I grew up in an environment that revolved around the daily experience of being a child. There are a lot of different ways being child-centric can manifest itself (for more on my own particular version go here). I would say that, from a child's perspective, my family life normalized the primacy of caring for young people as a central task of being human, and also modeled that care-taking as an activity that was integrated into the "real" world -- as opposed to being something one did either as a school teacher or (necessarily) as a "stay at home mom." Yes, my mother was the parent dedicated to arranging our home life, but my parents didn't back this decision up with ideology concerning gender. This meant that I grew up believing that: 1) caring for children was an important and legitimate adult responsibility 2) it was work that required full-time attention from someone or someone(s) to do well, and 3) this important responsibility was not "naturally" women's job, but rather something that one did out of a sense of vocation. And because it was simply what family members did: look out for one anothers' needs.
|At age three, I thought I'd grow up to be Nora (Helen Reddy)|
from Pete's Dragon. Lighthouse keeper and adoptive parent
-- what could possibly be better?
|When I was five I wanted to be Maria from The Sound of Music.|
If you're going to adopt, why stop at just one?
Because such a situation was so difficult to imagine establishing successfully, I started re-evaluating my assumption that being an adult me would involve parenting. I was lucky enough to have family members who didn't pressure me to settle into a heteronormative family and start popping out babies, and also lucky enough to be surrounded not only by folks who had parenting radically (the homeschooling/unschooling community) but also by some really kick-ass single and non-parenting adults -- notably single and non-parenting women -- whom I could look to as models for what it would mean to be a not-parent. My father's sister, for example, is now married with an adult stepson, but spent the majority of my childhood as a single female academic pursuing her PhD in theology and an MS in Social Work. A close family friend who was likewise single for years used to have dinner with our family regularly and provide childcare when my parents needed a break; being without children himself did not seem to impede his ability to be close with us or with his nieces and nephews. In college of the six female professors who I'd identify as the most influential in my academic career, three were single when they had me as a student and four were not parenting. All four of those women were living examples of how to be a whole person and build relationship networks without a marriage or children.
I took some flak from a couples' counselor a year or so ago for starting to answer her question about whether I did or did not want children (Hanna's immediate answer: "No") by providing all of this background. Hanna pointed out to me later that the therapist -- being unfamiliar with how my mind worked -- probably thought I was evading her query. I wasn't, but I honestly didn't know how to answer her in any other (more succinct) way. Because my current location on the parenting continuum is a result of all these experiences, and that location is situational. Unlike people who experience bodily knowledge about their desire to parent or not parent, I am comfortable in the in-between space of offering my skills as a caregiver where and when I am called upon to do so.
|Gwen Cooper and Baby Cooper (Torchwood).|
This is how I picture Hanna's parenting would be (sans pink).
For the fucking win.
I also want to stay open to the accidental parenting. Obviously, the chances of this happening given our collective anatomical make-up are incredibly slim, but I still want to stay alive to the possibility that at some point in the future we may be called upon to parent in some way: the children of friends or relatives, for example, in need of a temporary home. Gods forefend anything so traumatic happening to the people we love -- but I live with the knowledge that shit sometimes does hit the fan, and I want to be there for the vulnerable survivors if it does.
All of this leaves me in what feels like a bit of a no man's land when it comes to the current state of our cultural assumptions about parenting. In a landscape where children and families are simultaneously idolized and marginalized, and where single and non-parenting adults (particularly women) feel vilified for their decision not to parent, the pressure to "choose sides" is intense and I find it hard not to feel rendered invisible as a non-parent who is neither proudly childless by choice nor mourning her infertility and/or circumstances unconducive to parenting. I feel bi-lingual, in a sense, able to speak the language of parenting and of not-parenting with equal willingness and ease. I can see my future life unfolding in multiple directions, and I'm okay with that. Most of the time. But certainty about uncertainty (e.g. openness-to-change) is sometimes a more difficult position to articulate or defend than is certainty about certainty. Which is perhaps why it's taken me two weeks and this meandering blog post to do so -- and why our couples' therapist thought I was evading the question.
I'm going to pick up the theme of openness-to-change in next week's post on "desire." In the meantime, this is what I got. I hope it at least approximates what I set out to offer.
as always I very much enjoyed your post and your thoughtful take on the issue. Your explanation of being "between worlds" made a lot of sense and like so many issues when we might feel forced to "take sides" (sexuality, race, etc) it can be a lonely space at times.ReplyDelete
I've recently read several pieces on the marginalization of women without children and it is something that I am really struggling to appreciate. As a mother of five I have experienced many challenges in my efforts to have both my children and myself recognized as full human beings despite our relationships and ages. I also have several women friends in my life who will not be parenting either by choice or life circumstance (but not in the mourning type of way, more similar to your experience) and other than the occasional stupid comment or nosy relative they seem to have very few struggles - far from what I would term "marginalization".
But I'm also not one to dismiss the lived experiences of others so am really trying to understand where those feelings are originating. And sometimes it is harder because many of those folks react so negatively to me as a "breeder"....
I appreciated the reminder not to dismiss my own children's expressions regarding their future potential parenting. I absolutely believe that I have said something along the theme of "people often change their minds" when a child has expressed reluctance to parent. Oh naval gazing is a never ending necessity when trying to practice conscious parenting!