I was so excited to speak with Lisette, especially after reading her book ‘Childless Living; The joys and challenges of life without children.’
I saw Lisette’s instagram over a year ago and I just felt drawn to her. She has so much style, a real artistic eye reflected in her photographs and her words felt comforting, reassuring and empowering at a time when I really needed them.
I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.
All links to where you can find more info on Lisette will be featured at the end .
First of all thank you for agreeing to do the interview. For those in the Anotherhood community that don’t know you could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Lisette and my last name is Schuitemaker, which means shipbuilder. I am Dutch and I’m 65 years old going on 66.
Schuit is an old fashioned word for ship, and an old fashioned word for ship in English is barge or lighter. I like the word lighter; I like being a lighter maker. That’s also what I want to do with my books, to alleviate loneliness and make life lighter.
We all feel better when we share and when we know we’re not the only ones grappling with certain issues around inner dynamics and projected feelings of inadequacy or not being up to par… that’s what my books are about.
I have had a communications company, which I was able to sell. I’ve been connected with the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland for a happy 20 years, 17 of which on the board.
I live here in Amsterdam with my wonderful man, my partner of 26 years.
I’m an aunt and I’m really happy that my siblings did procreate, so I can fulfil that role of being a person in young people’s lives and having real intergenerational friendships.
Can you tell us the books that you have written?
Yes, I’m happy to. So, in 2010 when I was 47 I embarked on a whole new training. I went to the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. I thought, oh my goodness I’m way too old to do this, I will be over 50 when I graduate and then a friend said, “How old will you be when you don’t do this training?”
There I learned the theory of the childhood conclusions as conceived by the early psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, which is to me, a very beautiful map of our inner world.
Then I thought this theory of Wilhelm Reich is basically about five ways we draw conclusions, when we are very young, that have ramifications in how we build ourselves and view of ourselves and so I wrote, kind of an easier version of what he discovered which is The Childhood Conclusions Fix.
Then I wrote a little book called Alight. The title came to me when I was on the subway in London and at some point it’s said “alight for the museums”, I was like, wow, ‘what if we alight the train of our thoughts and know we are a light already?” That is how I wrote this book that hardly anybody reads, but maybe it’s the most beautiful one.
Then the third is called The Eldest Daughter Effect. I am an eldest of four and I never found that an easy role. It also has to do with me not having children. At some point, my publisher was telling me a story about his family, and he talked about how the eldest would be having all the worries of the world on her shoulders and the younger ones being happy go lucky. I was like, but you’re telling the story of my life, and I then thought, maybe there’s a book in that so we did research amongst elder daughters and the book is very dear to me.
At the launch of the English version of ‘the eldest daughter’ effect we held a number of workshops. I started mine by saying that maybe because I’m an eldest daughter, I don’t have children, and then it turned out that half of my group did not have children, and we started a conversation about that. One of the group members was 28 she said, “well I don’t have children but I don’t know yet”. Later at the event some of the women came to me and said,
“We never have this conversation anymore. It kind of stopped after, you’re 35 or 40. But not having children travels with you throughout your life.”
So then I wrote Childless Living: The joys and challenges of living without children.
My fifth soon to be published is a book about widows. I have quite a number of friends who are already widowed and I wondered what happens to them and how we as friends can help, so I did interviews with widows and this book will be published in Dutch in October.
Lisette your childless by choice but was there a defining moment for you or was it culmination of things that led you to the choice not to have children?
There is one specific instance, when I broke off my engagement. That’s was a very defining moment in my life.
I wanted to go and live with this man, and my parents were shocked. I was raised to marry a successful man and kind of repeat my mother’s life.
And so my mother was very shocked when I wanted to move in with this man. (This was the late 70s, a very different time.)
I had this dream that my Father led me to the altar, to the groom, and when the question was asked ‘does thou take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?’ I said no. I heard a gasps in the audience behind, it was very vivid for me. The dream came twice, and I thought okay I have to break off this relationship. I am quite proud of having done that, because I just had this image, I will have two children, I will have a dog and I hope I have a corner house so at least there is a view. My husband will go off to work and I hope I can also manage something valuable for myself. This was not an attractive image to me but I thought for a long, unhappy time that this way of life was inevitable.
And that is when I veered away from that whole concept and I just saw myself making choices that led me further and further away from this mainstream world.
