thebitterbabe

never married, over forty, a little bitter

Category: motherhood

the fundamental

http://www.alternet.org/5-things-never-say-woman-who-doesnt-want-kids

Even as women continue to break down the barriers of gendered expectations, they’re still faced with an allegedly fundamental question: whether or not to have children.

We still live in a world where family and children are deeply associated with women, to the point where women are taught that having children is essential to having a strong sense of self.

[…]

Collectively, we tend to be extremely uncomfortable with the possibility that a woman could put herself before someone else—even above people who will most likely never exist!

We continue to associate womanhood with selflessness and self-sacrifice. Children are a fundamental manifestation of this mindset. A woman is expected to prioritize her kids first, but particularly at her own expense.

There’s a definite labor to motherhood in more ways than one: late nights, the responsibility of looking after someone else, and more bodily fluids than you ever wanted to imagine, not to mention the financial burden.

You supposedly can’t be a good mom without some sacrifice. Since the maternal archetype continues to be so closely associated to the core of women’s identities, it follows that the “right” kind of woman is willing to sacrifice other things in favor of her goal of raising of family.

But not everyone wants children, which creates a weird materialism vacuum in the minds of many.

Why do we have to subscribe to the belief that being a good person or good woman automatically means going without?

There’s nothing shameful about indulging yourself or living your life to the fullest on your own.

People try to guilt women with the myth that there is a certain type of happiness or fulfillment that only mothers can know. That might be true, but it’s also true that having kids may prevent you from having tons of experiences that could change your life.

identity problems

http://www.salon.com/2014/05/28/elliot_rodger_and_americas_ongoing_masculinity_crisis_partner/

The idea of men going on shooting rampages because of threats to their identity as men makes sense to me. One way to think about that idea is to look at the cases where women DO kill multiple people. In the ones that make the news, most often the victims are the woman’s own children. They are not counted as mass killers because the body count isn’t high enough. But just like the breakdown in identity that I see happening with men, when the thing that defines a woman’s identity as a women breaks down (being a good mother), she—in those most extreme of cases—feels the need to kill the part of her that is causing the most pain.

[…]

Yes, sexism, misogyny, inability to deal with sexual rejection, and entitlement to women’s bodies still exists. Yes, we need to deal with it.

Best place to start? Talking with and treating women as equals. Encouraging men to see women as humans first, with sex taken completely off the table. Encouraging platonic friendships between the genders where each help each other succeed. Teaching consent and respect. It seems unimaginable we are still in need of progress in this area, but we know it to be true.

[…]

Men need to be able to get help for their problems without fear or shame. Emotional pain is real and devastating. Men need to understand that and they need help seeking out solutions. We need to look for warning signs and follow up immediately when we see those signs. We need to let men know it is ok to ask for help. We need to encourage friendships, sharing, and a wider, more open definition of love. We need to teach actual coping skills and actual problem solving skills to be able to deal with the inevitable loneliness, pain, anger, or lack of success that are simply parts of life. How many times have you heard some version of “just man up” instead of teaching real coping skills? And we need to continue to expand our definition of masculinity so that a man’s identity isn’t wrapped up in any one thing, but there are always a wealth of options for a long, happy productive life.

overwhelm

A whole new field of research is beginning to look into why overwhelm matters… entire presentations laid out the inverse relationship of increasing role overload and declining birth rates all over the world, which means many societies will soon have a worrisome surplus of old people and fewer young workers to support them. In the United States, the fertility rate began falling when the economic crisis hit in 2008, but it had already dropped among those with a college education to a “crisis” level. Steven Philip Kramer, a professor of strategy at the National Defense University, warns that countries that fail to address gender equity, redefine traditional families, reform immigration, and pass government policies that help men and women more easily combine work and family “do so at their own peril.”

[…]

As I pored over the time studies searching to understand why the feeling of being overwhelmed was on the rise, one central truth emerged clearly: When women began working in a man’s world, their lives changed completely. Yet workplace cultures, government policies, and cultural attitudes, by and large, act as though it is, or should be, 1950 in Middle America: Men work. Women take care of home and hearth. Fathers provide. A good mother is always available to her children. But obviously, life isn’t so sharply divided anymore. And until attitudes, however unconscious, catch up with the way we really live our lives, the overwhelm will swirl on. Nowhere is that disconnect between expectations and reality more apparent than when a women has a child. Time studies find that a mother, especially one who works outside the home for pay, is among the most time-poor humans on the planet, especially single mothers, weighted down not only by role overload but also what sociologists call “task density”– the intense responsibility she bears and the multitude of jobs she performs in each of those roles.

