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Aralyn’s Story: I had a great relationship with my mother but chose not to have children of my own

Aralyn HughesUntil the year my mother died, she called me on my birthday to tell me this story: “I wasn’t sure I wanted another child after your brother was born. He was a big baby—nine pounds. I didn’t know if I could go through that again. But after my own mother died, I started longing for another child, this time a girl. Several months into the pregnancy with you, they took an x-ray—they did that back then—and the doctor told me the baby had such big hands and feet it was probably going to be another boy. I tried to hide my disappointment.”

“When I went into labor, that childbirth was every bit as difficult as the first one. But then I heard, ‘It’s a girl! Nine pounds, all toes and fingers.’ I looked to the heavens and said, “Thank you. I will never ask for anything else. I have my bundle of joy.”

I never tired of hearing it. My parents grew up in the Depression and lived through the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma where I was born. Those hard times gave my parents perspective. Anything good that happened was a blessing; anything bad could be managed. My mother and father lived to be 94 and 95, respectively.

I wasn’t the perfect child, but they were very nearly the perfect parents. They rolled with punches and knew how to balance boundaries and independence, expectations and creativity. My relationship with my mom was so connected and unconditional I found it almost daunting as I grew older. I worried I might be unable to recreate such a bond. Further, she’d given over her whole life to me. She was the Girl Scout leader, the Bible school superintendent, the aide to the children’s choir at church, the gifted seamstress who made cheerleading outfits and prom dresses, and the talented and hard-working cook who made luscious coconut cream pies and whose fried chicken and gravy were legendary.

What if a child of mine just couldn’t connect with me? Or worse, what if being a mother didn’t bring me the joy it clearly brought my mom? Doubts filled my head when I imagined myself with children. If I chose that life, how would I ever get anything else done? I wanted to do things. I wanted to travel. I wanted to create art. Could I give my entire life to a child as my mother had? And, more importantly, should I? Would it be the right decision for me? Could I be happy as a parent as she so clearly was? Was that the right lifestyle for me? I knew even then it wasn’t. I felt it in my gut. I just knew I would have to walk a different path.

Like most girls, I grew up assuming I would be a wife, mother and homemaker, believing that “the hand that rocked the cradle ruled the nation.” In high school I was President of the Future Homemakers of America, and in college I even went so far as to get a Bachelors of Science degree in Home Economics.

But babysitting in my teens brought out in me a degree of frustration and anger so extreme it shocked me— I wanted to toss those kids over the balcony. With tears streaming down my face, I called my mother just down the street. She came immediately and took over, utterly amazing me by how easy and natural supervising kids was for her.

“It’s different when they’re your own,” she said, trying to console me. As an awkward teenager with no role models other than the conventional ones, I saw no alternative but to follow in her footsteps lest, God forbid, I should grow up to be an old maid. Yet as an adult, my experiences as aunt to my brother’s three children, a junior high teacher, and a witness to the dubious behavior of most of my friends’ children, made me grateful for my freedom. I found little appealing in the prospect of making an eighteen year commitment, as they had, to a life I regarded as tumultuous.

Though I may not have been cut out to be a mother, I think I would’ve been a good dad. My dad left the house for work each morning, made the family’s money and managed all the financial decisions. He was involved in politics and community service. He taught me how to ride my bike and how to play fair with others in games. He guided me through my fear of spiders, showed me how to safely handle fireworks and taught me my first lessons in how things worked in the universe. He was the head of the house except when it came to homemaking and parenting. In those areas, Mom was in charge.

Dad was solid and made me feel safe, but he was not the one I went to when I was upset. If I was heartbroken, crying over not getting some award at school or other perceived teenage tragedy, he would walk into the room and say, “Next week you won’t even remember this. In the whole scheme of things it won’t even register.” Then Mom would yell from the kitchen, “Paul, she doesn’t want to hear that right now!”

The truth is, I was always more like my dad than my mom. But nobody ever thought to say, “You’d make a great dad.”

Aralyn Hughes is the author of Kid Me Not: an anthology by child-free women of the 60s now in their 60s

Aralyn Hughes

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Aralyn. Your account of your relationship with your mother is one that touched me deeply. She seemed like a really good woman, and your father too. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story and anticipate that others will to.

  2. Female Assumption says

    How great that your mom voiced her ambivalence about wanting a second child (you!), When women are honest, it dispenses with those assumptions that we carry around. Btw, Aralyn’s book is awesome! 5 stars! (outta 5 of course)
    Warmly,
    Melanie Holmes, author of The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story, Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate (2014 Global Media Award, Population Institute)

    • Hi Melanie, thanks for taking the time to comment. I just read the synopsis of your book. It is always good to hear women be honest about motherhood. It can make a real difference in the lives of other women, particularly younger women still undecided about whether or not to have children.

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