An Interview with Childfree Children’s Book Author Ron Harner

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Books by Ron Harner

Books by Ron Harner

My nephews love Suck It Up, Tate!, one of three books for kids by Ron Harner. It is one of those books they beg me to read to them “Again! Again!” Clearly, Ron “gets” kids, so it may come as a surprise that he doesn’t have any of his own.

How many times have we heard “You wouldn’t understand, you’re not a parent” and felt our blood boil? The next time some unfeeling person slings this at you, remind them that Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, didn’t have children of his own. Then tell them about Ron Harner. His story is below.

By the way, when Geisel was asked about not having kids, he responded, “You have ’em, I’ll entertain ’em!” Sounds like Ron is doing a bang-up job of this as well.

LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?

Ron: Most definitely by chance. I was on track to be a father, and then my first marriage blew up unexpectedly and pretty spectacularly. I was reeling for a while. Having kids was the plan, but life doesn’t always stick to the plan.

LWB: Where are you on your journey now?

Ron: Not having children is something I made peace with a while ago. That’s not to say I don’t get twinges occasionally, but, after my breakup, I didn’t go looking for a mother. I didn’t go looking for anybody. I met a girl in an elevator one day, and everything changed for the better. Kids weren’t in the cards for us. That was twelve years ago. I’m glad I didn’t take the stairs that day.

LWB: What was your inspiration for the first book/series?

Ron: I’m the youngest of five children. My brother and sisters all have a bunch of kids. One Thanksgiving, we were sitting around the table and my oldest sister said, “You write everything else, why don’t you write a children’s book?” And then she added, “…but not one that’s all sunshine and lollipops. I’d love to find a book in which the kid screws up and has to deal with it.”

So, I wrote one. It’s called Suck It Up, Tate! I’m fortunate to count a ridiculously talented Disney animator [Michael Surrey] among my friends, so I enlisted him to make it look great. I was able to publish that one, and then was asked to write two more.

LWB: Are readers surprised to learn you don’t have children?

Ron: Readers do seem surprised to discover I don’t have kids. But, like I mentioned, I have a brood of nieces and nephews who I adore. I spend as much time with them as I can, and they supply me with a ton of material.

I should note that I have a dog, Maggie, who I need as much as she needs me. People see the way I act with her, and that’s when I get the “How is it that you don’t have children?” question the most.

LWB: How gratifying is it to hear “My kid wants me to read it to him every night!”? Do you feel like you are making a difference in a kid’s life through your stories?

Ron: My aim was to write books that would appeal to kids and adults. The messages in these books are lessons my father gave me when I was young—not verbally; Dad wasn’t a big lecturer. He led by example. I took what stuck with me, added funny characters, and the stories just poured out.

I have to say it’s incredibly gratifying when I get a note from a parent who tells me one of the books has struck a chord with their child or that he or she shouts out the title at the right point of the story. Books played a big part of my life growing up, so that makes me smile.

LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?

Ron: Most times I’m fine. There are times when I’d love to be able to be share some of the things I’m passionate about with someone just coming up in the world. I play my favorite records for my dog, but she seems underwhelmed.

LWB: What’s the best part about not having children?

Ron: I’m able to spend real quality time with my wife, doing the things we love to do together. Until just recently, when we got hitched, we were not tied together by anything other than the fact that we love being with each other. Plus, I can indulge all the creative stuff I like to do, including writing and performing sketch comedy with a great group of comedians I met at The Second City. That stuff is pretty liberating.

LWB: What’s the best advice you’d offer someone else like you?

Ron: The only advice I’d dare give anyone is to be truly honest with yourself. I’m insanely happy with my lot in life. Don’t do something just because someone expects you to, and don’t turn away from something that drives you just because it’s difficult.

LWB: Are more books coming?

Ron: Kids frequently ask me if I’m going to write a fourth book—they’ve even gone so far as to suggest new stories! Maybe I’ll reread the first three books after this interview. Who knows where the next good idea will come from?

 

Suck It Up, Tate!, Cool It, Frida!, and Move It, Milton! are available in hardcover and paperback at RonHarnerBooks.com. Paperbacks are available at Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com.

Making My Mother Proud

By Lisa Manterfield

Lisa and her mum

Lisa and her mum

During my recent visit to the U.K., I got to be my Mum’s date at a senior social night she wanted to attend. Aside from the organizer’s son and grandchildren, I was the only person under 70. It was great.

