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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Men agonize over childlessness, too

Day after day, I receive comments and emails from women who are struggling to decide to stay with their male partners who don’t want children or leave in hope of finding someone who wants to father their children. But it’s not all women. Men agonize over this issue, too.

On Sunday, I received a long comment from a man calling himself Rollcage. Here are excerpts from what he wrote:

“So I’m 30/m and my partner is 26/f. We have been dating for a year and compared to many on here with years of marriage behind them that’s nothing, but this woman is extraordinary. The love of my life and I am on the verge of proposing to her.

“Apart from a few ups and downs we have a perfect relationship, we can talk without getting bored nonstop, we share so many similar interests and I could never have imagined a woman like her existed.

“So you probably can guess where I’m going with this. She is already a mother of one, a 2 year old boy from a previous relationship. . .

“She never wanted to have kids before they did and he managed to convince her to conceive. She had always said that she didn’t want kids and that if she did circumstances would be different (she would be married, post career, etc.). You could almost say she was deceived by him. He had no love for her, he simply wanted someone to give him a child after he lost his previous to a previous partner . . .

“My gf is an incredible mum, even more so when she coped so well raising him under the most difficult circumstances! She’s sweet around him and I found that part of her more and more attractive. I started to think to myself hey if we ever do decide, I know she’ll be a great mum.” At this point, I didn’t really think about kids, but I thought that it was possible that we may end up having one someday.

“Then something happened around two weeks ago. She was looking after him (he spent 2 weeks with his mum and 2 with his dad) and he got sick with the stomach flu. He was often sick when he visits her, we think because of the childcare he goes to, and my gf would often get sick herself as a result, something she can’t afford to do with her job. She also has emetophobia and doesn’t do well when he is vomiting. This always prompts her mum to visit to help look after him and clear the mess.

“This isn’t anything new, but this time this event, coupled with her current form of sickness and also a decision having to be made in the future about where he should stay for pre-school (they live in different towns), she decided that she just wasn’t made up to be a mum and that she should give her ex custody and see her son only every other weekend . . .

“I just don’t know how to feel. I can’t leave her, and I know I’ll be happy with her without our own, but her changing her mind about her own son has made me see things differently. I still don’t know if I will ever want kid,s but the woman who I love who I always saw was such a great mum is now convinced motherhood is just not for her. She has told me she doesn’t want me holding it against her and she doesn’t want me trying to change her mind. Equally she told me she doesn’t want to make me unhappy if she can’t give me what I want . . .

“I desperately want her to just notice how great of a dad I would be and to crave a child of our own, but the stupid thing about that is I don’t even know if I do want children. I feel as if I’ve always expected to be the one in a relationship who probably sides more with not having kids, but suddenly I find myself wanting kids more than her (even though I’m not sure yet) and her lack of desire vs mine puts me off . . .

“My heart tells me I’m going to marry this woman and deep down I hope spending more time together she will change her mind.

“My head tells me I need to get used to the idea of not having children as most likely it isn’t going to happen.

“It’s almost like her wanting it less than me has made me feel unloved. I want her to be able to give me what she gave her ex and I want to prove to her that it will be different, that we will enjoy it. Whilst she is the opposite trying to convince me it’s a bad idea . . . ”

There’s a lot more. You can read the whole comment by scrolling down to the end of the comments on the original post. Then you can add your own comments here or there.

While I’m sharing links, here are some articles about the male point of view:

“The Untold Grief of Childless Men”

“Childless Men Speak Out”

“Why Do We Never Worry about Men’s Childlessness and Infertility?”

“Men Aging without Children”

Also check out my previous posts “What Do the Men Say about Being Childless by Marriage?” and “Father’s Day Tortures Childless Men.”

No, my friends, it’s not just the women who suffer with this dilemma. Please feel free to comment.

Which is worse, no kids or a dozen?

The novel I’ve been reading, A Place of Her Own by Janet Fisher, takes place in the 1800s. It’s based on the true story of a woman who came to Oregon by covered wagon and settled not far from where I live. The heroine, Martha, married at 15, has one baby after another, 11 in all. She’d probably have had more, but her husband died. I almost want to add “thank God.” He was an abusive SOB.

But that’s not my point. The story takes place in the 1850s and ’60s. Martha has no access to birth control, abortion doesn’t even occur to her, and there is no such thing as a vasectomy or tubal ligation. If you have sex–and her husband isn’t going to take no for an answer–you have babies. She spends the 21 years of their marriage either pregnant or nursing. Think about that. One baby after another, with no way to stop them from coming.

There comes a point in the novel where she has had two babies die in infancy and discovers she’s pregnant again. “I don’t want to have another baby,” she cries. She already has so many to take care of and she can’t stand the thought of losing another one.