At some point it was more a conclusion of who I am, than a choice.
You know it’s not that I choose how I live my life.
It is more like you said a culmination of following my life, and then discovering that this is really me.
Then I met Jos who had already had a vasectomy. He is an artist, and a very caring man. He felt if he was to dedicate his life to making art, then he couldn’t really have children.
When we met, that’s actually a strange story…
I was 39, and I thought, if ever, then now, if I want a child.
I was taking my temperature and a friend of mine who is a gynaecologist had given me this chart and I was like below all the lines, I was thinking I must be very cold person.
She had also said to me, there are two ages, your physical age and your calendar age and the two might not match. You might be older physically or younger. So, on the day of your period, please call this number. So on a Saturday when I had my period we had gone into town, and only when we came back I said, “Oh, it’s three o’clock I should have called that number!” And that’s when I kind of realised, if I really wanted a child, I would have called straightaway. Sometime that evening and weekend we did have a bit of a cry because finally we realised we had found the person and there was something tender about who would have come out of us, what would of a child from us been like?
So when you don’t have a child, even if you choose it, or if it chooses you, there can also be grief for the aspects of the life that you’re not having.
My mother never really got the grief part that I had to grapple with. She said, if you don’t want children then why are you upset. But it wasn’t that simple. About 70% of me did not want children, but then there’s still 30% thinking what an amazing experience it would be. We will never know pregnancy and birth, breastfeeding and all that nurturing, the nourishing, the raising, the adolescence. We will never know any of it.
Can you share some of your experience of what it’s like to not have children and how that shaped the relationships around you?
I was feeling into that because as I said, I was veering away from what many of my friends were doing, that was not the easiest of times. There was one summer when both my brother (who is two years younger) and my sister (four years younger) they both got married in the same summer. I was without a relationship at the time, I remember friends of my parents asking, “when are you getting married?” It is so hurtful, how come you’re so insensitive? The generation of my parents, of course, didn’t know what to do or say to people like me who weren’t following the path laid out for us.
I actually had a very lovely conversation with one of my friends, who is a mother of three recently. I said that she and my sister in law, (who has sadly died 19 years ago) spoke about the dilemmas of having children and the choices they had to make on a daily basis. I had by then started my own company so I would compare that to the choices I had to make with staff. We didn’t talk at the level of nappies and bottles, but about what happened in our lives and how to find our way with it. My dilemmas and her dilemmas weren’t very different, you know, it was the same kind of mechanics and how we responded and how we could have responded differently and just that same kind of inquiry into our selves.
I did have times of loneliness, I was shyer then, I’m quite introverted so it wasn’t easy to find my people. I did find my people which happened to be though my work.
It also hurt sometimes to see my brother and sister with their children and have that whole life. It’s not the kind of life that I yearn for or want to be part of but still you know them coming together or friends going off on a holiday together, this wasn’t for me to join them.
There was a certain degree of loneliness but not envy in any way, but more like, so where do I belong or who do I belong with. Gradually, I have gained another set of friends. It also took me a long time to really acknowledge who I am and let go of certain images and expectations and feeling resistance to mainly my mother. She could not imagine that I would be happy without a man and child.
She still can’t but she’s 92 I’m 65 so we’re very good we laugh about it, but it was painful and hard.
That’s really interesting to hear you speak about becoming more confident in yourself and understanding where you belong. I feel who we are is a massive part of this journey that it appears we get catapulted on slightly quicker.
There’s a lot more time for us in a sense to do this self-discovery. So it’s good to hear you say, although there were the lonely times and it was hard but that they form part of you finding out who you are.
Yes, very much. I think part of parenthood is also living in a world of mirrors, you know parents have things mirrored back to them, and we have to kind of do it ourselves and find our stuff. I also think maybe we take some of the grief earlier. There is a lot of grief in parenthood, if your child is bullied, you’re devastated and if your child is a bully, you’re devastated. Then they break their hearts, their schooling is difficult, whatever and it goes on. They might have a difficult divorce or they can’t find a job or can’t hold a job, they get depressed, the parents have a lot of grief in their lives, but we kind of take a big chunk of it, upfront.
Going to the Barbara Brennan School of Healing at 47; if I had had a baby with my man I don’t think I would have gone as then that child would have been 7. That was a huge training in self-development and insight in life and sent me off on a whole new course.
