photo credit: elizabethdonoghue via photopin cc

While poorly written and incredibly vague, this article from The Telegraph asserts that “the urge to be a mother decreases with higher I.Q.” I’ll admit it: as a woman in my early 30s who has chosen not to have children, I felt a bit of smug vindication upon reading the headline. The meat of the article is bullshit, but if the headline preaches it, it must be true, right?

As I read the comments (I’m a glutton for punishment), I noticed a vitriolic whirlpool of accusations, defensiveness, and hot tempers. People were up in arms over a woman’s decision to be a mother. Mothers took offense at the implication they were less smart than their non-mother counterparts, calling their childless peers “selfish” and stupid. Men chimed in as if they can even fathom what goes into motherhood for most women. And childless women wrote pretentious comments that only further polarized the audience.

Why the hell is this even still an issue?

We live in a time marked by redefining the word “family.” Marriage rates continue to drop. And while more women are having children outside of marriage as a result, birth rates have hit a record low, as well. Men choose other men as partners; women make lifelong commitments to other women. Single parents, adoptive parents, no parents. The old adage of “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family” really has no place in society today. “Family” is no longer trapped by traditional institutions or definitions. We make our own meaning of the word, and often, it changes as we grow.

My (very smart, mother-of-three) friend Jessica Squires said, “Women get judged no matter what their decisions are. Have kids/don’t, stay home/work, get married/stay single. The sad thing is it’s usually other women doing the judging. We’re incredibly cannibalistic as a gender.” This touches on the nerve of the issue: our own insecurities regarding the choices we’ve made in constructing our versions of “family.” Because the traditional measuring stick no longer applies, we’re all looking around at what everyone else is doing, trying to verify if we’re doing the right thing. It’s the very basis of identity management: we learn who/what we are by comparing ourselves to who/what we are not.

The unfortunate part of this process is that no one can tell a woman if she’s making the right decision to (not) have children except herself. Ladies, it takes a lot of soul searching. It takes bravery. It takes being honest with yourself. And it takes self-compassion, something many of us have to work at on a daily basis.

Growing up in a single-mother home, I contemplated questions of family very early. I saw how hard my mother worked (and appreciated it more than she’ll ever know) and wondered if that would be me some day. I learned what being an independent woman meant before the age of 10. I pondered names for any theoretical children in my future (deciding on Quinn, boy or girl). But as I entered my teen years, an incongruence emerged that would continue to plague me into the present day.

As I looked around at other girls (now women) my age, I realized I didn’t value the same things they did. I didn’t swoon at the idea of getting married or planning my dream wedding. I didn’t go ga-ga over babies, who always looked like weird, little aliens to me. I had no desire whatsoever to be a mother. Was I broken? What was wrong with me? “Oh, give it time. You’ll change your mind,” people would say.

Except, so far, I haven’t. And I’m finally getting to a place where I feel good about that.

There’s immense pressure on women–even in today’s modernity–to procreate. “It’s what our bodies are built for.” “It’s evolution.” “Only selfish women don’t want kids.” I assure you that the issue goes far beyond biology and egocentricity. The question of whether or not to have children is a complex, multi-layered one for most (bless you ladies who knew from the start that you did/did not want to be mothers). For me, it involved uncertainty over my health, what my husband wanted, my career and education, my lack of “motherness” I just mentioned, the state of the world (and its future), and other contemplations. Ultimately, it comes down to going with my gut. In my heart of hearts, I don’t have a desire to have children.

And should that change one day, maybe I’ll adopt. There are countless kids out there who need a loving home–youngsters I could corrupt with bathroom humor, teach how to drive, and pass on my love of literature. Maybe I’ll be that fun, quirky, childless lady in the neighborhood who looks out for all the kids on the block and throws the best holiday parties. Or maybe I’ll change my mind in 5 years and decide I really do want a child of my own.

Whatever may come, I choose to practice compassion–for myself, other women like me who choose not to have children, women who desperately want children but can’t conceive, and women who choose motherhood. With all of the anger and chaos in the world, couldn’t we all benefit from more compassion? Here’s to you, ladies, for all your heart, intelligence, and grit–regardless of your motherhood status.