— Brigid Schulte, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, pp. 24-25

the equation

http://www.salon.com/2014/05/23/is_baby_fever_killing_my_chance_to_have_kids_partner/

I’m not saying that biology doesn’t matter—of course it does, and I don’t think women should ignore or put off researching their window for fertility and doing their best to accommodate that. The sad reality is that women can’t wait as long as men do to be sure whether or not they want kids. But biology isn’t everything, and simply warning us that our fertile years are waning isn’t actually helping create healthy families; in fact, I’d say it’s adding to women’s stress and fear about this issue. Biology is one part of the equation, but gaining life experience, figuring out who we want to be and who we want for our partners in love and parenting, and what they want, is just as important.

the boss lady

http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/04/lonely-at-the-top-lady-bosses-without-mentors.html

Of the handful of older women I’d worked with, some seemed to be resentful of me, prone to lectures about how hard they had it in the deeply sexist early days of their career. Others weren’t exactly hostile, but still kind of cold. A few clearly wanted to mentor me, but had to be home at 5 p.m. every day for their second shift. And there was also a whole swath of women aged 30 to 40 missing entirely from the workplace, due to the Mommy Gap, which may help explain the existence of twentysomething bosses in the first place.

[…]

When it came time to mapping out the best way to project authority and get the job done without becoming reviled in the workplace, I muddled through on my own. Needless to say, this was exhausting. My “fake it til you make it” approach to boss life helped me project confidence and earn respect, but my unshakeable outward composure took a toll inside. A Gchat transcript from my second week on the job catches me already revealing to a friend, “i haven’t cried since taking this job and i feel like I really need to but i can’t.” (Maybe it was the sheer exhaustion, or maybe this is getting at some deeper personal issues.) Or, a few months later, “oh i just had a tough day and was feeling some boss-lady isolation.”

tolerance levels

http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/2007/09/retired-and-sin.html

I’m a retired career woman, divorced over 10 years, age 57, and never had any children. I admit that for a long time, being “childless” bothered me…like I was missing out on one of life’s most wonderful gifts, but as the years passed, it bothered me less and less. Now I’m sort of glad I don’t have children and grandchildren. I love my independence. I’ve pretty much given up on the thought of being married again, and I’m okay with that too.

My best friend from childhood has been married for eons and has two children and so far, two grandchildren. Her entire life revolves around her family, kids and grandkids, and she rarely has any time to herself…but she loves her life. I used to envy her, but now I realize that’s just not the kind of life I could tolerate at this age.

I enjoy my nieces and nephews when I see them, and am close to my brother and sister. I value my family highly and am blessed with many very good friends. This is all okay with me now. I don’t feel “left out” because I’m not babysitting grandkids every day or every week. I like my freedom and my private times.

Posted by: Melinda | Wednesday, 12 September 2007 at 01:37 AM

self-possession

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/21/cameron-diaz-new-film-the-other-woman-interivew_n_5184891.html

We can find relationships that can serve us and that are good for us,” she explained. “We don’t have to stay in something if it’s not the right relationship. If something doesn’t work you don’t stay there and I think Carly knows that for herself.

“She leaves the relationship as soon as she finds out he’s married, she doesn’t try to get him to explain to her why he did it or say that he was going to leave his wife [Leslie Mann] for her.

“She just really owned it and said I have to get out of here and says the same thing to her [Leslie’s character] – you can’t change this person.”

“She is self-possessed and she knows what’s good for her,” Cameron added. “I think it’s important that that’s reflected.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/10770728/Cameron-Diaz-Ive-never-said-never-to-anything-in-life.html

Neither does she have a fixed opinion on motherhood. “I’ve never said never to anything in life. If I wanted kids, at any point in life, I would have them. But I’m certain that if at any point I wanted a child, that child would find its way into my life, whether through adoption, or through being in a relationship with somebody who has a child. I can’t see the future, but one thing I do know is that I’m not childless. I have a ton of children in my life. I can have a kid any second, if I want. All my friends would be like, ‘Sure, come and get them,’” she says with a laugh.

