Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gearing Up for the Annual Family Reunion

Every year, my entire family on my father's side gathers together at my grandparents' lake house in upstate New York. Longtime readers of this blog may remember my post about this last year. We swim, waterski, drink, and build fires and generally have a great time together. However, lately it's also become the time of year when I reflect most on my decision not to have children, and think about it with the most certainty and gratitude.

Not being a fan of kids generally, I don't spend much time around them. But every year at the lake, I interact with my three young cousins, children of my aunt and uncle. They have autistic twin sons who are now 7, and a non-autistic daughter, who is 4.

As terrible as it sounds, my aunt and uncle are my childed cautionary tale. Their children are very sweet, in particular their daughter, who I think is the friendliest, brightest, most well-behaved little girl of her age that I've ever met. And I know they love their kids.

But from the outside looking in, their life looks like hell to me. As my father put it, "they just can't get out from under this crushing burden." My aunt and uncle employ a full-time babysitter for their children, so effectively there are 3 adults to 3 children in their house. Even then, though, they get close to zero time for themselves.

They don't even have time to take care of their own health, which is really important to me. My aunt's never been skinny, but the years have not been good to her -- I was shocked the last time I saw her in a bathing suit. My uncle, too, bemoaned how out of shape he's gotten when I saw him a couple of weeks ago. They feed their kids things like soda and chicken fingers and pretty much seem to eat that way themselves as well whenever I see them eating.

Please understand that I'm not judging them. I understand how tough their lives are, and that circumstances are driving them to this. It's for that exact reason that I'm posting about them here.

No one who has children ever knows if they will end up in a similar situation. My aunt and uncle did not even know until their sons were a few years old that they had special needs. And observing them, I just can't bring myself to take that big a gamble in life.

I feel bad when we see them, because my husband and I live such carefree lives. I feel bad at the lake when we relax as they work their asses off taking care of their children. And I feel bad writing this post about them. But it is what it is. I know my fellow childfrees will understand how I feel.


Childfreeeee said...

It's compassionate of you to feel sad for them, but they are living the life they choose to live, just as you are living the life you choose to live. Their life involves much more burden, stress and sacrifice but they wouldn't have chosen that life if they didn't feel it was worth it for them.

Christine said...

I have a friend who has the same lifestyle as your aunt and uncle. It kills me that she lives this way, but it was her choice.

Tanya said...

I am an adult sister of a severely autistic brother. I remember my childhood. I remember watching both of my parents struggle with my older brother. That is exactly why I am strongly childfree. I watch my best friend raise her autistic 5 year old. I watch her disappointment, misery and pure hell. I watch her mother and brother who all live in the house raise her son. All are miserable beyond belief. I am going on 40 and very happily childfree.