids, one by one, they would drop off out of our circle. Although they were happy having children, they looked exhausted and stressed out 24/7, and I thought to myself, “yeah, I’m good.” I wanted to travel and see the world and experience life, and because I was brought up in a world in which everything stopped when you had kids, I knew that wasn’t for me. I didn’t realize you could still do most everything with kids. You could even travel and camp and explore, hike, be active with your kids. However, this was never the model I saw.
And back to my….I’m not harsh, selfish, and uncaring. In the early ’90s, I read a story about a young girl in Kansas City who was killed by her mother’s boyfriend. The Department of Family Services had removed the young girl, Angel, from home only to return her after the mother completed her court-ordered family reunification plan. Unfortunately, the mother kept the boyfriend who killed Angel. As I read the story, I became overwhelmed with grief and anger. How could this happen? Why is there no one to stop this? That is when I found the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Program. I became a volunteer advocating for children’s rights in abuse and neglect cases. I was the voice for over 40 children from the early ’90s until I moved to Rwanda in 2009.
This was my calling. I did not need to be the personal mama bear for my own children when so many other children needed a surrogate mama bear to fight for them. I believe my non-committal attitude was simply waiting to find where it wanted to settle. To not have children of my own allowed me to advocate for children who needed a voice.
In 2003, I moved to Las Vegas with my then first husband. Our life was rocky, and to have a child would have put that child at risk. I never doubted my ability to be a good parent. I questioned my desire to be a parent period. One of the reasons we moved to Las Vegas was to experience a different environment, a place where people were more able to choose different paths with less judgment or expectation. We immersed ourselves in a new business, new friends, and new experiences.
And then I was 40. I was 40, on the verge of losing my second business, an unhappy marriage and becoming acutely aware my non-committal stance was soon becoming a commitment to remain childless simply because of the march of time. I was still involved as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in Las Vegas, and I was embroiled in a high profile case with a child whose sibling had been murdered. My fight for this young woman’s safety and security became all-consuming.
And then, one day, I moved to Rwanda. It wasn’t quite that simple, but close. I felt my marriage coming to an end. I felt the press of life swiftly moving forward. I felt regrets in not having done what I wanted to do, but I never regretted not having a child.
Rwanda was supposed to be a short-lived mid-life crisis event, but it forever changed my world, my perspective on life, and who I was as a person. I went to volunteer for non-profit selling cargo bikes to coffee farmers. Along with that program was a group of people building the national cycling team of Rwanda. Being a cyclist, I slowly gravitated into that circle. I worked with young men and women, ranging from teens to almost 30, all of whom had experienced significant loss and trauma due to the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. I became their mama bear, kicking open doors of opportunity and encouraging them to grab hold of the door and walk through. Never could I have done this if I had had children. Having a family would have put too many variables into the equation. Variables I couldn’t and didn’t want to solve.
My three-month commitment turned into 8 years. During that time, I lived in a starkly different culture in terms of family and children. I was asked to speak to a women’s group of Rwandan genocide widows about how a bike could help them with mobility. After the translator finished, I asked, are there any questions.
The first question was, “Are you married?” to which I replied “Divorced.”
Rumblings resonated through the group of 20+ women. I asked, “Any other questions?” hoping we could get back to bikes.
“How many children do you have?” I knew this was not going to end well.
“Zero,” I replied. Translation, then an audible gasp and shaking of heads and moaning. I just smiled, and the translator kept talking to the women. She leans over to me and says, “the women are sorry there is something wrong with you, and they will pray for you to have a child.” I thought it best at that point, culturally, to just leave it at that. The women’s prayers went unanswered. At 53 I’m still childfree by non-committal choice, and the ship has sailed.
I met my current husband, Jock, in Rwanda. He was a former professional cyclist, and he always spoke about his desire to have kids. He was in his 50’s at the time; me in my mid 40’s. I figured it would be essential to address the topic of family. I told him if he really wanted to have a family and to be a father, I was probably not his best choice age-wise. He told me he wanted me more than he wanted children. We will celebrate our 7th Anniversary this year.
During our time in Rwanda, we had a cyclist who had fathered a child with his girlfriend, a teenager. He wanted to marry her, she wanted to be a teenager. After numerous situations of neglect, Jock and I helped this young man get custody of his then almost 3-year-old, Jonathan. For a man to have custody in Rwanda is a rare occurrence. His father was not in a position to raise Jonathan on his own, so we took both father and son into our home. His father had lived for five years on the streets of Kigali after the genocide believing his parents were dead. He later found his parents, but he never had a childhood and an available father, so how could he possibly know how to be a father to his son? They lived with us for several years. None of it was easy, every minute of it mattered.
One day Jonathan called me, “Mom.” Because I knew someday I would move back to the US, I did not want Jonathan to experience another mom leaving in his life.
“You know, I’m not your mom, but I can still be important to you. Do you have another word we could use?”
“Mukuceru,” he shouted.
I laughed. Mukuceru is the Kinyarwanda word for “old lady.”
“I think that’s a perfect name for me!” I said.
A decade later, I’m still Jonathan’s Mukuceru, and I am slowly becoming a more “mature” lady!
I have kids all over the world who count on me to be there for them, to help them when I can and to give them opportunities they can only dream of fulfilling. In the end, I guess my non-committal attitude towards having my own children became a full-time commitment to an extensive extended international family. My sister, Danielle, wrote the recent story on Boo and Maddie, “Du hast Wert ohne Kinder” – You have worth without children. She shares her heartbreaking story about her challenges with infertility. We talk a lot about the subject. I find it ironic within one family two drastically different life experiences with the subject of children. But no matter what happens in her journey, in any one’s journey, childless or with children, we all have worth without children.
Thank you so so much to Kimberly for sharing her honest story as a guest poster and sharing her thoughts and views in this piece. As I’ve stressed from the very beginning, this is a warm, empathic platform for people to share their stories, hopes, dreams, fears. Please do read Kimberly’s story, leave a comment if you’d like to and share this series if you know anyone it could help. Together we are making changes.