Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

It Got Me Thinking…About Traditional Families May 22, 2012

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

I grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting. White, upper-middle-class, staunchly Republican. Parents still married to each other (celebrating 50 years this summer). Dad worked for the same company for 47 years; Mom stayed home to raise three all-American kids. Look at a snapshot of any holiday celebration, and you’ll see us gathered around the dining room table, with flowers from Mom’s garden in the centerpiece, a golden turkey nesting in a great-grandmother’s platter, and everyone dressed with a smile. Picture-perfect.

The flowers, turkey, and smiles are the same in contemporary photos, but we’ve added a few new players. My brother married his college sweetheart and they introduced four beautiful daughters. My sister went off to college and came home a Democrat. Then she went off to graduate school and finally figured out she was a lesbian. A few years later, she joined her partner in a commitment ceremony, and they welcomed two boys with contributions from a sperm donor, a “donor daddy.” I was the lone ranger for many years, the only single person at the table, till I met and married my husband in my mid-40s. He is African-American, and we are childfree.

While growing up and well into adulthood, I never imagined there was any other kind of family for me outside of the traditional model that raised me. I had every expectation that I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and create a home and family in her image. I held tightly to that illusion, through many unfulfilling relationships and socially awkward encounters (“Why aren’t you married?” “Don’t you like children?”). I think it’s a miracle that my “right” family was revealed to me and that I am able to embrace it.

I would argue that our society’s definition of a “traditional” family is flawed. Certainly census statistics show that single-parent homes, adults living alone, and mixed-race families are more the norm than marketing directors would have us believe. I look down our street here in San Francisco (and, admittedly, we are a liberal and open community), and I see this reflected back to me through our neighbors’ homes where multiple generations, languages, races, and genders commingle without special notice.

Here in the childfree community, we’re often made to feel that our families are “nontraditional,” which translates to “less than” or “incomplete.” This way of thinking is so judgmental, so hurtful, and so unnecessary. If you’re single, you can create your own family among close and supportive friends. If you’re married or in a committed relationship, you know that it takes only two to make your family. Other people expand their families to include caretaking of nieces and nephews, elderly relatives and friends, or beloved pets.

The “nontraditional” extended family I am part of today is a beautiful thing, defined by love, acceptance, and respect. In my own home, I feel blessed to be one of a family of two, which we augment by sharing our table with friends who have become family. This is my family, this is my new traditional, and I think it’s perfect.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is working on a memoir about her journey to embracing life without baby.

 

A Culture of Blame December 10, 2010

I came across this article on Childless.com.au, an Australian site. The author, Jane Blakely, is an Australian living temporarily in Malaysia. I found her experience fascinating.

While sitting in a doctor’s waiting room she got pulled into a conversation with a Malaysian man, Raj, who asked her if she had children. When she replied that she didn’t, here’s what happened:

“In my culture, it is expected a couple will have their first child within the first year of being married,” he said. Continuing the family lineage through childbirth is of utmost importance in his culture, Raj said, and the “suitability” of a wife will be called into question by the groom’s family if she hasn’t had a child within the first year of marriage.

The suitability of the wife? There are no male fertility issues in Malaysia? How very Henry VIII!

My initial thought after reading this way, “Boy, I’m glad I don’t live in a culture like that.” But to a lesser extent, I do.

When you don’t have children, you are not the norm, and while people may not openly point fingers of blame, you know they’re speculating as to where the problem lies. “Is it her?” “Is he firing blanks?” And we too often hear stories of marriages that don’t survive infertility, and of spouses who left because they needed to have a family.

Jane’s article was a really eye-opener for me – not because it educated me about other cultures, but because it caused me to take a closer look at my own.

 

Childless in the Workplace October 15, 2010

Filed under: Children,The Childfree Life: Issues and Attitudes — Life Without Baby @ 8:19 am
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A friend of mine was recently offered a “promotion.” The job came with more prestige and opportunity, but also a significant increase in stress and responsibility, and no increase in pay. My friend wanted the job, but politically, she knew she had to take it. Declining the offer would have been a mark against her for future opportunities, so she accepted the position (and is now working crazy hours, weekends, and also had her planned vacation cancelled.) She later came to find out that someone else had been offered the job, but had turned it down because he has children. My friend, with no children, had no legitimate excuse for not taking the job. If she’d refused because she wanted to spend more time with her fiancé, she doesn’t think she would have a job at all today. Yes, my friend was able to take that opportunity, and yes, it will serve her well in her future career, but it seems that more is expected of childless employees.

