Can a childless novelist write about moms?

An early reader of my new novel Up Beaver Creek, coming out in June, thanked me for writing about a woman who has no children. My protagonist, who calls herself PD, is unable to conceive with her husband. They are starting to look into adoption when he is diagnosed with cancer. He dies, and she moves west to the Oregon coast to start a new life as a musician. Lots of things happen along the way to make it interesting, but none of it is about having babies.

PD meets a colorful group of new friends, including a lesbian couple, a bipolar man who has created a garden out of glass and cast-offs, a young soprano who becomes her best friend, and a music store owner who likes to jam.

Most of the characters don’t have children. Even for those who do, the children do not play a big role in this book. Did I do this on purpose? No, I think it’s the just the way I see life. I do not live in the circle of mothers and grandmothers. I occupy the circle of women who live alone. Occasionally those circles cross. Is this a handicap? Can I write about something I have never experienced? I worry about that sometimes.

Ages ago, I wrote a never-to-be-published novel titled Alice in Babyland. I was still fertile back then. Our main character, Alice, is surrounded by people having babies. It’s driving her nuts. It’s not a very good novel, but it’s how I was feeling at the time.

My published novel Azorean Dreams ends with Chelsea and Simão getting married and preparing to “start a family.” You just know they’re going to have a flock of Portuguese kids. But readers will have to imagine that part.

I have been rewriting another novel I’m calling Rum and Coke. The characters do have children. One of them is pregnant. I’m struggling to get it right, to make the children real people and the relationships and challenges among parents, grandparents and kids authentic. I will never know how it feels from the inside, only from the outside. There are a lot of other things I have never experienced. I count on research, observation, and imagination to write about them. Can I do that with motherhood? I sure hope so.

Think about the books you have read or, if you don’t read books, the movies and TV shows you watch. How often are people portrayed as permanently childless by choice or by chance? We see a lot of single parents and a lot of couples with kids, but how many do we see without children?

The book I just finished reading yesterday, Hot Season by Susan DeFreitas, has no children, but the characters are mostly college students under age 25. Presumably, they’ll think about that later. In the book before that, Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You, nobody was talking about babies, either, but Louisa was very young, and Will was a quadriplegic contemplating suicide. The focus was on making him want to stay alive. I have ordered the sequel, After You. We’ll see if babies show up there. (If you have read it, don’t tell me.)

Is the tide turning? Are we getting more books where the characters are not moms and dads? Is fiction beginning to reflect the fact that one out of five women in the U.S. and other developed nations is not having children and the number seems to be growing?

I’m pleased to offer PD as a strong, childless woman. I hope that not being a mother doesn’t mean I can’t write about mothers or anyone else.

Your thoughts?

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Book Review: The Female Assumption

The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story: Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate by Melanie Holmes. CreateSpace, 2014.

I started out feeling that everyone who reads the Childless by Marriage blog must read this book. It’s loaded with information we all need to know while deciding whether or not to have children. Now I’m not so sure. Despite the fact that Holmes has three children, it leans heavily toward the childfree viewpoint and doesn’t much address situations where women who want children are unable to have them. Still, there’s a lot to gain from reading this book. I’ll let you decide.

The Female Assumption includes:

  • Convincing testimony that motherhood is hard. Holmes writes about the lack of personal time and space, the financial cost, and the opportunities lost while providing full-time care. Even though she tries to reassure her own children that she’s very glad to have them, I’d be wondering about that if I were them.
  • Clear information on birth control, including the various methods and myths about how they work. She also goes into abortion and “morning after” options.
  • A list of questions women should ask themselves before considering motherhood. If nothing else, read this section and think about how you would answer these questions, things like: why do you want to be a mother, how much are your feelings about this being influenced by other people, and how would you manage childcare and career if you did have a baby?
  • A discussion of how even in the 21st century, women still do most of the childcare and housekeeping. Until partnerships can become equal, women will still bear more of the burdens of motherhood.
  • “Dirty Little Secrets,” things mothers don’t admit out loud for fear their peers will hate them and their children will feel unwanted. Two examples: “Mothers yearn for time alone,” and “Your ‘stuff’ will never be your own again.”
  • How women are held to a different standard than men. Who questions the validity of male leaders or achievers who don’t have children, yet it happens with women all the time. Holmes suggests women are given an impossible choice: give up everything else to be mothers or live alone, childless, with work as sole consolation.
  • How the American workplace is behind the times, offering lower wages for women and failing to offer paid family leave.
  • The often-negative effects of parenthood on marriages.
  • Examples of successful women who never had children.