At the event I ran into the mother of an old school friend I haven’t seen or heard from in 20-plus years. When I asked after him, she regaled me with a running inventory of all his successes—his well-paying job, his lovely wife and her lovely job, their lovely house, and, of course, their two amazing children.

“And do you have children?” she asked.

“No,” I told her. “I don’t.”

And I swear to God that was the end of our conversation. No questions about my husband, my work, where I lived, or what I’d done with the last 20 years. Nothing.

I can imagine the conversation she’ll have when she next sees her son.

“I ran into Lisa the other week. She doesn’t have any children. Poor thing.”

My overriding feeling is this: She is a very nice lady, but I’m glad she’s not my mother.

My mother was sad for me that I couldn’t have children, but she’s never made me feel like a failure as a daughter because of it.

I’m honestly not sure what my mother says when people ask her if I have any children. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t drop her eyes from the shame of having to tell people her only daughter is barren. I hope she sees me for all the things I am, including the fact that I’m not too self-important to go with her to a senior social night and sing songs with the old folks.

I hope I give my mother plenty to be proud of, even if I didn’t give her grandchildren.

It Got Me Thinking…About Defending My Decisions

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

IGMTWhen I was growing up in the 1970s and early ’80s, “choice” referred to being able to have a legal, doctor-performed abortion for any reason. You were “pro-choice” or you were “pro-life,” and in some areas of our world, there is still no common ground.

So I’m finding it interesting that I’m now hearing about another choice for women, specifically whether or not we choose to have children. Recently Erin Tatum wrote “5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Women Who Don’t Want Children” for Everyday Feminism magazine. Read the full article here. I am encouraged that this topic is getting some mainstream attention, that insensitive people are being educated. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it doesn’t hurt any less when comments like the ones she lists are lobbed our direction. “You’ll regret it when you’re older” is #1 on her list, and whether you’re childfree by choice, circumstance, chance, or a combination, that one line has the potential to pour salt into new wounds and reopen old wounds.

Take a look at the article and let me know what else would be on your list of things that should never be said to a childfree woman. And in case you don’t feel like reading to the end, I want to be sure you see what she says in closing:

It can be difficult to defend your decisions when faced with so much ignorance, but always remind yourself that your life is your own and you don’t need anyone else’s validation to justify how you live it.

Embrace childfree living and start exploring all the opportunities that await you.

Yes!

 

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayDid you survive Halloween?

I decided to do the right thing and be prepared for trick or treaters. I had one group of three young children and they were awful! They demanded candy (No sweet “Trick or Treat?”), snatched it from the bowl before I could even offer it (one girl stuck her hand through a hole in my screen door to get it), and left without saying thank you. And these kids were being supervised by their parents!

So, this week, I want to hear how you made it through Halloween.

Whine on.

Knowing Who I Am

By Lisa Manterfield

Lisa HeadshotThere was a time when I found it difficult to be around mothers of young children. It was hard to listen to them talk about their kids when I felt I had nothing to contribute, and it was painful to know that I’d never be able to share those experiences with them. I couldn’t bear to hear their sweet or funny stories, and it made my blood boil to hear them complain. What I wouldn’t have given for the chance to be kept awake all night by a colicky baby.

As I’ve progressed on my journey and begun to heal, it’s become easier for me to spend time with mothers, to listen to their stories, to speak up when I have something to add, and even to commiserate about the hard stuff, without feeling resentful.

I’m listening to what they say about motherhood and I’m hearing a common theme: Motherhood chips away at them until they lose touch with the women they once were. They love their children, they love being mothers, but they resent how all-consuming the job is and how much of themselves they lose to their families, until they know longer know who they are.

There are always two sides to every story, pros and cons, gains and losses. When we don’t get something we want and deserve, it’s easy to focus on what’s lost—the experiences, the opportunities, and the stories we won’t get to tell. But what about what’s gained? And what about what’s not lost? What about the sacrifices we didn’t have to make and the women we now get to be?

I may not be the woman I’d once hoped to be—a mother—but I know who I am now, and a part of me is grateful for what I didn’t have to lose: myself.

