No Little Person

January 19, 2016 § 13 Comments


Our editor-in-chief

Our editor-in-chief

In graduate school, my biological clock went off. I had never previously considered children–in fact, I actively disliked them–but the imperative to have them suddenly surfaced. I welled up at the sight of babies in strollers, cooed over fragrant little beings in onesies.

Fortunately, it passed.

I’m still slightly conflicted, although now at the age where childlessness is nearly inevitable. Every now and then my husband pats my tummy in a meaningful way, and I focus hard on the words that finally swung me, my life coach saying, “Of all the dreams you’ve ever expressed to me, none of them had a little person running around in there.”

I do wonder what might have been. During the MFA, I’d asked a guest writer and mother, “Doesn’t parenting take away all your time to write?”

She said, “Well, I used to wake up, read the paper, get to writing around eleven, drift through a few pages. Now, it’s like a mission, ‘He’s down for his nap I have twenty minutes GO!’ So I’m actually more productive.”

(I’ll pause for a moment while half the parents now reading laugh hysterically and the other half nod grimly.)

Christina Lupton writes about the to-parent-or-not-to-parent-while-making-art dilemma, in a brief and beautiful essay at Avidly.

What I’d like to write about, instead, are all the ways of tending to the world that are less easily validated than parenting, but which are just as fundamentally necessary for children to flourish.  I mean here the writing and inventing and the politics and the activism; the reading and the public speaking and the protesting and the teaching and the filmmaking.  These things are done by definition either by those don’t have kids at home, or by those whose kids are being looked after by other people – by states, grand-parents, friends…

Such communal caretaking, though we don’t acknowledge it very openly, is necessary:  there are a few things you can do with a kid in tow, but not many.  Most of the things I value most, and from which I trust any improvements in the human condition will come, are violently incompatible with the actual and imaginative work of childcare.

Lupton eloquently defends both parenting and non-parenting, while avoiding the easy trap of seeing them as rival states. As a non-parent, I breathed a sigh of relief; as a parent, you may well see some things you value reflected in Lupton’s journey.

“After Mother’s Day” is both a brilliant political assessment and a deeply moving personal essay. Go read the whole thing.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor.

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§ 13 Responses to No Little Person

  • Illian Rain says:

    Thank you for this–just thank you. It’s such a difficult topic to approach. “What I’d like to write about, instead, are all the ways of tending to the world that are less easily validated than parenting, but which are just as fundamentally necessary for children to flourish.” This line is everything to me today…

    • rachaelhanel says:

      That line stood out to me, too. I’ve long held that view as I’ve gone through my 20s and 30s and now early 40s confident that I do not want to have my own children. Notice I do not say “children” but “my own children.” I get a lot of satisfaction attending to children and young adults in my life, finding ways to help them grow and flourish.

      • Allison K Williams says:

        I agree – the way I’ve thought of it, when I’m teaching, is that I’d rather give a little of my love to each of a hundred children than all my love to one.

      • Illian Rain says:

        I understand this completely. The blog I pulled last week addressed the issue of not having children myself. I hope you don’t mind if I share your blog–there are several women in my life who could benefit from this. Thank you again.

  • rachaelhanel says:

    Alison, I think you’ll get a lot of response to this post! Motherhood/non-motherhood essays seem to always elicit a lot of reaction. We need more conversation around this topic. Thanks for contributing to it!

  • Melissa says:

    Ms Lupton shouldn’t have had kids in the first place. She obviously caved to some outside pressure and ended up with a life of regret. That’s immensely sad, for her but especially for her kids. Ms Lupton should not, however, compare her life of mistaken choices to the other lives of parents who wisely chose and adore parenting. To me, she’s using her children as an excuse for not achieving what she wanted to achieve. Very convenient.

    I deeply admire and applaud you, Ms Williams. You are/were strong enough to stay true to yourself. There is only one justification any woman needs for not having children and it’s “I don’t want them.” The world would be a far, far better place if everyone were as strong as you. Or if only those, like me, who are devoted to the art of parenting, produce children. There are far too many poorly raised, underloved kids growing up into bitter, self-pitying human beings taking up valuable space and creating world problems with their hate and self-image issues.

  • One point that rarely gets attention in whatever conversations go on about having/not having children is that not having them isn’t always a choice. I have found that people make many assumptions about people (especially women) like me who have no kids – we don’t like them, we’re selfish. Rarely in my experience does anyone — including other women — seem aware of miscarriages, infertility, infant mortality, or other possibilities. Those need to be part of the conversation, too.

    • rachaelhanel says:

      That’s an important perspective, Sheila. It’s funny, but for me I get the sense that people are assuming infertility issues or some other major problem that is preventing me from having children. Like, I must want to have children but something is preventing me from doing so because they cannot imagine that someone would simply choose not to. Perhaps this is because I’m involved in a church community where almost every woman is having children.

      • TrailTara says:

        Yes, it’s either pity, or contempt. I have had equal measures of both over the years. It would be nice to just be considered as a person.

  • Amber says:

    “…all the ways of tending to the world that are less easily validated than parenting…”
    This part of that first sentence really struck me. As the stay-at-home parent, I’m constantly beset by the feeling that what I’m doing as a mom is not valued or validated in the larger world. I deal with insinuations that I’m not equal to my husband because I don’t “work”. I deal with shrug-offs because I’m “just” a mom. All of the things she lists (writing, inventing, etc.) seem to be much more validated by our society than being a mom. Moms tend to be either revered or dismissed. Neither of which respects a mother as a whole person. Women who aren’t mothers often get judged harshly also. Why is it so difficult for our culture to imagine that a woman can be a complete person with or without children?

    Children need all of us, parents and non-parents.

  • Your article was of great interest to me. I was childless after 15 years of marriage and an upsetting miscarriage in 1985. Years later I decided that I could not save the world, but maybe help on little person. We adopted our daughter who was seven at the time. She is now 27 and although it was like having an alien land, I never regretted it. In the state of IL right now there are over 79,000 children who need homes. -maybe getting a “ready made” is an option for some.

  • daisybala says:

    Awesome writing! Thought provoking. I had to read and re-read to get the essence of it. It’s bold and audacious.

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