Childless women in power face scrutiny

Today’s post is sparked by an article in The Australian news site which discusses the rise in power of several childless women, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, former Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and the first woman premier in Tasmania, Lara Giddings. None of them have children.

In her article “Berejiklian, Gillard, May, Merkel: power to childless women?” [link not available]  author Caroline Overington notes that these women in power are always asked about their motherhood status. They are rarely mentioned without that word, childless, attached. Is it really relevant? When Merkel was running for chancellor, she got lots of flak for not having children. People asked: How can she understand the needs of parents and families if she has never given birth?

Do people judge the males in power by their parenting prowess? Sure, most of the men trot out their families on special occasions–note the constant presence of U.S. President Donald Trump’s offspring–but does it have any connection to their ability to govern? Still, can you think of any male world leader who does not have children?

All of these women have been publicly asked why they don’t have children. May has struggled with infertility, so it’s like that’s okay, she tried, it wasn’t her fault. In Australia, a former male senator commented that Gillard had kept herself “deliberately barren” while she pursued her career. Ouch.

Things don’t always turn out the way you plan, Berejiklian says, refusing to get more specific. “I hope that people judge me on my merits and what I can do.”

Women are still rare in high office. Overington contends that most women are occupied with childcare while the men, despite whatever moves toward equality have occurred, are  freer to work their way to the top because they’ve got wives to deal with the kids.

You have to admit there’s some truth to that. Although we may not have done it, we can all see that childcare is and should be an intense round-the-clock occupation that doesn’t leave much time or energy for anything else, unless you can afford to pay someone to take care of the kids. It is easier to work at any career without having to worry about children. Most of us here would be willing to take on the challenge and some of us are already dealing with the responsibilities of parenthood through our stepchildren, but it’s hard.

To me, it seems like women in power will be criticized from both directions. If they have children, then they must be neglecting them. If they don’t, something must be wrong with them. Right?

If Hillary Clinton had won the U.S. presidency, she could please the pro-parenting crowd because she’s a mother and grandmother, but she was also free to do the job because her only child, daughter Chelsea, is a grown woman who not only can take care of herself but can campaign for her mom. Clinton did not become president, but it had nothing to do with whether or not she had children.

In the U.S., where our new president just took office 12 days ago, we have seen many recent pictures of politicians on stage with their spouses and their children. If I were running for office, I might be standing on that stage alone. What would people say about that? Does it matter?

So, what do you think? Does a woman need to be childless to rise to the top? Will she be forever disrespected if she doesn’t have children? Why is it so different for men? Or is it?

I’m full of questions today. Help me figure out some answers in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Childless post 550, same question persists

Dear childless friends,

We seem to have discussed everything there is to discuss about being childless by marriage. This is my 550th post! How many times can we go over the “stay or go” dilemma? The mate, usually the man, doesn’t want kids; you do. Should you leave in the hope of finding someone else or stick around and hope that you can live with the decision or, better, change, his mind? The answer is always: Talk to your mate, be honest about how you feel, and decide which you want more, kids or this partner. Unless the relationship is already a mess or you’ve only been dating for a week and a half. Then the answer seems clear to me. Move on!

Funny nobody has written here about having an affair with someone who would be happy to make babies together. Should she leave to be with the potential baby daddy or get pregnant and tell her husband, “Oops, I guess some sperm slipped through all the layers of birth control”? Is nobody doing that, or does that only happen in fiction? You can tell us anonymously in the comments.

I did date someone who tempted me with the babies we could have. I wasn’t married at the time, but technically he was. The kids he had were gorgeous, and he really hated birth control. But no, he was not the right guy. And once I met Fred, I didn’t want any other man. I never considered leaving him to have babies.

It’s all a done deal for me now. My namesake niece, age 29, is going for the mommy job in a different way. She has just been approved to become a foster mother. A child could be arriving any day. She is not married. She works full-time. How she’s going to do this, I don’t know, but she’ll have plenty of help and advice. Her brother and his wife just had a baby last year, and her mom is over the moon with grandmotherhood. Her cousins and friends keep having babies. Being a strong, assertive young woman, she decided to go for it on her own. She is braver than I ever was.

My cousin and his wife just announced their pregnancy on Facebook. I’m glad for them. This will be their second child and it will be great for their daughter to have a little sister. I added my congratulations to the many congrats pouring in. But it’s all very far away, geographically and in terms of life experiences. I can hear the babies crying and the children playing in the distance, but I’m busy with other things. For the most part, I’m happy. Are there times when it hurts? Yes, especially when I see family photos of women my age surrounded by kids and grandkids. All I’ve got is myself and my dog, and she can’t work the camera. But what’s done is done. I curse for a minute and move on.

