When I was asked by Friends of the Clifford Craig Medical Research Trust to address a pre-Mothers’ Day luncheon last Thursday, I didn’t feel 100% qualified to speak. While I have a mother, I’m not a mother.
Instead, I thought about the word motherly: resembling, or characteristic of a mother, especially in being caring, protective, and kind. I reckon we all have a capacity to be motherly. Even men. Well I hope we do. These are good qualities to nurture. Human qualities, regardless of gender, or however many children you have, qualities that make a better world.
Being child free, well, I’m not unusual. One in 5 women in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada & Australia are now reaching their mid-forties without having had children – double what it was a generation ago.
Some women have actively chosen not to be mothers (‘childfree’), many are ‘childless-by-circumstance’ and find themselves living a life they never planned for. Whichever, child-free or childless by circumstance, no one had a roadmap, there were few mentors. But I know I have had fellow travellers.
Last Thursday, I introduced the 100 plus audience to five friends who are non mothers. I’ve known them all for ages, they’re scattered around the world; friends for life. Each of their responses to my email asking for a few words on being non mothers on Mothers Day amazed me in their generosity and wisdom. I’m sharing them here in the hope that either you, or someone you know, might find them enriching and nurturing, too.
VIV lives in a small village on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands.
“When people ask if I ‘have a family’ I don’t say I don’t have children I just say ‘it wasn’t my destiny’. The real reason is really my mother was absolutely not maternal – and I’m not either so never had that ‘baby’ yearning. IVF and all that palaver sounds horrendous – and good luck to them who yearn for children. But I would have been maybe like my ma – resentful, unpleasant and critical – so it wasn’t for me.
Ma is now, at age 92, very pleasant. She seems with her dementia to have forgotten how to be insulting to me so at this late stage of her life we are at peace. But she did give my confidence and esteem a hammering and couldn’t wait to get me out of the house.
However, another real reason for non kiddiness is working as an au pair in my 20s. Then I saw the daily grind of having children – however delightful the children may be – and how hard and exhausting it was. How the woman takes most of the brunt of the rearing, teaching, discipline etc. The idea of adbreak super familiies all giggling isn’t really how it is. It’s a slog – unrelenting – and I understand why people have breakdowns. Going out to work and escaping – as all the husbands did – was much preferable than being home.
The positive result of au pairing was my long friendship and adoration of two children once in my care – now 45 and 47 years old – and I adore them. Also, friends’ children who I’ve known since birth who are my buddies. All of them email and call me when they want to talk about stuff they can’t with ‘the parents’ – who as you know are fab – so we have a connection. I have lots of children – but didn’t give birth – and love them.
Some people aren’t mother material. I’m not. Nor you. We are free spirits. We’re often accused of being selfish – which I think is silly – as you’re not and I’m hoping I’m not. We are necessary people to complement our close friends’ families and by that become a family extension.
The message is: we are all mothers. Just some of us didn’t go for the birth thing.”
DEB lives in London and we’ve been friends for nearly 30 years.
“When people ask me if I have children, I can actually feel flattered…as though from the look of me they think I might…does that make sense? It makes me feel that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have them? Because I did feel that I must look like a ‘marked’ women (ie failed, desperate etc.) when I was putting myself through the trauma of looking into having a child on my own.
Doctors investigating me, showed me fertility charts of hopelessness for women of my own age using their own eggs. One was so kind, another was brusque, another was gently admonishing. I felt ‘marked’ during months of fertility counselling, too. But the circumstances in which I was trying to force myself to have a child, were completely wrong for me – and it was a huge relief to realise it and allow it to direct my final decision not to go it alone in motherhood.
I have gained strength from making that decision, not become weaker or more ‘failed’. I observe the closeness between mothers and children, and it’s precious and unique, of course. I know that intimacy is not something I have, though I had it as a daughter. I’d like emotional intimacy, but with a partner. Whether I will mourn again at not being a mother, if I find that intimate partner, I don’t know. That’s the only time I’ve wanted to be a mother, is when I’m in love – another reason why I know pursuing motherhood on my own was not right for me.
As for what life has provided for me without children: perhaps more time to ruminate (bad) and an excuse to not change certain things, because the reasons for changing things have not come along.
