I know how hard I’ve found it to speak openly about being childless, and I also know that by not doing so I’ve been hiding my true self from the world.
A good example of this was my last job. I was open about not having children, but not about why. There were lots of reasons for this; in many ways I wasn’t ready but it was mainly about trust, ie I didn’t trust my colleagues and managers not to use it against me. And the end result was that I was unhappy and never felt I belonged there.
One of the questions I ask myself when I go into a new situation or meet new people is “who should I present to the world?” and “how safe is it to be me?” And there have been many times I’ve made a conscious decision not to be open about my childlessness.
Being more authentic
In the past few months I’ve been more open about who I am and what I do. I’ve been to several events where I’ve been introduced to other business women and the conversation goes something like:
other person “what do you do?”
me: “I coach women who are childless ……..”
other person: “why did you choose that group?”
me: “Because it’s what I know, it’s me…”
then the conversation went one of 3 ways;
“that sounds like really helpful/worthwhile (insert another appropriate word) work to do” or
“my relative/friend is childless/had fertility treatment and……”
After doing this for a few weeks I feel really pleased and positive that I’ve been true to myself. It’s given me an inner strength and it feels like a weight has been lifted.
Belonging versus Fitting in
I’m a big fan of Dr Brene Brown’s work (www.ordinarycourage.com) and in “Daring Greatly” she talks about the difference between fitting in and belonging. She explains that “fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand doesn’t require us to change who we are, it requires us to be who we are.”
So I belong when I’m accepted for being me and I fit in when I change to be like everyone else in order to be accepted.
In my experience this is so true; for example I feel a true sense of belonging when I’m with my childless friends because they accept me for being me, and I am my genuine, authentic self. I can think of other situations where I changed to fit into a group, and the end result was that I left feeling unhappy and dissatisfied.
Accepting myself and owning my story
For me the core is about self-acceptance, owning my story, and being prepared to tell it. Accepting myself as childless has taken me some time and I’m particularly grateful to my childless friends for helping me along the way and making me feel that I belong.
Telling my story
So from now on, I am going to be open and honest about my childlessness. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be blurting it out to everyone I meet, there will inevitably be times when I consciously choose not to mention it, ie when I choose to fit in instead of belong.
I also know that when I am courageous and show my true, authentic self to the world I feel liberated, empowered and free.
And by owning my story I get to write the ending.