Maybe we mature a bit earlier but in a different way, because once you’re a parent there is also a sense of maturity because you have this responsibility for another person for their whole life.
Has not having children ever impacted the relationship you have with your body?
One thing that came up is that is not an issue for now me but it has been an issue. The question was I ever fertile, or was I infertile and somehow my soul or my intuition kind of led me to another path. I haven’t always been careful when I was young, but I’ve never been pregnant. So for a while that was a question that really was with me but it isn’t anymore.
So I wonder did I feel like unwomanly. I don’t think I felt unwomanly because I was not a mother. I felt more unwomanly because I had my own business and I felt I was developing or having to develop the masculine side of me.
It was at a time when you know not too many single women were working. So I also played with that, I must say. Very different work environments from how it is now.
You know, and then of course the question again came up with my partner having his vasectomy, because many men would say, “Oh is he still a man?”
And then Jos does all the household tasks here so I think between us you know there is more fluidity in our sexes and our gender.
What do you feel has been the biggest challenge for you in not having children?
I think the biggest challenge has been my fight with my mother.
This goes back to her childhood, she was actually born in Indonesia, when that was a Dutch colony. Then the Japanese invaded Indonesia and she was in a camp, her father had already died, her mother had remarried. She was an only child. She came out of the camp 75 years ago this weekend.
She was 17 and missed her whole High School when they came back to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands in 1944 the last winter of the war was very cold, and people had nothing to eat. So when the people came from the Indonesia they said well at least you were warm and at least you could grow things, so there was no interest, no space in people’s minds for their story. My mother bottled it up and focused on making a really good life for her, my father and when she had her children she wanted us to have this carefree beautiful life.
Which then also is a demand that you are carefree and that you live and enjoy that life. For many years I felt such a pressure from my mother to deliver for her, that kind of life. We fought a lot. It is very sweet that she’s still alive, and that we can be good together. She has forgotten a lot of things, she doesn’t remember the bad things she only remembers the good things, maybe that’s a practice that she learned, during the war.
But she will say, “did we fight so much, No, I always really liked you.”
I say, “Well, you didn’t really understand my life.”
“No, No, I didn’t. “
So I think that has been my biggest challenge and then again this also comes back daring to, to be fully me and to totally own that yes this is my life. No, I don’t know how it will go in my old age.
Yes, you know, I may have regrets, but I never have had regrets about following in my own footsteps and not having children.
You touched on being older there and it appears to be a theme that comes up for some women without children, that they are worried about who will look after then when they are older, because they have no children. I wonder do you hold any concerns around it?
I’ve never felt it. I’ve always been astounded by that question. When I was 30 and people said what will you do in your old age if you choose not to have children I would think, are your children an investment that has to pay off when you’re 80. I never said that, it feels very impolite to say that whereas they can just, put that on us.
I work alone, you know I’m freelance; my partner goes to his studio. He also is very used to being alone. I’m a bit of an introvert so I also don’t need all these people around me all the time, and I think that will come to stand me in good stead. There are of course cultures, where it is really part of the cultural way of being. But for me it’s not a part of my life or something that I have ever felt.
So, we were speaking about challenges and to stay aligned with the title of your book, what have been the joys for you in life because you do not have children?
Well, the joy has really been that I have been able to; I don’t say lead my life I say I follow my life.
You know, follow where it wants you to go, I came to Findhorn in 1998, -2001 I went to the Barbara Brennan school in 2002. I was asked to be on the Board of Findhorn and I was there for 17 years I would have never done that. I don’t think I would have attained that level of inner shedding and openness to spirit. I feel I have lived my potential; maybe that is the biggest joy. I felt there was potential inside me that wanted to bloom.
What inspired you to write your book childless living the joys and challenges of life without children?
You know what the creative process is like, it kind of nudges you.
There was a Dutch Facebook group called sisters, and people ask questions, and one day there was a question from somebody in their early 30s, which said, “I am considering deciding not to have children, but I’m wondering how that will play out through my life. Is there anyone out there who can tell me?” (This was before the launch of the book eldest sister effect)
I sat and wrote a long answer, and then I thought hey I have something to say on this, there is something in me.
