News Flash! We Don’t All Have Kids!

Why do people still assume everyone has children and grandchildren? I’m reading this new book called Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher, which is supposed to help women in their 60s and 70s get a grip on the changes happening in their lives in those years. Our bodies are aging, we might be retiring, friends and relatives are dying. I heard the author on NPR and ordered it right away because . . . I’m in that age group and thought it would be interesting.

It is interesting and somewhat helpful, despite an overage of psychology advice along the lines of “develop an attitude of gratitude” and “learn to treasure the precious moments.” I know all that. Tell me how to manage my finances when I don’t have a massive retirement nest egg, and what to do about my disappearing eyebrows. But that’s not why I bring up this book today.

In all 252 pages, not once does Pipher acknowledge the fact that some of us are not mothers. When she talked about “six generations” of family stories, it took me a while to realize she was including the generations from our grandparents through our grandchildren. But . . . She spends entire chapters talking about the joys of family and the wonders of being a grandmother, how the kids carry on the family name, help you in times of trouble, make you happy and proud and so on. But what if you don’t have any? What if it’s just you and the dog, or you and your husband, if you still have one? I would love to cuddle my grandbabies, bake cookies with them, and attend their graduations and weddings. But I can’t.

It’s not a bad book, and Mary Pipher is not a bad writer. If your mom or grandma is in that age group, she might enjoy it. Pipher is just immersed in the mom world and does not see the 20 percent of us out here without offspring. If only she had added sections that might begin along the lines of “and if you don’t have children . . .”

This author is not the only person who seems blind to the fact that some people don’t have children. We have all met people who think that way. I go for a mammogram and the technician asks me, “How many pregnancies have you had?” She seems surprised when I offer a big fat zero. A kindly church woman asks, “how old are your kids?” “Um, well . . . My dog is 11.” Other people hand me toys or candy “for your kids.”

Know what I mean? The older we are, the more people assume we’re mothers and grandmothers. I know they can’t tell by looking, but I wish they wouldn’t assume we’re all alike.

So, how about you? When you encounter books, shows, or real-life situations where it’s assumed all females are moms, how do you react? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

14 thoughts on “News Flash! We Don’t All Have Kids!

  1. Another one I get very often is “Do you have kids?” I answer “No.” Then they reply, “AWWWWWWWWWWWWWW, no worries, they will come some day!” Grrr, it really makes me angry!


  2. Hi Sue, thanks for the heads up on the book. I’ve gotten to a place where when I review a book, I note any triggers for infertility to anti-childless women slants in the book. (I just finished “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter” which was full of both.) I like that you mention the good and the not so good about Pipher’s book.

    I’m not good at telling people that I don’t have bio kids of my own. I just say I have steps. That normally shuts them up. If they insist on knowing ages, which is a pointless question in my opinion, I tell them. I want to say what difference does it make – it’s not like you are going to feed and clothe them, but I try to keep the snark down because when I am honest with people about my infertility journey, I find it makes things worse. It never makes things better.


    • You are welcome. The chapter on the joys of being a grandmother really put me over the edge. I used to tell people I had stepchildren, too. Now that I have no connection with my late husband’s kids, I just say I never had children. I understand about the snark. Hang in there.


  3. I haven’t read the book, but I read an article by her (which I think was an excerpt from the book) in the New York Times a few months ago. What struck me then was how much of what she was saying — about how older women become more comfortable in their own skins — was applicable to us as women without children, even though she didn’t mention us specifically. Not sure whether that would apply to the book as a whole, though…!! I agree it can be REALLY annoying when motherhood is assumed to be the norm, and women without children are not mentioned. Our reality is often different, and far too many people still don’t realize that!

    Here’s what I blogged after reading the NYT piece:

    And here’s what Pamela at Silent Sorority got from the article: 😉


  4. Hi Sue, I really appreciate your blog as I feel the need to be amongst like minded people – it helps. So, I won’t be reading the book, I don’t need to waste time and energy on something that does not resonate with me. For the past 30 years (I’m 60 now) I’ve had to deal with the question about kids, at work, on holidays, parents, meeting new neighbours and friends. Now it’s turned into ‘have you got grandchildren’. In the UK we are nearly upon Mothering Sunday – oh my goodness, time to hunker down under the duvet and not switch on FB for the day.


    • Sue, I know what you mean. It’s all about the grandchildren these days. Good luck getting through Mothering Sunday. Do stay off Facebook, away from all media in fact. It’s a good day to go do something out in nature. Or just listen to music.


  5. Last week I went to church and noticed my husband’s cousin’s children sitting a pew ahead of me. As I was genuflecting, the man at the edge of the pew said, “Oh, these your kids?” I cheerfully said, “Nope, same family though.” He turned to fully look at me and said, “Oh yeah, okay. I know which one you are now.”

    The one that doesn’t have kids.

    Maybe he wasn’t thinking that. But I assumed he was. My husband’s family is large, and we all live in the same town. The boys all kind of look alike so people get confused. When someone says to me, “What grade is your kid in?” I will answer, “We don’t have kids.” People will inevitably quickly nod and say, “Okay, yeah, I know who you are now.”

    The one that doesn’t have kids.

    It’s everywhere. It’s not a “women’s group” that is going to do the latest “sip and paint” – it’s a “mom’s group”. Obviously I’d be “welcome” to attend. But what do I really want? To make friends with a bunch of women who are on a heady high to be away from their children? Nope. Those women generally spend their time away from their children talking ABOUT their children to other moms. Gleefully joking that merlot and coffee is what keeps them going in their excessively busy lives.

    But I don’t care. (well, I care a little) I’ve turned a corner lately. A scary medical procedure and a happy dream being fulfilled within a week of each other will help one to appreciate and lament the proper things. This morning at the gym, I was thinking how perfect my life is at the moment. I’m healthy and strong. My parents are alive and active. I have oodles of friends. My husband and I are amazingly happy, and we each have a dream job. Soon we will have our dream home. But my inner gut surprised me. I felt guilty. Not gratitude for all my riches. Not sadness for what never happened for me. But guilt. Guilt? Like if I had made better choices in my early years, I “woulda coulda” had a child. Like I failed epicly, but somehow was still granted happiness.

    I guess I have to work on that.

    In the meantime, I will avoid anything that assumes we’re all mothers. That being a “godmother” is just as good. That being a “dog mom” is equally as important. Gadgets that appeal to women but really only benefit women with children. Books that claim to streamline your life but really just talk about juggling career and children. I’m going to reject all that and go to my happy place and try to get rid of every last bit of guilt.


  6. This is pretty incredible to me. I am a 67 year old widow without children. Not a huge amount of money as a nest egg, but some (for which I am grateful – like it says in the book), but at the end of the day I lack community. I lack purpose. I live alone and after 11 years of that, I am over it!
    My dream of being part of a community seems like it will never become reality. Oh, hell…I could go on but what’s the point!
    You are so right! And, there are so many of us out here…great women without children, without spouses, some without family to speak of…someone write a book about that! OK…I’ll shut up now.


  7. I know…I said I would stop, but only yesterday I was waiting on my to-go breakfast order and the only other person in the place besides the cook with a man (NOT wearing a mask, by the way, which does infuriate me) struck up a conversation with me. OK, but the inevitable question…how many children do you have? I don’t have any children, I replied. THEN, and this doesn’t happen often, he asks, “Why not?” My first instinct was to say, “Are you kidding me?” But instead I just told him the truth. I told him that my husband had a disease that’s 100% inheritable by my children, so we decided not to have children and stop the spread of the disease. That shut him down. Maybe next time he’ll think twice. Who knows?


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