Speaking of moving on, I’m delighted that Halloween is over. Aren’t you? This morning, I saw my first TV Christmas ad for kids’ toys. Yikes.

So readers, what have we not talked about here? What concerns about your childless life would you like to see discussed? I’m here for you.

I’m childless, but my life is full of blessings

Last night I had pizza for dinner. Just pizza. No salad, no veggies, no dessert, no wine or beer. No meat. Just half of a homemade mushroom and olive pizza. I ate it while reading a book. Nearby the dog crunched on her kibble. After dinner, I would decide whether or not to wash my dishes—not—and go off to church choir practice. Later I would grab a cookie and settle in to watch whatever I wanted on TV (Have you seen the new show “This is Us”? Watch it.) In the commercials, I would check email, and when I ran out of email, I would play solitaire on my phone. Then I’d turn off the lights, give the dog a Milk-Bone and go to sleep, undisturbed by man, child or dog (unless we had another thunderstorm).

This is the selfish, self-contained life of a woman in her 60s with no children and no husband. I don’t have to share, I don’t have to plan balanced meals, and I don’t have to coordinate my activities with anyone else. Do I get lonely? Do I turn to the emptiness on the other side of the bed and remember early morning kisses and smiles? Do I wish my phone would ring and a voice would say, “Hi Mom, how are you?” Do I feel like I blew it when I realize that I’m this old and I never had kids? Of course.

But we can’t change what happened before; we can only go on from here. And for those of you who are terrified you’re end up alone like me, “here” is not terrible. In fact, most of the time, I like it.

Advising people to count their blessings is such a cliché, but it helps. Right now, at 7:30 a.m., it’s just getting light here on the Oregon coast. An hour ago, I could see the moon through the kitchen skylight. Now the sky is quilted with gray clouds that are slowly turning pink over the pine trees. It’s going to be a beautiful day. For the first time in over a week, no rain is predicted. I am alive, I am healthy, and I have work that I love. I have a good house and just enough money to pay for it. I have friends and family to cherish. I have Annie, the sweetest dog in the world.

No, I don’t have children, and my husband died. That sucks, but I can’t change it. I look at the sky getting lighter every minute, and I go on.

I know that many of you are half my age or younger and still trying to figure out what to do in relationships where your partner is reluctant or unable to have children. Stay or go? Accept being childless or fight against it? Now is the time in your life when you can still change things. I remember the turmoil of those days, the feeling that I had to do something but not knowing what to do.

You have to face reality. When you marry someone who has been married before and who has already had children, they’re finished with that stage of life. You come in as the second course (or third, or dessert), and they’re just not ready to start over. They might be willing, but it’s understandable if they’re not. It’s a cold way to look at it, but it’s true. Can their children make up for the ones you might never have? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s worth a try.

However, if you started out together thinking you’d have children, then you have every right to demand that your partner stick to the original plan. You do not have to hide your tears or your anger. Make it known that their refusal to have children or their refusal to make a decision about it is not fair.

I got an annulment in the Catholic church because my first husband refused to have kids. The archdiocesan tribunal in San Francisco ruled that it was never a valid marriage. To be honest, that marriage was doomed anyway, but the church ruled in my favor against my baby-refusing husband. Now on his third marriage, he never did have any children. I loved him. I thought we’d have children and a long, happy life together. I had no way of predicting how things would turn out.

Where am I going with this? In a valid marriage, in a genuine loving partnership, you agree on important things like having children. You’re open to talking about it. And you don’t deny something so essential to someone you want to spend your life with. On the other hand, if one of you is physically unable to have children, then both of you are unable to have children. You’re in it together.

Take a look at your life and your relationship. Is it worth keeping just as it is? Do you wake up happy every morning that he or she is there? Can you count your blessings? Or do you need to take another path before it’s too late so that when you get to my age, you can wake up and say, “Life is good”?

The pink clouds have faded to white against a pale blue sky. The dog is asleep in her chair. It’s time to get dressed and brew another cup of tea. Life is good.

What do you think? I treasure your comments.

 

No, I am not my dog’s mother

annie-9314Back in 2008, I published one post after another about my puppies Annie and Chico. This was my motherhood experience, I believed. The pups were exactly the size of human newborns when my late husband Fred and I picked them up from a nearby breeder. For that first year, I was obsessed with those furry critters. There was an element of mothering, the feeding, the cleaning, the shots, the classes. I even had a puppy shower, hosted by my church choir. I was a raggedy mess as I neglected my poor husband because it was all about the puppies.

