Monday, June 9, 2014

Whose Side Are You On?

Our Guest Blogger, Melanie Holmes, offers her perspective as a mother who chooses to respect a woman's choices rather than pick sides. Holmes writes:


BeyoncĂ© is not “feminist enough.”

bell hooks is “too feminist.”

Some women are not “mom enough” because they don’t wear their babies, breastfeed, or co‑sleep. 

Others are not “woman enough” because they don’t want motherhood.

When are we going to refrain from trying to define what “fulfilled” or “happy” looks like for each other? 

I am a mother of a teenage daughter whose life is spread out before her, and I absolutely refuse to define “happiness” for her.    

Happiness is subjective.  Calista* always dreamed of being a teacher.  What she didn’t dream of was being a mom.  Calista doesn’t volunteer her thoughts on this topic because she feels embarrassed by the reactions she receives.  Knowing I’m a mother who believes in the right of every woman to decide if motherhood is the right path, Calista remarked, “I’m so glad there are people like you on our side.” 

Because of my refusal to espouse one side or the other, the book I’ve been writing for three years was passed over by a major publisher who thought I needed to pick a side.  However, that would defeat my entire thesis, which is:  We need to equip females with the facts and then give them the freedom to decide if they want motherhood.  What makes my voice unique is that I am a mom.

Often, women who are moms espouse sentiments such as, “My life was meaningless until I became a mom.”  But do women really mean this or are they gushing about the love they feel for their children?

I have interviewed/polled 200 women, mostly in the U.S.  Overwhelmingly, women hold assumptions about other women – that down deep, women who aren’t moms miss out on the quintessential female experience.  But assumptions are discrete from words.  Only half the moms said they would cajole their daughters toward motherhood if they heard ambivalence.  The other half said they would respect their daughters’ journey.  One mom said, “Motherhood is too personal a choice for me to interfere.” 

Dating to the 18th century, mothers have fought for women’s rights, such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Perkins Gillman.  Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was…broken-hearted with the…injustice I saw.”  She was referring to the slave trade, and babies torn from their mothers’ arms.  20th-century activist Tillie Olsen spoke out against the silencing of voices of those disadvantaged by gender, class and race. 

Madelyn Cain joined her voice to Wollstonecraft, Perkins, Stowe, and Olsen by writing The Childless Revolution in 2001.  Cain shed a light on the realities of 21st century women who are not mothers ‑‑ that they are not selfish people living empty loveless lives.    

Words matter.  And it matters who says the words. 

I add my name to the list of mothers who wish to speak up for women’s rights as a way of paving a smoother road for their daughters.  By fighting for justice for all women, my daughter will benefit.

My husband and I are cautious of the scripts we use.  Rather than saying to our daughter, “When you have a child…” we say, “If you ever have a child…”  I want her to hear the things I never considered while growing into the woman that I am.  This is not to say that I regret being a mom.  But that’s my journey.  And it may not be my daughter’s.  After all, she’s only 16. 

As women come to grips with how much the world has changed over the past few decades, they also need to come to grips with each other.  This is not dodge ball.  We shouldn’t divvy up sides.  As women, we should all be on the same side.


* Name has been changed.




Photo Credit: R.L. Holmes
 

8 comments:

Ashley Bennerson said...

It's nice to see a mother who respects her daughters choice as an individual and not as a reflection on herself. Thank you.

Teri Tith said...

Beautiful words. Thank you for writing them. I used to blog on Purple Women & Friends on the topic of the choice to be or not to be a mom. I gathered guest contributors, including Laura Scott, owner of this blog and author of another book covering the topic. My whole experience stems from the the experience I had trying to decide what I wanted for myself. So, I did what any educated woman would do. I went to the library looking for a book on the topic there were none. Twenty years later, I have read every book on the subject. Now I get to read yours! Please let us know when it is ready to be published.

Melanie Holmes said...

Teri, thank you for your kind words. There are a lot of women writing about this topic; however, the ones who want to "shed a light" on motherhood have 2, 5, 7 years of experience. My oldest turns 30 this fall. So...I've been around the block & I'm about to share what I know. My 3 kids support what I'm doing. They believe in the right to be "authentic." My website is www.melanieholmesauthor.com in case you want to sign up for updates when my book comes out, which I hope will be this fall.
xo

Melanie Holmes said...

