On Otherhood

When this headline came across my Twitter feed, I couldn’t resist taking a peek: Some New Jargon for You: Motherhood vs. Otherhood, written by Maggie Lange.

Otherhood? I thought. Hmm, sounds like me.

Turns out otherhood is me, according to Melanie Notkin, the woman who coined the term:

“It’s a word to describe the 38 percent of the women of childbearing age (20 to 40) in the U.S. who don’t have kids.”*

Yes, I am that newly-christened otherhood, which even my MacBook didn’t want to acknowledge judging from the number of times it auto-corrected “otherhood” to “motherhood.” (Um, LEARN SPELLING, then LEARN MEANING!) It’s is an ironic technological interference since for the last 15 years, family, friends, and even strangers have tried in vain to change my otherhood into motherhood.

It didn’t work.

But it’s a good segue into some excellent points made in a Shades of Otherhood video by DeVries Global that Lange included in her article. I’ve embedded the video below because it clearly needs more air time; I’ve experienced every one of the stereotypes and misconceptions in the video at some point during my childless, “child-bearing years.”

Come on people, it’s the 21st century! As the opening of the video points out, “There is a problem. We act as though women have only one path: Motherhood.” Um, no.

Otherhood Misconceptions

Shades of Otherhood cleverly communicates common misconceptions about childless women of child-bearing age. I want to reiterate a few of those, and add some of my own…

  • Not having kids is selfish. Yes, it is, in a way. But having kids and then pawning them off on others because you still want to travel/party/find yourself is even more selfish. And damaging to the little ones.
  • I must hate kids since I don’t have them. I don’t hate kids. Sure, occasionally a misbehaving, obnoxious kid will irritate me…and  everyone in his vicinity…but I don’t hate kids. Quite the opposite: I love babies. I love cuddling them and caring for them…they are so, so sweet. And I adore my niece and nephew, who are both under age 10, and I see at least weekly. I absolutely loathe child neglect, abuse, and exploitation.
  • Aren’t I worried about being “alone” when I’m older? Honey, you don’t have kids to babysit you. You have them to give them a life of their own. And just because you have them, doesn’t mean they will have the time, means, or inclination to take care of you when you are old. A good retirement plan and community will alleviate any potential pangs of loneliness, I promise you.
  • Don’t I want to leave a “legacy” behind? I don’t need to leave a “legacy” behind in the form of a child. I’d rather my legacy be something that helps animals, or others in need. Maybe this blog is my legacy. Maybe I’ll write a book. Maybe I’ll be blessed enough to donate a million dollars to my favorite charity. And if there is no “legacy,” that’s OK too, because I had fun while I was here!
  • I don’t understand how hard motherhood is. Oh-yes-the-hell-I-do! Why do you think I’m not one? It’s INSANELY difficult. It’s terrifying, really. I babysat my nephew weekly from a couple of months old to about a year old. I know it’s tough, and it just gets tougher. Packing the school lunches, getting them into the bath, protecting their little bodies and minds from the bad people…like I said. It just gets tougher.
  • I’ll regret not having kids later. You can’t regret what you never wanted. I can honestly say that never once in my life have I ever felt the burning desire to have a child of my own. That biological clock? Er, it never worked. But if for some crazy reason I suddenly feel extremely maternal, there’s always adoption.
  • I’ll change my mind once I have one. You know what more than one parent (including my own, sweet mama) has told me? If they could do it over, THEY WOULDN’T HAVE KIDS. Now that’s a mind change, isn’t it? I’m just learning from the life experiences of others.
  • A child will give my life meaning. So you’re telling me that my life has no meaning without a child in it? As a individual child of God, I mean nothing? What about women who can’t have children…are their lives meaningless too, or is that somehow different?


Are any of you readers in otherhood by choice or otherwise? How do others interact with you when they find out you don’t have children?

 

* Lange, Maggie. “Some New Jargon for You: Motherhood vs. Otherhood.” The Cut. 8 May 2014. http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/05/some-new-jargon-for-you-otherhood.html.

12 comments

  1. As a mom, I would be the first one to tell any woman thay doesn’t want to have kids that it is perfectly okay and totally not selfish. I wanted kids and in the first few months I wasn’t sure I could handle it! Its not selfish to know what you want out of life and children shouldn’t be treated as validation of being a woman. Woman are so much more than our reproductive systems.

