There has been a profound and accelerating sociological shift in today's American society, with the present number of adult women without children reported to be over twenty percent. After years of living my own personal journey with this reality and counseling countless single and coupled childless women in their thirties and forties in my Psychotherapy practice, a clear call to acknowledgment, understanding and appreciation for our population of women has become a primary focus.
The groups I am specifically referring to include women between the ages of 35-58, born during the Baby Boomer Generation (1954-1965), Generation Jones (1957-1965) and Generation X (1965-1977). Giving this growing population of women the attention they deserve opens the floor for recognition for and discussion about all facets of their experience.
There are several sub-groups. Four primary ones include:
1) Women who consciously chose not to have children
2) Women who are still hoping for and trying to have children
3) Women who are past their child bearing years and are grappling with and grieving over the finality of this realization
4) And women, formerly in group #3, who have made it to the other side, feeling a sense of greater peace and purpose
In my research about this phenomenon, I have begun referring to this entire group as "childless mothers". The purpose is to laser focus on the common denominator (childless: not having children) combined with the reference of "mother" to give credence to the universal "Mother" life force energy that lies within the heart of each woman, whether or not she chooses to have or is able to bear children. After all, we as women "mother" so many and "birth" so much on a daily basis.
As I have shared this descriptive term "childless mothers," I have repeatedly heard affirming words with wide-eyed expressions, conveying a "Wow... Yes... this is very real and deserves attention". But others also have shared their initial visceral resistance to being associated with the phrase "childless". As I explored more deeply the expressed discomfort, what I have found is that much of the disturbance is rooted in the perception of a pejorative, "less than" connotation... ie: "childLESS", "women WITHOUT children", etc. I began to investigate it further. Is there another way to describe this state of affairs for this population of women? Try as I may, I have not discovered a full-proof, non-controversial descriptor that clearly reflects the fact of an individual not having biological or adopted children.
So I continued to wonder... What is in the psyche and hearts of some women who recoil at the sound of this phrase? Might I have reacted the same way a few years ago? Mother's Day used to be especially painful for me during and in the aftermath of my unsuccessful fertility treatments. I would reject any attempt my husband made to acknowledge me on this day. "You are a mother to so many", he would say sweetly. I minimized, rather than embraced, this recognition because I was still focused on the "lack" of not having a child in the way I always imagined, expected and wished for. It felt "less" than to entertain any other option. I was grieving. Had I been invited to join a Facebook page for women without children,when I was in that state of mind, I may have also dismissed it, as it might have felt like opening a still festering and not fully acknowledged wound.
Now, gratefully, I am in a place where I can not only accept the fact that I was not destined to have a child or children in the traditional sense, but that my life was divinely orchestrated for something else... something "more" not "less", in its own right.
The word "childless" does not mean that we are not "child-full" of little or now grown-up people we love. I myself am a Godmother to three and "Aunt Marcy" to many. Nor does it mean that we are "less" than women who have their own children. It is simply one descriptor, out of many, about our present state of being. At this time, I do not have a child, therefore I AM childless. That may change someday, but for now, there is greater peace in accepting it as it is.
I rejoice, at last, in acknowledging and celebrating the "Mother" in me, who has had the honor and joy of sharing unconditional love with so many along the way. And I look forward to continuing to do so for all my days.
I hope that this phrase, either at first glance or upon reflection, will invite, engage and inspire all women who are a member of this demographic to embrace her individual and our collective reality... defining for ourselves what it actually means... from the inside out.