Teri, thanks for your words. I hope that by speaking out, from a mother's point of view, will add a new thread to the conversation. I've spoken with many women who need to hear words of support from their parents, but don't. Respect for each other's journeys is so important.
xo
Melanie

Elle Michaels said...

I am well past my child bearing years and I am childless by choice.

Forget about having regrets, I think about how fortunate I am that I didn't have kids. That I was wise enough at an early age to have made this decision.

I was part of the first wave of pro choice, when family planning clinics had sprung up and affordable and reliable birth control was available to women for the first time.

I have memories of girls who missed that wave and 'got in trouble'.

I witnessed misery.

Not having kids is the closest the average person can know what it's like to be wealthy.

There is no constant worry about the cost of Child Care, making ends meet and saving up for a college fund.

The strain that child rearing puts on a marriage doesn't exist.

When I was young I was frequently told, by women who were mothers, that I would eventually decide to have kids, many times this was said with a devilish grin.

This always surprised me, why would they assume that? It was as if THEY WANTED me to have kids. Why?

As I got older I found out.

It changed after I reached 40, the grins turned into looks of shock and get this, jealousy.

The worse stresser on a relationship is kids and the worst financial stresser is kids

Look this up for your book, it's an eye opener:

Decades ago Dear Abby, ( in approx 1972), unwittingly preformed a Social Psychology test when she asked her readers to tell her why they would have their children if they could do it over again.

She was trying to generate material for an upcoming Mothers Day column.

The results? 72% wrote in saying that they would not have had kids

What's interesting about this are two things; It was anonymous, for the first time people could tell what they felt without being judged and put on a guilt trip.

They were able to tell the truth.

Secondly, think about how many people wrote in. For every 1 person who writes a letter, they say that 1,000 people feel the same but don't bother.

This was especially true before the advent of email.

Women should ask themselves if they would make suitable mothers. There should be a test.

The first question should be, "Are you prone to anxiety?", followed by questions about the financial and physical capabilities that child rearing demands.

To all women who have made the choice not to have kids I say congratulations girls, your lives are your own.

I've just glossed over some of the topics on this issue, I could probably write a book and one more thing; I love it when women tell me I'm selfish for not having had kids, as reproducing is the most megalomaniacal thing another human being can do.

And get this, I'm at an age where my friends are becoming grand parents and about half of their kids and grandchildren no longer live in the same state.

So much for that future investment of not being alone when you're old.

I used to ask women, (when they were reduced to making a final desperate reason for having had kids), "How much time to you spend with your grandparents?"

I frequently was met with a look of an on the spot epiphany, and it wasn't a happy epiphany.

Over a 40 year period I never once lost a debate on this subject.

I only brought it up if someone else did first.

Now that I'm older and a little wiser, I don't argue it anymore.

Winning all of those debates were hollow victories, (I wasn't sparring, just giving my side of the issue, when asked), it is analogous to a wealthy person rubbing a poor persons nose in the fact that they are poor.

Having a kid is one of the very few things you can't take back, you're stuck for life and I have great sympathy for those who regret their choice, (72%, lol) of having had kids.

-Elle M.

Melanie Holmes said...

Hi Elle, Thanks for chiming in. I did read about the Dear Abby survey. I have written about many of things you've listed in your comment --the stress, the expenses, and that they are NOT an insurance policy for care when we get old, etc. It's time to treat females (& males) as people with options. Talking about procreation as something everyone "should" do is the wrong answer on so many levels. When you read my book (I hope you will), you'll see that there are other moms who think like me; I'm in the minority, but I hope my book will open a few minds to the idea that we are all individuals who may not want what others think we "should" want. Thanks again for your comment. Look for me in the fall :-) -melanie

Penina said...

Hi Melanie,
I just stumbled on your post and wanted to chime in as a mom who feels the same way. I talk to my son with similar language ("if you decide to have kids…") and I respect the choices and the lives of my childfree friends. I hope for a day when it can all be part of a natural conversation, one that we can all have without fear of judgment. If I understand you right, the big message is to simply stop doing that -- stop judging. Baby-wearing, bottle-feeding, baby-having, not-baby-having, etc. These are all valid choices humans can make, and we can learn from each other by listening with the intent to understand, with the intent to find common ground. /end soapbox :-)

Melanie Holmes said...

Penina - exactly that--seeking to understand rather than judge; so glad to have another mom chime in on this thread.
Ashley - I didn't see your comment earlier; thanks for chiming in. I hand my daughter the tools and what she does with them is up to her. Thx!