Why Don’t We Listen?
When a woman says “Motherhood is not for me” why don’t we believe her?
Perhaps she knows herself better than anyone else. And, in a world where that choice is subject to curiosity at best and more likely criticism, a woman brave enough to say that aloud deserves respect not derision.
The Pope made the news recently for voicing his opinion that parenthood is preferred over the selfish choice not to have children. No surprise there— but this time he linked it to the alternative choice of having pets over children, shaming those who choose a pet over parenthood.
The exact quote from Pope Francis is “Denying fatherhood and motherhood makes us lesser. It takes away our humanity.” The Pope kept to the established narrative. Clearly, the Catholic Church’s position on birth control and abortion through the ages promoted adding children to the world at a pace that was limited only by biology, not human choice. This quote is from the same playbook.
That narrative merely restates the ongoing belief that childless women are not living up to their full potential, but are somehow lesser than women who have children. And, it’s not just the Pope who believes this. The old stereotype of a woman without children includes the mystery of why and is shrouded in questions about health, disposition, and curiosity about past trauma. Everybody rushes to explain this condition, as if it is catchy.
And, it may be catching on. According to research from the Pew Research Center, in 2021 some 44% of non-parents ages 18 to 49 say it is not too or not at all likely that they will have children someday, an increase of 7 percentage points from the 37% who said the same in a 2018 survey.
Recent events may be accelerating the trend to remain childfree. The pandemic and the world’s encroaching threats of climate change and political upheaval have added to the justification. “Why would I bring a child into this mess?” Anyone considering having a child today has a birds-eye view of the difficulties parents are having right now keeping themselves and their kids safe, pivoting between work and child care at a moment’s notice and doing so in the upheaval created by unreliable support systems. Even the safety net of extended family support systems have been sorely tested with COVID deaths and illnesses as well as the untold mental health challenges that go untreated.
So my advice to Pope Francis is to read the room. Bring some situational awareness to your pronouncements. Come down from that cloud and hang out with those of us living at ground zero.
Where is the humanity in shaming those would be parents into a choice that may not be in the best interests of the child, the woman, the couple, the family, and an environmentally challenged world?
It is a woman’s choice to determine her own capacity to become a mother. Nobody else’s. Let her decide, without shame.
However, in today’s world as we are witness to a tidal wave of barriers to the freedoms afforded women by Roe v Wade a generation ago, there is likely to be less consideration for a woman’s right to choose.
Aside from the legal barriers, there remain the societal pressures to content with—the pushy other-in-law who is waiting for a grandchild to brag about to her friends, or the extended family who asks ‘any baby news?’ at every family gathering, or the peer pressure exerted by friends who no longer have girls night out, but meet-ups at the park with their strollers in tow.
What about the woman who feels that she doesn’t have it in her? Whether that assessment is due to her own insight that her professional, athletic or artistic pursuits will take up all of her energy, or because she is not keen on the potential baby fathers in her universe, or because she herself was not mothered well, and worries that she will repeat the cycle. Perhaps she was subjected to abuse that caused such trauma that her overwhelming worry for any potential child would be difficult to overcome. Or, her own health is precarious and taking care of herself is all she can handle. These are just a few of the totally valid reasons not to become a mother.
I doubt if any would stand up to the potential political realities of a world post Roe v Wade.
Not every woman is willing to abide by the biology determination—if I am a woman, I need to use my body to usher in the next generation. Unfortunately, this sentiment remains close to the surface in our world today.
But, if a woman knows her mind and her capacities, why don’t we listen? I would guess the unwanted children out there would want us to listen…..
This guest post was authored by Maren Cooper
Maren Cooper, author of A Better Next, 2019, and Finding Grace coming out July, 2022.