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“Parenting” without becoming a parent

By Victoria Fryer 

I recently wrote about a woman who took in her sister-in-law’s child for a time and who experienced great—and somewhat unexpected—joy in the role of a parent. We all hope a situation like this never happens to us, since it is often indicative of some kind of tragedy or hardship in the family.

But some childfree and childless people actively seek ways to have an influential role in a child’s life outside of parenting. Here are some ways that people do that:

Become a foster parent. Sure, let’s start with the big one first. There are a lot of children out there living in less than ideal situations and a lot of room for people who want to, to make a difference. While it definitely takes an extreme level of commitment, a great deal of patience, and some sacrifice, the rewards of providing a child with a loving home they might not have had otherwise, even if it’s for a short time, are great.

There’s also foster-child advocacy. Meghan Daum, editor of the collection, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, wrote an essay called “Difference Maker” in which she describes her work as a foster-child advocate. “My contribution to society was not about contributing more people to it but, rather, about doing something for the ones who were already here,” she writes.

Choose the teaching profession. You already have a career? In a lot of states, that’s okay. The situation differs from state to state in the United States—and I’m not sure what it’s like in other countries—but I know that many places will allow study toward a teaching certification for people who have already earned a bachelor’s degree. The world needs great teachers—more and more all the time.

Be a mentor. After-school programs, organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, and others, provide opportunities to connect with youth in a way that has the potential to greatly impact their lives. Some of them receive little guidance and support at home, and being the one who provides at least a little bit of that to them can be very rewarding.

Volunteer at a women’s shelter. Okay, this one’s a little off the beaten path, but hear me out. The women who most need help in places like this often have children—and both the children and their mothers can suffer greatly when placed in the kinds of situations in which they need to reach out for help. This is also a good option for people who want to have an impact in children’s lives but want to do so without a lot of direct or extended contact.

I’m sure there are a ton of other ways, too. I’d love to hear some of your experiences, and if you have other ideas of how to make a difference for (other people’s) children!

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

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