Is This Our Choice: Mother or Workaholic?

“Just Because a Woman is Childless Doesn’t Mean She wants to Be a Workaholic” by Rachelle Hampton, Slate, March 30, 2018

This article set off all kinds of bells in my head. When I read it, I was doing my 10th hour at my desk, which tells you something. Today, I got up early today and watered the plants, mopped the floors, and organized my church music before settling down to write all day, followed by playing music at church.

There’s so much to do, I could argue. No matter how hard I work, I never catch up because I’m the one and only worker keeping the Lick family ship afloat. I can’t delegate tasks, say mowing lawns or grocery shopping, to a husband or even to helpful offspring because I don’t have any. Some days, I want to burn it all down, writing, music, house and yard, and walk away.

But am I a workaholic? Probably. I’m not good at relaxing. Am I workaholic because I don’t have children? That’s a harder question. Sometimes I think I work all the time so I don’t have to face being alone. Does that ring any bells for you?

I might work even harder if I had children because I’d want to do things for them, whether it’s making their lunches and driving them to soccer practice when they’re young or planning special birthdays and taking care of their kids when they’re grown. But that would be a different kind of work, work inspired by love and focused on other people’s needs. And they might in turn do things for me. At least that’s the theory.

I believe I was born to write and play music. If anyone asked me to stop writing or doing music, I would refuse. I would leave a man before I’d do that. So am I a workaholic? Would I choose my work over my children? I’m probably lucky I’ll never find out.

Hampton is talking more about younger people with regular jobs, about how some employers assume women without children, like the men, are totally free to take on extra tasks and extra hours while the moms have to run home to the kids. They mistakenly assume that those of us without children don’t have lives away from work.

She’s also talking about this wrestler, John Cena, who believes that husbands are free to be married to their work, but wives have to put home, husband and children first. It’s kids or the job, not both, a mindset that goes back to the 1950s and my own parents. My mother and others of her generation gave up their own aspirations to raise the children. But hey, dude, it’s 2018. Time to share the load.

Hampton quotes a study that shows 40 percent of managers don’t want to hire women in their 20s and 30s because they might get pregnant and because mothers aren’t as good at their jobs. Grr. Those of us who are childless not by choice would love the chance to prove them wrong.

So what do you think? If we aren’t moms, are we destined to be workaholics? I welcome your comments and your experiences with this. That includes any men reading this. I want to hear your thoughts, too.

 

 

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Easter is not just for folks with kids

12470942 - dog holding easter basket with colorful eggs“This Sunday is Easter,” I told my Dad on the phone the other day.

“Is it? Well, it’s just another day for me.”

I resisted the urge to explain the religious significance, which as a Catholic, he ought to know as well as I do. He says the same thing about Christmas and his birthday. Maybe it’s a self-protective mechanism. If he doesn’t expect anything, he won’t be disappointed.

Me, I expect everything, and I’m always disappointed. That’s why it felt easier this year to spend my March 9 birthday at a Best Western in Blythe, California on my way to Tucson. I ate leftover pizza in my room and chocolate lava cake at Denny’s. No candles, no singing, no gifts. Which is exactly what would have happened at home because I don’t have children and grandchildren to gather around on my birthday, just a dog who doesn’t do birthdays.

Anyway, Easter. For Christians, it’s the most important event of the year, commemorating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. When I was a kid, our daily newspaper would print a full-page picture of a cross, a risen Jesus or a field of lilies with a headline like, “He is risen!” They wouldn’t dare do that now; religion is kept separate from everything else.

I would wake up to Easter baskets sitting on my dresser. The Easter Bunny came during the night! Of course it was my mother, delivering the goodies from herself and my grandparents. Those baskets were full of candy and toys. After a quick look, we all went to Mass, came home to a breakfast of scrambled eggs and linguiça sausage, and dove into the baskets. Soon we were eating the ears off our chocolate bunnies.

Grownups don’t get Easter baskets. If you’re not religious, it looks like Easter is for kids: making color-crayoned pictures of rabbits or papier-mache eggs at school, dyeing hard-boiled eggs, egg hunts at dawn, encounters with adults dressed in rabbit costumes. Candy, toys, parties. Fun!

It’s another one of those holidays that may sting if we don’t have children, especially if we desperately want to have them. Whether you spend a quiet day with adults or watch everyone else’s kids having fun, it can be hard. Hang on. It doesn’t last long.

But there is much to celebrate. Before Easter came about as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, people celebrated the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s a time of rebirth. Out my office window, the robins and jays are back. Daffodils wave their yellow heads. The berry vines are loaded with new green leaves, and the trillium are blooming in the woods. The grass is tall and lush. People may disappoint you, but spring comes every year.

You can tell yourself it’s just another day and try to ignore the whole thing. But why not celebrate? Buy yourself a chocolate bunny. Dye some eggs. Go to church. Or go for a hike. Weep if you must, then go on.

Happy Easter, my friends.

For more information on Easter traditions, click here.

Is it tougher being childless if you’re Jewish?

Dear friends:

I just got back from a trip to Tucson. You can read about it here. I’m exhausted and suffering from the post-trip blahs. So I am sharing some links today that you may find interesting.

1. Is it harder to be childless if you’re Jewish? This article, “No Kids, No Service” by Jodie Shupac suggests that it is:

“’You’re next’” is a phrase that is often murmured furtively at brises and baby namings. The sentiment–while often well intentioned, though sometimes patronizing–may well be familiar to many Jewish adults who don’t have children, especially those in more traditional subsets of the community.

“The operating assumption in our community seems to be that every person not only wants a baby, but should have one, and that this is the only way to lead a full and happy Jewish life.”

