Growing up, Karen assumed she would become a mother. However, when in a marriage with a man who did not want children, Karen had to decide what road her life would take instead. Learning to accept a life that was different than the one she had expected took a toll on Karen emotionally. However, her strength and awareness of her feelings and situations helped her to move forward and accept her life beyond becoming a mother.
As a psychotherapist, I think of acceptance as a way of integrating uncomfortable information into one’s inner world. When life is not what we expect, surrendering to a new reality can be a difficult process. It is a skill that grows with awareness and practice and gets easier over time. Having gone through a major disappointment and ultimately accepting it has made me a better therapist because I know the difficulties involved, as well as the possibility of getting to a better place.
In my late 30s I married a man who did not want children and had to decide if I wanted this potential partner enough to forgo something I always assumed would be a part of my life. Hard as it was to make this marital decision, it was 10 times harder to reconcile giving up my dream of parenthood.
Being a devout believer in the organic process of monitoring emotions and experiencing them as they arise, I assumed that I would learn, over time, to feel OK about not having children. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I wouldn’t be OK because I am a positive thinker and have confidence in my abilities to make the best of whatever situation I am in.
The process of following along wherever my emotions led me—to anger, disappointment, sadness, regret—was healing. Whenever feelings came up, I felt them and dealt with them. When they didn’t, I enjoyed my marriage. The feelings were often triggered at times like baby showers and hearing friends talk about their children,. I would note what I was feeling and move on. If I felt sad, I cried and grieved. I talked for hours with my best friend—divorced and also childless—and we helped each other get to the other side of disappointment and regret.
I threw myself into work as a therapist at a methadone clinic and my care-taking needs were met by counseling my troubled clients. Another need surprised me, however—a desire to create and birth something into existence. When I finally paid attention to this yearning, I quit my job to open my own therapy practice and to write, something I’d been dabbling at since my teens. Telling a story and creating sentences and paragraphs—and eventually books—felt absolutely fulfilling. I continued working in private practice and was content with my life. And I still am.
Not that regrets don’t pop up now and again, they do, but they were never in the forefront of my life and they aren't now. At 64, most of my friends have grown children who live far away. For the most part, my friends’ lives, like mine, are centered on themselves in the here and now, so I am not very different than they are. I made my decisions, fully accept them and feel fortunate to live a life I love.
Karen is the author of four books on eating and weight management.