[intro-text size=”25px”]Whether be it “by choice” or “by chance,” nearly 1 in 5 women in the U.S. today will not become parents. It is a far cry from the days when having children was considered a requirement in order to have a fulfilling life. Though many women still feel that way, a growing sector of the female population is finding other ways to lead full, satisfying lives while concerning themselves with leaving a legacy that doesn’t involve dirty diapers and Disney films.[/intro-text]
The NotMom Summit is the first of its kind and took place last weekend, Friday, October 9 through Sunday, October 12 at the Cleveland Marriott Hotel in Key Tower. The summit exists because of Cleveland-based NotMom founder and Executive Editor, Karen Malone Wright, and her team of fellow Not Moms from all over the U.S. The summit featured keynote speakers well-versed in the childless and childfree lifestyles, lectures on issues specific to women without children including aging without kids, seeking acceptance of the childfree lifestyle, the role our pets, and significant others play in our lives, and plenty of opportunities for women to connect with other like-minded people. Attendees came from as far away as Toronto, China and the UK.
Friday’s keynote speaker, Melanie Notkin, is a well-established author and marketer with two books on the New York Times’ Bestseller List and is considered an authoritative voice on the subject, having appeared on CNN, NPR and the BBC. She also coined the phrase “Otherhood” to describe the lifestyle of women without children. Saturday’s keynote speaker was Meghan Daum, a well-known columnist at the LA Times and childless by choice. Daum spoke about the many misconceptions of the childfree lifestyle, leaving a legacy that doesn’t involve children and the history of childfree women and their place in the mainstream culture. In other talks and group meetings, writer Dani Alpert and life coach Christy Goldstein discussed dating issues specific to childless women, Stephanie FallCreek discussed alternative community living options for aging women (and men) without children, and Aralyn Hughes of Austin, Texas, most well-known as a founder of the “Keep Austin Weird” movement, showed her film, Love In The Sixties, about women’s changing perspectives of work, romance and family during those tumultuous times. Saturday night offered the ladies a chance to cut loose and enjoy drinks and dancing with their new sisters in the Marriott’s second-floor ballroom, where the Electric Slide, a “snowball fight” and plenty of conversations not involving mom stuff kept the girls in smiles and laughter late into the evening.
A “childless” woman in this group is defined as one who wanted motherhood but was unable to have a baby. Either age caught up with them before partnership did, or a medical/biological difference exists that makes them unable to bear children. A “childfree” woman is defined as one who made a choice not to have a child. Most of them like children, but decided the parenting lifestyle wasn’t for them. They all find their fulfillment in raising pets, spending time with children of other family members and friends, volunteering, and having satisfying careers and relationships with their significant others.
One of the biggest complaints of women without children is answering the question: “But why?” They say they feel discriminated against, that other people feel there’s something wrong with them, or feel sorry for them because they don’t know the joy of motherhood.
Wright says, “What I am hearing from the women here is them saying, ‘I just don’t understand why I’m not enough as I am.’”
For those of the “childfree” variety, most of us are happy to explain to you why we made the choices we did and are proud of them. But for a woman who wanted children and was simply unable to have them, the question can be a devastating blow to their psyche and a painful reminder of what they can’t have.
Says Wright of the dreaded question, “I think the biggest need is for others to accept what they’re told. Here at the conference, women are learning how to establish boundaries, with their moms, with girlfriends, their boss, with strangers, and to keep them up. Most people are not malicious, they are genuinely curious. I met one woman who says when she is asked, ‘I say I was born with a debilitating disease and I was told at the age of 9 with my mother in the doctor’s office that my bones will literally break if my body expands and carries a baby to term, so that’s why I don’t have them.’ She says it shuts them up every time. It is the truth; it is not what they expected to hear. It just goes to show, the answers are more vast than you can imagine as to why I don’t have a child.”
I, your author, am of the “childfree” set. Having kids, as Chelsea Handler once said, “just isn’t a good use of my time”. I kind of always knew, I wasn’t the kind of kid who played with dolls or took interest in babysitting, and at the first shot of adulthood, I saw a gynecologist and went on birth control.
At that point I still considered myself “undecided.” I attended a friend’s baby shower when I was 20 and that solidified my decision, I knew then that I would never have children. It still wasn’t easy. I left the shower mid-way through and went out to my car to cry. My mother had died when I was 17; being at this baby shower taught me that mothers are the ones who throw baby showers for their daughters and help them through all the uncertainties of having a baby and my mother would not be there to do that for me. There was just no point in me reproducing. Add to that the reality that I found myself taking no interest in the things that pertained to parenting. I had attended little kids’ soccer games and found them inexplicably boring. Kids’ shows were boring now that I wasn’t one. Parents were boring. As time went on and the response I kept hearing from other women, “you’ll change your mind as you get older,” never happened; not at 25, not at 35, not at 40. In fact, as I aged, I only found more reasons to not want children. Parenting is serious business, so much of oneself is sacrificed in order to provide what’s necessary to raise these little humans, it’s just not something I’m willing or able to commit to, and if you’re not going to do it right, may as well not do it at all. I don’t like messy things; I’m too posh to change a diaper or have bologna and Lunchables in my refrigerator. To be honest, I don’t even like kids, really, I prefer the company of adults and only start to appreciate children when they’re teenagers and capable of holding a full conversation.
No, it doesn’t make me an asshole. I am not selfish or self-absorbed. I love elderly people and go out of my way to be friendly and helpful to any old-age person I meet. I’m fascinated by the elderly, the lives they’ve led, the knowledge they have, how they deal with the idea of legacy and death. I love animals; any maternal instinct I have gets directed to the four-legged creatures in our world. I have spent many years working with adults who have disabilities, from therapeutic horse-riding programs to teaching employability skills as a job coach. I value my career and my friends, I moved to London for a couple of years, I eat fabulous gourmet meals because I don’t have to worry about what a child won’t eat. I even get to sleep in on weekends. I’m not missing out on anything.
“But who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?” This comment is always my favorite. Just because a woman has children doesn’t mean they can be expected to play care-giver once their mother ages to the point of needing care. What if the relationship with your children into their adulthood fails and they decide they want nothing to do with you? God forbid, what if you end up out-living your children? The claim that childfree women are selfish doesn’t stack up against those that have children and set up that kind of expectation for them. Period.
One of the most prevalent sights at the NotMom Summit was seeing attendees with their cellphones out exchanging contact information with other women and the physical release, most often a sigh and dropped shoulders, at the relief of having found like-minded people who really get them, who share the same thoughts and emotions, have the same complaints and similar backgrounds. We are out there.
For more information on the NotMom Summit and to connect with the group, visit the website at http://thenotmom.com/.