“I also, by the way, have a lot of girl friends who don’t have children. It’s not like I’m the spinster who didn’t have a child. I just didn’t do that in life, and I’m OK with that. I know the choices I made. I know why I made them. I’m very much a person who lives in the moment. When you come from where I do, there are so many ways my life could have gone.”

gambles

http://www.salon.com/2014/05/11/guilty_mother_syndrome/

The list is long, of good and loving mothers I know — of now-adult children, the ages of mine— who are not doing so well. Some of these mothers may truly have “bungled” how they raised their children. But I can name plenty of others who breast-fed their children, served them good meals, stayed home when they were sick (or every day), read to them, sang to them, taught them to ride their bikes and swim and ski, and above all, nurtured them daily (in families that remained — unlike my own — “intact”).

And their children are in drug rehab. Or they’re in jail, or suffering from profound depression. I know more than one mother — the kind of person who up until that moment would have been described as “a good mother” by anyone who knew her — whose child committed suicide.

What does this say about those mothers? If the value of these women’s lives were measured by the success of their children, they have failed, and, by the Jacqueline Kennedy measure at least, nothing else they may have succeeded at should matter all that much, as a result. In the eyes of many people (including the woman herself), a woman whose children fail to measure up is guilty of an even greater failure. Bad mothering.

the condemned

http://magdalen.blogs.com/nymphe/culture/

I am prompted to think of these women (mothers) I met when I spent a month in Florence last year. The way they talked about child-bearing and raising children (the ones I am thinking about both had teenagers) was so different from how people talk about parenting and the experience here in North America. One of them (a vivacious filmmaker with three children, finally divorced) told me, “A woman who doesn’t have the biological urge for children should consider herself lucky.” Another woman spoke of being “condemned” to motherhood; another, “My life was pretty good before Leah,” (her beautiful 16-year-old ballerina daughter).

They were very open and unconflicted about accepting the genuine sacrifices they had made, and how, in very serious ways, it had ruined their lives (as well as adding to their lives, which they spoke less about).

Another woman said to me, “It’s not good for a woman. If you are someone who likes to live by your own rhythms — you can’t. Ever again. You have to live in response to your kids.”

It was amazing to me how no woman I have ever talked to here has ever said anything close to anything like the women I met over there.

assumptions

http://candormagazine.tumblr.com/post/211502843/woman-writer-writer-mother-a-conversation-between

RZ: I was a writer and teacher before I was a mother but so much of my mental and physical energy is spent in my role of mother. Am I more a mother than a writer now? I’m not sure. I don’t think I can really separate them enough to measure them against each other.

It is interesting that despite our many similarities, we don’t know each other very well. Over the years our paths have crossed from time to time, but we’ve never become friends. Is it because I have children and you don’t?

I know that I’ve made assumptions about you, about the kind of nonmom you are.

I’ve always imagined that you went to parties and stayed out late and slept with various handsome men (and maybe women too) and had beautiful clothes that were not machine washable and that your body functioned in ways that did not surprise, alarm or amaze you. I felt sure that you went to sleep late, woke up late, and read the newspaper at breakfast. Your apartment, as I pictured it, was quiet and peaceful but not very tidy. Your life was your own. Your read books voraciously but were sometimes lonely. You traveled and went to writer’s colonies and applied for fellowships and teaching jobs that might require you to move to other states or countries for a few months. Your mother worried that you weren’t married and you told her that her alarm was antiquated and sexist.

SM: I think we both made assumptions about each other based on the popular stereotypes associated with New York women. I certainly did. I thought your life consisted of reading banal storybooks, making instant oatmeal, and doing laundry. I couldn’t imagine how that would feel fulfilling. I considered an obviously complex and evolved person but went straight to the stereotype, which is basically a failure of my imagination.

You’ve read my memoir now, so you know that my life and my relationship to my body are not as you describe above.

I don’t know if the severe limits on my life have been greater or lesser in degree, or similar or different in type, to the limits on your life, a mother’s life.

RZ: I agree that most assumptions about mothers and nonmothers are erroneous.

