I'm childless and lonely, where do I belong?
Where do we belong?
Many of us move from school, to further education, to work and then to the school gate and the community of parents. They become the tribe, an in group with shared understanding, shared experiences and shared lives.
Finding my tribe
Well, that last part didn’t work for me and there came a time when I felt as if I didn’t belong anywhere. I was all alone, struggling, and feeling like no-one understood. My life began to change when I found my tribe of fellow childless people through organisations like Gateway Women and World Childless Week. A new tribe just for me, where I felt the strength of the shared understanding and experiences that I saw my friends with children have. The friends I made are an integral and vital part of my life today.
There are as many routes to finding your tribe as there are to involuntary childlessness, and the key for me has been to open my view as wide as I can and remove as many preconceived ideas about where I should find belonging as I can. Belonging can often be found in unexpected places!
Sometimes the best thing is to start small. Often the work we have done to try and have a family of our own has exhausted us. This is where dipping a toe into the online communities can be nourishing and gentle, and free of obligation that may seem impossible at this point. Communities that have been supportive for me have included the Gateway Women Google Plus Group, where I benefited from the wisdom, understanding and compassion of childless women across the world. On Facebook, there is the Dovecote and Childless Path to Acceptance. Walking Forward Inspirational Network is inspirational and supportive if you are or would like to be an entrepreneur or small business owner.
Meeting people who get it
When you feel able to meet some other childless people face to face, there is an international network of Gateway Women social groups on Meet Up. Some go for walks, lunch or brunch, some have book groups and one enterprising group of childless women have formed a band! However, the majority of the Meet Up groups have low key chats over coffee and tea and all are friendly and welcoming to new members.
How to reconnect
Life, the world and humanity are a rich tapestry and your journey to belonging needn’t end here. You may want to reconnect to friends and hobbies you have lost along the way in the gruelling journey through childlessness. You may want to find new hobbies and through them, make new friends. Maybe there is something you have always wanted to try.
What do you love?
Investigate your passions and interests, what is it that you love? When others talk about their lives, is there a moment when you wish you were doing what they are doing? Maybe you could make a list and start with the thing that seems easiest to arrange, the most fun, or the most enriching. With me this was an evening class in Creative Writing which has inspired me to join a two year course. Others have found belonging in choirs, yoga groups and through volunteer dog walking.
Belonging is an inside job
Belonging can be an inside job as well as searching outside of us for places to belong. Someone at University once told me to believe that I belonged to the ship, and that helped me to reach out, take risks, and get out of my tiny college room. It is not always easy to believe that we belong and to act on this belief, particularly as our self belief and self compassion may have been eroded through the struggles we have experienced. I have found that repeatedly listening to the words of Kristin Neff and practising her self compassion break has helped me to return to a sense that I am worthy of connection, belonging and love, helped me to reach out to others with confidence, and helped me to get out there into the world knowing that I belong there, I belong with others and I am more than good enough.
I want to know my story means something
I was inspired by 80 year old Robert’s story, ‘I used to paint and I went back to it when I was widowed and it's lovely. I really look forward to it. The group are so focused on their painting that we don't talk about families that much! It was through a painting club and walking our dogs that I read about the project and I found out….about Walk In Our Shoes and World Childless Week. I dare say I'm the oldest person taking part but I hope others will talk about it. I would like to meet other men like me and to know that my story means something.’
More in common
Talking to others and sharing our story can bring belonging, as Robert so beautifully says, we know our stories mean something when we are heard. We know that we mean something. We find out more about ourselves and about others. In the words of Jo Cox, ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’
You belong and you always have
There is one thing though that is absolutely non-negotiable. You belong. You belong to yourself, you belong to your family, human or animal, you belong in your village, town or city, in your faith community if you have one, you belong to the human race. You belong. And you always have.
Please contact me if you feel I may be able to help you to find belonging both in your life and in yourself.