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.