Sunday, January 15, 2012

“Unnatural and Undervalued”: Childless in Australia

The title of this recently published article out of Australia pretty well sums up the findings around the stigma and perception of childlessness: ‘Unnatural’, ‘Unwomanly’, ‘Uncreditable’ and ‘Undervalued’: The Significance of Being a Childless Woman in Australian Society. And while I agree with their findings, I was disappointed to read that the co-authors Stephanie Rich, Ann Taket, Melissa Graham and Julia Shelley based their observations on interviews with only five childless Australian women (please, it’s a large country, surely there’s a few more women out there to interview!).

Small sample aside, I was interested that they did note one important curiosity—that childlessness for women is considered normal at young adulthood but “abnormal’ for women in their late thirties or early forties. So true! So why does childlessness move from being perceived as normal to abnormal over the passage of say ten or fifteen years?

Is the assumption of the “maternal instinct” so prevalent that we are all expected to be a mother or in baby lust by a certain age, and those that are not are then seen as “abnormal”?

Or, is it that while some folks can understand why a woman or man would wish to postpone parenthood, there is very little sympathy or understanding for those who indefinitely delay parenthood, or very publically opt out altogether?

I suspect is may be a bit of both, as is noted in the abstract for this article: “While childlessness is increasingly acknowledged, it is still not completely understood.”

Where is the “understanding gap” in your experience?

Flickr photo by Amandabhslater