Janny, 82 years old
“Queen Wilhelmina wrote the book: 'Lonely, but not alone'. This is also the answer I give sometimes when someone asks me how I am feeling. She must have felt the same way I have.”
Poverty and loneliness
Janny was born in 1940 in the town Sneek. Her father is asked to join the army in Germany with his ship; unless the craft is used as a residence. The whole family moves to the ship to prevent the father from having to join the war. This is where Janny grows up as the latest arrival in the family: her youngest brother being eight years older than her. Looking back at her childhood it feels like a cold time, marked by poverty, loneliness and the strict religious beliefs of her father. "The first six years of my life, I did not know other children of the same age as me even existed. As a young, naive girl I was being teased by older children, who constantly played tricks on me. Money for school or clothing was never there. Then I had to visit the principal of the school myself to tell him my mother couldn't afford to pay my tuition. It was so humiliating."
Scarred and chained by religion
At home, Janny's father is placed on a pedestal, with his religion being the core of everyday life. Christmas and Sinterklaas are not celebrated and on Sundays the whole family walks back and forth twice for an hour, to attend services at church. "My fathers stern religious beliefs have scarred and chained me: and sentenced me for a lifetime. That's how it always felt to me. It was so forced upon us. When I was ten years old, I had a friend who had a wonderful mother. But they said she was 'hooking up with a man' and then she had to publicly confess to be guilty. In front of the entire church she had to tell everyone how she was living in sin. It was so horrific, I cried so hard. Things like that have really scared me away from religion. Years later, I still felt guilty when I was cycling on a Sunday or watched my son's baseball game. That's why it has crossed my mind that perhaps it would have been better for me to not have had children. I was already broken.”
Fighting for equality
Once married, Janny has a hard time digesting the principles of the church. There is no desire to have children, but unexpectedly, Janny gets pregnant at the age of 29. She gives birth to a daughter and a few years later a son. “It was a woman's duty to have children and (as the Dutch saying goes) the only rights a woman has could be found in the kitchen. But I did not know how to raise children. I didn't know how to celebrate Sinterklaas or to make a home warm and loving. I didn't know how to give love or be affectionate. These things just never happened in my home. My kids have missed out on a lot because of that. With time I began to hide behind a wall. The relationship with my children has always been distant." Janny continues to fight for her own independence. When her son is four years old, she starts working at the public library (OBA). She also takes back her maiden name and opens her own bank account, which was still very unusual at that time. “You had to be submissive to men. But I worked and I thought that me and my husband were at least equals.” During the second movement of feminism in the Netherlands, Janny and her sister-in-law take part in demonstrations a few times, of course leaving her husband feeling offended. Her emancipation causes clashes in her marriage and eventually the couple decides to file for divorce. Janny's daughter goes to live with her father and her son stays with her. The communication with both children fades with time and eventually contact breaks completely. She is also no longer in touch with her grandchildren.
Choosing your own path
Janny traveled to Asia on several occasions during her life, including countries such as India, Tibet and China. "Buddhism always resonated with me. Within the principles of Buddhism I found many things that suited me, also because it is not a religion but a way of life. I visited many Buddist monasteries and learned how to meditate in the Netherlands. It has enabled me to forgive my father." When she looks back at her life and having children, Janny says: "Think about it thoroughly. Do you really want it yourself, or do you want it because others expect you to have children? If you can accept that you're different from most people and choose your own path, you can also be content on your own."