Thoughts and ideas to inspire, uplift and affirm the childless and childfree, by circumstance and by choice
I see this quote often enough on facebook and pinterest to guess it resonates with quite a few people, as it does with me. It is attributed to Margaret Atwood.
“Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age
is an adult, whereas I am just pretending.”
Margaret Atwood has a daughter and lots of the friends I’ve seen sharing the quote have children, so I’m definitely not suggesting the feeling is a non-parent thing. I also think it’s generally shared in a positive way, i.e. “I hope I still possess the special qualities people associate with childhood, like a capacity for wonder and creativity and ingenuity.” But I wonder if the quote might have another resonance for non-mothers, to do with the idea I’ve sometimes heard expressed that you’re not a real adult unless or until you become a parent.
For example, a major Christmas charity drive I support asks contributors to mark a gift tag to indicate the best recipient for a chosen item, with the choices girl/boy, mother/father, or grandmother/grandfather. (I’ve written to them for the past two years begging them to rethink this labeling system, especially in light of how difficult Christmas can be for people who are excluded from these categories.) All the organisation is looking for, of course, is information about gender and age, so I think it demonstrates a very interesting blind spot in relation to adulthood and non-parenthood.
Alongside this conceptual conflation of parenthood and adulthood, there are lots of social situations that seem to leave the adult status of the non-parent hanging and unconfirmed. The norm of parenthood at a high school reunion can seem the most tangible reminder that people’s lives have moved on, and therefore, perhaps, that some people’s haven’t. Many non-mothers write about the awkwardness around the common holiday arrangement of gifts-for-children-only, since it either means feeling shortchanged, or else being categorised with the children to receive a gift – a kind of festive no-woman’s-land. More generally, perhaps procreation is a rite of passage to adulthood for which non-parenthood lacks any real equivalent.
Yet at the same time, my own decisions regarding non-motherhood are the first I’ve ever consciously made that I understand as completely irrevocable. Although I don’t know if I can really explain why, that seems to me to mark out some new territory in my life. Jobs, homes and haircuts can, at least in theory, be abandoned and started over. Even tattoos, sacred vows and marriages seem to leave some wiggle room. But like the decision to be a mother, the decision to live as a non-mother (by choice, by circumstance, or by some combination of the two) determines a great deal of the shape of the rest of our lives. In my own case, it’s the first door I’ve ever carefully and fully closed behind me (or, to use Lionel Shriver’s analogy, the first page I’ve ever consciously and completely turned).
It was a good, decisive feeling and although the ‘rite’ is definitely missing, I think the passage happened just the same.
But in the meantime, how about you? Do you ever have the sense, as a non-mother, that your adulthood is unconfirmed? Do you think others might perceive non-parenthood in that way? Or do you have some other take on the idea altogether?
[The beautiful image accompanying this post is presented with
permission from the Sophia series by artist David Hayward.]