How to stop apologising for not being a mother
“Do you have kids?” It’s an innocent enough question. Or is it? The only people who ask it have kids themselves. And even if they don’t realise it, they’re looking for the right answer.
Failing that, they’re looking for some form of excuse or apology.
Even though I myself am a mother and deep within the smug enemy ranks, this frequent and apparently bland question has annoyed enough of my friends to bother me too. And so between us we came up with a selection of ways not to say sorry for not being a mother.
1) There’s the every day standard apology conversation, heard in work-places up and down the land, and it goes like this:
“Have you got children?”
“No, but I’m a fab aunty to my adorable little nieces!”
“Ah..” (sympathetic smile.)
But hold on. If we were to replace “children” with, say, “a car” then it becomes clear that there’s no need for such an apologetic response. Look:
“Do you have a car?
“No, but I really like bicycles - I often ride one, because it’s healthy! Trains are lovely too.”
Do not fall into the “fab aunty/cool godmother” trap, even if it’s true. Because it’s a response to a question whose actual purpose is for you to say: “I definitely do not have warts and a broomstick.” It’s basically apologising. Don’t even bother.
2) Neither should you feel the need to offer up your beloved pet dog/cat/hamster, however adorable. What’s happening here is that you are compensating for not being a mother by providing demonstrable proof of your tender and nurturing lady-humanity. Again, don’t bother.
3) The 18 th century philosopher Thomas Malthus argued that over-population would cause poverty and famine, not to mention “sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague .. in terrific array.” And this was before carbon footprints and climate change came on the scene. Its grim and apocalyptic vision is quite the handy repellent.
Note: Malthus was a bloke and was therefore probably never asked about his parent status.
4) People may turn to you on Mother’s Day with great big Sorry Eyes that say “oh, we feel for you in this difficult time.” Wait, sorry for what? Being able to chill in bed at the weekend and read a whole newspaper in one go? Defy the Sorry Eyes. Enthuse about your wild partying, your whimsical travel plans, your hangovers and your lazy weekend lie-ins.. and watch them die a little on the inside.
5) But your country expects!
Governments all around the world urge people with wombs to pop one out for the motherland. The cult of female reproductivity is nothing new. But recent data show that delayed motherhood is beneficial to a country’s economy. Katherine Hay works for the Gates Foundation in India’s poorest areas: “Girls can be pressured from an early age into motherhood, preventing the social gains of education or progressing in work. Women in work means economic growth!”
So don’t get knocked up – get a job.
6) Fill that conversational chasm with some unexpected substance from your own life.
“Do you have children?”
“No but I can do the splits.”
“No but I have a banana plantation.”
“No but I invented a laser gun which makes you sneeze uncontrollably from the other side of the room.”
Your inquisitor will see that the ways to create a legacy in this world are diverse and manifold. The writer Elizabeth Gilbert has it rather elegantly: “I think it's better for everyone if I create in other ways. I can say without a blink of hesitation that wouldn't trade my choices for anything.”
7) If further pushed on the matter of the having of babies, guide the insistent pest towards a helpful visual aid. A basic flow chart that goes as follows:
1) you wanted kids, but didn’t have them (=childless), or
2) you didn’t want kids, and didn’t have them (=child-free).
Any further elaboration of either state is both unnecessary and 100% no one’s business.
If only we’d stop expecting. Expecting others to be like us, and expecting an explanation when they’re not. And yes, it’s true that I’m a mum and this is not my story to tell. But as long as it keeps happening to my friends it’s just too annoying not to. Put it this way: if even I can see how boring it is for women regularly to have to explain their “lack” of children, then just imagine.
Please, just imagine.
Ukrainian version of this blog.