On mothering, assumptions and making a contribution

To all the wonderful women out there with babes big and small, Happy Mother’s Day!

The Two Girls have a tremendous respect for you lot, who have made the choice to bring a life into the world. What a gift; and you’re making a contribution, a tip of the hat to you.
It seems like a reasonable day for our thoughts to turn to mothering.
‘To have or not to have, that is the question?’
Picture dinner out with old and new friends just this week.
‘I’m obsessed aren’t I?’ says the woman sitting to my side.
She had a picture of someone else’s new born as her phone’s screen saver.

She tells me she wants to sprog on. Multiplying is her absolute heart’s desire.

In true Gen Y fashion, she has worked out when she will start reproducing and with whom. It’s a transaction: an exchange for a mutual outcome.
The inevitable question and disbelief slammed into the conversation before she noticed my brake lights. So this Girl found herself explaining to be polite, and was then met with some small quantities of disbelief and pity.
Neither of the Two Girls have our own children and we’ve had our share of ‘why didn’t you have kids?’
And we’ve had the follow up.
‘It’s okay, you’ve still got time’
‘You should have had kids, you’re so good with them’
‘You’re so clucky’
In A few things you shouldn’t say to a childless woman (the Age, 4 May 2013), Wendy Squires reminds us that ‘[a] woman’s reason for being childless is her own. It is no one else’s business to
fill in the blanks.’ Particularly those provided in lieu of condolence.
The question that is never asked is ‘why did you have kids?’
The only vocabulary we have for defining ourselves is in deficit: childless, baron, infertile.
It doesn’t translate for men to anywhere near the same extent.

 

Loads of childless women want to have babies and put themselves through intrusive, costly and heartbreaking interventions trying. Or they don’t have the stable relationship or the economic circumstances they believe is important to supporting a child even though they want one very much.
Being asked why you haven’t, or assuming you didn’t want one, is some painful stuff for them.

 

 

Socially, we are motherhood-centric.

Whether you like it or hate it, there are some strong evolutionary and economic reasons why this is the case.

Unless there’s a good physical or social reason why you don’t have babies, then you’ll probably be met with some suspicion. ‘What’s wrong with you?!?’ You’ll generally be excluded from anything from conversations to social networks.
It also rigidly fixes a parental caring role to a single relationship.

One Girl has taken her teenage nephew into her home under difficult circumstances, caring for him, helping him find work, feeding him, clothing him, loving him every day, helping shape him into a man.
This Girl reckons that’s a contribution too, although it is seldom recognised as such. He’s got his own mum but apart from a biological process, I’m not so sure the Other Girl isn’t working at being mum too.
There are consequences of motherhood-centrism for mums too of course.
I’ve known women face their third and unplanned pregnancy with dismay, feeling they had no other option because they were already a mother.
And for all the joy and love you get, no doubt you have had your fair share of sleep deprivation, anger, pain, and maybe even a regret or two. There are things you wanted, but couldn’t have.
Other women struggle to connect to their babies and feel guilty failure.
There is little room for regret and doubt when we’re told that motherhood is the most wonderful and fulfilling thing you can do.
So it seems either the choice to have or not to have a baby, to be or not to be a mother, is not straight forward and it is, entirely personal. It’s certainly not something to make assumptions about. It seems we need permission to develop a new language about how we talk about it and not talk about it.

4 thoughts on “On mothering, assumptions and making a contribution

  1. I was a little disappointed to read your post this time round. I agree there are many parents out there doing remarkable things when it comes to raising children NOT biologically theirs. I am glad you did refer to the person who has raised her nephew as I have always said she is one of the best parents I know. I felt you could have covered more ground with this story. For instance, many people embrace adoption in this country with nothing but praise for those who have trudged such a difficult path. However, any step-parent will tell you they are quickly reminded that the children they are raising aren't really theirs. Empathy is what should be addressed within our culture as I strongly feel this is fundamentally flawed. I agree with many points you made I just feel you could have shown a little more compassion and reserved this forum of "have or not to have" for a different day. On that note lets just embrace ALL the wonderful care givers who work tirelessly with children to make this world a better place, with little or no recognition. We need to stop making this a competition on who's right and who's wrong. Let's keep Mothers Day sacred. Just saying…

  2. Thanks for your contribution Anon. The role of step-parents, foster-parents and social parents is tremendous. You're absolutely right.

    It seems the Two Girls are guilty of our own point – sometimes there is not enough space for everyone's needs.

    We hope you had a loving joy-filled celebration yesterday and that you visit us again xxx

  3. Sadly your original post is also silent on the issue of mothering/parenting for lesbian women – something that i have thought about a lot – for lesbian women the decision is complicated by issues of how ( cos of course we cant just get pregnant accidentally or on purpose with our partner), with who ( anonymous sperm from a clinic or good friend or someone you meet just for this purpose?) as well as 'how will all the various biological and non biological parents work their relationship out as the child or children grow up' ……i thought long & hard about these issues earlier in my life and made attempts at getting pregnant through the clinic method & by trying to interest gay friends in being the dad…..didnt work out……because im an out dyke i don't get asked about this much by straight friends who ( i think ) somehow seem to assume that it hasnt been an issue, but i do get asked about it when go to medical appointments and by people who dont know me well….it always feels weird, like i have somehow failed in my main duty as a woman…..wow thats stereotyping for you!

    i also have thought long and hard about issues like – should i, a white woman living in a westernised country, bring a child into the world who will use far more of the worlds resources than any indigenous child or child living in non westernised countries will ever get access to….what about issues of equity and fairness and the use of scarce resources? these issues are part of some peoples decision making about having children, or not.

    im also aware that in many indigenous cultures, aunties have a special, highly regarded place in a child's life, second only to that of mum, and sometimes instead of mum. Being an auntie is a very special and honorable thing & i love and highly value my relationship with my nieces, greatnieces, nephew & great nephew. i had the enormous priviledge of co-parenting my niece's 2 children with her for a decade (in between her husbands) and my relationship with those children is one of the greatest pleasures in my life.

    adoption has been a huge issue in my family with one of our beloved children being forced/taken away from us…..and later reconnected. i have witnessed first hand the enormous damage and long term heart ache that adoption can create……and i have also witnessed adoptions that have been handled sensitively and well…..these are also issues that factor in peoples decision making about having children

    i now have several small children who i love and keep connection with and we all benefit from this including their parents. i believe that children need all kinds of adults in thier lives and all kinds of parenting ( except of course abusive parenting) – i applaud and support any women who has children in thier lives and who loves them and shows them that they are loved and wanted.

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