Children: thanks, but no thanks. Photo: Steven SiewertI am not someone who holds back coming forward with an opinion, but even I have limits. And until this week, that has been daring to say something anti-motherhood, to admit that not only am I OK with not having kids, I’m actually delighted.
You see, to do so is to break a big sisterly taboo, to pour scorn on what is supposedly a woman’s greatest blessing, to deny the very laws of nature and the portrayals of fulfilment fed to us from birth. Women with kids, I rightly feared, would be offended. Or, even more common, would believe I am in denial of my own unfulfilled yearnings. That I am actually jealous. But here’s the rub, I’m just not.
Sure, at one stage when I was deeply in love I believed I could do it, that a child would only add to our happiness. But thankfully, it didn’t happen. Because that relationship was short-lived and today I would be tied to someone I no longer respect for life.
And the fact is that even in this century, I still believed that motherhood would impede on other goals I was certain I wanted – a career, travel, independence, spontaneity and freedom. I saw my decision as one or the others. Compromise was inevitable. Others may disagree but I say look at the lack of accessible childcare, wage inequity and the fact women are still expected to do the majority of housework and child rearing. It was risk I just couldn’t take.
And so, I have missed the infinite joy of raising a person of my creation, of experiencing the incredible love mothers cite and having an indisputable raison d’etre. But again, I’m OK with that. You don’t miss it of you haven’t had it and so, in my view, pining for something imagined is a waste of time and energy that only stops you seeing and enjoying what you do.
The reason I am sharing this today is that an invisible wall seemed to crumble this week and allowed honesty to shine through. Because at last, women who do have kids but regret the decision have been given an outlet to admit it. Dilvin Yasa knocked the first brick out with her article The women who regret becoming mothers and from there, real women took out their social media sledgehammers and allowed a light to be shone on their darkness.
Yes, it has come with judgment from others who disagree, who believe these women are ungrateful when others so desperately want children but can’t have them, but that was always going to be the case. But from reading feedback this week on the subject, I could almost hear the relief in those who confessed they would have made a different decision should they be able to turn back time. What’s more, the compassion and liberation that comes from knowing others feel the same way.
My mother was actually a trailblazer in this regard. I recall her admitting at a dinner party one night that if she had known better or felt she had a choice, she would never have had my brother and I. She confessed she didn’t feel she was a good mother and would compare herself to other women who seemingly only relished the role. She said she missed her career and the friends that came with it. And, when moved away from the city and those she loved to a more appropriate “family” home in the suburbs, she was overwhelmed by abject loneliness and isolation. This underlying resentment she credits as the start of the ugly unravelling of her marriage.
Not my cup of tea.
But for Mum there was no parting of the clouds and overwhelming sense of purpose. For her, raising kids was a chore and an endless one at that. In her day, she says she never saw kids as a choice, just something you did once hitched. There was no weighing up your options – there was only one if you were fertile. And so she went with the flow.
Mum never said she didn’t love us kids – she did and we both knew it intrinsically – she just didn’t get the supposed magic of motherhood as extolled by others. She claims other mothers she tried to bond with tended to look down on her lack of maternal instincts, shattering her self-esteem in the process. And, when her marriage turned violent, she saw no choice but to leave it and us behind, something she felt immense guilt about the rest of her life.
Still, I respected where she was coming from. Because as I grew to face the reality of what my life would be like with kids, I realised I am my mother’s child and I feared I would be the same, that motherhood wouldn’t come naturally to me and that I would resent a decision I couldn’t turn back.
Today I adore my godchildren and embrace every opportunity I can to give their mothers some relief by looking after them. I also listen when these women tell me they are “fed up”, “need a break” and “some me time”. Because no matter what decision a woman makes regarding children, she should be allowed to regret it even temporarily, to miss their old lives and to wonder wistfully what their futures may have held had they not chosen to procreate.
None of us are perfect and none of us are without dreams. Being a mother doesn’t make you a martyr. It just makes you a woman with kids and the joys and disappointments that come with them. Not every woman is the same and that is to be celebrated not criticised. So, as women, let’s stop judging and try supporting each other’s decisions and circumstances instead. And that goes for those of us who have chosen not to have children, too.