On mothering, assumptions and making a contribution


On mothering, assumptions and making a contribution

To all the wonderful women out there with babes big and small, Happy Mother’s Day!
The Two Girls have a tremendous respect for you lot, who have made the choice to bring a life into the world. What a gift; and you’re making a contribution, a tip of the hat to you.
It seems like a reasonable day for our thoughts to turn to mothering.
‘To have or not to have, that is the question?’
Picture dinner out with old and new friends just this week.
‘I’m obsessed aren’t I?’ says the woman sitting to my side.
She had a picture of someone else’s new born as her phone’s screen saver.
She tells me she wants to sprog on. Multiplying is her absolute heart’s desire.
In true Gen Y fashion, she has worked out when she will start reproducing and with whom. It’s a transaction: an exchange for a mutual outcome.
The inevitable question and disbelief slammed into the conversation before she noticed my brake lights. So this Girl found herself explaining to be polite, and was then met with some small quantities of disbelief and pity.
Neither of the Two Girls have our own children and we've had our share of 'why didn't you have kids?' 
And we've had the follow up.
‘It’s okay, you’ve still got time’
‘You should have had kids, you’re so good with them’
‘You’re so clucky’
In A few things you shouldn’t say to a childless woman (the Age, 4 May 2013), Wendy Squires reminds us that ‘[a] woman’s reason for being childless is her own. It is no one else’s business to fill in the blanks.’ Particularly those provided in lieu of condolence.
The question that is never asked is ‘why did you have kids?’
The only vocabulary we have for defining ourselves is in deficit: childless, baron, infertile.
It doesn't translate for men to anywhere near the same extent.

Loads of childless women want to have babies and put themselves through intrusive, costly and heartbreaking interventions trying. Or they don't have the stable relationship or the economic circumstances they believe is important to supporting a child even though they want one very much.
Being asked why you haven't, or assuming you didn't want one, is some painful stuff for them.


Socially, we are motherhood-centric.

Whether you like it or hate it, there are some strong evolutionary and economic reasons why this is the case.
Unless there’s a good physical or social reason why you don’t have babies, then you’ll probably be met with some suspicion. ‘What’s wrong with you?!?’ You’ll generally be excluded from anything from conversations to social networks.
It also rigidly fixes a parental caring role to a single relationship.
One Girl has taken her teenage nephew into her home under difficult circumstances, caring for him, helping him find work, feeding him, clothing him, loving him every day, helping shape him into a man.
This Girl reckons that’s a contribution too, although it is seldom recognised as such. He’s got his own mum but apart from a biological process, I’m not so sure the Other Girl isn’t working at being mum too.
There are consequences of motherhood-centrism for mums too of course.
I’ve known women face their third and unplanned pregnancy with dismay, feeling they had no other option because they were already a mother.
And for all the joy and love you get, no doubt you have had your fair share of sleep deprivation, anger, pain, and maybe even a regret or two. There are things you wanted, but couldn't have. 
Other women struggle to connect to their babies and feel guilty failure.
There is little room for regret and doubt when we're told that motherhood is the most wonderful and fulfilling thing you can do.
So it seems either the choice to have or not to have a baby, to be or not to be a mother, is not straight forward and it is, entirely personal. It's certainly not something to make assumptions about. It seems we need permission to develop a new language about how we talk about it and not talk about it.