A Mother’s Day Tribute to All Mothers (including those who don’t have children) by Deb Gail

I just spent half of last week with a good friend who never had children. She wanted to have children but she married later and spent years trying in vitro and time conspired. She isn’t my only childless friend. I have two other close friends who have no children. One isn’t married and is reaching the age when it’s likely she never will have children and another is married but I’m pretty sure is childless by choice.

My best friend from high school never had children. I remember her announcing that when we were about 17 (in front of her mother who gasped and spit her Fresca all over us) and thinking that was so cool that she knew what she didn’t want, so brave of her to admit it. Recently, she told me that while she loved being a stepmother to her boyfriend’s daughter while they were dating, she still didn’t feel those need-to-have-a-baby pangs.

So what am I, a mother of three who knows how much hard work and sacrifice goes into mothering children, trying to say? I’m saying that every year as Mother’s Day approaches I find myself thinking about my childless friends and how the holiday and our culture in general marginalizes those who, for whatever reason, end up without children.

My friend visiting last week confided that the mothers in her neighborhood grow anxious once they learn she has no children. No plans to have children. How, while she tries to talk to them about gardening or movies or books, they try to talk her into adoption (even though she’s in the middle of a divorce and doesn’t want to adopt).

Which makes me think about how often she and my other childless friends must be reminded of what they don’t have. Even if they don’t want it. And then I think about how warm and nurturing and mothering all my childless friends are to their friends and family and pets, how they have mothered me over the years.

And I guess what I’m saying is, I’d like a more fluid, more inclusive definition of mother and Mother’s Day. I’d like to honor all the women who’ve mothered others.

Happy Mother’s Day All!!

Deb Gail

17 Replies to “A Mother’s Day Tribute to All Mothers (including those who don’t have children) by Deb Gail”

  1. I think it’s actually a very selfless thing to not have children if you don’t want them. There’s nothing worse for a child than to be born out of obligation, and I do know situations in which that has happened. I find it admirable for those who decide it’s just not for them to stick to their guns, despite the enormous societal pressure. It’s funny how in our culture even parenthood is so politicized

  2. Thanks for saying that Danielle!

    It’s true, Jenny. I think many people have children because of that pressure.

  3. How warm and understanding, Gail. Your children are fortunate to have you as a mother and your friends — childless or not — must be ever grateful for the same. The irony of this issue, though, is: Don’t women have the right to choose?

  4. That’s a fascinating twist on this, Larramie. So yes, we do have a choice legally (at least for now) but I wonder how many women start families due to family and societal pressures? And how many feel like failures when they can’t pro-create?

  5. Gail, this was so, so beautiful and inclusive–it brought tears to my eyes, because it touches a very sensitive topic that so many of us deal with daily. You have the biggest heart to recognize this! What a wonderful mother and friend you are.

    I was just asked this again recently: when am I going to have babies? It’s such a personal question on such a monumental matter, but it’s still one that people feel fine asking about. The snarky replies always line right up, but in the end I just smile and politely deflect.

  6. Jess, I wasn’t even thinking of you specifically when I wrote this. But yes, you also are one of my friends without children. And I think it’s great that you haven’t buckled under the pressure.

  7. I have great respect for couples who can go against society’s “rule” about having kids. I have a few friends who opted out of parenthood. My husband has a colleague who finally had a baby in her 40’s after at least one miscarriage, a divorce and now, she has a day nanny, a night nanny so she can travel for work and sees her child less often than most see their gynecologist. Kids aren’t accessories. Kids aren’t a whim. Good for women who know and respect what they want. I admire them.

    My all time favorite aunt decided not to have kids – a tough choice to make in the 1950’s when she got married. She and my uncle have a great life. And maybe a loving niece in their will…. 😉

  8. Thank you, Gail. Thank you, thank you, thank you! (no, really – thank you!)

    I’m half of a childless-by-choice couple and have been many times subjected to pressure, rude questions/comments and ridiculous suggestions by others who just don’t get it. For many reasons I won’t get into here, I was not meant to be a parent and I thank God every day that I realized that before I buckled to the pressure and had kids like so many people told me I should. I think the worst comment I ever heard was from a friend’s boyfriend who said I had no reason to be on the planet if I wasn’t going to procreate (making me kind of wish HIS parents had had the insight to not procreate). But I do so appreciate mothers – for raising kids and doing so much that I know I’m not capable of – the hardest, most important job in the world. For everything you do every day, I think you’re all angels.

  9. NIce post. Similar to Joanne I am astounded how often people will make comments or ask quite private questions when they hear I don’t have children. I don’t ask them WHY they have kids- I think it is rude to expect me to discuss why I don’t. Unless I know you in which case you know the whole sordid story anyhoo.

  10. Kim, thanks for commenting! 1950’s that was really brave!

    Joanne, I am so glad that you liked this! I know what you’re talking about only because I’ve witnessed it with my friends. In fact I had a girls night out for my childless friend last week and several of the women asked her why she wasn’t adopting even after they heard her say she didn’t want to adopt!?! Like they couldn’t accept it something.

    Funny… “I don’t ask them WHY they have kids…” You always make me laugh, Eileen!

  11. I’m shocked by this post – people really ask these kinds of questions about childless couples? It never occurred to me to even consider asking someone why they don’t have kids, or when they are going to have kids, or if they plan on adopting.

    I’ll admit it; I thought the post was kind of ridiculous until I read the comments. Apparently, I was the one off-base…

  12. I’m interested in you saying this, Steve, since men must not get these questions. I wasn’t even thinking of that. Is that true men out there??

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