As I said, Holmes does not spend much time on infertility or women whose partners are unable or unwilling to have children. She seems to be encouraging readers to remain happily childfree. However, this book does contain a lot of useful information. Holmes really did her research. Read it and use what you need. Skim the rest.

As always, I cherish your comments. Go back and read some of the comments from last week’s post, “Are You Delaying Parenthood Until Conditions are Perfect?” We got some great ones. You can still join the discussion.

No Kidding: The book, the club, the goats?


Book review: 
No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood, edited by Henriette Mantel, Seal Press, 2013
When I started working on my Childless by Marriage book, nobody was writing about being without child. It was almost a taboo subject, but now the shelves are filling up with books about not having kids. Most of them, like this one, are about the joys of being childless by choice. In this case, 37 women writers in the entertainment business tell the story of how they ended up not being mothers. Although a few did try to have children and learned that they couldn’t, most never wanted them in the first place. They were too busy with their careers and not interested in the sacrifices required to raise a little human being.

The writing here is good. Many of these women are comediennes, and they know how to put together an amusing essay. But after a while, all the stories blend together in my mind because they are so similar. Some of the names are familiar. Most are not. It is an entertaining read. Readers in the childfree-by-choice crowd are sure to enjoy it. Perhaps those who are childless not by choice will find some encouragement and see that life can be wonderful without children. At least that’s what these women tell us.

The club: 
In addition to being the title of a book, No Kidding is the name of an international club that provides opportunities for members to make new friends whose lives are not wrapped around their children. Members are all ages, married and single, and lack children for all kinds of reasons. You can find chapters all over the world or start a new chapter if your area doesn’t have one. Many of the people who comment on this blog and at other childless sites describe how uncomfortable they are at gatherings where everyone else seems to have kids. This is a chance to find friends with whom you have more in common.

The goats: 
When I was young, people who used the word “kid” were quickly corrected and told that a “kid” is a baby goat. Well, we humans have stolen their word and often use it to describe our own offspring. Funny we don’t call them calves or puppies. Unlike humans, goats don’t use birth control. If you put a he-goat and a she-goat together at the right time, they will have baby goats. Believe it or not, there are actually goat mating videos on YouTube. I don’t want to get in trouble for recommending goat porn, but they’re pretty funny.

No kidding. The word “kid” applied to a child apparently traces back to the 13th century with Olde English and Norse origins. But how did the word kid come to be used also as a synonym for joking? Beats me.

Have a happy day.

 

Childless vs. childfree—the great divide


When the book arrived in the mail, I looked forward to reading it—until I realized it was aimed at parents. A Childless Woman’s Guide to Raising Children by Ageleke Zapis is not much of a book, to be honest, just a childfree woman’s rant about how kids should be kept quiet, well-behaved and out of situations designed for adults. Zapis offers the typical childfree attitude that parents are mindless breeders and that she is smarter than they are, so they should take her advice. I’m amazed that people, all parents, have posted positive reviews on Amazon, but then I’m not a parent.
The book had “childless” in the title, but clearly neither the author nor the publicity agent who wanted me to review the book understood what “Childless by Marriage” is all about. I had to write back to her to explain that most of the people reading this blog do not have children AND they feel bad about it.
We all wish sometimes we could tell parents what to do with their kids. I admit that when somebody’s toddler is screaming at church or banging his metal toy car against the back of the pew, I want to scream, “Get that kid out of here!” But I would never presume to know how to handle it any better.
The point I’m trying to get to is that the world of people without children has broken sharply into the childless—we wanted them, didn’t have them for reasons not of our choosing, and grieve the loss—and the childfree—didn’t want them, glad we don’t have them, no regrets. It really is quite a difference. We don’t seem to speak the same language.
I’m sure you all have met people who told you they didn’t have kids and were happy about it. They enjoy their freedom from the burdens of raising children. They don’t understand why you tear up when you see a baby or why you ache with jealousy when someone you know announces she’s pregnant.
We can find lots of blogs, groups and books for the childfree crowd and a few for the childless. Just last week, I told you about Jen Kirkman’s book I Can Barely Take Care of Myself. I enjoyed that book. Kirkman is a good writer, but she is not mourning the loss of her would-be children. She never wanted them.
For a list of other books about being childless/childfree, visit my Childless by Marriage webpage. You’ll see that the attitude of people writing on this topic has changed over the years from the sorrow of infertility to struggling to choose whether or not to have children to the happiness of being childfree.
These days, “childless” means different things to different people. There’s divide between childlessness by infertility or circumstance, and childlessness by choice. Have you experienced the disconnect between the “childless and the childfree? I’d love to hear your stories.