Reality woke me up. Fred’s Alzheimer’s became so advanced in 2009 that I had to put him in a nursing home. Now the dogs were big enough to knock me down. Chico started jumping the fence and fighting with neighbor dogs. After months of chasing him and threats from the neighbors, I gave him up to a shelter. So it was just me and Annie. Did I think of myself as her mom? Yes, but I don’t anymore, even though I devoted a whole chapter to dog-motherhood in my Childless by Marriage book.

Annie, now eight and a half years old, is my friend, my companion, and my responsibility, but she is not my child. I continue to live in a home that is much too big for one person with a yard that I can’t quite keep up because of Annie. I hesitate to travel because she doesn’t travel well and I hate to leave her. She is a constant responsibility, but no, she’s not my baby. She’s just Annie, an aging yellow dog with arthritis.

Does she help fill the gap where children would be? Some. Get a dog or a cat. It helps. A cat or a little dog stays baby-sized forever. But it does not take away the sting when I get to hold someone’s infant for five minutes then have to give her back because she’s not mine and I will never have one of my own. Last week I had that chance and it felt good until reality kicked in again like a punch in the stomach. No children, no grandchildren. Ever. I hate it.

But a dog does help. When I got home from my travels, Annie leaped in joy. We collapsed together on the loveseat as she wiggled all over, licked my face and let me know that I had just made her the happiest dog in the world. I probably wouldn’t have gotten that kind of greeting from my kids.

No, my dog is not my child. But she is a precious gift, and I’d glad she’s here.

What about you? Do you have pets? Do you think of yourself as their mother or father? Do you know people who do? Let’s talk about it.

***********

Want to read some of those old puppy posts?

“Sounds Like Motherhood to Me”

“Sometimes Even Puppies are Too Much”

“Puppy Love is the Best”

 

Free to go where I please with no kids

I’m traveling this week, taking the scenic route south to Dad’s house in California. Things have not gone exactly as planned. The place I planned to eat lunch on the first day was closed, it rained all over my nature hike on the second day, and the towns where I have stopped have not been what I expected. Plus I keep getting lost. Thank God for the GPS or I’d still be circling Eugene two hours from home.

Living alone can be tough and so can traveling alone, but I have a freedom not enjoyed by women traveling with partners and children. I can change plans on a whim, stop at a museum or bird sanctuary I find along the way, order a sinful dessert and listen to live music with nobody complaining about the food, hating the music or asking if I’m ready to leave yet. I can sit on a rock at the water’s edge and soak in the peace and quiet. I can watch TV or turn it off.

I’m not totally free. I have financial and physical limitations. I keep getting lost. But I don’t have to focus my attention on child-friendly activities, and that’s a blessing for me. Nor do I have to plan every moment, which my husband always wanted to do.

There are other limitations to one’s freedom. Once I get to Dad’s house, my freedom will be greatly limited–and he doesn’t have WiFi. Kids are tough, but so are 94-year-old parents.

There have been moments I have wished I could share what I’m seeing with a family. And when I walked through the pioneer cemetery today in Klamath Falls, I suddenly saw my grave all alone with no family. That terrified me. And I miss my dog. But I’m traveling, my way, my choices. I wouldn’t even be here if I had school age  children because school started this week in our town. Believe me, I wouldn’t be able to write this in my motel room at 6 p.m. if anybody else were here with me.

So, what can you do because you don’t have children? Let’s make a list.

P.S. We’re getting a lot of comments on the last few posts. Take a look and consider adding to the conversation.

 

 

 

Go or Stay? Readers Keep Asking

Should I leave the person I love in the hope I can find someone else who is willing to have children with me? That question comes up over and over in the comments here. Sometimes people ask if they should do it. Sometimes they declare that they are going to do it, that they have to do it, that it’s breaking their hearts, but they have no choice. However, most of them haven’t done it yet. It’s next year, next month, if he doesn’t change his mind, if, if, if . . .

I don’t blame anyone who is hesitating about taking that giant step, especially when they have been in a relationship for many years or when they’re borderline too old to get pregnant. What if you end up alone?

I don’t know how many people are as insecure as I am, but I always found it miraculous to get one guy to love me. How could I know if anyone would ever even ask me out again? And now that I’m older and widowed, it has been ages since I kissed anyone except my dog, and my friend are all busy with their grandchildren. Maybe I screwed up, but now it’s too late.

