Turning Cacophony into Harmony

In a “baby-crazed” world, I am writing a book filled with voices of reality in a world of half-truths about what it means to be a 21st century female. My inspiration: my 16-year old daughter. Further inspiration has poured in from all over the globe thanks to TCFL.com. I was already in the process of personally interviewing dozens of CF women all over the U.S. when I discovered TCFL. I posted two simple questions to the TCFL website and women responded with honesty and generosity. This is when I realized that my book has the potential to support, not just American women as I first thought, but women around the globe. Thanks to the TCFL website, I see that assumptions about what females “should” want for their lives is not restricted to American culture; I have heard about the same types of assumptions from women from the UK, Germany, Australia and Canada.

In a nutshell, my goal is to frame the institution of motherhood with an accuracy never before revealed; hinted at, yes, but not in a way as I am doing. There are many reasons that our mothers gloss over the realities of motherhood – not every single mother does this – but the vast majority give their daughters only the highlights – the moments of joy – never mind the moments of pain and sacrifices. Mothers do this because they don’t want to sound as though they regret having had their kids. Regret may as well be a four-letter word when it comes to this topic among mothers. To even hint at the regret of having one’s child is tantamount to degradation of the love a mother feels for her child. So they clam up; and they keep the unpleasant details to themselves. At least, that’s what usually happens. There seems to be a minority of “evolved” mothers who are opening up their minds when it comes to their daughters. I, for one, will encourage my daughter to choose the path that feels most authentic to her life; to grab onto her dream – whatever it is — and follow it wherever it leads. From what I’ve heard from the CF women I’ve interviewed, the path to happiness just has to be authentic to one’s self. No mountain-climbing necessary; or paddling the Atlantic. No building homes for the homeless or pursuing the CEO-track in order to justify one’s right to opt out of motherhood. Society needs to recognize that “I’m okay; you’re okay.” We are all okay.

There’s a quote in Madelyn Cain’s book, The Childless Revolution, (2001) that haunts me. After several failed attempts at bearing a child, a woman Cain calls Donna said that “…if I can’t have children, there’s no reason to live.” I’ve quoted this line often because it is the epitome of what mothers should NEVER want their daughters to feel. And yet, females are bombarded with messages from family, friends, co-workers, religious leaders, the media, even strangers, of what a female’s life “should” look like. When women reach their 20s and 30s, the pressure can be intense. In interviews with CF women, I’ve heard the following comments:
- From a CF woman who is now in her 50s: when she was in her 20s (which was the 1980s), her grandfather remarked that she had better hurry up or she’ll end up like her aunt (an unmarried CF woman); an aunt that this woman has always adored.
- From a CF woman, 21 years old: (in 2013), her grandfather asked where her ring was and said she’d better hurry up, she can’t wait around forever.
From these two examples, perhaps we could surmise that members of the older generation are the main purveyors of the pressure females feel. Not true. As every CF woman knows, the intrusive questions and pressure comes from a plethora of sources — even from a CF woman’s BFF!

As the world has evolved, as opportunities for education and careers have opened up for women over the past few decades as never before, the assumptions about women’s lives have not evolved. Oh they sound different – for now women can “have it all!” Whether they want it or not.

Women who have either chosen to be CF or are CF through circumstances are judged, pitied, or they are the recipients of intrusive questions such as, “Why don’t you want to have a baby” or “Aren’t you worried that there will be no one to care for you when you’re old?” Ask that last question of the thousands of women who are living in nursing homes today, despite having had kids. Having children is not a guarantee for anything. Believe me on that one. I’m speaking with almost three decades of motherhood under my belt. Having expectations for your children’s lives can be fraught with land mines. Beyond instilling in one’s child the virtues of kindness, empathy, and self-sufficiency, expecting more can be an exercise in futility. And rightly so. Once a woman reaches adulthood, her choices are her own and the expectations of others are rendered moot. Unfortunately, many CF women have felt the disappointment that exudes from their parents upon hearing that they won’t become grandparents. Truly, what child sets out to disappoint one’s parents?

I’ve interviewed mothers of daughters (daughters ages 4 months through 20+ years old) and so many of them do expect that their daughters will follow in their footsteps. If each one of their daughters grows up to find: the right partner, the right situation, and a passion for motherhood, then great! All will be well for these mothers. If not, then they will have to re-adjust their expectations. Wouldn’t it be nice if a book like mine came out and they adjusted their expectations before their daughters hit those crucial years where their “inner selves” are being formed? The years when they are making choices about their bodies and the paths they want to follow.

My goal for the book I am writing is to expose the realities of motherhood; and at the same time dispel the belief that so many people hold for today’s females. In doing so, I hope to teach the world – every person who speaks to a female in any setting – how to use sensitivity and awareness when speaking about this topic. Instead of saying, “When you become a mother…” — say “If you become a mother someday….” — and fill in the latter “dot-dot-dot” with other equally appealing paths for women’s lives. Better yet, research women’s history and reflect on the lives of some really great CF women. History tends to ignore the efforts of females. As women, let’s not do that. Let’s unite for a common cause – CF women and those who are mothers – in supporting each other’s choices. To echo a CF woman who is a wonderful example of someone who has deflected society’s expectations — Oprah Winfrey — one thing I know for sure is that women must pursue lives that feel authentic to themselves. What feels authentic to one woman does not feel authentic to another; and to assume so is an injustice to millions of women.

