#2: On not being a mother

“Does that mean you won’t ever have a grandchild like me”, he asked innocently. What a question to answer.  And to ask.  I sat there blinking trying not to look like it mattered.  Indonesian people – especially children – are so damn direct I thought.  If this was England, I’d never be in this situation.  They’d leave the fact that I don’t have children hanging in the air like an unpopped balloon.

The teacher I was observing waited and then, realising I wasn’t going to answer any time soon, added more fuel to my facial fire with “a lot of people don’t want children and that’s their choice”.  Well, that was one answer I guess, but not the right one.

During the rest of the lesson, I analysed why the question affected me so much.  Yes, I’d wanted children but it didn’t happen and I’d moved on from the hand-wringing, why-can’t-I-be-like-everyone-else stage, so what was it?  The ‘it’ I realised was the concern that in other people’s eyes I hadn’t completed my earthly role as a mother and that somehow their incredulity had the effect of making me feel  less of a woman.  Even as I thought this, I felt ridiculous, even more so because I’ve always called myself a feminist and this sort of stereotyping is one of the things in my 20’s that  I used to get on my soapbox about.

But the soapbox then was about choice.  I hadn’t considered what happens when you don’t get to choose.

Adoption, fostering or finding a decent gene-pool from an anonymous sperm donation – all of these things had been suggested by well-meaning friends, all mothers of course.  Many years after my divorce, I still hadn’t found a partner so yes, I could have pursued these options but setting yourself as a one-parent family by choice?  I know one-parent families who are exhausted, emotionally drained, with a resigned anger against the person who abdicated day-to-day responsibility.  I hadn’t wanted to consider that sort of life; not fair to the child or to me.

So, as I sat there in the classroom, I looked at the child who’d asked me the question.  I smiled to myself.   I had made a choice eventually.  I was sitting in a classroom full of children and I’d taken on a role to try and enrich their lives with another language and any wisdom I’d accumulated through the years.  Not quite biological, I know, but it will suffice.

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Categories: Just Thoughts

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4 replies

  1. I have taught ESL in Korea and ran into some situations like this before, although it did not affect me the same way because I am male. If they have the language ability, I think the best thing to say is that in Europe and North America, people have many choices and different freedom, and so everyone has very different lives. Choices make the outcome less predictable. If they don’t have the ability, tell them “I had no time.”

    A similar question comes up in a lot of developing countries – “how much money do you make?” Instead of getting upset, we can either answer or say “Thank you for asking and being so kind to be interested in something about me, but we are not supposed to tell. I make enough.” As painful as it can be, we just have to look at intent.

    By the way, I really think you would enjoy videos of an American expat in Paris on YouTube. “slobomotion”: http://www.youtube.com/user/slobomotion.

  2. Your candor is brave. Many people have children so that they don’t have to figure out what to do with their own lives. I think that to follow your own path requires a focus and a courage that many people do not possess. That is not to imply that motherhood is not an incredibly fulfilling path, just that it is not all there is. Thank you.

    • Hi there, thanks so much for commenting. I have met women who have become incredibly bitter about not having children. I’m determined not to be one of them. That’s not to say that I don’t have days when I wish things had been different, but I try to think positively: I wouldn’t be Indonesia right now if I had kids!

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