Her husband treats her horribly, at one point beating her with a whip. She leaves him for a while and tries to divorce him, but discovers the laws at that time  allow him to take all of their seven living children away from her. So when he promises never to hurt her again, she goes back. She has two more babies.

Why am I telling you about this when you and I don’t have any babies at all? Think about how few choices women had back then, long before they earned the right to vote. When Martha, as a widow, went to buy land, the guy selling it preferred to deal with her 11-year-old son because he was male.

Only in recent times have we had any say about whether or not we would get pregnant and have babies or when we would have them. When I was born in the 1950s, abortion and birth control were not legally available. Nor did women have many career options. Most became wives and mothers. They started their families young, long before age-related infertility might be a factor. We never heard about spouses refusing to have children. I’m sure it happened but not nearly as often as it does now.

Today we have so many choices it’s frightening. We make those choices and then we wonder if we’ll regret them later, whether it be birth control, abortion, vasectomy, or committing our lives to someone who is not able or willing to make babies with us. In these days when divorce is common, we’re often the second or third spouse, and our partners have already created families with their exes. They’ve had their children, but we have not. They want us to be happy taking care of their children, but it’s rarely enough.

Sometimes I wish we didn’t have so many choices. Life was less complicated in the 1860s. But to be honest, I would no more want to have 11 babies and have two of them die than I would want to have none. Also, considering the lack of choices back in the 1800s (when my great-great grandmother had 13 children who lived), why would any of us let anyone else decide this most important life choice for us now?

What do you think about all this?

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Last week’s stepmom post has created quite a hot discussion. Take a look at https://childlessbymarriageblog.com/2017/01/12/he-already-has-his-kids-but-i-dont/.

 

 

 

 

He already has his kids, but I don’t

Ooh, those stepchildren. I was all set to write about something else this week, but then I got this comment on a previous post. I’m dying to share it with you and get your opinions.

The original post, “Stepparents caught between two worlds,” is still drawing comments. For so many of us, our childless lives include dealing with our partners’ kids from previous relationships. Sometimes they feel like our own kids. Note the second book I talked about last week where the author fell completely into the mom role with her two stepsons. More often, we have mixed feelings. We want to love them and make them our own, but they already have two biological parents. They may accept you or treat you like dirt. You may have a good relationship with your partner’s ex or be constantly at war. And when it comes to your partner choosing between his or her children and you, well, guess who loses that contest? Blood trumps love most of the time.

So often, accepting this partner with kids means you will not get kids of your own because that partner has already been there and done that.

That said, let me share what “Honest” wrote:

I’m very thankful I have stumbled upon this blog. I’ve been searching for someone, anyone really, who I can relate to and to see that I am not alone in this whirlwind of step-parenting.

Last year I met a man that I was completely not ready for. He was the most incredible man I have ever met, Kind, nurturing, persistent, caring, understanding, supportive and above all he was completely and utterly in love with me. He had been in a relationship for 10 years and had two kids 9 & 5. His ex had left him a year and a half before we met. He was the bigger man and moved out of the house they had just recently built and moved into a rental, while still paying for the house and all her bills, (which I think is completely and utterly insane. I know if that was me I would not be funding her) But his excuse was he was doing it for the kids as she would not be able to afford the house and bills as she did not work. I have come from a hard upbringing. My father was abusive and my mother worked three jobs to support our family, so you can see why I would have a bad taste in my mouth to begin with from his ex not wanting to work even though both children are at school when my mother raised us all and worked three jobs, but that’s just my view. I guess.

My partner won my heart after months of my hesitation to commit to him. I knew deep in my heart I would be in for a whirlwind of a ride once I committed. He was still going through the sale of his house, she was still living in it, he works away so he was gone for a full week and the week he was home he had the kids for the whole 7 days. So from the very beginning, I knew if I stepped into this I was becoming a half-time stepmom. That when I saw him, I knew I would be seeing the children too, never a moment alone to have our own relationship. But, love won me over.

Three months into our relationship, we moved in together. Not only was he pushing for it, as at the time he was coming home and staying at their ‘old home’ which she still lived in, and would go to her friends the week he was home, but my current rental was about to run out of lease. So we made the plunge and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. As his ex had run him dry of money, I ended up paying and furnishing the entire apartment (which included a room for his two kids, with whom I had only spent a handful of time) and accepting the fact that I was now involved.

The two kids are beautiful. I have grown to love them very much. I take them to school, I pack their lunches, I cook them dinner and put them to bed, do all the things a mother would do. But, at the same time, all I can see when I look into their eyes is her [the ex]. She would call and abuse my partner at ridiculous hours, she would start messaging me abuse, he would try and be reasonable with her and she just would not have it, and that absolutely kills me inside.
My partner from the start told me I was the love of his life and he wants to marry me and spend the rest of his life with me and have children of our own. Up until recently. Now he has decided that he does not want any more children.