Our Stories: Karin

As told to Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Our StoriesAlthough she came from a very close extended family, Karin didn’t really think about motherhood until she experienced infertility in her early 30s. Then it became a “dream.” Now 41, she and her husband of 19 years find themselves in a place of mostly acceptance, but she feels somewhat alone in her concerns about the future. If you can relate, please reach out to her—to all of us—in the Comments.

LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?

Karin: We were first childfree by chance and now it’s by circumstance. After years of unexplained infertility, various drug treatments, one horrific miscarriage, and lots of ovulation kits, my husband and I decided to stop trying for children. At that point, I began a very intense hatred of my body. My [menstrual] cycles were very long and painful, and as I grew older, they got worse and worse. This only intensified the self-loathing I was carrying around. It got so bad that the only option I had left was a hysterectomy. Knowing that I was not going to be able to conceive without massive medical intervention, and knowing that path was not for us, I decided to go through with the hysterectomy. It was the best decision I have ever made. I feel like I got my life back! Thanks to mindfulness training, yoga, and that surgery, I’ve been able to accept my body again and, more important, regain peace.

LWB: Where are you on your journey now?

Karin: I’ve been in the acceptance phase for quite some time. I have a wonderful husband and a very fulfilling job. But the residual feelings of isolation and fear of the future are what dominates my infertility issues now.

LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?

Karin: The fear of who will take care of me when I am old. My grandparents were in wonderful assisted living facilities toward the ends of their lives, but they were still attended to by my mom and my aunts—everything from shopping for basic needs to handling the finances. I cannot think of anyone in my life now who I could rely on to help us in our old age. My husband is an only child, and my sister has only one daughter. I do not have the nieces and nephews that many others have and will hopefully rely on when the time comes. And this truly terrifies me. This is, by far, the most difficult issue for me now. I feel quite alone in this. I don’t think many other people who are childfree have this worry, or, if they do, it is not as intense as mine. Also, I am the only person in my immediate social circle who does not have children. I feel like all the feelings of loss and isolation will resurface when my friends become grandparents.

LWB: What have you learned about yourself?

Karin: That I’m stronger than I thought I could ever be. You read that going through infertility will make you a stronger person, but until you actually feel it, it’s hard to believe. I’ve also learned to live life as consciously as I can with as much compassion as I can muster. Living a life with as little harm as possible toward others, including the environment around me, is rewarding and purposeful. I didn’t feel it this intensely prior to trying for children.

LWB: How do you answer “Do you have kids?”

Karin: I say “NOPE!” And if they ask why not, I simply say “We tried and it didn’t work out.” That usually stops people. Occasionally, people will ask why we didn’t adopt, and I say adopting does not cure infertility and we believe adoption is a calling that we just didn’t have.

LWB: How has LWB helped you on your journey?

Karin: It was the first community that got it!! Besides Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos’ book Silent Sorority, what else did we have? LWB has been so incredibly integral in my journey that it’s hard to put into words. I would, however, like to see more information or discussion by others about being childfree in old age and the new dynamics that will come into play when we are not just non-moms but non-grandmothers!

 

We’d love to hear your story! Go to the Our Stories page to get more information and the questionnaire.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayTonight is Bonfire Night in the U.K. As a child, it was one of my favorite nights of the year, second only to Christmas Eve.

We’d have a bonfire in the backyard, and my dad would bring home a box of fireworks to set off and a couple of packets of sparklers. We’d have baked potatoes and roast chestnuts, and my mum would make parkin and gooey, delicious bonfire toffee. It was an evening spent outdoors, clustered around the fire. It was about friends and food and a little bit of danger.

It’s one of the many things I miss about my homeland, and it’s one of the traditions I would have enjoyed sharing with my children. And that’s the topic for this week’s Whiny Wednesday:

Traditions you won’t get to share with your children

Happy Bonfire Night and happy whining.

(Still) Learning About the Fertility Industry

By Lisa Manterfield

thinkingIf you’ve been hanging around the childless-not-by-choice community for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly come across the wonderful Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos. Author of the groundbreaking book Silent Sorority, Pamela has long been a steady and articulate voice for our community.

More recently, she’s turned her attention and her voice to the fertility industry. After the recent announcements from both Apple and Facebook that they would include egg-freezing coverage as part of their employee benefit packages, Pamela wrote articles for two renowned publications on the realities of that procedure. You can read what she has to say in Fortune and Wired.

