A meaningful and promising future with or without children

April 25, 2017

Some people opt not to become parents, while others find the choice thrust upon them. They range from those who do not find a mate, to the biologically infertile, from those who have become sterile after cancer therapy, to members of the gay community where –until recently – there was often resignation that children could not be part of one’s daily life.

I find that all these separate groups, however, have a shared understanding: a keen desire to live a life full of meaning, promise and support for others in spite of not caring for their own progeny.

For those in despair at not being a parent, as many are, it is hard to keep those emotions from overriding other thoughts of living a meaningful and valuable existence.

I am reminded of Yerma, a play written by the Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca, which was recently produced at the Young Vic in London. Yerma is married to a man who does not want children and she is driven mad by her desire to become a mother, ultimately killing the husband and with it any chance of motherhood.

George and Martha, the warring couple at the heart of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a production currently playing to amazed and rave reviews, are also deeply affected by childlessness. Their pain is shared, as both members of the couple desired parenthood, and yet they cannot find comfort in each other.

Instead, as fans of the play will know, they draw on the poison and misery stored up over years of disappointment to torture and maim each other verbally. The brutality comes to a head when they invite a young couple for drinks and are reminded of what they used to be: hopeful, loving, and fertile too perhaps.

George and Martha have not taken the time to find meaning for themselves. Instead, they have fantasized about a son to escape from their “sick nights, and pathetic, stupid days”, a precious dream which George kills at the end of the play, leaving their marriage a wasteland.

The true tragedy in my view is that their obsession – a child at any cost, even an imaginary one – has left the couple with no reason to examine and develop their spiritual purpose.

In Buddhism teachings, it is attachment that can bring suffering, in this case from the limited belief that marriage without children is incomplete.

Sometimes our beliefs and obsessions are just projection or misplaced needs. We often want most what we cannot have and these obsessions create limits. Acceptance instead brings freedom and opens the door of infinite possibilities to live a creative and original life in joy and fulfilment, with or without children.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation