A potentially unpopular opinion…
Brace yourself; this may come as a shock:
Being a mother is not the most important job a woman can do.
In fact, the idea is a crock of shit.
Telling women that being a mother is their most important job imposes an imperative on the role of motherhood. Reproduction becomes a woman’s purpose in life, effectively devaluing all other work performed by women.
No matter how great her accomplishments — astronaut, surgeon, artist, Supreme Court justice — when we hear a woman is childless we tsk-tsk and shake our heads, wondering what sad set of circumstances caused her to miss out on the most important part of being a woman.
Maybe she struggled with infertility, poor thing. Maybe she never found a husband. Maybe she failed to realize that she could do both, career and children. Maybe she did realize it but selfishly chose career over motherhood.
Bullshit. Every one of those imagined reasons is loaded with judgement, judgement reserved solely for women. For we rarely, if ever, wonder the same about men who are not fathers.
As bad as that is, the judgement reserved for childless women who are not highly accomplished is even worse. I’ve always been just an average Jane, working average jobs, living an average life, who also happens to be childless. I’ve experienced reactions ranging from curiosity to pity to outrage.
The fact is it’s nobody’s fucking business.
My mother was a stay-at-home mom who raised five kids. She never worked outside the home, except for a few months when I was twelve, when money was tighter than usual. She wasn’t much for self-disclosure but she seemed happy enough. Or, I suppose, if she wasn’t, she hid it well.
She modeled intellectual curiosity and critical thinking, reading multiple newspapers every day and several books a week, listening to CBC radio and NPR, and questioning everything. Both she and my dad instilled in us the importance of being able to work and take care of ourselves so we would never have to rely on anyone else to do it for us.
The only thing I ever remember her saying about motherhood was that I didn’t have to have kids if I didn’t want to. And by the time I was eighteen, I had decided that I didn’t.
But in my twenties, I keenly felt societal pressure to conform. So I married a man and a couple of years later, we started trying to get pregnant. About a year into that effort, in the midst of fertility tests to see if there was a problem, I realized how relieved I felt when my period arrived every month and decided to take a good, hard look at what I was doing.
Even though I was deeply closeted, even to myself, on some level I knew I was queer and that my marriage couldn’t survive that fact. With that knowledge also came the certainty that if I did have a child, I would end up raising it on my own. At the time, I hadn’t yet finished university and I was working at a dead-end retail job — raising a child as a single mother was something I simply wasn’t willing to take on.
It turned out I would never have kids without medical intervention and upon hearing the news, the only emotion I felt was relief. Soaring, joyful, deep-down-to-my-bones, relief. I chose to never seek that intervention and remain, forever and happily, childless by choice.
That was many years ago but the thoughtless, judgmental comments and questions just kept coming:
Why don’t you adopt?
You should do it anyway. If you don’t, you’ll only regret it when it’s too late.
You’ll change your mind once that biological clock starts ticking.
Such a shame. You would have been a great mom.
Isn’t passing on your genes to the next generation the whole point of being alive?
As if choosing childlessness is some kind of crime against nature. Well, you can fuck right off with that tripe.
I also get pissed off at the inherent hypocrisy in the grand show society makes of privileging motherhood and revering mothers. Businesses provide special parking spots for expectant mothers. Airlines offer priority boarding for those traveling with small children. Don’t even get me started on the billion-dollar industry built around Mother’s Day.
I don’t begrudge mothers any of it and actually think we don’t go far enough, in many, many ways. My problem is that these are token accommodations, offered primarily for show.
In reality, society punishes mothers. Paid maternity leave is often either unavailable or inadequate. Affordable housing is a distant dream for many and childcare costs for lower-income women can make working outside the home a net-loss proposition. Single mothers still suffer the stigma of raising kids without a man in the picture, often on top of having to rely on the indignity of inadequate, and sometimes difficult to qualify for, social assistance.
Yes, being a mother is your most important job in life but you’d better be goddamned sure you can afford to do it. Or suffer the consequences.
And the kids end up suffering, too.
Ultimately, perpetuating the notion that motherhood is a woman’s most important job is part of a misogynist society’s effort to control women, to deny them agency by making having kids the only socially acceptable choice. It extends that control even further by making pregnancy and motherhood barriers to employment, keeping women out of the workforce and forcing them to remain financially dependent on either men or the state.
And our society perpetuates the idea so insidiously, so pervasively, that women internalize it to the point that, from early childhood, motherhood becomes a life goal.
To do something different and choose not to be a mother, or to have the audacity to question that ideal, elicits judgment, defensiveness, and backlash, from both men and women.
So if motherhood isn’t my most important job, what is?
It’s to be a (mostly) good person, to love fiercely, to offer kindness as often as I can, and to, hopefully, leave the world a better place than when I found it.
Oh, and it’s to call bullshit when I see it.
I think that’s enough.