Tuesday, 5 June 2012

What do I have to be proud of?

I played tennis the other day (for the first time in years) with a guy I met through internet dating.  At the end we somehow got onto the topic of children - he has 4 from a previous relationship.  He was saying that having children is the best thing he's done in his life, or something along those lines.  I probably should have just smiled and been happy for him, but I didn't.  I said - "Don't you think that's a bit of an insensitive thing to say to a childless woman?"  Yes full on I know, why can't I just be nice like normal people.  I then went on to say that when people say that it feels like my life is meaningless or at least desperately lacking because I haven't had children.  I know that's not what he meant and it's probably all my issue, but I do feel that people should show a bit of appropriate thought in what they say.  Anyway he took it alright.  We then had a pretty full on conversation with me talking about our pronatalist society and the lack of recognition, acceptance or space for childless women in our society.  His solution was that I should have a child, because he knows a 42 year old who had a child.  He didn't understand why that made me quite angry - I said "Yes we all do, but I can assure you that for every one of those women I know at least 10 who have struggled without succes".

I also talked about how I'd heard of having a child as being likened to a 'get out of jail free' card.  He could see the analogy and didn't disagree - however he then went on to say that he should stop talking as he was feeling quite smug - because he'd gotten out of jail free - largely due to having the title 'father', even though he currently doesn't see his children.  I'm not having a go at this guy at all, I was actually quite impressed with how he handled me talking so directly and at times emotionally.  But at the end I was feeling kind of shit about my situation and he was feeling smug about his.

Anyway tonight as I lay in bed trying to get to sleep, I was doing my usual trick of replaying the conversation.  In my bed without the feeling of needing to perform I was better able to think about the reality.  Really what does he have to be proud of - he got his wife pregnant 4 times - not much to be proud of there (especially as by his own admission there wasn't much love in the relationship) and then he financially supported a family and helped raise his children - of course that is something to be proud of - if he's done a good (or even reasonable) job of it, but then it's not something most people don't do.  So then I thought well actually I can be proud of the fact that I'm living a different life from the norm and from what I desperately wanted and I'm surviving.  Of course I'd like to be doing it with more grace and poise - but to  be surviving and to be able to talk about it like I did today - what it can be like for a single childless woman in our society - that is something to be proud of.  I'm not trying to sound smug and I'm not trying to take away from what this man or any parents have done - but I am trying to acknowledge that there is something I too can feel proud of.  Obviously surviving is not the only thing in my life I want to feel proud of - but for now it's something pretty big.


  1. I definitely think you should be proud of "surviving". It takes a lot of courage to not be in the mainstream, and to have most of your strength come from within.

    A childfree women's choices are active choices - whereas once women have children, I don't feel like they think anymore about their purpose in life (except to raise the next generation, and so on...)

    I am fascinated right now with how people deal with loss - of all kinds. To live such a life - in such a new way - is a kind of loss. But it can also be an opportunity, no?

    1. Very well put, Anonymous. Childfree/childless women also don't get the constant pats on the back that mothers do.

    2. Thanks yes I do at times feel proud of surviving - but I'm still looking for those other things to be proud of and I certainly do agree that childless/childfree women don't get pats on the back or ever recognised. In fact I've been thinking lately about how sad I feel about having missed the 2 main events in womans life (well generally perceived that way anyway) - marriage and having children. Not that I ever was desperate to marry - yes have a partner but didn't care about marriage.
      But now that my life is so far from what I wanted I really do kind of mourn not having ever experienced those milestones or even not ever having been recognised by society for anything as much as women are on their wedding day or when the have a child - there needs to be some other landmark occassion where you are recognised as a childless/childfree/single woman.....

  2. Hi, I'm new to your blog, but am catching up on your posts and just wanted to comment that I also face the same thoughts myself: I'm mid-forties, no children, not married nor in a relationship.
    I often feel I can't go to school reunions or the like as I just don't feel I have anything to talk about or offer, other than 'me', which in today's society just doesn't seem enough! I feel ashamed or embarrassed that I failed to acquire the trappings of a conventional life for a woman of my age: kids/husband/career/house etc etc. I don't even own a pet for goodness sake!
    I know what you mean when you talk about having something to be proud of and I was having the exact same conversation last month with another woman I know who is in a similar position to me. She said she recently went on a management training course to do with her work and one of the questions they were asked was just that; i.e. what is your proudest achievement. She said most of those in the room talked about their children. She said she felt like crying. If I were asked, I wouldn't know what to say. I do feel that turning into the person I am, with growing self-awareness, compassion, emotional intelligence and honed survival skills makes me feel proud, but somehow I don't think others would 'get' this.
    I am enjoying your blog and you definitely are not alone!

    1. Hi London Girl - lovely to hear from you - I can totally relate to what you say about school reunions - I have NEVER been to one and I know if one came up I wouldn't go. I know it's wrong, so incredibly wrong and I feel embarrassed at how much I let society impact on me - but I feel like a failure - not because I didn't get married or have children (I certainly don't judge others by this) - but because I yearned so much for a partner and child and never made it - I failed in the things that were probably the most important to me in the world. I'm someone who really needs to feel a sense of belonging and I really need close relationships so I really wanted a family to just hang out with.

      "I do feel that turning into the person I am, with growing self-awareness, compassion, emotional intelligence and honed survival skills makes me feel proud"
      I certainly do think that is something to be proud of and thanks very much for your post - I really think it's tough and I think we need to speak up so society is more compassionate and caring.

  3. Well I don't know how to put this, but you feel like you failed because you did fail in what our society expects women to be. Let me try to compare your situation to the situation of a hypothetical man who has also failed to live up to society's expectations. His failure will of course be different from a woman's, because society expects different things from men and women, but it will be just as crushing to his sense of self worth as your failure is to yours.

    Society expects men to be providers. A man has to grow up preparing for his future role as a provider to his future family. This includes going to college, getting internships, or learning a trade. This will help him in his future when he has to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. There is a window of opportunity for that boy to prepare for his future. He has to take initiative and prepare as best as he can for his role in society, but what if he missed those opportunities? What if he didn't go to college or apply for that internship? He is missing that window of opportunity in his life to become what society expects of him in order to label him as a successful man. Instead, he ends up being a bum or a deadbeat.

    Now in the case of women. Society's expectation of women is for them to be nurturing and loving mothers. That's easier said than done. A woman has to be young and beautiful enough to attract as many men as possible, and choose whomever she thinks will make the best husband and father to her children. The woman also has a window of opportunity where she has to make this happen. She has to weigh her options so she can choose the best one, but she also has to be realistic in the fact that after a certain point these men will stop being infatuated with her and that her beauty will eventually fade. Once that happens she will have even fewer potential suitors because she is not in her sexual/reproductive prime, which is when nature expected her to reproduce.

    In your case, it seems like you missed your window of opportunity when you were in your sexual/reproductive prime. You didn't live up to society's or more importantly nature's expectations to what a successful woman is, so you feel like a failure as a woman. This is not really a social construct as you want to label it. This is NATURE poking its head into your subconsciousness and asking you WHAT WERE YOU THINKING 20 YEARS AGO? Now have you ever considered adoption?