Positively, I am a good auntie, I am a godmother, I get on pretty well with kids of various ages – and that again confirms I’m not a ‘marked’ person. I take great joy from interacting with kids – it chuffs me when they enjoy my company, or laugh because of what I say, that I might help them through something tough, or I might give them a way of thinking or experience that is valuable. It’s not the full monty of motherhood, but I cannot agonise more than I already have about that …that’s useless self-flagellation.
There are non-shallow and shallow benefits: travel without things chaining me home; get up/do stuff and sleep when I want (also bad as you have no constraints other than those you impose, which for a lazy sod like me is dangerous!); quiet; freedom, time to think (also bad sometimes).
I find the new mother has a 5-week old baby thing gloaty. And yes I fully realise that it is a trigger that makes me think ‘here we go again with the supremacy of the mother’. Their voice is so enormous and the childless woman’s voice is so small by comparison. Sorry if that sounds a bit ranty. Lots of love, hope my thoughts, ramshaklly written as they are, are of value. Deb.”
FIONA has just moved with her husband, John, from UAE to Chile.
“What do I tell people who ask me why I don’t have children? Funny but very few people ever do…however, if someone did, I’d say that I never actively thought I wouldn’t have children but then equally I never actively thought I would. Many years ago my first husband’s father said to me that children shouldn’t be planned but should just happen. As I’ve never been one to plan anything, the best explanation would be that they just didn’t happen for me despite long loving relationships. I never think about whether it was a good or bad decision – it is just how it is.
What has life provided for me by not having children? Firstly, an appreciation of children as human beings with all the hope and potential that comes with them. To me I have a clear role among my family with my nieces and nephews and my friends’ children to be the counterpoint adult — the person in the room who doesn’t have the ‘parental’ filters/processes and will respond to them as their own person — kind of like the rest of the world probably will except with a little more understanding and love. Secondly, the ability to do and be how I want to be, when and where I want to be me, with all the opportunities and trade-offs that includes.”
LEIGH is my oldest best friend in Australia, and despite running an important event that opened last night, she still had time to send me this note… she’s my best friend.
“Hi Hon, I have the festival launch Wednesday and I broke my wrist last week. Surgery Thursday. I am not sure about my place in this discussion. I more identify as a privileged middle-class woman of a particular generation which lasted maybe 5 years (now 50-55yr olds) who were offered a life of shared houses, study, travel, living overseas, careers, social and political action, defactos, marriage, mortgages and babies – with no financial or age planning involved. No mention of priority – so some things fell off the list. Given my life, I never really made the decision not to have children. Also, my generation tended to separate consideration of abortions from motherhood. All said, I have taken the opportunities being childless allowed – but in honesty, what would have been different? I don’t know… I would like to think you and I would still have had our adventures together! Which reminds me – we must be due one soon! One-finger-left-hand-typing is bugging me, so call me tonight! Love Leigh.”
MARCELLE lives in London and has been a friend since we worked together at British Cosmopolitan in the 90s.
“Mother’s Day. Well – what everyone has in common is we all have/had mothers. Even if we didn’t know them. Most of us love our mothers – even if we might not have chosen them.
I don’t think every woman needs to BE a mother.
I’ve never wanted to be. I’ve never regretted it. There’s enough kids around for you to love and share while you get on with your life. Listen – I’d be in love with a Jack Russell puppy – let alone a baby. But I’m soul searching and honest enough to know it wouldn’t fit in with the way I live. There’s enough people to love who need you.
Mothers are often SO family-centred, so entranced by their own offspring, their own families – they aren’t aware of other people. I never wanted to be a mother even though I find children fascinating. I wanted freedom – to do, to see, to go, to achieve. Too many mothers forego that chance. And in truth some aren’t interested. In my time – it wasn’t possible, without money, to be a mother and an achiever.
I’ve never envied friends with kids. I know they’ve envied me. Neither of us would swap lives. And who’s the person who encouraged me to jump on planes, live abroad, learn, travel, have fun and company, a career I loved? My stay-at-home mother who’d love to have worked. She told me how lucky I was to have the chance.
Am I happier than friends with children? As happy, I’d say. You choose your life. And if you lead it reasonably well, it comes to about the same.
People have said ‘You NEVER got married?” Nobody’s EVER asked me why I don’t have kids.”
When I asked Audrey about being a mother – my mother – she said it had been wonderful. She says what she thinks now is that her whole life has been being a mother. She’s loved watching her children all grow up, all doing different things, and finds that fascinating. She can’t think of any downsides. Just the ups – and that it’s even better now, at her age, to have her children around her to look after her.