The childless go invisible again

I just finished reading an anthology of blogs by women over 45. Most of these women write about their kids and grandkids. They might as well have titled the book “Mommy blogs.” Why are there no childless writers represented? One out of five women over 45 does not have children. That is a significant number. But you wouldn’t know it from this book. Or from many others that I have read. The book I’m reading right now about working from home assumes the reader has children. It’s everywhere!

A year or so ago, I published an essay in another anthology by women—and I was the sole voice of childlessness. Why? Are women without children not writing? I know that isn’t true. Is this part of what we talked about a couple weeks ago, trying to blend in by not discussing our lack of offspring?

In my work as a writer, I study listings of publications looking for submissions. As I go down the list, some of them are so mommy oriented I would never fit in. Cross them off the list. The doors are closed to me. Parenting publications are a huge industry. There are plenty of parenting readers, but also, most publications are supported by advertising and there’s a lot of stuff advertisers can sell to parents and future parents. Even most of the so-called women’s magazines cater to moms. Whereas I’m reading “coastal living” and drooling over the decorating and cooking tips.

It’s not impossible for childless people to write for parenting publications. I did it for several years back in California when I freelanced for Bay Area Parent and Bay Area Baby. I researched, interviewed and wrote, not mentioning my non-mom state unless I had to. (“How long was your labor?” “Uh, I don’t actually have any children.”) I did have a live-in stepson at that time, so I could relate to a certain extent. Plus, a good writer can write about anything. Research is research. I also wrote about business for several years, and I hate business. I’m not handy at all, but I have written about fences, paint, wood stoves, and windows. But at this point in my life, I cross the mommy mags off my list of potential markets.

Whether it’s publishing or other aspects of life, we notice barriers, even when they’re invisible. For example, a church retreat for women is coming up. I’m not going. I can tell from the flyer that it’s going to be all about being a good wife and mother. Our church also hosts a monthly “family movie night.” Not going to that either. “Family” is code for parents and children.

How about you? Do you see the childless represented realistically in your reading? Does it bother you? Have you noticed parent-oriented situations where you don’t feel welcome, even if nobody openly says so? Please comment. Let’s make a list of places we left out. Maybe we can make another list of places we feel included. Chime in.

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11 thoughts on “The childless go invisible again

  1. Sue how many times I have noticed this? And I also do not bother with women’s ‘retreats’ or ‘conferences’ or ‘teas’ or ‘fashion shows’ or some such stuff if I pick up a mommy vibe from the literature. I went for, oh, 20 years or so, then I got wise. Why am I putting myself through this? So I don’t anymore. You final paragraph is asking where have I noticed parent-oriented situations where I don’t feel welcome…? Just about every family function (I have adult steps, entered their lives when they were grown up) whether the grandkids are there or not. My step daughter told me years ago in one of her pregnancy tantrums that I don’t understand kids. I give her a pass for the most part due to hormones but sadly her stubborness persisted for 15 years now…..who wants to be around that negativity. Can’t totally ignore family but can minimize exposure. Anyway the main place far and away beyond all other places is clearly church where mommyhood is exalted above most other sacrifices; if you are married and no kids, there must be something wrong with you. I don’t read near as much as you do, so I bow to your expertise in the writing and reading world.

    I want to clarify that mommy’s do need to be refreshed and blessed with retreats and what not. The point is that to refresh and bless only mommy’s to the exclusion of other women is rather insulting.

    This reminds me years ago a church woman I knew in her 50’s would get compliments regularly on her appearance. How do you look so young? I never had kids, was her response. I always thought that a slap in the face of mommy’s everywhere. Such an odd thing to say.

    We need balance; it doesn’t have to be us vs. them, ie mommy’s vs non-mommy’s but as you mention, books such as the one you read lend itself to that mentality.

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    • Balance. That would be so nice. I think some churches are worse than others, and a lot depends on the people leading them. I dread this Mother’s Day because I know our know super-conservative pastor is going to make me feel like crap. If I weren’t leading the choir, I would stay home.

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  2. As an online writer as well I’ve DEFINITELY noticed this and it can be extremely frustrating. I used to write for several different multi-author platforms where it was quite clear the predominant voice for women, expected and represented, was that of the mommy-blogger. Advertising, the articles that got most frequently spotlighted and front page coverage, it was almost all about motherhood, kids, kids party planning, parenting, etc. And of course on one hand I could understand, site publishers need to chase the money. But it was hard not to feel left out until I just started my OWN platforms for more “outsider” voices, like my own.