As always, when I hear first-hand accounts and well-researched data on fertility treatments, I find the statistics shocking, sobering, and infuriating. I think about all the people who told me to “just do IVF”, often based on nothing more than the fact that such-and-such celebrity had done it and had been successful, but with no knowledge of what the procedure actually involves, what the odds of success might be, or whether it was even a viable option for my situation (which it wasn’t).

Even the medical professionals I met during my journey offered little in-depth information about what was ahead for me. My first experience was an almost flippant referral from a primary care physician, basically “Go see this guy. He’ll get you pregnant.” And my first visit to a fertility clinic involved a calendar of procedures and a chart of costs, with no discussion about the physical or psychological effects of what I was about to go through, or honest and realistic statistics of what the chances of success really were.

I’ll admit I was naïve going in, but I don’t consider myself to be an ignorant person. I did my research, but I still wasn’t prepared. I was given glossy brochures filled with terms I didn’t understand and procedures that seemed more invasive than what I felt I needed. And they all included pictures of adorable babies and joyous parents, but never hard information—the kind I needed to make a life-changing decision. I received a stellar sales pitch, but never felt guided by a trusted professional who had my welfare and best interests at heart. Even though I’m wiser now, I continue to be educated by people like Pamela.

If you’ve been through fertility treatments, how do you feel about the process? Has your view changed? Do you feel you went in prepared? What do you think should change for women facing this in the future?

Please leave your comments below and also consider stopping by Pamela’s blog to offer support for the work she’s doing.

It Got Me Thinking…About Taking My Own Advice

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Girl ThinkingEarly last December, I was on the verge of an epic meltdown. I’d given up vacation days to help a client meet a tight deadline, I was too tired and busy to participate in traditional rituals like window shopping and checking out neighbors’ decorations, there would be no feast to bring scattered family together, there were no children to remind me of the magic of the season…waaaaaaaa!

My husband held me as I whined and cried, and as he dried my tears he said, “Why don’t you go read your book?”

“Because…sniff, sniff…I finished the last good book I had and the one I requested from the library isn’t in yet and….”

“No, no,” he said, in his kindest and most patient voice, “your book, the one you wrote, about how to get through the holidays.”

Oh. Right. Why didn’t I think of that?

He was referring to Life Without Baby Holiday Companion, a collection of classic blog posts Lisa Manterfield and I put together from this site that offer inspiration and encouragement for getting through the season. It was created in response to what we heard so often from readers: that holiday festivities can bring up all sorts of painful emotions when you’re childfree-not-by-choice.

In times of crisis, it’s so easy to forget what is right in front of us, so I would like to take this opportunity to remind myself—as well as you—what we have here on LWB:

  • a wealth of advice in posts, recent and from years past
  • more wisdom in the comments shared by readers
  • inspiration in “Our Stories”
  • support in the Forums

If you’re hurting—when you’re hurting—I hope you’ll look to LWB for comfort. Reach out to other LWBers and share what you’re feeling. Allow us to walk alongside you, to offer understanding in our unique yet similar experiences, and to remind you that you are not alone.

Last year, after being so wisely advised, I did just that. I brewed myself a pot of tea, placed a few sugar cookies on a pretty plate, and sat down with “my book” to heal myself. I won’t say I made it to “Merry!” that day, but I did start to feel better.

Tonight is Halloween in the U.S., and hundreds of sweet little darlings—none of them mine—will descend upon my neighborhood in search of tricks and treats. Even before the first knock at my door, I am starting to feel the ol’ familiar tugs on the heartstrings, the sick anticipation of the holiday blues. But this year, instead of giving into the lure of another meltdown, I’m going to be proactive by re-reading the book and spending some time on our site. I trust I will find ideas for getting through the coming weeks with some grace, compassion, and a healthy dose of perspective. I might even find my way back to seeing the magic and joy that can still be mine this season.

Wishing you happier holidays,

Kathleen

 

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.

Life Without Baby Holiday Companion is available in an ebook format on Amazon, now at the very affordable price of $2.99. If it feels like you’re heading for a blue Thanksgiving/Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa, I hope you’ll order a copy today and find some of the peace you long for.

Whiny Wednesday

Whiny_WednesdayThis Friday is Halloween, which for many of us means streams of cute children knocking on our front doors.

Love it or hate it; it’s hard to avoid it. So the discussion topic for this week is:

How do you handle this difficult holiday?

As it’s Whiny Wednesday, there’s room for your gripes here, too.