When those words came out of his mouth, it absolutely ripped my heart out. I’ve wanted children my whole life. I have had three abortions with exes, because they did not want to be fathers, or the time was not right, and they would not be around if I was to have the child. So I did the right thing ( so I thought) and went through the traumatic experience of having an abortion, because I want my children to grow up in a family with both a loving mum and a dad, and not a dad who does not want them. I know firsthand how many times I wished when I was a child my mum did not have me because of my abusive father. So now I’m 28 and the man who I thought I was going to marry and start a family with has changed his mind on having any more children. Do I leave and attempt to find someone else I will fall in love with and we both want a family, or stay in hopes he will change his mind? It’s not like he cannot see the mother I will be. I’m more of a mother to his children then their actual mother. It breaks my heart to know that I’m 28 and I’m still completely and utterly unsure of what I’m doing in life. I don’t think I could live the next 20 years with his children and none of our own, I feel like that’s taking something special away from me, away from us, that he does not want us to have that connection, and it leaves an awfully bad taste in my mouth.

HERE’S WHAT I SAID: Honest, you’re not going to like my response, but I’m going to say it anyway. Looking at it from the outside, I think your guy is taking advantage of you. You have provided him a place to live and free child-care while he’s preventing you from having your own children and still supporting his ex. Maybe he does love you, but the whole situation sounds messed up to me. I wish you all the best.

What do you all think? Respond here or on the original post, where you can read some other step-situations.

Book tells stories of ‘missed motherhood’

Let’s talk about books on this snowy morning. Yes, it’s snowing on the beach in Oregon. So pretty. So not going to my dentist appointment. 🙂

Comstock, Kani with Barbara Comstock. Honoring Missed Motherhood: Loss, Choice and Creativity. Ashland, OR: Willow Press, 2013.

In a world where having children seems to be the default setting for most women, Comstock acknowledges that large numbers of women do not become mothers for physical or circumstantial reasons. Even if they do have children, they may have lost other babies to abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth. The book includes the Comstocks’ personal stories of non-motherhood, followed by a series of first-person narratives from other women. It concludes with a series of resources to help deal with grief and the loss of children.

Aside from some grammar glitches, the book is well-written and the stories are engrossing. I was shocked at the number of women here who had abortions, sometimes multiple, and others who had one miscarriage after another. The situation I address in my own Childless by Marriage book and blog, the partner who is unwilling or unable to make babies, is glossed over with one story that ends happily with a great relationship with the woman’s stepchildren. Believe me, it doesn’t always work that way.

I was also bothered by the frequent mentions of something called The Hoffman Process, a personal growth program in which both women are deeply involved. For approximately $5,000, you can spend a week at one of their retreats and release all your trapped feelings. Some online writers call it a cult. Are the Comstocks trying to sell us the course? Are they qualified to offer the psychological information they include? They are probably right that most of us do not fully express our feelings or acknowledge our losses, but I don’t know if we need the “process.”

Those concerns aside, the resources included at the back of the book are a boon for any childless woman trying to figure out how to grieve her loss and move on. They include rituals one can perform alone or with friends and a wonderful Mother’s Day ceremony I would love to try. You can also find these rituals at their website, http://www.missedmotherhood.com.

The emphasis really is on physical loss of a baby. If your problem is with your partner, well, you have already found us right here.

Kani Comstock and I will both be presenting at the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio October 6 and 7.

Michele Longo Eder, Salt in our Blood. Newport, OR: Dancing Moon Press, 2008

Right after I read the Comstocks’ book, I launched into this memoir by a local woman about the loss of her stepson at sea. I’m still deeply engrossed in this 430-page paperback, but wanted to share part of her story that applies here. The author, an attorney with no children, married a fisherman with two sons. He had custody of the boys, and their mother was not involved at all. Michele immediately became their mother. They call her “Mom,” and she calls them her sons throughout. There is no “step” between them at all. There is also no mention of wanting her own biological children or regretting not having them. Of course, it’s not a happy story. One of the sons dies. She grieves him like her own. Is it possible for a woman to step into a family and bond so completely bond that someone else’s children become her own? Is this only possible if the bio mom is not around? Something to ponder.

Meanwhile, there’s snow blowing past my window. I’m calling the dentist’s office. Not coming. Have a good day, wherever you are and whatever your weather.

Christmas and a new year still childless

Another year is ending. Time to look at where we have been and where we are going. I’m going to repeat some of my words from last year because they still apply. I’ll just change the date. If we didn’t do it in 2016, 2017 offers another chance.

Let’s make 2017 the year we don’t waste a minute with what ifs, the year we live each precious moment consciously and with gratitude for the gifts we have right now, whether it be a person, a pet, a job, a home, or coffee and donuts.

