I did promise a post about Nobody's Mother to a commenter a while back, so that's where we'll go today.

Nobody's Mother is mostly written from a upper-middle class, middle-aged, white, straight perspective. There is one essay from a lesbian, and one from a Native North American. I was hoping for a few more younger voices, because a common issue that child-free women have, is not being taken seriously if they're pre-menopausal. I had the same issue in asking for a tubal ligation (which I didn't get, by the way). I was 30-years old, and still got the "you might change your mind" speech, accompanied by the "what if your partner wants children?" question. (My response? "Clearly, I'm not the partner for them, then.") The majority of the essays are women looking back on how and why the came to be child-free, by choice, happenstance, lack of opportunity, etc. There's nothing wrong with this approach, but it makes the book read more like Dropped Threads than a political work, which is something I was hoping for. To give the publisher credit, there's no hint that the book is all that political, but a girl can dream.

In fact, there is some "oh, well I'm not a feminist but..." stuff going on in there that irked me a little. Further, and I find myself doing this, I was annoyed by all the "but I like kids! really!" disclaimers. As a child-free person, I'm pretty tired of saying that. Fact is, I do like my friends' kids, but I shouldn't need to defend myself with that fact all the time. Part of the problem, is that the term "child-free" has been hijacked by a minority of people who very much dislike children, and by extension, mothers. I won't go into some of the truly awful rhetoric I've seen on child-free boards, but I will say I believe that to be anti-mama is to be anti-feminist, as much as being anti-choice is being anti-feminist. This is black and white to me, and you won't move me from that.

I bought this book looking to shore myself up against the chorus that gets ever louder as I roll through my 30s (32 in a week and a half, there's still some shopping time left). I wanted an angry, political diatribe against all the bullshit that child-free women face, both for those who chose it, and for those who did not. I wanted viewpoints I'd never heard, arguments I'd never thought of. What I did get, was 50% "Yes, I've thought/said that" and 50% "Ugh, you shouldn't have to say this!"

Which is not to say Nobody's Mother is a bad collection. In fact, it's very good to hear all these voices. As most of the contributors write and/or read for a living (journalists, professors, poets), the writing is uniformly excellent, and compelling. For an example, Lorna Crozier's essay is reprinted here. I think, though, that the book might stand better as an educational tool for parents, or future parents, to understand their child-free loved ones a bit better, and perhaps stop the misunderstanding of why some women would choose not to have children.

The best essay, for me, was Katherine Gordon's, that addressed specific questions she's (presumably) often asked. I have excerpted it here:

I'm 42 years old. I have no children. I'm very happy
But you would be so much happier if you did have a child.
Excuse me?
Children are such a joy. Having one would make you really happy.
I'm sorry. I know you mean well. But what makes you think you know what makes me happy?
You're not complete unless you have children
Ah. A person cannot be whole without kids? And therefore cannot be happy?
That's right. You don't know what you're missing
Well I can't argue with that. But I could say the same of you, of course.
You don't have to be defensive, you know. It's not too late. You have options. You have choices
I made my choice a long time ago.
What kind of person are you, not wanting to be a mom?
Someone who makes parents uncomfortable to be around, I guess -- the unhappy ones, anyway. To justify their decision to include children in their lives, parents have to judge me by their own standards and find me wanting. To dispel any discomfort they may have at being parents, they tell me what they believe I really think and feel, even when they do not know me at all.


ktnflag said...

As a child-free person, I'm pretty tired of saying that. Fact is, I do like my friends' kids, but I shouldn't need to defend myself with that fact all the time.

Which is why I stopped defending myself at all. Fact is, I don't like my friends' kids - one could probably characterize my feelings toward any child as benign indifference - so the "but I do like them!" qualifier wouldn't even be true. So I tell people that I don't want children, if they ask, but I never explain myself. If they push for a rationale, I walk away. My childfree status is not an issue for me so I don't let anyone make it any issue for themselves. That said, though, it's taken me a really, really, really long time to get to this point.

Panic said...

That's another thing... I find it hard to believe that not a single one of these women actually *didn't* like children. Though maybe the editors only choose essays of those who did like children, but didn't have any, so as not to be too controversial. But that feeling of "fuck you, I'll be who I am" can be controversial, and that's ultimately what this collection is missing. The "fuck you."