Earlier this week, I was watching an episode of Grace & Frankie. It was “The Elevator” episode where Grace and Frankie are talking about motherhood. Grace accidentally let it slip that Frankie wouldn’t understand something about being a “real mother” because she was an adoptive mom and not a birth mom. By that logic, I’ll never be a real mom because I can’t have children. To them, I am not enough.
Boy, that really punched me right in the gut. I’m childless due to medical reasons, and it’s a sensitive subject. But it isn’t an issue that is unique to me. I know several other women who are childless. Some by choice; they don’t want kids. Some who desperately want kids and can’t or haven’t been able to as of yet. Frankly, having it flung at me, whether it’s said innocently or in anger, is one of the most hurtful things someone can say to me. And it reminded me of all the times someone has pointed out my childlessness.
You Don’t Understand. You Aren’t a Mother.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “but you don’t have kids” as some sort of brush off. It’s an utterance often meant to give the person who said it the last word. It’s definitive. The person saying it desperately wants to be right; this is the point I can’t dispute. However, these are fighting words that can potentially break down relationships. Is it worth it?
We all have different stories
You see, we all have different stories. Not all of us can have or even want to have children. Some of us desperately want to be a mother and can’t have children. Some of us have had repeated miscarriages or tried loads of infertility treatments. We may have devastating chronic illnesses that make pregnancy unsafe. There are so many reasons another woman may be childless. And regardless of our reasons, telling us that we don’t understand something or that we do not know what love is because we don’t have kids is not okay.
Telling a woman she can’t understand something because she isn’t a mother is not okay.
Women are not less than if we are not mothers.
Women are not incapable of loving less because we are childless. It may be different, but not less.
While motherhood for most people is no doubt wonderful, some might say enviable, and a truly a loving state of being, it does not mean that those who are not mothers are morally inferior. And the inverse is also true.
Women who are not mothers are not inferior.
We are capable of empathy
Childless women are capable of empathy. We do not lack the faculties of reason. We do not lack the ability to see things from someone else’s viewpoint. Well, most of us anyway.
So why do you say it? Pointing out that one is childless or using “you don’t have kids” is incredibly cruel thing to say, despite being factual. You may not even realize that it’s hurtful when you say it. You may think that you’re stating the obvious, and that it’s no big deal.
Why is it so hurtful?
Let’s break down why it’s hurtful and what you can say instead.
It negates the other’s opinion
First of all, it’s a statement that negates the other person’s opinion. If you have a disagreement and use this statement to give yourself the moral high ground, you’re really accomplishing the opposite. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s a low blow. You’re exerting your mother privilege to belittle someone else’s thoughts, opinions or feelings. By seeking empathy from someone else, you may be instead demonstrating a lack of empathy in yourself when you say such things.
Instead, try identifying the problem from a different view-point. Recognize that the other person feels differently, and honor that. You might say something like “I hear where you are coming from. My experience with my child leads me to feel differently.” You may not need to say anything further after that.
You may not know what someone else has experienced
Secondly, you may or may not know what someone else has gone through or how she feels about it. When you use “you don’t have kids” as a point in your argument or discussion, you may not be aware that person spent her life’s savings on IVF and failed. She may have had a miscarriage. Your friend may have fostered a child she loved and had to return to the system. She may have been trying to adopt without success or wasn’t able to afford the process.
Maybe you do know what she’s dealt with and it slipped out anyway…
It’s like when kids on the playground poke on each other’s bruises. They know it’s probably going to hurt, and yet they push on the bruise anyway. In this situation, whatever high ground you think you have established, you have actually lost it because you have kicked someone verbally while they are down. Even if you didn’t mean to.
If you say this, you really should find a way to sincerely apologize. Whatever point you may have been trying to make most likely isn’t nearly as important as the devastating blow you just delivered. It’s not worth it to continue driving your point about whatever it may be at the cost of hurting someone else so much. Seek common ground instead.
Further reading on The Awesome Muse
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy reading more about how we talk to ourselves. We have a series from The Awesome Muse writer, Kim Jones, discussing how our self talk and trying to be perfect undermines our lives. Accepting our flaws help us to be free. It is a two-part series.