I’m excited about a new year. I hope you are, too. I ask two things of you all in 2017. First, if you have been dithering for years about the whole baby-partner thing, resolve it this coming year. Talk about it, pray about, think about it, make a decision and move on. Might you change your mind later? Of course. But for now, stop torturing yourself. Either accept your situation or make the leap to a new one.

Second, tell us what happened. We get so many comments here from people who are in crisis, who don’t know what to do, who are considering leaving their partners, who feel like they can’t bear their grief, but we rarely hear the rest of the story. Please, if you have commented before, send us a follow-up. We want to know how things turned out. If you would like, I can offer you the whole blog space to tell your story.

That’s what I said last year. Of course saying and doing are two different things. I also promised myself that this Christmas I would not get depressed, I would not get myself worked up over not getting presents, I would not weep over the family I don’t have. Well, I’ll try again in 2017. I spent most of Christmas feeling ridiculously sorry for myself. There were some good reasons: the pellet stove that heats my house died on Dec. 22 and is still sitting there like a cold lump of metal, awaiting parts; my financial situation is not great; my aunt sent fruitcake when I was hoping for a real present, and my brother’s present got lost in the mail; as choir director, I had to sing the Christmas Day Mass alone because my singers were off with their kids and grandkids; and I got a flat tire on Christmas Day. Dead husband, disowned by the stepkids, far from my birth family celebrating together in California. I stared at my pitiful little fake tree and sobbed. Poor me.

But with a little perspective, I can see that I spent most of the weekend with friends at church or at their home, I got some nice gifts from my church buddies (and a boatload of chocolate), my Christmas tree is cute, and I’m better off than a lot of people I know. I do not have cancer. I have a good house, plenty of food, steady income, work I love, and a fabulous dog who adores me. I also have all of you.

I can see that I need to work a little harder on bringing people into my life and including them in mine. I tend to be a workaholic hermit, but that’s not healthy. When people have spouses, children and grandchildren, they have a built-in family and community with which to share their lives. But when we’re on our own, we need to build our own communities or get used to the solitude.

Having children is no guarantee of Christmas cheer anyway. My closest friend’s kids were not available for the holidays and one didn’t send a card or gift and was not answering his phone. My physical therapist who just moved here from Utah was on her own because she’s divorced and her kids were with their dad. She said she valued having time to herself, which doesn’t happen very often. Another friend was snowed in with his dog, couldn’t get to his family.

You make the best of what you’ve got. And if you have to cry a little bit, that’s okay.

So how did you make out this Christmas? And what are your plans for the new year? Let’s talk.

 

 

It’s not easy being childless at Christmas

Christmas! It’s almost here. Grownups are driving themselves crazy buying gifts, sending cards, and cooking for parties while kids act like my dog just before she goes for a walk: unbearably hyperactive, following me everywhere, barking at me, and even nipping at my hands because she just has to go for her walk RIGHT NOW.

As for the birth of Jesus, oh yes, that too.

If we have no children, it would seem to be less stressful. Stepchildren may up the anxiety, requiring you to act like a parent when you aren’t, but they might also be spending the holidays with their other mom or dad. So no problem, right? Wrong. If there was ever a time of year when our childlessness is shoved in our faces, this is it.

I stared at my little fake Christmas tree last night with exactly one tiny gift under there for me and felt so sorry for myself. If I had kids, if I still had a husband, I would have presents. I would have somebody making sure “Mom” or “Grandma” wasn’t alone. The kids might be coming, or I might be going to where they live.

I remember my own grandmother, whose birthday was on Christmas Eve. Everyone gathered on Dec. 24 to honor her with gifts, cake, and Portuguese food. The next day, Christmas, everybody came our house. Nobody was alone, and everybody had presents.

Yes, I know, it’s all about Jesus being born.

When I was looking at my tree, I happened to be sitting in the hot tub in my back yard looking through the window. The hot water soothed every joint and muscle. The stars twinkled bright above. The dog puttered around in the yard. Afterward, I put on my nightclothes and watched the Tony Bennett birthday special on TV. It was wonderful. Then I slept and woke up to a fresh new day full of possibilities. Nobody bothered me about anything. Hard life, huh?

I know I am blessed in so many ways. I just found out another friend has been fighting breast cancer all year. That’s a real problem. Looking at that little tree, realizing what I could have had, not the presents but the people, the pain was excruciating. But as my father often says, it is what it is. You curse a little and go on.

And yes, Christmas is about Jesus. With most of our choir spending the holidays with their kids and grandkids, we’re short of singers. I will be singing and playing at two Masses on Christmas Eve and another one on Christmas Day. Afterward I’ll have dinner with friends whose kids are far away. We will exchange grownup gifts and probably watch TV or a movie. I will cry at some point, but it will be fine. Next week, when we meet again, it will be over.

Dear friends, how are you dealing with Christmas this year? What’s the hardest part? What advice do you have for others who don’t have children and wish they did? Please share in the comments.