Womanhood does not equal Motherhood
So it's Mother's Day on Sunday. A time for us to appreciate the people who gave birth to us and/or acted as mothers for us through our growing up. That's all lovely and well and really a good thing to do.
But I'm not going to do that in this post.
I'm going to release some rage about the way our culture deals with women who don't have kids - whether by choice or happenstance. This angry rant was brought about by this article in Bitch magazine which is excellent (it really is, you should read it - and Bitch is fantastic and you should support them).
The article looks at the way popular media treats single women and motherhood - exploring the many tv shows and movies that use unexpected pregnancies as a plot point to create personal development for sad, alone, selfish female characters. I HATE HATE HATE this trope. I detest it. It is one of my biggest pet peeves about the portrayal of women in popular culture (that and sexual assault as a casual plot point - but that's another thing).
If I see one more show where a woman suddenly finds herself pregnant, decides, for no apparent reason, to give birth to and parent that baby, and suddenly finds that motherhood has given her purpose and reason in her meaningless life, I will actually vomit.
The main reason why this bothers me is very personal. I am a woman, about to be 50, who has chosen not to have children. I am not selfish. I do not regret this decision. I made an active choice - which was not always easy, particularly now that I cannot change my mind - not to have children. I did this because I honestly feel that for me, the whole process of being pregnant and giving birth and then the lifelong commitment of raising children is, on balance, unlikely to be good for me. Sure, there are a lot of things that would be great about it. There are many amazing things about having children that I know I've missed out on. But there are also a lot of extremely difficult things that I've also missed out on - things that I don't believe, knowing myself as well as I do - I would handle terribly well.
One of the main reasons (although not the only one) I made this choice is that I have witnessed how incredibly difficult it is to raise children in our culture. While this week we are all sharing beautiful memes about how amazing our mothers are and how we love and celebrate them, the reality is that our culture leaves mothers to handle the bulk of the hard stuff by themselves.
We have destroyed the nuclear family - to the point where we ridicule people who live with or close to their parents and rely on them for support with child-rearing. Many people live nowhere near family that help share the difficult task of taking care of kids. Childcare is inaccessible and unaffordable to many women, especially if they don't have income-earning partners. Community supports like babysitting co-ops, drop in day cares, parenting groups and social outlets are few and far between and difficult to access where they do exist.
While the social and family supports for raising children have shrunk, our expectations of what mothers are supposed to do for their children has only increased. There is a ton of pressure of moms to do the very very best for their kids and a lot of social judgement against them for the slightest perceived error.
Yes, this all sounds like something I cannot wait to be a part of! Why do people wonder that fewer and fewer women want to have children? I am a middle class woman with a partner. I have some social supports and a lot of financial resources. I felt that it would be extremely difficult for me. How do socially isolated and/or poor women do this??
The answer is, they struggle - a lot. And most of them try not to show that they are struggling because they are not supposed to complain about being a mother - the very very best thing you could ever do.
I do want to celebrate mothers this Mother's day. We should do that - it's a very difficult job and they deserve recognition. But we shouldn't just give them flowers and pretty memes. We should give them affordable and accessible childcare, income support, easy access to cheap transportation, easily accessible health care, flexible jobs so they can manage work and their families. Those are good mother's day presents.
Until we do that, let's get off the backs of people who choose not to be mothers. There are really good reasons not to be a mom and we should never be judged for that.
And let's stop with these horrible tv shows and movies that try to tell us that if we just have a baby, all our problems will magically disappear.
Let's also support and celebrate, and stop judging, the women (like me) who would choose not to have children even if it was much easier. Some of us don't want to be moms. And that is perfectly fine. There is nothing wrong or unnatural about us. There are lots of ways to live a happy life and many of them don't include having children.