As usual, I’ve had this post running around my head for weeks now. It was originally prompted by the debates about gay marriage which abounded during the government vote on the legality of same-sex weddings. One particular quote made me sit up and take notice, not because I was necessarily offended on behalf of gay couples, but because I was offended as a heterosexual, childless married couple:
Gay marriage would be “unnatural” because it can’t produce children, the natural end of marriage. Gay marriage would undermine marriage because it is a legal and moral institution designed to promote and protect procreation and raising of children.
So, is the role of marriage is to raise children? Personally, I find this an archaic and extraordinary definition. Not only is it offensive to same-sex relationships, that somehow their partnerships are undermined by the fact they can’t naturally procreate, but also for us childless couples (whether out of choice or sadly through medical reasons).
As someone who didn’t start planning my wedding as a small child, and certainly never made it my ultimate dream to start a family straight after, I’ve become increasingly concerned with others’ attitudes and expectations about how I should behave now I’m a married woman – that somehow not popping a baby out a year after our wedding, we have failed in our married roles. A childless friend recently told me that a total stranger actually asked her outright why she got married if she didn’t want children! Not only a horrifyingly rude and personal question, but one that actually some people really do still think, even if they’re not brave enough to say it! At times, I even feel the need to hold my pie-filled belly in (when I see questioning eyes looking at it) for fear of someone assuming I might be up the spout. And I have to say this is always women – men generally don’t have any interest in our family plans!
I would imagine that possibly this argument smacks of someone who dislikes children. That’s not so. As a teacher, I’m proud of the relationships I have with the kids in my class, I love their crazy perspectives on the world and how they teach me something new everyday. But not yet having ventured into the world of motherhood, I feel sidelined by society. Doors to a whole world are closed to us – we can’t be “Mumpreneurs”, celebrated working mothers or angelic domestic goddesses. Dare I say it, we’re denied the odd day off work because the children are poorly or we don’t have childcare (yes, I know that sounds bitter!). But in all seriousness, it feels as though we haven’t achieved that ultimate ambition – to be parents. Of course, I’ve celebrated my family and friends’ children’s births, Christenings and birthdays, and been overjoyed at how happy they are becoming parents. It is a wonderful thing, there’s no denying it. I see the fulfilment it can bring to be a family of more than two. But if we don’t choose to bring more children in to our already over-populated society, are we inadequate? A recent discussion on Radio 2 heard a man claim that childless couples were “selfish” as they were denying society the future generations. This really did turn the discussion completely on its head for me. I had never remotely considered this. To deny society more children to feed, more child benefit payments, extra burden on the already struggling housing and education system is somehow selfish? An interesting take on the debate, but one I find laughable. Too many people treat parenthood as a right; something that can’t be denied. And too many children are born into relationships that aren’t conducive to a happy childhood, to parents who don’t know how to care for them or care too much and stifle their development. But who am I to criticise when I’m not even a parent?! Indeed, some would even say I can’t be a good teacher because I don’t have kids of my own. Again, laughable. An objective eye on parenthood sees how society has become ruled by what children WANT, not what they NEED. But that is a different debate (which I could literally bang on about forever).
So, who are we if we’re not mothers? Cold-hearted, career minded women? Old spinsters with withered wombs? Cruel step-mothers? There doesn’t appear to be an alternative to being married with kids. If you choose to have pets, you’re a crazy cat lady, if you choose to put your energy into a career, you’re considered heartless. But when do we ever all fit into one demographic? I’m not a mother, but I’m still a woman and I’m still a wife in a loving family. I hope I still appear as kind, loving, fun and feminine even as someone who hasn’t yet given birth to another human being.
And I’m still married. I’m still happy. I won’t deny the thought of having a child in our marriage terrifies me. I can barely remember to feed myself, let alone another person relying on me for everything! And I’m not sure if I’m ready to involve another person into our marriage. I love having my husband to myself and don’t feel embarrassed to say so! I would just like to be treated like I can still have achieved everything I want, even shockingly without having had children. We’re not all the same; but we are all still women. Let’s remember that.