Then I was in a restaurant and the owner of the restaurant was nodding and winking at me and I thought, oh nice I come here often and she really knows me now. And then when we left she said, “Aren’t you Tito’s mother?”
“ No I am Nobody’s mother.”
She had completely mistaken me for somebody else. And she was sitting there with two young women who it turned out were wondering whether or not they will have a family. She was saying to them “you have to do it because you don’t know what you’re missing.”
I said, “Oh, I would give them the opposite answer. I’d say if you hesitate, don’t do it, maybe it’s not for you. Be courageous to live your other life if there is such hesitation in you and remember it’s not obligatory.
Then came the launch of the eldest daughter effect, and the conversations in the small groups. All three combined I thought; Okay, I’m listening yes, I’m listening. And so that is how childless living the joys and challenges of life without children was started.
In your book you speak about stages of life as, spring, summer, autumn and winter. I am in my summer and you say you’re in your autumn.
Springtime feels like the time to show women it’s normal not to have children.
So I wonder what would you say to someone in the spring period of their life?
I’d say really go for your own life as you feel it is inside you. Rejoice in the life that is inside of you. Even if it doesn’t fit the parameters of your village, or your culture or your parents or your religion, rejoice in life. Celebrate that life inside of you and may you live it, may you live it.
In your book you say about celebrating our unconventionality – “that we would do well to add the term extraordinary to our mantel.”
I loved this, and I wonder what do you do to celebrate your unconventionality and your extraordinariness?
I celebrate it through the way I dress, and the other thing that comes to mind is with my relationship with my nephews and nieces actually.
I don’t want to label my siblings as ordinary, but there is a lot of ordinariness to life when you have children, getting them to school, making sure they eat and sleep enough, you know a lot of rigidity. So when they come to stay here I would just really listen to them, treat them as peers and cultivate a friendship.
They came away from staying with us with a different perspective. Sometimes they would come in with quite a competitive attitude. In families of course there is competition between siblings all the time but we used say “there’s nothing competitive here, there’s no competition, we’ll just go with, who you are and what it is you want from us this time.”
You talk about your nieces in your book, how they dress, extraordinary, and how they celebrate that.
They dress more extraordinary than I do, because they’ve decided why ever would you dress in a dull way. Every day, is the day to show your splendour.
Do you feel that society is becoming more accepting of women without children?
Well, I definitely feel from my point of view our way of living is spoken about more.
Let me give this example:
I interviewed a dear friend of my mother’s. They have had a friendship for 60 years. This woman lived in the same suburb where I grew up which was all about families and children. She did not have children and she was a non-working person, lots of volunteering for charities church, things like that. I spoke to her and discovered that my mother and she had never spoken about her not having children, they’ve never addressed this topic.
So this woman has been so lonely in that, she said she hardly ever spoken about it with her husband, because it was so painful for both of them they didn’t want to add to the pain of the other. And only when he was in his dying days he extended his gratitude for her being so gracious, that it didn’t happen for them.
So, I remember from my childhood, a sense of tragedy around women who did not have children.
I feel now we can speak about it, and we can share, we can find each other. We, it’s, become less weird, there are more of us, and I think the societal acceptance is bigger.
Do you have any podcasts or books that you think, or you have found inspiring, or you feel may be of interest to anybody in the motherhood community,
Oh I love so many books.
Iris Apfel and her book; The accidental icon, musings of a geriatric starlet. She is 98 she has white hair huge glasses and lots of bracelets, 1000 dresses she’s very exuberant. She talks about being a five and a half forever. She is such a model of how you can be in your old age and stay curious.
Spinster; making a life of my own. By Kate Bolick
The birth of the pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig which reads like a mystery novel and is about the four people who were relentless in their pursuit of a pill that would have women decide about their own bodies, their sexual life and their future.
Faraway nearby: Rebecca Solnit:
Solnit shares her journey of caring for her mother. She and her two brothers live in the area but her mother always calls her because her brothers have a job and a family and she’s just pottering around the house. Rebecca says, that’s one way of describing an author is life.
The Forgotten Kin: Aunts and Uncles : Robert Milardo
Savvy Auntie: Melanie Notkin
Those are my favourites.
I really appreciate you taking your time out to kind of chat to me it’s been really lovely.
It’s been really lovely, glorious; you create a really beautiful space.