In Defense of Childless “Mothers”

A recent blog entry caused a bit of a stir among readers. In the entry, I confess that a friendship ended because my friend’s children were impossible for me to be around. Some of the comments in response to the entry were quite critical of me. Some expressed solidarity with the “I can’t stand your kids” sentiment. But most of the responses, either way, expressed the unfortunate and often wrong perception that if a woman does not have a child, she just doesn’t understand what it takes to parent one—or what it’s like to parent one. So she should sit down and shut up; “Don’t judge.”

I am now forty. 99% of the women in my life are mothers, and have been for a decade at least.

I live in a community that is young-family-centered. Babies—and their mothers (and fathers)—are EVERYWHERE here. At the cantina down the street last night, I’m sipping my margarita…two kiddos, both under three, at the table next to me.

If I spent most of my time judging how people parent, and how their children behave, instead of observing how people parent and how their children behave, and cultivating as much of an understanding of what that relationship is like… I’d be a really tired person… and one with no desire to have a child.

 I have a lot of experience observing without making judgments in this area. And to be honest, I think I’m much more sympathetic and understanding of parents than most mothers are.

 Some women simply don’t want children. Perhaps they don’t like them. I can understand that. Child-ness is a whole culture that isn’t for everyone. (Often I wish I was that woman… Then this whole “I’m not getting pregnant thing” wouldn’t feel so gut-wrenching.) These women probably don’t spend much time judging parenting. What would be the point? They pretty much don’t like kids no matter what their behavior…

 Others, like me, and there are MANY of us… No, we don’t have our own children, but we spend a lot of time taking in information from the mothers around us… and not judging it… considering it. Because we’re not parents (yet), I think we tend to be much more forgiving of parenting styles and outcomes than other parents are. Especially moms.

The Cult of Motherhood… There is one out there and it’s annoying as heck. Not all moms belong to it; in fact I dare say most don’t. (Thank goodness. I’m thinking of my own friends here.) It’s defined by this attitude that being an “active” mother is akin to Godess-ness, and everyone everywhere should honor them. It’s defined by constant and vehement defense of the way they parent (even when no attack is coming). Certainly, no one should criticize their children... or anyone’s. To do so is a heinous offense. And by all means, if you do so and you have no kids of your own, you simply have no clue what parenting is all about; you have no informed perspective and should just shut it.

 Let me suggest that many of us… women without children… we’re “mothers,” too, and the kind that do a lot less “judging” than mothers WITH children. We interact as much as we can with children (For years, I taught grades 1-3/Montessori and very much felt like a kind of mom to those kids) because we love them. We hope some day to have a kid of our own, so we observe and consider the way others parent, noting outcomes in the behavior of their children.

 For the most part, I continue to enjoy watching my friends’ children grow and develop—even when the process is incredibly difficult for the families. It’s inspired in me a deep respect for the aspects of child rearing that are so unpredictable, and the immense faith required in the art of parenting—no matter what “style.” And if anything, my status as “not a mother” maybe shouldn’t be so readily dismissed by the Parents world; I’ve got a lot to offer—a perspective that is perhaps more open and accepting than it thinks.

Elana Paige