I recently read a 2009 article posted by the Atlantic titled Not Wanting Kids Is Entirely Normal. It made me think about the truth of being a mother and how we do not give women a safe place to vent their truth.
I have been guilty of expecting my daughter to have children without really asking her if that is what she saw for herself. My daughter and her boyfriend had just completed their academic accomplishments and folks began turning up the already existing pressure to get married. While I was not a high pressure mother, I certainly placed my two cents on the table.
My daughter and her boyfriend flew to Italy where he romantically proposed to her and when they returned the wedding plans got underway. Among all the excitement of wedding planning, they got pregnant.
As she shared her news I was surprised that she was not happy. I dismissed her anguish about her career and her travel dreams. I regret that I wasn’t more intuitive to her moment of not wanting to be a mom. Instead, I made it about how wonderful motherhood is, and how happy she would be. I could not fully digest that she was not happy about being pregnant.
Meanwhile, I had a friend who confided in me her struggles of motherhood. How difficult it is, how it was all consuming. I again stood in judgement asking her what did she expect? When I thought about it later, I realized I was being dismissive with that comment, because it was way to close to home. I always expected motherhood to be a burden of sorts not to be discussed.
Both of these women shared taboo thoughts with me. Not wanting children is the ultimate sin in this culture. We socially slaughter mothers with expectations of perfect motherhood. It’s handed down to us like a family heirloom, this idea that we are to embrace motherhood no matter how hard.
Both of these women are spectacular, strong, intelligent people. They are educated and well traveled. They serve their communities and are wonderful to be around. Are these women, and all women, supposed fall into motherhood seamlessly? Are they supposed to deny the fact that they miss who they were before another human being compromised the comfort of personal space? Who would have told them that? Certainly not me. I was way to busy getting my Xanax prescription filled to prove to them how easy and wonderful motherhood really is.
From day one I was expected to be a mother, and like many women, that expectation was confirmed early when girls are given dolls – while boys were given airplanes. Babies ground you, is the ongoing message of the girl who wants to fly.
Recent conversations among others have made me see that for almost 30 years I’ve been programmed to deny, delete, and push back any negative thoughts about being a mom. Anytime I had a thought of motherhood being to much, or daydreamed about never having children I was washed with guilt. I’ve been a mom since I was 19 years old and the truth is at times, I’ve felt jealous of any woman who was able to have a flourishing career without having to do the balancing act of motherhood and family.
The side effect of me and other mothers, pushing aside our truth is that I could not fully be there when my friends (yes, I consider my adult daughter one of my friends) needed me to say, “yeah, this shit totally sucks at times” or “yeah, it’s kind of fucked up you’re pregnant now, but you’ll be ok!”
There will always be people who say “well just don’t have kids!”
My answer? More women probably wouldn’t have children if these same people wouldn’t consider women defective and unwanted by the time they are 40 and haven’t had children. God help the woman who has a passion for her career more than having children. We “feel so sorry for her” because we have convinced ourselves that she is missing the “best part” of life. Having children is not always the best part of a person’s life, and we have to seriously start talking about that.
We applaud women who can suppress the depression, anxiety, that accompanies maintaining a home, marriage and children. We demonize the mother who is honest when she bravely shares that she’d do it all over again without kids in tow. Perhaps we can stop waving away their first instinct not to have children, and honor the idea that our daughters can be happy not being mothers. Reassure them that their worth is more than their womb.
Then there are the women who say “I can’t imagine my life without my babies!” To them I say stop lying, because you absolutely can imagine your life without kids sucking the life out of you and you know it. It doesn’t mean you’re not loving your children, it certainly doesn’t mean you are not a fantastic mom. It simply means you’re being truthful for a moment. What if, you weren’t expected to have children as a measure of your worth? What if we stopped passing that expectation down to our daughters?
Creating safe places where we can be truthful as mothers is essential, because we don’t want the children we love to ever hear us say these things until they are old enough to understand. We don’t want our babies walking this planet thinking Mom would be better off without them, and I think that’s the larger issue – that if we talk about the hardships of mothering we devalue our children. Giving our daughters permission not to be mothers does not devalue their lives it has the potential to enhance it. It gives women a broader sense of what they can become and do outside of motherhood. Redefining the childless mother as being a vibrant fun part of our society and not a old bitter spinster is one step in the right direction.
In the meantime I will practice not asking my daughter about another grandchild:)