Having said all this, I recognize that the “uniting” of which I speak seems like an uphill climb. I think reaching the hearts and minds of society-at-large is the priority. CF women are too often the targets of criticism (or pushing or prodding) and this website is proof of the resulting anger from society’s insistence on judging women through the lens of procreation. I have a dream – that derogatory remarks will no longer be hurled across the demarcation line – and that the demarcation line will be blurred in a way that people view women on the basis of their character, not on the choices they make for their lives. We are all women! By uniting with voices of support, we can turn cacophony into harmony and create a warmer, more accepting world for the next generation of females. Peace, pass it on.

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5 Responses to Turning Cacophony into Harmony

  1. Katherine says:

    Melanie,
    Your daughter is fortunate to have a mother who will educate her on all of the choices for her life, including a childfree option. Having a baby is a huge responsibility and one that should be considered before bringing another life into the world. I think that both the childfree and responsible parents alike would have agreement that choices come down to an individual level. It is important that the present and future generations are taught about all of their choices and possible outcomes for decisions made. Having more complete information would help individuals and couples make a more informed decision and not be as susceptible to manipulation by family, friends or cultural forces in the media.

    It would be a step in the right direction to stop hearing ” I am having a child because my mom wants grandchildren” or “I am having a child because I don’t want to be alone. ” The pressure placed on young people to reproduce in order to please others is a topic of much discussion here on TCFL. The term BINGO is used to highlight the frequency for which these phrases are used to pressure both men and women alike to reproduce.

    I look forward to reading your book. While this is a childfree site, I think that what you have to contribute bridges both the childfree and parenting environments with something that is currently lacking in our cultural discourse. Educating children in all of their choices and teaching a respect for those that choose something different is a noble idea. It may help parents, whose children make the choice not to reproduce, understand them better. Thank you for taking on this subject. I have a hunch it will lead to some interesting topics of discussion.

  2. Then there people like me who have custody of their children so they are home with me all of the time except for when their mother takes them for visits.Have women dated any men or are you with any men who have physical custody of their children?.When dating, I try to look for single mothers with children or women that love children but just don’t want any of their own.I am up front about everything when meeting or chatting with a women about my children. I have been lucky to be blessed with two children who are well behaved and easy going. However they are only nine and ten but at least I got a good start on them for their teen years.I also have two children that are over twenty and I have a five year old girl who lives in Michigan with her mother. I just signed my divorce papers for that one.It is hard enough to date and it is even harder when you have children. Some women and men consider children “baggage” when dating or listing themselves in profiles and such.It is my personal belief that any woman or man who are devoutly CF and want to stay that way, should stay away from people who have children because there may be jealousy issues when the mother or father is devoting time to their children.I personally am afraid to start dating again because of the children so when I am ready, I will probably join a Parents without Partners club or something.

    • Lindsey, I can only give you my own experience. I was divorced with 2 small kids and met someone who was CF. He married me with my “baggage” and I won’t say it was easy (for any of us, him, me, my kids). Stepfamilies can be full of land mines. Any stepfamily. I know of a CF woman who married a man with a son; but she’s remaining nulliparous. It happens more than you think. Just take a look at Delia Ephron’s most recent book “Sister Husband Mother Dog” where she talks about marrying a man with kids. She says, when you’re a stepparent, it’s really important to get a dog so that someone in the house loves you unconditionally (I’m summarizing from memory). I think you are correct to be very upfront about your children when talking with a CF woman. That can be a deal-breaker for many CF people. But not always. Good luck.

    • Christina says:

      There are jealousy issues. It’s tough dealing with someone your husband was married to (especially when she’s generally a super obnoxious individual), and their child when kids were never part of your life plan.

      Regardless of that, I always do the right thing by my stepson because it is what he deserves. Regardless of the fact that I do not like children, I really do love him. I would literally tear someone to shreds if they threatened him, believe me I’ve come close.

      You shouldn’t rule out CF’s any more than anyone should rule out someone with kids from a previous relationship. Everyone is different, and what matters is whether the person handles their jealousy in a mature way, or an immature way. You can’t help how you feel about something, but you always have the option to do the right thing.

      • Christina, you are open enough to love your stepson but acknowledge that there are times when ripping their (kids) heads off is an emotion that can surface when….for the thousandth time, you’ve asked them not to do something….or when they reach the teen years & they smart off excessively (due to hormones, indulgent parents, etc). I’m lucky to be married to someone who is secure in himself who has never felt threatened (or jealous) of my ex. But I’ve seen people who were jealous of someone’s ex…and it’s never productive to a healthy relationship. Thanks for adding your words of wisdom here.

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