mothering

Childless or Child-free?

Husband and I had an interesting conversation the other day that led us into a bit of a debate that ultimately left me with an itching, goading, thought-provoking question on my mind….

Are parents more capable of effecting change in the world via their parenting than those who do not have children?

Is one doomed to not affect as much change in the world as they could have, had they had children?

I was telling dear husband about this article the other day [in which the author argues for people to stop talking about appearance when approaching her daughter, as well as all people’s daughters] and in the ensuing discussion/debate about it, he began to postulate that one would effect more change via writing an article directed at parents about parenting, rather than writing a prescriptive article to all people everywhere about how they should, or should not, treat children they meet in day-to-day life. In his opinion, a more effective article would be one in which the author addresses parents about how to raise their own children (& henceforth, how their child will be), rather than trying to change how all other members of society think, act, etc.

This immediately caused within my brain a line of logic to spring forth that suggested that one would generally be able to effect more change in the world via their act of child-raising than would otherwise be possible if one didn’t have kids. Perhaps, as husband suggested (though he was really not suggesting this at all), the most effective mode of change in the world is found in parenting itself. Whereas I, as a writer, am merely addressing all members of society about society’s issues, perhaps to no avail at all. At least kids kind of have to listen to their parents, right? (Just kidding—even those of us without kids know—they’re totally not listening to you!) However, it is a fact that no single person, or medium, will influence them [children] more than their parents. Ipso facto, as my crazy brain was thinking, parenting is the ultimate way to potentially effect change in society (via raising that new little member of society—your child).

Now, I know that this is not at all what my beloved partner was actually saying. He was just speaking in terms of what kind of article would be most effective. But I couldn’t help but continue pondering the difference… Moms v. Non-moms, Parents v. DINKS, The Child-bearing v. The Child…less? (is it “Childless” or “Child-free”?)

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Anyone that knows me (or has followed this blog, at least) knows that I have long-held the belief that raising a child can be one of the most profoundly feminist acts of one’s life. Yet I’m not doing it. And I’m not necessarily “planning” on it either. Am I childless, or child-free? The latter term insinuates freedom, while the former, lack and loss. Which do other women in a position similar to myself refer to themselves as? (i.e. over the age of 30, married, and with multiple “furkids,” but no human ones)

And is there such a chasm of difference between the moms and non-moms? Once again, many other women in my “situation” are most likely familiar with such oft-heard phrases as, “Well, you don’t have kids, so…,” or “It’s a mom thing,” or my favorite,  ”When you have kids you’ll understand,” which implicitly states that I’m just generally expected to procreate, not to mention it also infers that unless I do have kids, I will never, ever, understand…

I think Caitlin Moran says it best in her book, How To Be A Woman, when she says:

“Men and women alike have convinced themselves of a dragging belief: that somehow women are incomplete without children. Not the simple biological “fact” that all living things are supposed to reproduce, and that your legacy on earth is the continuation of your DNA—but something more personal, insidious, and demeaning. As if a woman somehow remains a child herself until she has her own children—that she can only achieve “elder” status by dint of having produced someone younger. That there are lessons that motherhood can teach you that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere—and every other attempt at this wisdom and self-realization is a poor and shoddy second…

But I don’t think there’s a single lesson that motherhood has to offer that couldn’t be learned elsewhere.”

While I want to ask why it is that all people everywhere seem so interested in whether or not a woman plans on procreating (and let’s face it- this is a truly personal, serious decision)— coworkers, friends,  family, some who may be no more than a casual acquaintance won’t bat an eyelash at asking you, dear female reader, whether or not you plan on reproducing —I already know the answer. Reproduction is more than just one’s personal experience—it’s social reproduction. It’s about population control. It’s about environmentalism. It’s about your tax bracket. It’s about what kind of parent you will be, and what kind of child you have. It’s about sex, it’s about birth control, and it’s about childbirth. It’s about that highly politicized, most basic element of society, the family. Yes, it’s personal, but it is also political. For just one example of this, see here.

In spite of this, however, to borrow from writer Suzanne Moore, “having or not not having children should not define or divide women.” We are all women, nonetheless. We are all human beings nonetheless, and we are all ‘precarious’ in some way, living in this society and this world, dependent upon one another. No man, woman, or child exists in a vacuum exempt from one another.

Suzanne Moore also stated the following in her recent Guardian article:

“I fear that if we put all our eggs in the basket of motherhood, we are bound for disappointment. We must fully appreciate that those without kids subsidise those of us with them and contribute in myriad ways.”

“Some women without children need to “heal”. Some don’t. Some with children feel as existentially lonely as those without. Children are no guarantee of care in old age, or even company.”

“Having kids gives meaning to lives, but this is not the only way to have a meaningful and wonderful life…  If it takes a village to a raise a child then it is worth saying that those who reproduce and those who don’t do not live in separate villages. We are, in fact, next-door neighbors.”

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A Shout Out to the SAHM on Mother’s Day

A while ago I liked this page on Facebook called the “Rabid Feminist.”

Until one day they put up a guest post from someone stating how SAHMs (that’s “Stay-At-Home-Mom,” in case you weren’t hip to the acronym) were undermining the goals of, and strides made by, feminism. Apparently, in the eyes of whoever wrote the piece, and the moderator of this site, if you were a SAHM you were by definition not a feminist, and furthermore holding all of women’s lib back, negating much of the gains made by feminism— because you decided to be a SAHM.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I quickly looked to the comments below.

Relief! All of the comments were ones of anger, upset, and disappointment.

I myself posted something to the effect of: “Shame on you for trying to shame any woman that chooses to be a SAHM. Not only can being a SAHM be one of the most profound feminist acts of all, but to disparage any woman for making that choice is what is really anti-feminist.”

Yes, I am a “Strident Feminist” as Caitlin Moran would say, but that most certainly does not mean looking down on any woman just because she decides to be a stay-at-home-mother. That is a decision made by her, and/or an agreement decided upon by her and her partner, end of story. And hell, much love and power to those women! We all know that whether working outside the home or not, being a mother is a full-time job, but the way I see it, being a SAHM could encapsulate a very philosophical, free-thinking, creativity-inspiring, radical foundation for thinking and learning. One of my teachers once said that the Ancient Greeks—those great minds of the past (who stole most of their good ideas from the Middle East and Africa, according to him)— didn’t learn by sitting in a classroom in which all of learning was broken up into separate disciplines, but rather, they just had conversations (*ahem Socratic method*). This makes me think of all the things—concepts, ideas, ways of thinking and seeing, etc.—that could transpire between mother and child in a SAHM situation. What a classroom! Not to mention eschewing one’s place within the whole capitalist scheme of the workforce could be seen as a radical/ feminist move in itself, too.

Lastly, I would like to share that a while ago a SAHM friend of mine took me out for coffee, paying for both of us, and when I later told a male friend, “Oh, I met up with so-and-so this morning and she bought me breakfast, how nice, la la la….,” he responded,

“Well, her husband bought you coffee. She doesn’t work, so it wasn’t her that bought it.” I said, “OH SHE WORKS ALRIGHT. She just doesn’t have a “traditional” capitalist job, getting paid by a corporation like what you’re thinking… but OH… SHE WORKS. And SHE EARNED THAT MONEY and she bought me my coffee!”

So hopefully that clears the air on what at least one feminist thinks about the SAHM. (But we all know I’m not the only one)

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, mother-in-laws, single fathers, stepmothers, mothers-to-be, foster mothers, male-mothers, and anyone else doing the work of “mothering” out there. I’m a fan of your work.