The Motherhood Mask

By Random Villager


I’ve never had had the experience of being a mother, and I can’t speak for all women without children, but I know my life has made me a better person, filled me with love and joy, increased my patience, broken my heart open with bloodletting sacrifice, seared me with doubt, and countless times opened my mind to so many new and different things. A life filled with having children also does all of this. I understand that being a mom is not unique, but it is a special role many are fortunate and privileged to have.

Moms seem to think that because they’ve had their previous “irresponsible days” (without children) that the motherless members of their sisterhood are somehow stuck in stasis — somehow less responsible, less caring, less evolved, less capable of nurturing, less-than in general because, admit it, there is a subconscious bias towards thinking that the ultimate purpose of a woman’s life is being a mother. (Never mind that this just feeds right into that paternalistic, anti-feminist voice that we all curse.) It’s the unsaid message: “You can do anything! But ultimately being a mother is the only thing that counts.”

We all quickly revert to that progenitor of the next superior offspring idea, after the little plus sign shifts into view — if it’s welcome news, that is. It is bliss-filled and scary when all those hormonal endorphins rush in and give your life new meaning and purpose. Or, perhaps your bias is simply based on your upbringing or religious ideas. I’m sure this has something to do with the survival of our species, but more on that later …

I’m finally of the age in appearance that people have stopped asking me when I’m going to have children; now strangers assume most likely I have older ones because of those neat demographic data studies. I’m relieved most of the time (but not all of the time) from having to try to explain the whole awful mess, in a tidy little package, that fertility issues had reeked upon my life, and hear unsolicited advice that always used to compound the pain. Yes, I tried everything, ok? Absolutely everything. And I had hard, gut wrenching, decisions to make every step of the way.

People act as if sheer force of will, and “just relaxing” would make it all happen the way we all dream it’s supposed to. And no, we opted not to adopt or go other routes. Why? Is this really any of your bees wax because I’m pretty sure this is equivalent to a mid afternoon talk show subject for you, rather than my life as I have known it.  But (believe it or not) I’ve found happiness and solace; I love and rejoice in every day I can live with my best intentions realized or not, and it’s taken a very long time to get here. And finally, no, I don’t look at your children with envy and I don’t want your children to be mine.

The stigma of miscarriage is so great as to result in very over-protective, embarrassing actions from full-grown adults who should really know better than to worry about whether or not I’m mentally ill. The shunning and denial is a particular sting that hardly heals. I guess you get to know who your real support crew is, the hard way.

Regardless of my particular circumstances, what I want to really emphasize is the pause every person should take before inquisitions, assumptions, and unsolicited advice about this very personal conversation one has with, presumably, not you, unless I have given you permission to put your penis in my vagina. It’s like the world has lost all sense of propriety and knowledge of what it is to be kind above all else in this unashamedly “politically incorrect” world.

Just because I don’t have kids, doesn’t mean I party at all — let alone all the time, doesn’t mean I’ve neglected “God’s will,” doesn’t mean I’m selfish, doesn’t mean I get to do whatever I want all the time, doesn’t mean I don’t care for or love children, doesn’t mean I want to stave off responsibility and my purposes in life are less gratifying or less noble. (Note that I said “purposes”  — not just one purpose. We are all pretty different and complex, no?) My life is pretty bliss-filled and scary too, just in a different way. There are a hellava lot of reasons for the choices we make and the choices we are handed. How about we collectively decide not to judge each other?

And this leads to …

In the interest of survival of our species, it “takes a village.” Believe me when I say I am capable of empathizing with a mother’s needs when it comes to convenient childcare from trustworthy neighbors, or just lending an occasional helping hand or simple socializing because they often feel isolated or just need to feel like they have an extended support group. I get that.

In this world where families are often distributed across the country and across the world, these ties become even more valuable. You have chosen to have children and I think that’s truly fantastic, but that doesn’t mean I’m obliged, required, responsible for, or otherwise beholden to participate in your children’s upbringing. I am of the mind that paying my share of taxes towards education, avidly supporting paid maternity leave and government subsidized child care, and a “do no harm” attitude is just about what you should expect from anyone, period.

Anything more than that should be revered as sheer unadulterated awesomeness.

There needs to be a respectful understanding that there is no malice warranted for those of us who may not want to be your children’s surrogate mama, no matter how much we have affection for your children or children in general. Now that we are friends, are you allowed to slack off on attending to your children at a party because you seldom get to hang out with adults and maybe you think it’s a great opportunity for me to bond with your kids, or an optimal time to give them a sense of independence? Nope. You are still the parent, and if you need your adult time, find a babysitter, please and thank you.

Now that we are friends, am I obliged to give your children gifts at every holiday or birthday? Nope. And that’s not selfishness. Maybe I just don’t have the means to support your children’s extensive “need” for toys. That’s what grandparents are for.  After all, maybe the expense of children was one of the factors for not having children, for your “freewheeling” childfree friends.

Oh, and there is another little thing … it’s an open secret really, so pay attention. A mother’s attention is naturally focused on the wellbeing of her offspring. All the mothers I know are responsible and loving human beings, who quickly become engulfed and harried in their dedicated involvement, but this, I suppose, is a badge of honor, in the “helicopter” attention we have been conditioned to believe is optimal in our day and age. What annoys me sometimes is that mothers (not so much fathers in my experience, for curious reasons) are often unable to turn off the verbal style of commandments that their children may respond to, but that doesn’t work when they are speaking to adults. And they get all bent out of shape when it doesn’t work!

Maybe you have forgotten that I’ve got the option of saying “no” or having a preference for something beyond the two options you’ve presented, to give me “a choice,” and hey, it’s not because of spiteful willfulness or a tantrum! Your children come first. I love you for that. I do not, however, appreciate being treated like a child.

Perhaps this is a reason why adults without children get a little turned off and start to back away until you have figured some shit out. It’s not that you have been shunted from the cool “still without kids” crowd. (Although cutting out at 7 p.m. the one night a month out with your friends is a real drag, we understand! Really, we seriously do!) It’s that you’ve turned into a semi-clever manipulative dictator, out of necessity, which works for anyone under the age of 8, but is tedious and annoying to other adults. Obedience and unrealistic expectations, how fun!

No, this is in fact, not another teachable moment.

Every parent I know has doubts at one time or another about their choices on how to raise a child (whom they usually share with other mothers, most thankfully), and yet you wouldn’t suspect that one whit by the tone taken with childless adults. “How could you possibly understand?” Condescension, perhaps mixed with a little pity, is never an attractive route when trying to relate to your fellow human beings. Maybe there is something from a different perspective that is worthy of inspection?

Perhaps I don’t understand, but please don’t take for granted that you know what it is to be a childless adult. Just as I know for a fact that being a mother is not the only thing that amounts to “what counts” for becoming a whole person in this very complex and beautiful world. A village is comprised of a lot of different people. Sometimes even the village idiot has something valuable to say.


Random Villager lives in a medium sized village in the Northwest. She is an artist and an avid gardner/gatherer, who loves the sound of children laughing.

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