Have you found this in your workplace?

 

Childless Expectations August 20, 2010

 On my morning flight yesterday I sat next to a woman who asked me (after we’d started a conversation) if I had children. When I told her I didn’t, she didn’t pass any comment, ask me any prying questions, or shift away from me in her seat. Instead, we had a long discussion about helicopter parents, parenting as a competitive sport, and the pressures of being a teacher in this age. She offered her opinions and accepted mine without even a sniff of condescension at my lack of hands-on parenting experience. She told me about her children—a psychology student daughter, who doesn’t take any crap from guys, and a son who’s a successful white rap artist. She told me, without gushing, that she was very proud of her children, that she loves them very much, but if she had it to do all over again, she’s not sure she would. This was one of the most refreshing conversations I’ve had on the subject of motherhood in a long time, but it was strangely unnerving. I’ve come to expect certain reactions from people when I tell them I don’t have children; I’ve come to expect that look of skepticism when I give an opinion on parenting. My expectations may have come from experience, but they’ve created my own form of prejudice. I expect mothers to judge me in a certain way, and sometimes, they just don’t.

 

Mothers who don’t like children May 27, 2010

One of my mother’s friends is the kind of woman you can talk to about anything. She’s frank, honest, non-judgmental, and has a wicked sense of humor. We got talking today about adoption and the experiences (ok, the horror stories) we’d seen with friends. She said to me, “I don’t think I would have adopted if I’d been unable to have children; I don’t like children that much.” She has raised two great children and is a grandmother now, but she never had felt any strong desire for motherhood; it was just something she thought she was supposed to do.

My mother’s friend, like my mother, is of a generation where women got married and raised children, then thought about a life for themselves after the children had left. But even today, a lot of people follow that expected path and don’t give any serious thought to something that ought to be the biggest decision of their lives. High school children are educated about teen pregnancy by having the responsibility of carrying an egg or a doll around for a week, but I wonder how much is discussed about the decision to have children or not, the fact that there is an alternative.

For those of us who didn’t just fall into motherhood, we have been given a valuable opportunity to step out of the well-worn groove, assess our own lives, and decide if motherhood is something we really want.

 

Whiny Wednesday May 26, 2010

Recently a friend told me that her colleague had once justified not pulling her weight at work by saying, “Well, you don’t have children, so it’s no problem for you to work late.”

Why is it that for some people no children=no life outside the workplace? Have you been in a situation where a colleague has used his or her children to justify preferential treatment? Or have you worked in a place where parents are expected to always put their work before their family. What are your thoughts?

 

Guilty of Prejudice Against the Childless May 18, 2010

A friend recently announced her engagement. At 44 she is getting married at last. I know this woman’s story intimately. She is someone who dreamed of motherhood, but never met the right man. She seriously considered having a baby alone using a sperm donor, but realized that it wouldn’t be the responsible thing to do in her situation. So she started making peace with her childlessness. Then she met a wonderful man—and realized that what she really wanted was a loving adult relationship and time with him, and that children were no longer her priority. And he didn’t want children anyway.

When she announced her engagement to me, she speculated as to how long it would be before some tactless bozo raised the subject of kids. To my absolute horror, I realized that during our entire conversation I was wondering if the engagement had changed their attitude about having children. The tactless bozo was very nearly me!!!

So, despite my thoroughly modern, feminist attitude to living child-free, deep inside of me lurks a traditionalist, who at some subconscious level still believes that first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage. Yikes!

Our natural instinct is to reproduce and continue the survival of the species, so it’s no wonder that so many people can’t get their heads around someone’s decision to not reproduce. Maybe we need to cut those people some slack after all.

Or maybe not. Because, while man cannot fight his natural instinct, evolved man can learn when to voice his opinions and when to keep his (or her) big mouth shut.

 

 
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