The Life You Can’t Imagine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I just can’t imagine my life without my child.” I hear parents say this, and it seems to imply, that their life without children would be unimaginable—as in, degraded, or meaningless. As in, life without children is not worth living.

This is what a childless woman sometimes hears, but the fact is that, to a mother, life as a non-mom may be exactly that: impossible to imagine. Asking a parent to imagine life without their child can be like asking a fish to imagine life as a bird.

Parenthood is a massive undertaking. It’s a full-on commitment, and for even the most well-balanced parent, it can sometimes be all-consuming. Mothering will largely define how a woman sees herself—at least, until the kid is grown up or self-sufficient. We all know mothers who are so completely identified with their role that when the chicks fly the nest they become panicky or disoriented, and sometimes need to reset their lives back to teenagehood to rediscover who they really are.

Also, people tend to hang out with other people who have the same schedules and concerns–which means, parents associate with other parents. Since they have so little contact with childless adults, parents tend to forget that there are other ways to be in the world. They literally cannot imagine their lives without children. When a mom expresses this to a non-mom, the message is, that a woman’s life is not real or fulfilled without kids.

And while motherhood comes with a large set of imaginable and well-documented scenarios—pregnancy, teething, family holidays, puberty, grandparenthood—non-motherhood is such a huge and abstract category—a non-category–that it actually is rather unimaginable. Life without child is too big to imagine. For non-moms, as much as moms, the limitless expanse can be as terrifying as it is liberating.

So the mother says, “I can’t imagine life without my child”. And the 35-year-old woman in limbo hears, “You must have a child, or you will regret it.” Well I say, imagine this: you, as a non-mom, living your big and beautiful life. You, twenty years from now, looking back and saying “i can’t imagine what my life would have looked like if i HAD had a child.’ None of THIS would have happened, none of THIS might have been possible.”

All of which is fantasy. Pure conjecture. What if I had been been an astronaut? What if I had been born as an acorn squash? What if, what it, what if. We can’t assess the quality of a parallel universe. The argument that ‘if you don’t do it you will never know’, is only as true as the statement that ‘if you do, then you will never know how it might have been if you hadn’t’.

Same logic. Different perspective. Whatever you do in the future, will be something you can only imagine now. And in hindsight, it will be the only thing you know.

<photo from Tent Rocks, NM, 2013 – unimaginable!>

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