  2. I dont have children and I am excited to have them. Do I feel like they will make my life have more meaning? No. Should everyone who wants kids have them? No. Its tough to be a mum, and should only be done if that is what you trully want and have prepared for. My sisters are testament to this. Women who make informed decisions about thei lives are what I perceive to be what feminism and equality has been about. The right to choose and be respected as an individual. Well done to all the mothers and others who made an informed and concious decision to be true to themselves!

  3. As you know, I am a mother, but I am also a FIRM believer in motherhood not being for everyone and that everyone is going to have a different experience- whether they become a mother or not. That is to say— some people choose motherhood, some find themselves accidentally there and some choose not to have kids, while others are unable to…. Whatever camp you (and I mean the universal “you”) fall into, it is valid.

    For me, I didn’t think I wanted kids. But things changed, and suddenly I did. And for me that required some work… and now? I am so glad I have my little girl (even though I am exhausted SO much of the time!). BUT that isn’t the answer for everyone.

    My older sister, who has been married for 20 years, opted not to have children— and I think nothing less of that decision than I think of my decision to have kids. We both had to make choices about which path was right for us….. and guess what? We both live fulfilled (albeit different) lives!

  4. On the heels of Mother’ s Day, I’ll say what I told a motherless older woman I met at work years ago…..If you’re a woman, you’ve mothered someone!! And I still stand by it! Whether or not you’ve given birth to a child, I think as women, we mother others. So I’d say Happy Mother’s Day to any woman!

    I’ve got 4 kids. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They bring me incredible joy and I love the human beings they are. But you’re right! Motherhood is terrifying!!! The worrying is exhausting and it doesn’t stop when they graduate. In some ways it is just beginning (I’m working on this though, “let go, let God”….easier said than done). I wouldn’t fault ANYONE for deciding not to have kids. I think that’s part of our collective problem nowadays…..thinking our opinion is mandate for everyone else. It’s not. I’m sorry you’ve ever had anyone question your intentions in remaining child free. Frankly, it’s no one’s business, much less their concern.

    Honestly, Vahni, having kids doesn’t save you from the judgment either. My husband and I are toying seriously with the idea of moving to Seattle once our youngest graduates HS next year and goes to college. We’ve heard quite a few, “What about the kids?” And I find myself (unfortunately) getting defensive. Now I have to defend not only the mother I have been but the mother I continue to be to adult children. Helicopter parenting, so popular now, seems to mean that a parent’s life is never truly their own, no matter how old their “child”. I don’t want to spend more time on a rant here, I guess I just wanted to make the point that having kids, not having kids….it’s all a judgment minefield.

    Kudos to you for knowing what is right for you and sticking with it. I would love to be a grandmother, but if ALL of my kids decided that they don’t want kids, I would completely understand. Serene

    1. Hey Serene… don’t listen to these naysayers. From the time I was small we moved about from Canada, to Greece to England, then two years in rural East Africa, then I moved during my high school years to Los Angeles for four years, then back to Vancouver. I now live Australia. Looking back as an adult – I’m so glad my parents took me to see the world. I think it gave me a life skill of communication, sense of independence and friend making abilities that only come with lots of moves and being forced out of one’s comfort zone. In short, the kids will be fine! 🙂 And… Seattle is AWESOME!!!! I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and love the area. Lots of trips down south from Canada to Western Washington. Beautiful, friendly, modern part of America. Just amazing! Go, you won’t regret it!

  5. This is really interesting V. I had never heard of “otherhood” until I saw it on your blog and I’m undecided if women without children are a voice that needs to be heard (or at least as dramatic as that). I will turn 30 this year and my husband and I enjoy our jobs, want to travel and really don’t feel prepared to have children at this stage in our lives. We are *often* asked when we will have children, if we want kids. Many people have told me that children are the “best thing ever,” that you will never be prepared for kids (implying that saving financially isn’t a reason to wait) and that I will love them so much when they are my own. Besides this being offensive in it’s own right, I find it downright irresponsible to have children if you don’t feel ready and are not financially prepared to care for another human behind. I have my own siblings and have babysat enough to agree with you – it’s hard work! We don’t even have a dog because it’s hard work. We enjoy our lives and like you, if I want to have a child, it will be after I am 35. Or adoption. I do not enjoy having the “kid” conversation with others because so many times they make me feel like I am making the wrong choice or confront (literally) me as to my reasons for why we don’t have children. I think being self-aware enough to know that bringing another human into the world isn’t a good choice for us now is better than bringing kids into the world and not being ready.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. I freaking hate Mother’s Day. I purposefully stay the hell away from social media because I it makes me feel awful about my sometimes good/sometimes bad relationship with my mother and my absolutely horrible relationship with my mother-in-law, and I just can’t read another self-aggrandizing, back-slapping Facebook post from the SAHM or a woe-is-me post from the WORKING MOTHERS (all caps, because they are the most important, you see…). I just can’t.

