It’s time to talk about babies – having them or not and if so, how many? Why having none is “selfish”, having one is “unfortunate for the only child” and having two or three is “just right”.
ACCOMPLISHED 30-SOMETHING WOMAN CHOOSES NO KIDS
The other day at the office I was chatting with a 30-something, professional woman about her upcoming wedding. She is smart, competent and beautiful. She showed me photos on her smartphone of her wedding gown – an elegant strapless white sweetheart design with just the right amount of bling. She will be marrying a man she met 2 years ago on match.com. In traditional mode, she plans to change her last name to his to illustrate her commitment. (name change or not? – fodder for a future blog)
Since she was so forthcoming, I asked about her plans for kids. She replied, “only the four-legged furry kind”. Trying to be politically correct, I said something like,
“gotta love the 4-legged kids – love my 4-legged granddog and cat.” She went on to tell me how hard it is to hear reactions to her no kids stance such as, “don’t worry, honey, you’ll change your mind once your biological clock starts booming”. Her ready response to which – “I had uterine cancer”. Her reply quickly shuts down the kid conversation causing the perception of her to go from selfish to victim. She then quips that cancer had nothing to do with her decision to forego motherhood. She told me she never did and doesn’t now want kids and she’s sick and tired of being judged negatively for her decision.
IN THE OLD DAYS
This discussion got me thinking about women’s childbearing choices or lack thereof. I just finished reading a very interesting historical fiction called, “The Invention of Wings”. It’s about the Grimke sisters who were abolitionists from the south in the early 19th century. The novel elegantly depicts a time when certain women had no choice but to marry to leave their parents’ home – they needed husbands to take care of them because they had no legal rights to own property and producing offspring was their part of the deal. (BTW – the word “spinster,” which is still a legal term for unmarried woman, derives from women who spun cloth and were able to support themselves without a husband).
CHOICES: MY MOM, MY DAUGHTER, AND ME
Thinking about women’s choices in my own life, I reflect on my mother, my daughter and me. If my mother had the choices available to today’s women, she would likely have opted for a business career with no kids. That’s not to say she wasn’t a good mother – she loved and cared for her three kids the best way she knew how. She never took a job outside the home while we were growing up, even though the family could have used the extra income, because my father thought to do so would cast a negative perception on him and his earing capacity.
Thank goodness my daughter, also a thirty-something, is free to choose her maternal destiny. As a social justice activist and a soon to be lawyer, she will likely forego motherhood to have the time, energy and focus to advance her many causes – including her belief that overpopulation is a real issue.
As for me, ironically, I always thought I’d have a house full of kids. But things did not go that way. Due to divorce and early menopause, I only had one child, and as it turned out, one was probably my max capability.
Having only one child, I was always somewhat apologetic. When asked about why, I would reply, “would have loved more but divorce got in the way” – changing folks’ perception of me from an ill-advised mother of an only child to a victim of circumstance. Had things been different, I would have had a hard time making a decision to have only one child – although I truly believe it turned out the best for both my daughter and me. My daughter loved being an only child and notwithstanding all the attention, she turned out to be an unselfish and well-adjusted person – a fact I take little credit for – she just came out of the chute this way.
THE ONE CHILD CHOICE
A young woman friend recently struggled over the “only-child” choice. She is a lawyer and her husband is a doctor – in many ways they are perfect parents with lots of love and means and good ethics. It was hard for her to decide to just have one – she worried her son would miss having siblings and that somehow her choice could permanently scar her son’s life. I tried to help her reconcile with her ultimate one child choice. But she, like many of us, had a built-in bias. In the old days if a family only had one child, the common belief was there was a medical problem preventing more.
WOMEN WHO HAD NO CHOICE
The women who wanted children and were not able to have them have their own stories of being judged and never quite accepted by their childbearing counterparts. I am beginning to understand how hard it must have been for them to listen to the non-stop baby/children growing up stories of most of their friends – since I am now experiencing the same phenomenon with respect to overly gaga grannies! You’d think they had nothing else of interest in their lives (I say with a bit of jealousy).
A close friend who couldn’t have kids due to a medical condition made a comment that I found particularly poignant – something about having no one to leave all her photos to – thankfully today’s photos are mostly digital and can be disposed of by a click of a button – leaving no need for future offspring to be the recipient of those big boxes and random fading, curly-edged holiday, summer vacation and graduation family photos. (Ironically, I have a few such boxes and my kid has no interest).
WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW?
In looking beyond my own circle to get a sense of whether social mores regarding childbearing are changing, I googled the topic and found there have been numerous lively discussions within the last few years. On having one child, Lauren Sandler, author of “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One” defends her position in an opinion piece in the NY Times Sunday Review (June 8, 2013). On having no children, Jill Filipovic writes in The Guardian (August 16, 2013) “Most of us grow up feeling that we should have children and that our lives will be unfulfilled without. We need new social norms”. In Choices (September 15, 2014) Julia Ma listed 25 celebrities, including Betty White, Oprah, Helen Mirren, Condoleezza Rice, Dolly Parton and Ellen who decided to forego children.
The fact that people are talking about it, and many are staunch defenders of choice, leads me to think that the historical role of women as primarily baby-makers is changing – albeit slowly.
MORAL OF THE STORY
If there is a message in these musings about the decision of motherhood or not, it is 2 fold: first, let us celebrate the fact that women finally have choice about their reproduction and second, let us not judge our sisters for the choices they make.
BECAUSE SOME READERS LIKE LISTS
In closing, I’d like to leave you with my list of 10 things NOT to say to women who chose to have no kids or only one.
- you’ll change your mind once your biological clock starts really ticking
- don’t make a decision you are likely to regret your whole life
- having children is the only way to become more truly human
- who is going to take care of you when you are old?
- bright, healthy and productive people like you have a duty to procreate
- an only child will be lonely
- an only child may grow up selfish and unable to get along with others
- if you can’t or don’t want to have a baby yourself, you should adopt
- you need to continue your lineage
- having babies keeps cancer at bay
SONG FOR FUN
It took me a while to come up with an “appropriate song” to accompany this post.Hope you enjoy GLEE’s (tongue-in-cheek) rendition of Paul Anka’s classic 1974 hit – “ You’re Having My Baby”. (according to Wikipedia, considered one of the worst songs of all times !)
We have come a long way………………BUT THE JOURNEY IS NOT OVER