NOT A MOTHER’S DAY: IS CHILDLESSNESS BY CHOICE ALLOWED TO BE CELEBRATED?

You will remember that just two weeks ago, we celebrated one of May's major holidays: Mother's Day. For me, it began with the customary morning tea/coffee and gift exchange. The grateful daughter and sibling, I praised my mother and sister for their strength and dedication and began preparations for our afternoon barbecue. After all, motherhood is inarguably one of the most difficult and taken for granted professions. Above being a hard job, it's a divine calling. I certainly believe it’s worth celebrating and like previous years, I thought nothing of the fact that I have no children of my own. Like a person celebrating another's birthday or graduation, I figured, today's just not about me... That is, until a few conversations made me give that some more thought!

The first was by text with a friend who I love and admire. She talked of how alienated she feels around Mother's Day. "I chose not to have children and that's all everyone talks about... Having kids, their kids, etc." I tried comforting her with words about how free I feel, not having children. I asked her to consider the possibility, that those of us who have opted out of parenting, can make every day a celebration of our choice to be childless, if we choose. Still, I did have to admit that I knew where she was coming from. I too, have at some point, felt that alienation.

"People do create a whole new world out of motherhood," I proceeded to text. "With its own language, rules, rituals and values. It can be very exclusive because many mothers explain everything in their lives in relation to their children and speak it with an air of 'you don't understand'... Or at least that has been my experience.”

It’s understandable. There is no use denying that motherhood is a large part of the “adult woman” experience. Those of us who are not a part of the club are sometimes left out and even shamed about it. Let’s be honest. Despite my conscious decision to remain without child, I don't feel encouraged, or even allowed to celebrate my childlessness by choice.

In fact, I mentioned to people, days later, that I was thinking about writing an article about being childless by choice. What do you know? It was met by confused looks, eye rolls and discouraging comments. All of which confirmed what I have long experienced to be true: choosing to celebrate my childlessness, for the most part, gets interpreted by folks as me picking a fight with motherhood; as me disrespecting, under-appreciating, and somehow degrading, the role of mother.

So, let me repeat: motherhood is inarguably one of the most difficult and taken for granted professions. That does not, however, mean that we must all sign up for the job. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, in 2014, 47.6 percent of women between age 15 and 44 had never had children, up from 46.5 percent in 2012. This represents the highest percentage of childless women since the bureau started tracking that data in 1976.”[1] Women, across race and economic class, are making different choices. I am one of them, not because I do not understand or value the grandeur of motherhood, but because I have not chosen it for myself. Which brings me to the second Mother's Day conversation to inspire this article.

In the middle of our Mother’s Day cook out, a day that I was convinced was not about me, I was unexpectedly bombarded by a series of probing questions. A female relative who I like to think of as rather progressive and independent led the charge. "So you're really not going to have any kids," she asked out of nowhere as I sorted through some pictures I was wanting to show the other guests. "Really? You're just not going to have any kids?" She continued. "Why not? You still have time. You should really think about it. You would make such a great mother!" She ended.

As much as I wanted to hear that last part as a compliment, I simply could not. I just couldn’t quite get over the fact that I was being asked, in public, to explain my family planning choices (what I had chosen to do with my eggs, uterus, home, money, time, relationship, etc.). Was I basically being asked to justify, if not defend my choice to be childless? If so, why was that okay? How did Mother’s Day become about me not being a mother?

I mean, can you imagine how a woman with children might feel if someone walked up and asked, "Wow, you really decided to have children? Really, you're just going to keep having kids? Why? You still have time. Consider stopping. You would be so much better at so many other things!" Disrespectful, right? I can just imagine the looks of shock on your faces right now as you merely read this hypothetical conversation. So, think of the level of rage that would come over most people if this was ever said to them aloud. Yet somehow, no one even blinks when childless women are backed into a corner, asked to come up with a reason compelling enough to keep people from the judgment they so easily express over our choice not to reproduce. How interesting, that in 2017, this is still a conversation that needs to be had.

I got to thinking about the current political debates around a woman's right to choose and the Sex and the City episode, “A Woman's Right to Shoes.” The more I pondered, the more I wondered... despite our contemporary ideas of feminism, DO WE STILL HAVE A TENDENCY TO EQUATE WOMANHOOD WITH MOTHERHOOD? For centuries, across cultures, women have been seen as givers of life, nurturers, caretakers. So much of our social identity has been defined by our maternal nature. And while we have made great strides toward expanding the world's understanding of women's multidimensional power, perhaps we have not let go of some of our most basic associations: woman = mother. And if so, what does that mean for the many women who have opted out of motherhood? Do we have the right, the support, or even the social permission, to celebrate our childlessness by choice, with the same vigor that other women celebrate their motherhood?

References:

[1] Gray, E. (2015, April 09). A Record Percentage Of Women Don't Have Kids. Here's Why That Makes Sense. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/09/childless-more-women-are-not-having-kids-says-census_n_7032258.html

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