Have Non-Parents Failed at Life? Definitely Not

If you’re not a mother, what are you? Years ago, I faced this question from a 4-year-old at a Montessori School where I was taking pictures for the newspaper. If I was not a teacher or a mommy, what was I? She didn’t understand when I explained that I was a newspaper reporter. In her world, all women were either teachers or mothers. It’s a question that continues to come up for those of us who have not had babies. 

Jody Day looked at this phenomenon in her recent Tedx Talk, “Social Plankton: Why Single Non-Mothers are the Fuel of the Future.” Most of us here at Childless by Marriage are not single, but much of what she said still applies. For example, she asked what other terms of respect do we have for older women besides “grandmother.” Well, um, hmm. 

Until life got in the way, I hoped to be “Professor” or “Doctor.” What else do we have? Director? President? Boss? But what if we are just regular people who happen to have never had children? 

As Jody Day says, we still have great value to society. Although she was specifically speaking about single women and not men at all, look at what non-parents can do:

  • It takes a village to raise a child. We are part of that village as sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, friends, role models, and helpers.
  • Because we are not taking care of children, we have time to be more involved in our communities, doing the volunteer work that parents cannot.
  • We are the ‘backbone” of many organizations. For example, I have led several writers’ organizations, been a teacher, and a church choir director. 
  • We serve as society’s “elderwomen” and “eldermen,” source of memories, skills, and wisdom.
  • We offer loving hearts and extra hands.  

In some circles, Day noted, childless women are considered failed women because they did not live out their biological mandate to procreate. While we may grieve the loss of the life we had planned and the children we might have had, we are not failures. 

I have just finished reading a book by Kamalamani aka Emma Palmer titled Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind. I will write more about this fascinating book next week, but she has some encouraging words about the topic at hand. “What is increasingly clear to me is that the life work of each of us is to find out what to do with the time and health we have available to us. I do not think that we are all on the planet to have children. In fact, I am starting to wonder whether in our generation, a growing minority of us are here to start to redress the attention we pay to our relationship with the earth and other elements, and our effect on them as a human specifies, rather than creating more new lives.”

Kamalamani quotes Jane Barrett in Will You Be a Mother? Women Who Choose to Say No: “The space in the childfree woman’s life is not empty and barren, but full of potential.” 

We may consider ourselves “childless” rather than  “childfree,” but you get the idea. If we don’t have children, all is not lost. It’s not the life you planned, but your life is still important and of value. 

You can listen to Jody Day’s Tedx talk here

I welcome your comments. 

***

I placed in a poetry contest recently and won an invitation to a national competition in Florida. Yes, I am pleased. But as the director started talking about the accommodations where we’ll be staying and how my kids will love it, I thought, oh no, not again. Should I explain that I will be coming alone because I don’t have any children or just let it go? I let it go. We were having such a nice talk up till then, and I will enjoy the dinosaur-shaped swimming pool as much as any child would. 

Mother’s Day is coming. Our priest is already talking about the pancake breakfast and how the church will honor all the mothers. Grit your teeth. Here it comes again.  

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4 thoughts on “Have Non-Parents Failed at Life? Definitely Not

  1. The irony of course is some mothers do an awful lot of damage in this society. But nobody dares say that! I’ve never seen grandmother as a title of respect though. It’s often a way of reducing a capable woman down to their family status only, rather than for the totality of their accomplishments.

    Congrats on the poetry success, and invitation on a national scale! Brava!

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  2. I consider myself to be childless, but I definitely don’t consider myself to be a failure.

    Congratulations on winning an invitation to a national poetry contest!!! That is so cool! Plus, the dinosaur-shaped swimming pool sounds awesome! 😀

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  3. I love this positive and thoughtful post, thank you. Fiona

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