Mothering Sunday is a big commercial enterprise. It draws the biggest restaurant attendance numbers of the year and I imagine the sale of flowers and cards is comparable to none. I respect those that do not wish to parent and that they may find the whole mother’s and father’s day fuss very irritating. It is the people who are childless not by choice who might find these days particularly hard. There is a fairly new concept, 'social infertility’, which means not having met the right partner to conceive and and raise children with. Clinicians can be presumptuous and insensitive when women present for gynaecology or sexual health appointments and will say things like “if you want children you better get a move on.”
People who want children and can not have them often grieve profoundly for what might have been. There can still be a stigma about being childless and the default assumption is that it is not by choice. Families put pressure on the childless couple and many ask parents of single children if they have other children and if not, why not. Family members and the public will ask newly married and even long standing couples, “When are you planning to have children?" What gives them the right to ask such a deeply personal question?
Of course many people want to be grandparents and enjoy their grandchildren while being able to hand them back at the end of the afternoon or when they get grouchy, but children don’t owe their parents grandchildren. At the same time I appreciate in many parts of the world children and grandchildren are hoped for and needed to support the family. On the whole people who choose and are able to have children need to accept the possibility that, for whatever reason, the family line may end there. Sometimes it is about the concept of leaving a legacy, our imprint on the world that inspires parenting but there are so many ways we can do this by living a kind, mindful and creative life. Our legacy is what we leave in the hearts and minds of family and friends and in the positive changes we have enabled people around us to make.
It is very brave to parent, and risky. There are no guarantees that children will be happy, fulfilled and stay out of trouble, no matter what efforts parents make. Losing a child to death or mental and physical illness is devastating and sometimes I wonder why any of us would take that risk, but the rewards can also be an unimagined fulfilment. We need future service providers, artists and engineers. Society needs children but it also needs the childless aunts and uncles, the Godparents and adult friends who use their own energies in different ways to compliment parenting. This Mothering Sunday let us respect wholeheartedly all those women who choose not to, and those that can’t and wanted to, have children.
You don’t have to be depressed or suffering acute anxiety to see a psychotherapist or counsellor. If you are undecided about whether you want to have children or are considering treatment for infertility, talking to a therapist can help you think more objectively and serve as a sounding board for the emotional work involved in such a life changing decision. If the ‘children’ issue is causing stress in your relationship someone trained in couple counselling would be the best bet and if the problems are sexual then a psychosexual therapist is the way to go. Either way seek help if you need it and don’t suffer in silence or postpone the conversation because it might be a difficult one.
gatewaywomen.com is a support group and information source for women who are childless not by choice
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Photo by Cherry Laithang