Ever since I took this editorial post at Mommyish, the question I receive soon after introductions are made is inquiries about how many children I have.
The shock is always the same when I say that I don’t have kids. I don’t have a partner either. I’m a single 20-something — and I help run a parenting website.
In the moments before I taped a segment for Good Morning America, the interviewer asked me if it somehow wasn’t necessary to be a mother to write for mothers. The producer who I spoke to for my CNN segment on the sexualization of girls asked at the conclusion of the interview if I was a “mom” after hearing me rail against the cultural pressures for girls to grow up so soon.
The ladies in my office, other young women around my age, watched me warily in the first few weeks of me being hired. Catching me alone in the bathroom or in the elevator, they always posed the same question when the doors shut or after a stranger passed us by. Did I have kids?
It concerns me to think that culturally, the only people we perceive as caring deeply about the development of children are mothers. Fathers skirt the margins too as being stereotyped about their investments in childrearing, but as a childless young woman with years of babysitting under her belt, I’ve never managed to scramble so many faces.
Issues regarding children, both in their safety and their development, are not those in which you need to be a parent to comprehend or to prioritize. Everyone, even the childless, should be concerned with what children see, the messages they’re sent, and what they are told to value. It’s often within our children that some of our most awful mindsets, prejudices, and preconceived notions are perpetuated, as well as our most powerful hopes for change are realized.
Not everyone wants to parent, which is a choice that should be respected for both men and women. But if we only choose to interpret compassion for children as parenthood, we seek to dismiss the interest and efforts of many who are invested in the well-being of our kids.
In my own personal story, I’ve been caring for children and serving mothers since I was more or less a child myself. I started babysitting at the age of 12, and quickly realized that caring for little ones and serving mothers was not only something I liked, but also a larger catalyst for my developing my interest in women’s issues. I started reading feminist texts fairly young, but nothing could have prepared me for helping working mothers juggle their newborn, domestic responsibilities, and the job that they had left behind. Holding a screaming toddler while struggling to keep the pots from boiling over, the mothers I worked for in my teens and even early 20s showed me firsthand that there was a new “problem with no name” — working motherhood.
Mothers, I began to learn, rarely had anyone to advocate for them. Most of the women who hired me barely had time to wash their hair, let alone report the unfair practices imposed on them during maternity leave or negotiate household duties with their partner so that they aren’t saddled with the “second shift.” All of this vastly impacts the happiness of women, and subsequently that of their children so much so that it’s difficult for me to fathom why more people aren’t up in arms over such issues.
I was at a talk recently in which Jane Fonda, a mother of five herself, addressed a question from the audience about if a fulfilling life was possible without children. Not only did the actress say “absolutely,” she also said, “Every child you see, look at them like they’re yours.”
I smiled as everyone clapped because I realized, exactly in that moment, that I often do.