    One situation I distinctly remember, and I did not sit back quietly about it: One such platform I used to contribute to had a special “club” for their female writers and active members, with exclusive article promotion, themes and topical challenges. It was supposed to be inclusive to all female writers on the site but the club name used the word “Moms” in it, and had a tagline that read “Home to the smartest women on the internet”. I was livid. I contacted the site management asking if that meant that women who were moms were by default smarter than those of us who weren’t? I was dismissed with, “Well, but we mean women can be moms to *anyone*: your pets, others’ children…” But, excuse me, being a NOT-mom is actually an important part of my identity and who I am. So where did that leave me? They had no answer to that question.

    Anyway, I will continue to blog on my own about my travels around the world I get to enjoy largely because I don’t have to worry about paying for a child’s tuition, or be stuck going to kid-friendly places. I wasn’t always so glib about it but these days I do feel it’s important to speak out as a voice for women who are not constricted to motherhood, especially as a woman over 40 myself.

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  3. A friend works in the care industry. She’s had to tell her bosses – and co-workers – that being childless does *not* mean that she should be stuck with the Christmas Eve shift every year.

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  4. Sue,

    Family movie night does mean kids at my church as well. Father’s Day is soon and I sometimes get a card from my stepsons, but rarely a gift. What am I ? Chopped liver ? I dread this every year. Time for my plans to be implemented.

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  5. I really do believe that any “barriers” I’ve come across have actually been put there by me as a sort of self preservation, but not by “them”. Not once has anyone ever left me out of something because I didn’t have children. With that being said… I do believe moms are clueless as to the things they say that, if I allow… Can be very painful. I guess I’m finding however that society pretty much caters to what ever is happening in the season… Mothers Day, Valentines Day, warm and happy Christmas .None of us get out of life without pain and hardship of some kind and if we focus on what we don’t have… Life can be pretty miserable. I guess with my husbands recent diagnosis and shortened life span, I’m moving away from feeling sorry for myself for not having children. My husband’s son has shown me that kids don’t fix the world and they sometimes can have no problem walking away and leaving when you need them the most. We all in life don’t have things that others do. I need to remind myself that there are so many women out there that would like to be me… Even women with children. My husband for right now is alive and living in our home with me. Other women’s husbands have died. I’m really trying to keep things in perspective these days. With that being said however… I’m already hating all the stupid Mothers Day commercials that are plaguing tv right now and generally turn the channel when they come on. Haha!

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  6. I was just crying about this during one of my pity parties the other day. I’m 43 and my only child died at birth. I hate being around any grouping of women. The only topic of conversation is kids, and I feel so left out and miserable.

    I am a full time student with a full time job. I was looking for a little support (when I did finally suck it up and hang with the girls) on how busy and stressed I was with graduation and a huge work project all happening at the same time. All I got was ” you think you are tired and stressed, try doing all of that with kids”.

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    • Amy, I am so sorry for your loss. The grief must be unbearable at times. After 3 decades of listening to moms go on and on about their kiddos, I finally decided to attempt to form relationships with women w/no kids for the most part. I don’t expect moms to understand my perspective; I don’t place that burden on them. It helps that a lot of the impulse to compare myself to others has died. I think that comes with age and maturity. As time permits and your heart heals, my 2 cents is to try to form relationships with women with no kids because a) they won’t constantly bring up their kids and grandkids, and b) they will be far more understanding and compassionate as to where you are coming from.

      Oddly enough, I have 1 super close friend with kids that rarely talks about them. I have to specifically ask her how her kids are; her kids are almost 30 so maybe that’s part of it. But she has grandkids now and I have to specifically ask about them too. She doesn’t flood her fakebook page with pics of her kids and grandkids. She’s quite devoted to her family too; I think she’s an anomaly for a mom.

      One thing that popped into my head is that a lot of moms (certainly not all) have their identity rooted in their kids. Because of that, every.tiny.thing in their world is tied back to one of their kids. I don’t think that is a healthy mentality. What happens when the kids leave the nest? Those moms really struggle when the kids leave the nest; I don’t have to worry about an identity crisis happening to me. I’ve made peace with not having my own kids, and chose to pursue things in life that make me happy.

      I always find it sad when I ask a woman how is she doing? And she spends the next 20 minutes telling me about each of her kids and never tells me how *she* is doing.

      Well, Amy, I’ve had a few miscarriages — my heart aches for your loss. I wish for you peace and comfort, healing and restoration. God bless and heal you.

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