It still counts.

the unbearable beauty of not parenting

My friend, writer and theologian Erin Lane, sent me the best letter last week and I just had to share it with you. Don’t you love people who give genuine feedback that is both generous and widens your frame? We don’t do it enough. Erin is a master.

Here she is:

“Your newsletter is the only family-oriented publication I can regularly read because it is big and inclusive and generous. Last week’s post (remember that one called the Unbearable Beauty of Parenting?) was all those things and yet, strangely, made me feel achy. It made me feel achy that I don’t often experience the sacred overwhelm you write about with my own children. 

So, I sent an SOS to my childless/childfree crew: ‘Where are we (which is to say you) experiencing these thin places, this unbearable beauty, this ruthless presence, beyond the bright lights of loving children? Because I believe we are. Because I believe you are. But, welp, I need reminders.’

Their answers landed in my inbox as unbearably beautiful as your post. I thought you might like to see what your writing inspired.

  • Yoga. Communal singing. Away in nature. Sitting across from my friends when we are laughing so much it hurts. Everything is spiritual if you allow yourself to be receptive to those moments. Maybe that’s why I’ve never felt like something--a big love or purpose--was missing without kids. If anything, I’ve tapped into that thin place more as I’ve aged.

  • These days, the sacred overwhelm is in the giddiness I feel when riding my bike, the cool breeze against my face, music or a true crime podcast in my ear. It’s in my robust imagination and daydreams as I ride, spinning scenarios, likely and unlikely, until I feel dizzy with possibility and hope.

  • When I read romance novels! It’s in the pining and yearning and gazing and pleasure. It’s in the way that romance novels stimulate my imagination for what’s possible for women. It’s in the ways that romance novels highlight my deep convictions and absurd contradictions. 

  • There was unbearable beauty in the day I spent recently with a dear friend: in the constant laughter; in the shared adventure (I got my nipples pierced for the second time; the second nipple always hurts like a bitch); in the pleasant lightheadedness of pineapple cider; in our vulnerable and sincere disclosures.

  • I’ve experienced that awe on solo chairlift rides, horseback trail rides, and at home with a dog puncturing my focus with an insistent snuggle. And here’s the catch: I often feel like I need to experience those moments away from kids I love, as if I don't want them to see that I can be moved to tears more easily with changing leaves than with them. 

  • My clearest thin-veil moments in these last few weeks was when I was washing and drying my mom’s hair. Her once thick dark curly hair is now quite thin, and her scalp is super dry which I, for some reason, attribute to her aging. I was a little resentful and impatient at the start--I had so much else to do!--but once I was a few sections in, I became aware that this was one of the beautiful moments that makes a life matter. I know this is still a mother-daughter moment, but as someone who doesn’t feel a strong maternal instinct/desire to have children of my own, I think it still counts. It was a moment of connection, service, love; a divine moment where the veil between heaven and earth is thin. But I could have easily missed it, even while it was happening.” 

Aren’t those amazing. I continue to learn so much from those who choose not to parent, or don’t parent for various reasons. Erin is a parent, but she’s writing a book “about tearing up the mother scripts and rewriting a life well-lived,” which I cannot frickin’ wait to read. She lives with her, as she puts it, “improbable kin” in Raleigh, NC.