This past weekend I was at a gathering and a scenario came up that has happened often in my life when I have mentioned that I don’t think I will be having children.
A friend who recently had a baby was there with her mom. This was the first time I was meeting this sweet grandma who clearly loved her grandkid.
She asked me if I have kids and I said no and that I don’t want kids.
I should say also, that the certainty with which I was saying this was surprising to myself because in the past 5-6 years when asked with similar question, I hear myself say “well, I am really not sure, but I don’t think I want to have kids”
What was really interesting to me about this interaction was that after she made sure that I know I can still have kids in my 40s but don’t want to and my only reason is that I don’t want to spend my days raising children but that I rather enjoy the children and give them back to their parents, the grandma came close to me and in almost a whispering voice, as if she was letting me on a secret said “nooo, don’t say that. you say that now but you will regret it”, “people who don’t have kids will regret it”
Of course this was not the first time I had heard this, especially of Iranians of the older generation or even some of my own generation.
So this is how the conversation went:
The Persian Grandma: “you say that now but you will regret it”
Me, smiling: “It’s ok. It’s not like regret will kill me. I’ll live”
Persian grandma looking somewhat surprised “but you will be depressed”
Me: “It’s ok. I have been depressed in my life before. I didn’t die of it. Maybe I’ll take something if I am really depressed”
Persian Grandma seemed exasperated by my lack of understanding of the gravity of regret and went on to say in Farsi “No you don’t understand. Badbakht mishi” which per google translate is “you will have a wretched life.”
At this point, looking at how hard and with sweet intentions, she was trying to scare me of this childless future, it made me laugh and she laughed with me, and quickly emphasized that I should really think about this more.
Many of us fear regret. This comes up especially about not having children and especially for women. But regret, obviously can come up in many fields of life. What I have realized with doing the work of Byron Katie, is that when someone says “You will regret it” or when we think “I will regret this”, we are seeing an image of a future, where we are for example sitting alone, older, somewhere in maybe a house, looking lonely and sad, and simultaneously seeing images of all these other people who are laughing and having dinner around their tables with their families and multiple kids and the older, lonely us is perpetually sad.
We, right here, at this moment, see an image of a future (that obviously hasn’t happened and we don’t even know if it will ever happen) of not only a snapshot of feeling lonely and looking with longing in to this happy, lively life of others but what the scared mind offers is that this snapshot will be forever. What the mind shows us is that at some point, the older you will enter the stage of regret and from that moment on, you will be locked in to that state. Every day, every hour, alone, lonely, sad, miserable, at home alone or walking in the streets and seeing people with their families, all happy, every moment and forever.
This right here is what people fear and try to scare others with, mostly with good intentions. This is the same fear that comes up when we break up or have the thought that I will never have a partner. Or lose friends or feel like we are losing our tribe or won’t have one if we don’t live similar lives to others.
The fear of forever lonely and sad.
What I find comical about this image, only after I did the work of BK many times on loneliness, is that even though we all have heard of “this too shall pass” and even have experienced that our feelings have come and go, we still fully believe the thought and images of “FOREVERNESS”.
Even though many of us have experienced immense sadness, loneliness, fear, anger, envy, etc, etc and yet maybe later that same day or month or year experienced utter joy, laugher, happiness, connectedness, we somehow think that the regret of not having children or certain other choices, will put you in to a state of forever wretchedness.
And one might ask this lovely grandma who seems so convinced that childlessness equals wretchedness, how can she know that for sure? Because obviously she has had children and so regret of childlessness is not her own personal experience. Did she do her own personal survey, finding those people, who amongst her circle, I would guess are a few if any, who didn’t have kids and asked them how they feel everyday and every year until they died and observed their wretched lives? Or is it perhaps that she has lived all her life with this image that was handed down to her by some other grandma?
I am sure there are people out there who by choice or chance didn’t have children and may say “I wish I had kids.” As are people who say, I wish I didn’t marry him or I wish I went to school or got that other job. And of course, while they think these thought and see, in their mind, images of their lives and compare it to images of an alternative life, they will likely feel sad.
How can anyone know with certainty what their life would be if they had taken a different path? In reality, these are all thoughts offered by the mind, comparing an image to another image, taking us away from here and now and creating the feeling that comes up from watching the movie in our head.
Obviously, none of this is to say that having children, for whatever reason, even if out of fear of regret, is bad (or good).
This reflection is merely a reminder to myself and anyone reading, who has heard these similar comments and maybe felt disturbed by it, to actually look at those scary images that are behind the word REGRET. Our freedom lies in seeing these images for what they are, imagination, not reality.