Read the rest.

2. Jacinda Ardern was thrashed because she got pregnant just before becoming prime minister of New Zealand. How could she possibly do the job with a baby? Former Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard and British Prime Minister Theresa May were vilified for not having children. How could they possibly understand the needs of their people if they weren’t mothers? It appears you can’t win. Read these two articles for more on the subject.

“The baby trap: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”

“Why are so many of our political leaders childless?”

3. Finally, here’s a study that shows we might live a little longer because we haven’t had children. I don’t know about the science of this, but it’s something to ponder.

“Having children ages a woman faster than smoking and being overweight

Happy spring! I promise to be back with something new next week.

Sue

Is it worse to lose a child or to never have one?

Bialosky, Jill. Poetry Will Save Your Life. New York: Atria Books, 2017.

I just finished this book, and it made me think about some things I want to share here. Jill Bialosky takes an unusual approach to memoir in this book. She pairs short passages about her own life with poems that she connects with those times. After each poem, she offers information and interpretation of the poet and the poem.

If poetry is not your thing, don’t worry. That’s not my point today. Although the book covers a lifetime of other topics, Bialosky includes a chapter on motherhood that sparked two ideas I want to talk about here.

1) Bialosky offers Irish poet Eavan Boland’s poem “The Pomegranate” and quotes Boland as saying that motherhood changed her whole perspective as a poet. “I no longer felt I was observing nature in some Romantic-poet way. I felt I was right at the center of it: a participant in the whole world of change and renewal.”

To be honest, I barely understand the poem, but I do understand the point Boland made about motherhood and finding our place in what one of my college professors called “the great chain of being.” Being a child and then having a child secures our place in that chain, but if we don’t have children, where do we fit? A lot of people who choose to be childfree poo-poo the whole “becoming a parent changed my life” conversation, but I disagree. How could creating a new human being in your body not change everything?

What do you think?

2) Bialosky’s own story of motherhood was not all joy and poetry. Her first daughter and son were both born prematurely and died shortly after birth. This section of her book is heartbreaking. Imagine feeling a baby grow inside month after month. Imagine talking to it, planning for it, dreaming of all that child will become, and then watching it die shortly after it leaves the womb. Awful. After the first baby dies, Bialosky is constantly afraid she will lose the second one as well. And then she does. She and her husband use a surrogate for their third child. He is born on time and healthy. But they are so afraid, they don’t buy anything or prepare a nursery for fear they will lose this baby, too. It takes them a long time to believe they might get to keep this one.

After her babies die and before her son is born, Bialosky feels the loss of her children constantly. Perhaps you can identify with this quote: “For years, I burn with envy every time I see a newborn child. It is impossible to be around friends with young children without inhabiting the spaces where my own losses and desires lay. . . . It’s like being hungry all the time and never invited to the feast.”

I know some of you have struggled with infertility and miscarriages, and these words hurt. I can’t imagine going through that. I think it might be easier to have never been pregnant at all than to lose one’s babies during pregnancy or at birth. Perhaps I am lucky that, having never had a child, I will never suffer the grief of losing a child.

It goes back to that famous quote, “It is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.” Does the same thing apply to having children?

What do you think? Have I just ripped off all the scabs and left you bleeding? I’m so sorry, but it’s an important question. Is the desire for children worth the pain of possible loss? Most pregnancies in the developed world turn out fine, but there’s always that chance.

Tell me what you think. And if you like poetry, check out this book.

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?

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.

Are you delaying parenthood until conditions are perfect?

I have heard that in nature animals will not reproduce if conditions are not right, if there’s not enough food or a safe place to nest. Plants don’t grow and reproduce without the right mix of nutrients, sun and water. What about people?

During the Great Depression (1929-1939), birth rates dropped to 1.9 per woman in the U.S. Couples could barely feed themselves; how could they feed their children? The birth rate went up to over 3.5 during the baby boom that followed World War II. At that time, the economy was booming. People could get good jobs. They could afford to buy homes and raise children.

During the “Great Recession” that started in 2007, birth rates dived again, back to 1.9, and they have not come back up.

I got to thinking all this after reading an article at Jezebel by Madeleine Davies titled “With Environmental Disasters Looming, Many are Choosing Childless Futures.” She discusses how some people are deciding not to have children because they worry about the environment and the world into which these babies would be born. That world includes the wildfires, floods and hurricanes that devastated much of the U.S. last year. I would add mass shootings like the one yesterday at a school in Florida, terrorist attacks, political upheaval, wars, and families living far from each other.

Workers in my dad’s day were reasonably confident that they could stay in the same job and live in the same house until they chose to retire. Now, who can count on that? In Silicon Valley, high tech companies pay high wages, but they also lay people off by the thousands. The cost of living is ridiculous. It feels like we have to keep changing jobs and keep moving just to keep up with the bills. How can we add a child to this situation?

But let’s go beyond the big-picture issues. How many of us with reluctant-to-parent mates have heard variations of “conditions are not right”? We need to finish school, get better jobs, save more money, buy a house, etc. In other words, we need to make everything perfect. But time is passing, and perfection is impossible. Maybe we can have it for a moment, but then the job goes away, a tree falls on the house, or someone gets sick. Maybe we should try for “good enough.”

I could be wrong, but I think men generally worry about the money part more than women do. They feel the burden of supporting a family, even when their partners provide half the income. Women, full of hormones and watching the biological clock, are more likely to say, “We’ll figure it out.” Am I totally wrong on this?

Let’s talk about it. Are one or both of you putting off having children until conditions are right? What would need to change? Do you worry about the world into which they would be born? Do you know others who are having these feelings? I await your comments.