    I always thought I wanted to be a mother…and then I worked in daycare. And met a man who did not want children (see mother-in-law comment above). My husband and I are confident about our choice to be child-free and we enjoy life to the fullest – we are HAPPY. But when this day rolls around, I feel like a monster because, as stated above, I don’t have a good relationship with the mother-figures in my life and I chose not to have kids.

    It’s so nice to read something like this and discover that I am not alone. Again, thank you.

  7. I knew coming over for a visit would result in a thought provoking discussion. Yep, me and the dude both chose to NOT be parents long ago, and it does seem sometimes I feel defensive that my life plan didn’t include the call of reproducing. I know anyone can make a baby, but motherhood, indeed true parenthood is a calling, a vocation and I leave it to those who feel it essential to their life’s work- to help raise another creature to adulthood. There’s already a lot of people on the planet, and we don’t all need to make little replicas of ourselves to carve out meaning in our lives. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Darn it. I started leaving a comment a few days back and the power went out unexpectedly and my original comment with it. 😛

    But yeah, spot on post V! And great video…’Otherhood’ – thats definitely me. Over here in Oz they seem to have two regressive narratives for women: the twenty-something hyper-sexualized bikini babe or saintly mummy. If you fall into the ‘otherhood’ camp you can expect the unconcealed wrath of others scorn a la poor Julia Gillard who (despite whatever one thinks about her politics) will be long remembered for her ‘cold, barren’ status and ’empty fruitbowl’ over her achievements. She was absolutely vilified by rival politicians and the press for not having kids and for her hairdresser boyfriend (A hairdresser boyfriend? I thought that was so chic…) Well anyways, I’ve never once felt under the microscope by others living in a progressive country like Canada where people are free to be, but over here I’ve long lost count on how many nosey people have bluntly inquired as to our marital status and exactly when do we plan on having kids. Last week it was a tradesperson who came to the house and asked not once but twice in the course of two hours. Before that it was the Ikea in-home kitchen rep that openly suggested we buy the apartment next door, take a wall down and make a space big enough to have kids. (I’m not even kidding!)

    At any rate, the man and I are more than happy with our situation and have no plans to change a thing in the future. We are certainly not lacking for people on the planet and my own self-actualization comes from other places. I’ve always thought (like since I was 12 or so) if I were to have kids – I’d foster parent a child with a bleak future. If you mention you want a dog or cat people are so fast to say one should rescue one from a shelter first, but no one says that about a child in need? Hmmmm.

  9. I think society has changed, our parents were all married and had given birth to us well before they had hit their 30s. Nowadays most my friends don’t even have a partner let alone are they thinking about kids. I find it frustrating as a guy getting pressures from other people around marriage and having kids. I think everything is deferred nowadays too. They harp on about 40s are the new 30s etc People are taking longer to get into careers they want (if they even get one), finding it more and more difficult to get on the property ladder and experiencing financial pressures. Even for those that genuinely want kids at some point are having to wait because no matter what people say they are expensive!

    I don’t think I see the world that you ladies see when it comes to the the remarks and comments toward women that choose not to have children, but I certainly can empathise a little with the pressures you feel from society to conform.

  10. Ah, boo. First comment I typed out vanished with the coincidence of a power outage a few days ago. I think the second went into the spam can? Or maybe it the nebulous black hole of internet comments when you hit send more than once 🙁 That’s ok. No need for retrieval or hunting around. (I’ll just say this instead…)

    Darling, GREAT POST. Totally, totally agree (like, you know my thoughts on this subject well!) And I really like Arash’s perspective on this from a man’s viewpoint. My guy voices the same thing! Without a failsafe financial plan in place, the next generation looks like it will be subject to some serious (especially nowadays) downward social mobility and very limited prospects. I wouldn’t want to risk bringing anyone into the world, to even marginally risk putting them in that position.

    On that tip, I’ve always thought that if I were to engage in nurturing the next generation – it would be foster parenting first, anyways. Or maybe as a Big Sister? We have enough people on the planet already. If you voice that you want a pet, it’s funny how people are so fast to urge you to get a dog/cat from a shelter. But of those who want kids? It seems that few people have the compassion to do so for a child in need. In fact, those are the same types that drop their pet off AT a shelters when the pet doesn’t ‘fit’ into the family vision anymore, or is too much ‘work’ when the baby comes. Quite the irony really. And they say we are the selfish ones?

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