I was visiting my childhood friend, now a mother, when dinner time arrived. She squirted ketchup onto her daughter’s plate and then her son’s. And then mine. I looked at it.
She immediately recognized her mistake and laughed. She knew I could squirt my own ketchup, she said, but she was just so used to doing it… She apologized (still laughing) for overstepping her role as “mother” by inadvertently mothering me.
Where my friend excelled is where many other women, such as Kathleen Parker in her column “Of pleasure and parenthood,” fail miserably. They overstep their role as mother by saying things, as Parker did, such as, “It’s hard to know for certain that one doesn’t want children. Many don’t, until they do.”
They don’t recognize the mile-wide leap they’re making over that acceptable line when they preach to, question, or criticize women who don’t want children as if we are their children. As if we require their approval, seek their “wisdom,” or otherwise invite their perspective.
Parker suggests in her column about the “mommy-wars” that those writing about it (even before she picked up her own stick) were beating a dead horse. She goes on to say that whether women have children “is the only question left to those with first-world problems.”
This is a lovely oversimplification, and it would be nice if it were true; however, whether to have children is a full-world problem.
In some nations, rampant, careless baby-having leads to mass starvation and AIDS epidemics.
In others, such as our idyllic first-world nation, it leads to the perpetuation of poverty and unfit individuals in all socioeconomic brackets abusing and neglecting their offspring to the degree of five dead kids a day.
On a level that doesn’t create a life-and-death situation for the children strangers so desperately want all women to mindlessly bring into the world, the push to procreate delivered by newspaper and television personalities with an audience of millions creates immense pressure in young women to live one particular kind of life.
That pressure can be harmful.
According to Dr. Jonathan P. Schwartz, former Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Houston, research shows that those who come to a decision without much consideration or as a result of peer or societal pressure are more likely to be unhappy with that decision; therefore, it follows that people who go along with what they think they’re supposed to do – such as parenting – rather than doing what they want to do will be more prone to struggle.
“Your whole life will change once you have a child,” Schwartz says. “Whatever your plans were, they’ll have to change. Your freedom to do the things you want will change. So, someone who’s not ready for that will experience all kinds of psychological symptoms — depression, anger, resentment.” (1)
And that it is somehow acceptable to imply, or even say outright, that women who don’t want children are selfish, narcissistic, cold, unwise, immature, or silly adds to the pressure by communicating that they – we – are so unquestionably “wrong” that there should be no social barriers or general rules of propriety preventing this kind of open defamation.
But, let’s pretend for a second that whether to create and form new human beings isn’t a monumental task best left only to those who truly want them – and who at the same time have considered the consequences and are fit to do the job – that the shark has indeed been jumped and that we should heed Parker’s advice and stop talking about it, already.
I agree. And the people I desperately wish would stop talking about it first are those who, even now, years after Parker had her turn, continue to minimize the all-encompassing lifestyle that is motherhood by suggesting women choose not to bear children for reasons that are purely selfish, shallow, or, at best, misguided.
I would also like to hear less from women who, for whatever reason, feel it is their duty to mother those of us with no desire to be mothers.
- You don’t need to ask us whether we’re sure about not wanting children. We’re every bit as certain or uncertain as you were when you decided you wanted to have children. We can make big-girl decisions just like you can. Doctors refusing to perform sterilization procedures, take note: we know what we want.
- You don’t need to tell us you worry we’ll change our minds later. We aren’t your responsibility.
- You don’t need to fret that we’ll regret it, because – again, like you – we’re big girls who can look into the future with as much accuracy and confidence as anyone else. Your desire to have children or your role as a mother does not bestow upon you the gift of omniscience or wizardly wisdom.
“Parenting surely isn’t for everyone, and those who choose to be child-free probably have made the right decision,” Parker writes.
Yes. “Probably,” Ms. Parker. But don’t you not-so-secretly hope we made the wrong one?
The reaction to the (in)famous TIME magazine cover (above) depicting a happy childfree couple made painfully obvious that so much of this concern for the well-being of the childfree is far from “oops, I put ketchup on your plate” mothering.
Instead, it’s utterly disingenuous, a barely-veiled expression of hope to someday have that moment of Schadenfreude.
Why else would it so burn them that childfree people could be so overtly (sputter!), so openly (teeth clench!), so unapologetically (head explosion!) content with their choice? Happy, even.
No regrets. No uncertainty.
How dare we?
The mommy wars will only end when we have enough confidence in our own choices to truly want others to be happy. Mothers, trust other women to know what they want just as you knew what you wanted. Be happy, and let us be happy, too.
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of the novel The Age of the Child. “The Age of the Child is one of the first I’ve read to really consider the issue of reproductive rights and attitudes so deeply. [It] begs numerous questions, including whether or not having children should be a right, why society is often so adamant that it is selfish not to have children, why the government is preoccupied with reproductive rights, and what rights and privileges we take for granted.” – Goodreads Review