Reflection: Am I really childfree?

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Discussed on episode 29:

The focus for this season of the podcast has mostly been on stories about being childfree by choice. I’ve put myself in the childfree by choice camp because I’ve decided not to conceive a child or to raise one. But I always feel a bit uncomfortable talking about being childfree becauseI don’t know that I am, exactly. But I don’t feel that I have a kid, either.

I live with a kid every other week. I do all kinds of parenting-type things: making breakfast and helping with homework and showing up to basketball games and parent-teacher interviews and signing consent forms and walking her home from school. I know her friends and they know me.

She and I cook dinner together every other Thursday. She’s learned that she can push back her bedtime by twenty minutes if she asks me about politics. She tells me about how things are going at school, and—sometimes—how things are going with her friends.

I care, a lot, about how she’s doing. I’m invested in her life.

But I still don’t think of her as “my kid.” I don’t know what it would take for me to feel like she’s “mine,” but it just doesn’t seem right to think of her that way. That really struck me in my conversation with Patricia because seeing her bonus kids as “hers” seemed really important to her.

But imagining Phil’s daughter as “mine” just makes me uncomfortable. Which is really interesting because I’ve always loved being around kids, and I just assumed that I was a take-charge-mama-bear kind of person. But looking back on my interactions with my nieces and my friends’ kids, I realize that I’ve felt strongly that it’s not my place to take responsibility for them unless I’m asked to. So I guess it makes sense that when it comes to my bonus kid, I’m deferring to her parents, just like I’ve always done with the kids in my life.

To me, feeling like a parent, feeling like a kid belongs to me, is about a lot more than love-because you can love a kid and have no role in their everyday life. That’s true for many of the kids I love.

For me, belonging is about taking primary responsibility for a child. It’s not my place to be responsible for Phil’s kid, because she has two parents who are the primary decision-makers, and because she’s old enough now that she can start making some choices for herself.

When I first started spending time with Philip and his daughter I felt like an outsider-rightfully so. Phil and his daughter are really close. It’s amazing to see their bond, but in the beginning I just felt like I was getting in the way of it.

Because I was.

They’d been through thick and thin for ten years, and I was basically a stranger. I acted like one: in those early days when the three of us were out together I would walk behind the two of them. It wasn’t until Phil pointed it out that I even noticed I was doing it.

Of course, in the last couple of years things have changed a lot for us. I don’t feel like an outsider anymore, but it still feels strange to even think of claiming this kid as “mine”.

And-quick sidebar-what does having kids “of your own” even mean?

I’ve been careful, especially lately, about using the term “your own” to refer to kids. It makes me uncomfortable. Because it usually refers to biological kids, and kids belonging to people based on genetics is such a limited and heteronormative way of thinking about families.

I tend to look at family and belonging more in terms of raising children.

Still, I don’t even feel like I’m raising Phil’s kid. I’m participating, but I’m just an extra pair of hands. In a good way. Honestly, it’s a relief to be able to say, “that’s not my problem” or “that’s for her parents to decide,” but because I’m not responsible for her I haven’t gone all in. And look, maybe I’m splitting hairs here. I have a feeling that Phil will disagree with me. But I don’t think waltzing in ten years into a kid’s life and doing parent-type things every other week earns me the title of parent or allows me to claim a kid as mine. And truly, I don’t think I could ever do that unless she felt like I was a mother to her (which is hard to imagine).

Already my life has completely changed now that this kid is a part of it. And even with all of those monumental changes, I do wonder what I’m missing out on by believing that I still need to pay my dues, that I can’t quite go all in because I’m not a primary caregiver. I know that I’m hanging back, waiting for permission, trying not to screw anything up. But I don’t know what else to do.

It’s not easy to admit this. I’m surprised that I haven’t embraced step-parenting as wholeheartedly as I thought I would. I feel like I’m doing something wrong.

But for now, this is how it goes. And, like most things, it probably just needs more time.

If you’re a step parent or a bonus parent without kids “of your own”, I’d love to hear how you’ve navigated these same questions. It’s not easy, is it?You can email me or you can find me onInstagram @maybesomedayshow.