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Posts Tagged ‘maternal instinct’

No Kids? No Problem

In behavior, parenting, women on November 8, 2010 at 1:08 am
Cover of "I Love You, Mommy (Little Golde...

Cover of I Love You, Mommy (Little Golden Book)

Here’s another salvo in the mommy wars, from writer Erica Jong, in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal:

Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness. Nannies are seldom photographed in these carefully arranged family scenes. We are to assume that all this baby-minding is painless, easy and cheap.

And a great recent essay on not ever wanting to be a mother, by Nanette Varian, in More magazine:

It’s not as if we “intentionals” are so rare. According to U.S. Census data, the percentage of women ages 40 to 44 who’ve never given birth has doubled over the past 30 years or so, and studies have finally begun to separate the nonparents-by-chance from the nonparents-by-choice, an important acknowledgment that, yes, some of us actually did want it this way. When the National Center for Health Statistics broke out the voluntary non-moms in 2002, it found that among women ages 35 to 44 who had never given birth, 7 percent (1.5 million) had chosen that route. And that 7 percent is making itself heard. In the past few years, there have been many cultural expressions of this choice: books, websites, blogs, newsgroups, Facebook pages, even entertainments like “Breeder Bingo” cards and drinking games (mark a box or down a shot every time someone chides you with a platitude like “It’s different when they’re your own!”).

As I face my progeny-free middle and older age, it’s comforting to see I’m not the only one waving good-bye, dry eyed, as the baby train leaves the station for good. But who are the other women on the platform with me?

I have no kids and, except for a brief period at the point at which the idea was largely moot — without $10,000-a-pop IVF interventions or international adoption — never wavered from that stance.

The insane fetishization of mothering/parenting/mommyhood is such a powerful way to (re)focus attention away from the larger political and economic forces that still make motherhood, for many women, exhausting, expensive and overwhelming. Peer pressure only adds to this.

Have I regretted not having kids? No.

Do I occasionally wish I had someone with my genes and values in the world, someone who would have whispered “I love you, Mommy” and hugged me fiercely? It’s not that simple.

Watching my friends negotiate motherhood has been instructive; for every woman who loves it, another struggles with wildly unequal childcare duties, career conflicts and children who bring as many intense, life-long challenges as joy, whether mild autism or severe mental illness, to name only two.

Many adult kids are now unemployed, some even flat broke and homeless, those who can even now moving back home with their children. The cycle now never ends. Independence is ever more elusive.

Motherhood has become proxy for caring, mentoring, giving of yourself, as if women without kids are incapable of this.

One new friend, a woman in her 40s who lives in Europe, has been called a bitch — to her face! – because she does not have kids (which she had very much hoped for.) Only raising children offers incontrovertible proof to the world (whose business it is because…?) you’re not selfish.

Hah! As if.

I grew up as the only child of a divorcee with chronic health issues and with very few friends in her town. I have never felt free of her needs. As I type this, she is in a hospital bed far away recovering from a broken hip. I’ve flown cross-continent twice for her various cancer surgeries, happily.

But now it never stops….and most of her poor health is self-inflicted.

That’s been quite enough stress for me, thanks.

No kids?

No problem.

No Kids? No Problem

In parenting, women on November 4, 2009 at 9:34 am
Family portrait with mother, father, two small...

Can you be a real family with no kids in it? Image by Powerhouse Museum Collection via Flickr

Any woman who chooses never to have kids — and doesn’t inherit any as a stepmother — ends up looking like a freak. All women want kids! Where’s your maternal instinct? Babies are so cute! There’s a loud, powerful, unavoidable litany. Not to mention the parade of celebs with their baby bumps, their babies, their toddlers, their kids, somehow suggesting it’s the coolest choice imaginable.

It’s a choice, as Laura. S. Scott discusses in her new book, “Two Is Enough”, the result of interviews with 171 people who chose not to have kids, experts and parents. She debunks a pile ‘o myths — parenthood makes you a better person, it’s different when they’re yours, parenting is the path to maturity.

As someone who never wanted kids, I know what people think of us. We’re weird, cold, unloving, selfish. Whatever. Here are a few things to think about should you feel the need to judge someone who didn’t procreate:

1) There may be serious medical issues, from cancers to mental illness, we don’t want to risk in having offspring who may be born with them. We know the costs, financial, emotional and psychological. We’ve made that calculation.

2) We may have had crazy childhoods, with parents who were mentally or physically ill, substance abusers or worse. Surviving our own childhoods was tough enough. Many of us were “parentified”, forced into taking charge of the adults who chose to bear us, taking care of them when we were way too young to handle it. We’re worn out. Parenting our own kids looks like another few decades of more wearying work.

3) Parenting, well, is really, really hard work. We’re not dumb! Sure, it’s deeply rewarding. So are many other activities.

4) Depending on your career choice or ambitions, handling the additionally relentless time, money and emotional needs of those utterly dependent on you is unmanageable. We want to do our work, or our avocations, really well, perhaps even obsessively, and we know something has to give — motherhood, or fatherhood, is it. We see the anger, resentment and fatigue of many women trying to juggle 12 kinds of excellence at once.

5) The choice carries consequences, of which we’re fully aware: people with kids may exclude you from their lives, we get asked to pick up the slack at work for parents’ needs, we have to think a little harder about what the future looks like. It’s not a predictable sequence of pediatricians/school/SATs/college/weddings/grandkids. It’s not predictable at all.

6) It’s just the two of us. Thanksgiving choices aren’t obvious. Neither is Christmas. With no distractions of kids and their needs, it’s all up to us to decide how to express our deepest values. Maybe it’s work, travel, volunteer work, mentoring. It forces many thoughtful conversations.

7) How and where can we connect with kids? I love talking to kids and hanging out with them, but with no nieces or nephews, it’s tough and a little lonely. I was a Big Sister for a while, but that’s a whole different story. This is something I’m still thinking through.

What’s our legacy? Big word, that. But parents take it for granted. They’ve had kids! There’s visible proof of their commitment to the future. For us, it’s deciding how or where we’ll handle our later lives. Who will receive the money and assets from our estates when we die? A charity, foundation, our alma mater? Knowing there will be no physical continuation of us, mortality feels very real indeed.

One of my few bookmarked women’s blogs is BitchPhd; here’s a poignant recent post on the exhausting challenge of single parenting.

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