Childless NOT loveless
Thanks to the wonder of Facebook it’s easy to find old school friends and keep up to date with their families and lives. And it’s even better when someone puts up a Facebook event inviting old school and workplace friends to catch up in person for lunch.
I recently went along for lunch with a group of old friends I hadn’t seen for several years. In the midst of our “updating each other on the past decade” the discussion quickly progressed swiftly to children. How many, ages, sex, names, hobbies, etc.
I get it and I’m more than happy to discuss all things little people. Who’s eating and not eating, whose playing sport, who’s broken their arm, leg, [insert body part], which school has the best teachers, who’s having violin lessons and who said the cutest thing last week.
After years of managing teams and hanging out with friends who are mums and dads, I’m surrounded by parents all the time. So what was it about this friendly gathering that left me feeling a little lost and empty?
As I reflected I realised it was because for the first time ever I was really confronted with the stigma of being a woman with no children.
While I asked questions (with real curiosity and interest) about their lives, careers and families, clearly my childless life did not warrant any further exploration.
Not one single question.
Was it ok to talk about my business, my travels or my two dogs? Apparently not. Indeed I discovered that not being a parent had warranted me deaf, dumb, mute and apparently uninteresting.
Don’t get me wrong, I bear no grudge and still love and honour these women.
They were not deliberately being malicious or cruel, and I didn’t show any signs of how I felt. My feelings came more from reflecting upon the fact that I had little in common with these sistas of my age, who were living somewhere in the land between baby poo and terrible teens.
So in this celebratory time of kindness, gratitude and sista love and in honour of the #gotyourbacksista day I spoke to a couple of other women I know who are also non-parents and thought it was worth sharing three ways you could be kinder to a fellow sista who has gone down the no children route in life:
#1 PLEASE DON’T JUDGE ME
It has to be said that children aren’t the bees knees for everyone. Yes, I know it sounds abhorrent but there are women who don’t yearn bringing a being a bundle of joy into the world. We respect other people’s personal choice and yet we often don’t feel accepted for ours.
Personally I knew from a very young age that I didn’t want children. All I wanted to be when I grew up was a business woman with a briefcase, wearing a suit with big shoulder pads – shallow perhaps, but true. I just never felt the maternal instinct kick in, except with my dogs who are treated very well.
For one of my friends she said she had wanted children when she was younger but then by the time she hit 36, met and married a guy, it just didn’t feel so compelling anymore,. They were happy and loved their lifestyle and decided to give it a miss. They’re still happily married and have great relationship with their nephews.
I remember when I was younger and people asked if I was married and had children — and received a yes married, but no kids answer, they would always say – “Give it time, you’ll soon hear the pitter patter of tiny feet.”
I remember going to the doctor for persistent shoulder pain in my mid 30’s and having my female GP bluntly hold up a fertility chart and remind me that I was running out of time and was down to some incredibly low fertility percentage and dropping fast.
Sure I expect a random health check-up and perhaps some questions to ascertain if I had any intention to bear children but her rather blunt “You’d better hurry up, you’re running out of time,’ took me by surprise.
Another friend who did not want children, said she was quite annoyed at the unspoken expectation that she should explain and justify her choice, even to random strangers she meets. “When people ask me how many kids I have and I say none, the conversation stops.
Silence follows. In fact even filling in a survey form of my details the other day at a beautician, the woman paused as I filled in the form ticking my age bracket of 40-55 and adding a zero next to number of children. Her eyes narrowed and she looked up from the form at me as if to say what’s wrong with you? I felt horrible.”
I, and my friends all agreed we are happy to be asked whether we have children or not, it’s a very common question and great topic to relate to others on.
Being asked is not a problem. Being judged is.
Passing negative comments or asking us if we were unable to conceive is not a very kind and #gotyourbacksista thing to do. No one should feel the need to justify their choices or receive the cold stare of silent judgement. In particular for some women who tried and couldn’t conceive the questioning can bring up old wounds and cut very deep.
Can’t believe this happens? Think I’m dramatizing? Perhaps you’ve heard one of these phrases before?
“You’re not a real woman until you’ve had a child.”
“Having kids was the best thing I ever did, you’re missing out on the biggest joy in life.”
“Why? Don’t you like children?”
“Oh I see, so you chose a career over having children.”
Childless doesn’t mean heartless.
#2 PLEASE DON’T EXCLUDE ME
So this was the biggie from my school friends get together – feeling excluded and ignored. I was more than happy to hear about their kid stories and even funny daddy parenting challenges but not as the ONLY topic of conversation. I will do the same and not drone on about my clients but surely we still have something else in in common?
Sistas sans children – like all women – love spending girly time with other women but it seems once everyone else starts having children that the invitations to hang out dwindle to next to none.
One friend’s experience was that she often asked a girlfriend with children to have a coffee catchup and would even suggest café’s with a play area but that her friends always had too much going on and were too busy to catchup.
“I get that they are completely wrapped up with their child-full lives but when I saw photos on Facebook of their mummy meetups in the park or café that day I wondered, why couldn’t I join them there too?”
One of the ladies I spoke to worked in a child care centre and said even if friends were talking about behaviour problems with their kids and she offered some advice or support from what she’d seen work with the 30 kids at her day care that her opinion was ignored.
She said that women assumed that because she didn’t have children of her own that it discounted her opinion.
“It made me feel as though my 11 years in a career I love, working with children every day amounted to nothing. Sure I don’t put them to sleep at night but at some point I do practically everything else there is to do for other people’s children.”
I don’t find it usually bothers me, perhaps I have thicker skin these days but the luncheon left me not wanting to go back for a repeat.
#3 PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE ME
Then there’s the Sista who wants to be a mum but can’t for whatever reason – whether it is denied by lack of circumstance or she’s tried everything but has been unsuccessful.
One beautiful woman in her 40’s whom I spoke to was in this category and spoke openly to me of the emotional, not to mention financial burden and scars the experience of trying to conceive had placed on her and her partner.
She expressed to me how much she loves kids, and her happiness for the blessings of others. She too loves her female friends and wants to share their joy, but perhaps not as part of every conversation.
For many women in this situation feelings of embarrassment, failure and depression may be part of that experience and many find themselves unable even to discuss their situation until well into their 40’s when they have given up all hope.
Her feelings were that there are play groups, yummy mummy cafés where kids and family life are naturally the focus of discussion, however she felt that perhaps next time there was a girls night in, or a catchup for dinner that the mums might spare some time for discussion that could also include the Sista’s without kids.
While they may not be raising the next generation, these women are often doing some great things, innovating in the workplace, reading adult books, testing out new places to eat and travelling abroad. Take time to listen, you may find some tried and tested experiences to consider.
Chances are this Sista given the opportunity, might just be the one to put their hand up to offer babysitting whilst you do.
Sistas, the world is tough enough without judging or excluding another woman. I’m not suggesting you don’t revel in the wonder of your gorgeous babies and children, only that perhaps now and then you consider another women’s feelings by approaching the subject with caution and compassion.
You never know what choices or circumstances have led to another woman being with or without children. Let’s support each another regardless and stand together on this day called #gotyourbacksista – remember to #startwithU.
CEO, UQ Power