Stereotype: The childless woman
You’re such a good mommy!
When I was a toddler, I loved my doll Cindy. I fed her, bathed her, clothed her, cared for her.
You’re a natural!
I spent every weekend of my teenage years in Saskatchewan babysitting, with up to four children in my charge. I loved the children and I was good at keeping them healthy and happy under my watch. I envisioned myself at 25, married, with my own house and two children of my own – a boy and a girl, Jake and Ericka.
You’ve got lots of time.
In my early 20s, while waiting for my husband to appear, I did the regular study and travel. I observed, beginning to notice happy, single women who didn’t have any children. Could I be happy without having a child? The reality of childrearing began to look more like exhaustion, heartache and constant worry. Nevertheless, I began to put money aside for my future, remembering not to invest too much in my career because once I had children I would only work part-time.
Congratulations on your marriage! When are you planning to have kids?
“Oh, it won’t be any time soon. We’re broke, and my husband works a lot. I’m not interested in single parenting, so it won’t be until he gets a different job. We’ve got lots of time.”
You’ll never have enough money. You should do it soon.
I was almost thirty when I asked my partner, “Are we going to have a kid, or what?”
“I’m not sure I want to have a kid,” he answered.
This moment threw me into total confusion for the next couple of years. All of my assumptions about what a good Mennonite woman was included having children. Could I truly claim to be an upstanding, responsible woman in my culture if I chose not to have children? What would that look like? How would I fill the void? How would I handle the public critique that I knew would be coming? What would this mean for me, for us? I read about it. I asked anyone who was willing to talk with me about it. I grappled with my fears. I tried to imagine the regrets I might have and weigh them against the freedom and liberation I was suddenly feeling at the thought of not having a child. Life began to look completely different – and really exciting.
It’s your responsibility to society to have children.
You are disobeying God’s commandment and that is a sin.
Who’s going to take care of you when you’re older?
You do realize how selfish you are . . .
These comments confused and hurt me. Why am I called selfish, when I’m the one seriously considering whether I would be a good mother? Isn’t that the opposite of selfish? Do they not see the hours I give to charity? Why does everyone seem so threatened by my choice? What exactly does it threaten?
Though this was the hardest decision of my life, and though I’ve faced a lot of criticism for it, I realize how lucky I am to be able to make this choice (rather than having circumstances choose for me).
Four years after our decision, I am happier and more confident, our marriage is stronger and I have a career that I love. I am building a legacy of my own in a way that works better for me. Plus, I have been blessed by many children who love me. They drop whatever they are doing and run to me for a big hug and kiss. I’m glad I chose to be an auntie instead of a mommy. I hope they will turn to me when they need a non-parental word of love, encouragement or advice, or just a caring adult to hang out with. These children have chosen me, and I feel privileged.
Marianne Siemens lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She’s a volunteer bookkeeper and proofreader for Geez.