For example, a few months ago I sent a YouTube link to a movie I made about my son’s home birth out to everyone on my email list. I was surprised when you responded. I had assumed you wouldn’t be interested in my movie. I thought you might find it overly sentimental or possibly disgusting. But you said it inspired you. How? Why?

SM: “Inspires” as in fills me with breath and hope, as in somehow both increases and decreases the mysteries surrounding motherhood and birth.

During a high school internship program at a local teaching hospital, with a teenager’s total assurance that I would be a doctor when I grew up, I watched a vaginal birth and came close to fainting. The attending doctor had to take care of me while the mother was in labor. It was almost funny. So I was surprised by how clean and simple the birth process seemed in your movie.

I am genuinely interested in the lives of mothers inasmuch as I am interested in the lives of people in general, but I’m separately fascinated by some mothers’ apparent conviction that nonmothers are shallow, that mothers suffer and feel more deeply than nonmothers. It seems as if these mothers want to shun me because I’m not a member of their sorority—hell, I didn’t even show up to rush.

RZ: I’ve never thought that you or nonmothers in general are “shallow” but clearly I’ve made a lot of other uncomplimentary or idealized assumptions. Perhaps I should have spent more time thinking about what you and I have in common or about what I have lost in the years in which I signed on so completely to the world of mothers and the idea that we are different from nonmothers. How does such a perception affect women? What can we do to change things?

SM: The problem with sustaining the dichotomy between mothers and nonmothers, of course, is that in doing so we weaken all women against the reigning culture of men.

James Baldwin is supposed to have said at Berkeley, that no white man, no matter how wretched, would want to trade places with him. Well, no man, no matter what color, would want to trade places with me.

RZ: Maybe because I’m trying to justify my own path or maybe because I truly feel this way—I don’t know—but I’ve spent my whole life assuming that (to bring it back to James Baldwin) no mother, no matter how wretched, would want to trade places with a nonmother. So I’m back to the dichotomy.

SM: I find it hard to understand that feeling.

RZ: Obviously I’m exaggerating. Some women do not want to be mothers. Women have abortions or give children up for adoption or responsibly avoid pregnancy, but by and large, despite the fact that motherhood is not physically, logistically, financially or socially supported, most women do become mothers at some point even if they don’t choose a particular pregnancy or child.

Is this because of a cultural message that motherhood is the ultimate goal for women? Why do so many women become mothers?

And how can I discuss my feeling of having chosen the “right” way, the only path that makes sense to me without being offensive? Motherhood, it seems to me, is both extremely difficult but also and ultimately, the greatest privilege. I guess I fear nonmothers’ scorn and envy when I say these things.

SM: It is hard for me to understand mothers who assume I envy them, or who assume that motherhood is my goal.

But the problem here is that the dialectic of mother versus nonmother isn’t a perfect one. Every mother has also been a nonmother, so only they know the difference. Nonmothers simply can’t have this perspective.

It’s generalizing an individual belief—that my, or anyone’s, experience of womanhood should be considered the ultimate experience for all women—that’s the problem.

RZ: I can see how my assumption that motherhood is (or should be) your (or anyone’s) ultimate goal would be offensive and problematic. I need to think about what’s led me to embrace such an essentialist view of womanhood.

SM: My friend J., the mother of a severely disabled child, finds the mother/nonmother dialectic deeply problematic. She knows that not all mothers are in the same boat.

I find that dialectic problematic, too, because I know that not all nonmothers are in the same boat.

There’s a vast difference between the life of a committed artist and the life of a person who gets paid to take orders forty hours a week and spends the rest of the time entertaining herself.

There are very many ways to live a nonfulfilling life. I have found several. But from where I’m standing, plenty of mothers seem to have found them, too.

What I want to know is: what do thoughtful and insightful mothers know that I can’t know?

RZ: So much of being a mother is learning to tolerate discomfort. There is an athleticism to motherhood, a kind of torture-victim’s resolve. Nursing a child is like a spiritual practice, a meditative disciple, a consecrated patience. I imagine I might feel this way about yoga if I had time to do yoga. Also, I would give up my life for my children but not for my husband and not for my parents and not for my friends….

SM: That might be it — the essential difference between us. I don’t know anyone I’d die for. That is a fascinating dialectic