How do you step out on faith, as my churchy friends used to say, when you’re not sure there’s anything under your feet except a big black hole? I didn’t do it. Most of the men in my life left me one way or the other. There was that handsome druggie whom I dumped because I couldn’t deal with him always being stoned. He was willing to have children. It would have been a disaster. As it was, he stalked me for six months after we broke up. No, you never know what’s out there. It’s not like “The Bachelor” TV show where you have all these men who look like models and who all profess to be eager to get married and have children. The real world isn’t like that.

I suppose a person could do online dating, specifying that they only want partners who are willing to have babies. Back when I was younger and dating, that kind of ambition scared some guys away. I suspect it still does. If you’re Catholic, you could do catholicmatch.com. The church says you have to welcome children. But I know a Catholic couple that didn’t get around to marrying and trying to get pregnant until the woman’s eggs were defunct, so even that’s not a guarantee.

I’m meandering here. It’s that kind of day. But hear me on the following:

1) If you are in the go-or-stay dilemma, I can’t tell you what to do. I don’t know what’s right for you. You have to decide which you want more, to be with this person or to have children. Nobody should have to make such a choice, but that’s the deal.

2) If you’re in your early 20s, just dating, and haven’t been together long, for God’s sake, find someone else. You do not have to stay or to settle for a life that’s less than you want. If you’re older and have been together for ages, see #1.

3) I would really like to hear from someone who has taken the leap, left the relationship and tried again. Did they find someone, did they have kids, did it work out? We need to know.

I welcome your comments.

Is adoption an option for you? Why not?

We haven’t spoken much about adoption here. Perhaps it’s irrelevant in cases where one partner doesn’t want to have children for whatever reason. A baby is a baby, a child is a child, and they don’t want one. But for couples who don’t have children because of infertility or a health problem, adoption would seem to be an option. I’m betting many of us have been asked: “Why don’t you adopt?”

Fred and I considered it before he decided he didn’t want to do kids with me at all. His older two children from his first marriage were both adopted. Fred and his first wife thought they could not conceive. Then, surprise, when she was 38 and he was 40, she got pregnant, and Michael was born. After which Fred got a vasectomy.

The older two children were adopted as infants from government agencies in the 1960s. Fred and Annette were give only the most basic information: nationality and health, no names or background. An effort was made in those days to match parents to children in terms of looks and ethnicity. Overall, it worked pretty well. When Michael came along in the ‘70s, his siblings were jealous. He looked just like his dad, and they felt that he got all the goodies. Of course by then their parents were older and financially better off.

When we got together, the older kids were in their teens and Michael was turning 7. We looked into adopting the way Fred and Annette had done before. We discovered that Fred, in his late 40s, was too old. Although we had friends who were adopting from other countries or by private agencies, we didn’t pursue it any further.

Fred wasn’t anxious to start over with a new baby. But for me, it was something else. I wanted children who were biologically connected to me and my family through all the generations. I wanted them to share my ethnicity and my physical characteristics combined with Fred’s. I wanted people to look at us and see the connection. I wanted a child who was part of me. If I couldn’t have that, well, never mind. I didn’t want just any babies; I wanted my babies.

Selfish? Perhaps. I know there are children who need parents, and I’m glad there are people willing to take them into their homes. Right now my niece is going through the process to become a foster mother. She’s single, 29, and braver than I will ever be.

Adoption is not easy or inexpensive. Couples who have spent years trying to get pregnant may already be drained of hope and cash. Prospective parents have to jump through a lot of hoops to be approved. Adoptions fall through, sometimes several times before parents get to bring home a child. Adopted children always have that other family out there somewhere, and they come with a big set of unknowns about their physical and mental background that may surface later. They’re yours but not quite.

And yet, it can be wonderful. I have seen beautiful adoptive families in which biology doesn’t make a bit of difference. But it would for me.

What about you? Have you thought about adoption? Would you do it? Why or why not? Does it matter if they’re not biologically yours?

Additional reading:

This post from loribeth, who blogs at The Road Less Traveled, got me thinking about adoption:  March 15, 2015: “The A word: Why we didn’t adopt”

General information about adoption: National Adoption Center (promotes adoption from foster)

Adoption Fact Sheet offers lots of good into. Adopting from China costs $20,000 or more!

Statistics about abortion: https://www.americanadoptions.com/pregnant/adoption_stats

“What Does It Take to Adopt a Child in Britain?” Stories of three adoptive families in the UK