Other Than Mother: Choosing Childlessness with Life in Mind by Kamalamani/Emma Palmer, UK, Earth Books, 2017
Kamalamani is a Buddhist priest from the UK who has chosen not to have children. In this book, she looks at the reasons why one might choose a childfree life and how one makes that decision. There is a lot of brilliance here about the childfree life. There is also a lot about Buddhism that is interesting but has minimal connection to the topic. This book is well-written, heavily referenced, and adds new ideas to the discussion, especially about whether our troubled planet needs any more people and whether remaining childfree might be the best response. Women trying to decide whether or not to become mothers may find it helpful.
If this book is about being childless by choice, why should we care about it? Those who are childless by marriage or infertility do have a lot in common with the childfree crowd. Childless by choice or by chance, we are different from people who have children, and we experience many of the same challenges.
For example, we get asked why we don’t have children and have to deal with suggestions from people who do not understand our situation.
Says Kamalamani, “Women are still primarily defined in relationship to motherhood (or non-motherhood). . . I do not question a person or couple’s decision to have children—unless they are close friends seeking advice or a therapy client, and then I tread carefully—so I am intrigued as to the social rules that apply when a stranger feels free to question my decision not to bear children or to tell me with certainty that I shall live to regret my decision.”
In other words, how dare they?
She goes on: “Friends caution that you are missing out on life’s most exhilarating pleasure or reason that your partner will not feel any ties to a childless relationship.”
This statement caught my interest. Is it possible that some men (or women) don’t want to have kids because they don’t want to be tied down, because they see children as the glue that will create a permanent commitment to their spouse or partner? Think about your own situation. Might your partner’s refusal to have children be a way of keeping the door open so that he or she can leave at any time? It’s a worrisome thought, but what do you think? Is that what’s happening in some cases?
Kamalamani is worried about the effect of having so many people on the planet. Maybe we should put as much energy into saving the earth as we put into raising children, she suggests. “After all, whether or not we are parents to children we have ourselves borne, we are all stewards in handing on the legacy of our time on earth to the next generation of earth dwellers, human and other than human.
She looks at other aspects of non-motherhood, including the effects of our childhood and the examples set by our parents; couples who try to fix a broken marriage by having a child, and fear of regrets later in life;
Most people without children seem to feel less regret, not more, as they get older, she says. “In my forties, I think infrequently about motherhood and what I have missed. I am more focused on many other fruitful things: My work as an aunties, therapist, writer, lover, and gardener. Not being a mother is no longer a huge part of my self-identity, although, of course it is a factual reality.”
Instead of having children, Kamalamani suggests, we can tackle “baby-sized projects”. “Many of you are likely to have your own baby-sized projects gestating, well under way, or complete. For those of you who are childless and who have perhaps felt a bit rootless or meandering for the past few years, particularly if this meandering has been due to not knowing whether to try for children, do bear in mind opportunities arising for the emergence of a baby-sized project. This might be re-training in the line of work you have always longed to do, following a vocational calling, going travelling, moving house, or creating a home . . . . There are many ways to create without creating babies . . . deciding not to have children is not an ending, it is a beginning, and the chance to decide to do something other than procreate. It is not necessarily about loss and doom and gloom–as it is sometimes portrayed or maybe misunderstood through others’ projected sympathy—but a potential gain and a different expression of creativity and nurturing.”
This is a fascinating book, but it is loaded with Buddhist philosophy. If that’s a turnoff, you might want to read something else. But I recommend this book. It will get you thinking.
For more information, visit https://www.kamalamani.co.uk/about
I welcome your comments.
Earlier this week, I experienced a “sleep study” at the local hospital. How they expect anyone to sleep with dozens of wire attached and someone watching, I don’t know. I felt as I didn’t sleep at all, but the technician said I was “snoring away.” You can read more about this at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.
Not having children never came up during this experience, but I sure wished I had a partner to care for the dog, drive me back and forth, and make breakfast when I got home.
Happy spring, dear friends.