So while surfing around the posts that others did a few days ago for the daily challenge to write about Procrastination I came across someone who lamented that he was procrastinating about reading more.
Since having kids, it’s gone on the back-burner. It’s mostly a time issue, and a lack of attention issue. During my last mat leave I actually started taking magazines out of the library, because that was about the level I could handle. And I developed a love of Oprah Magazine.
Life does weird things to you.
I’ve managed to struggle through two and a half books so far this year. Huzzah! I read one on Aboriginal Policy – because it’s been on my list of things Canadiana that I don’t understand and think I should (Note: Reading one book on this issue didn’t fix my “lack of understanding”).
And I got mid-way through Richard Gywn’s John A: The Man who Made Us (The Life and Times of John A. Macdonald – Volume One: 1815-1867) because I went to a lunch a few months ago where he spoke and read an except. And it was great. So I bought an autographed version and started – but never finished – reading.
The only other book I have made it through so far this year? No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood (2013). Edited by Henriette Mantel, it’s a collection of essays by women who chose to – or ended up – not having children.
I’ve read a lot of lifestyle and women’s issue books (mostly back when I had more time). I’ve gone through and enjoyed The Bitch in the House; The Bastard on the Couch; The Meaning of Wife; Female Chauvinist Pigs; It’s a Wonderful Lie; and One Big Happy Family to name just a few. I enjoy reading collections of essays by people reflecting on their lives and the choices they’ve made.
So this one grabbed me. It also grabbed me as it let me see the lives and decisions of those who chose (or sometimes just ended up) differently than me on what is, fundamentally, something that continues to define women in a way it will never define men: Whether or not you have children.
On a personal note, I always planned on having them, but didn’t until my (very early) 30s. Even then I was already getting the odd comment about how I was “leaving it late” by those who felt I should be breeding.
And when I got pregnant? One of my childless friends of the same age, upon my announcing it to her, asked if it was an accident. Until then, she apparently hadn’t really considered the fact that I might want to have kids. Meanwhile my mother responded with an “already?” like I was 15, single and accidentally with child; rather than 31, married with house and career, and fully (as) ready (as possible) to take it on.
I remember thinking at the time that it was like I’d suddenly somehow chosen a side in some ongoing debate I wasn’t aware I’d been participating in.
All that to say – if ever there was a highly personal topic that everyone feels they have a right to give you their opinion on – having (or not having) children – as a woman – is certainly one of them.
To return to the book. I enjoyed it – though not as much as I’d hoped I would. Yes, the essays were well written. The contributors were professional writers; many were comics; so many essays were funny. Some were poignant. Many were both.
Janette Barber’s essay commented that one downside to not having children was that you didn’t experience the circle. “Through watching one’s children grow, I think one comes to terms with one’s own childhood.” – pg. 34 I’d never thought of it that way, and I liked that.
Other’s – like Carol Siskind and Debbie Kasper – talked about how childhood and observing their mothers impacted their choice not to have children. In Siskind’s case she talked about how ‘it was obvious” that her mother had felt her “domestic obligations kept her from pursuing an independent, creative life more seriously.” – pg. 59 She – and others – likened their careers to babies.
Suzanne O’Neil listed having to be subjected to Dora the Explorer as one of the deterrents to motherhood, noting that she wished Dora “would go explore another galaxy already.” Having now been subjected to two years of La Exploradora, I tend to agree.
And then there were a few who wrote, unsurprisingly, of all the things they get to do with their time because they are childless. And if you think that’s selfish? Well, as Cheryl Bricker noted, then be thrilled they didn’t choose to have kids. – pg 186.
So yes, an enjoyable read that left me with some new insights and food for thought. And a few wistful thoughts and imaginings about (sleeping in on) the road not taken (where I imagine I’d also get through more books).
Where I thought it was lacking?
A) The homogeneity of the contributors. All generally urban, middle to upper class writers. I would have enjoyed a greater variety of perspectives on the issue.
B) (And this is the big one) As far as I can figure, everyone writing was past the age of having to decide on the issue. They had made the decision (or had it made for them), and come to terms with it (or certainly made it sound that way). And so they were writing from the position of fait accompli. From that vantage point, I think it is very difficult to reflect on how life might have been different. The same applies for me with kids. I went over 30 years without them, but now that they’re here? I can’t honestly imagine a life without them. Once the decision has been made in all its finality, you can’t help but try to justify – at least to a certain extent – why your reality is somehow the best choice for you.
This isn’t to say that I think women who don’t have children regret – or should regret – that choice. It was very clear that most in the book were completely at home, happy and satisfied both with their lives and with their decision not to have children. For those who can choose, it’s a highly personal choice – and a decision we each make for ourselves as we each know ourselves best.
But choosing either way isn’t necessarily easy – or a quick decision.
So given that, do you know what I think would make an AWESOME book?
Same premise, but essays written by women in their late 20s to mid 30s who don’t want kids – or are leaning towards not wanting kids. I think writing about that choice from within the time frame when you are making the choice, while still facing the possibility of making a different choice, along with the barrage of “Your next! Tick Tock! If you don’t have kids you’ll regret it!” comments would be a deeply interesting read.