Many Ways to Mother

I guess I have to come out with something. Even though I once taught children in grades 2-4 and trained elementary school teachers in the language arts, wrote articles for a children’s column for Plain magazine and am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, have co-authored two books on children’s health, written articles on parenting and am the loving aunt of two and Godmother of three, I myself have never given birth to a child.

Don’t get me wrong. I really do love kids, which is why so much of my career and my social life is wrapped around them. But when it came to having our own, it seemed like my husband and I always wanted to wait until sometime in the future. There were real obstacles that I don’t want to go into here, but basically, I admit it—we didn’t want kids enough.

Does this make me selfish? I never thought so, but lately I’ve been reading that many childless couples feel left out of the American mainstream, and some childless women today are finding themselves defending what others perceive as a selfish choice (whereas in times before fertility treatments and multiple adoption options they may have been pitied for not being able to have kids). A recent article by Lauren Sandler in Time magazine titled “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children” sparked a national debate on talk TV and prompted LA Times columnist Meghan Daum to “come out” as child free by choice. “Parenting is a momentous job that should be undertaken only by those who really want it. And for whatever reason, I just never have,” she wrote.

To me, having children is simply a personal choice, and it’s a healthier world when all women are not slotted into any one track. Every woman should not be made to feel that she has to be a mother any more than every mom should be made to feel that she has to work outside the home in order to find fulfillment. And career women should be able to drop out of the workforce at times and just be moms. Arianna Huffington touched on this point in her commencement address at Smith College when she questioned why women had to have a career track that looked like a straight line to the goal—she felt that was more of a male model. It seems we need to change the workplace so a women might follow a more spiral pattern, circling into the job market and out, choosing to stay home with their kids at times and to work at other times, or not having kids at all, rather than trying to “have it all, all the time.”

I couldn’t agree more. A major factor in my choice to not have kids was realizing that it wouldn’t really work for me to be a supermom and “have it all” by working and raising kids at the same time.

And does not having kids make me less of a woman? I would again have to say “no.” The nurturing, mothering impulse is alive and well in every woman, I feel. It may just take different forms. Like many childless women I know, I find great joy in nourishing others—my students, my friends, my family, and the children in my life. This nurturing impulse is something central to my own being, and clearly evident in all the women I know, whether married, single, with children or without. In fact, this may be a common denominator that many women share—the tendency to want to harmonize, uplift and nourish those around us. Research shows that women excel in these tendencies, and men even become more nourishing just by being around women.

In fact, the problem for most women, whether with kids or without, is to keep from nourishing others at the expense of their own health and happiness. In other words, women often need to be reminded to nourish themselves first—and from there to nourish others. Only a full cup can overflow in love, only a lit bulb can radiate light.

One of my favorite quotes from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who founded the Transcendental Meditation technique, is about this very point. “There is no greater nourishing power in the world than the experience of bliss.” I love this, because it reminds us to stop trying so hard, to just be—to be in that state of pure happiness, like a child, and from there nourish everyone and everything around us.

I know for myself, if I’m happy I naturally seem to help everyone around me. If I’m tired or exhausted, if I haven’t eaten right or slept enough, no matter what my actions, it doesn’t have the same nourishing effect. That’s why for me, taking time for my daily dive into the transcendent has been rejuvenating and nourishing for me as a woman, and has helped me to nourish others around me.

Do I ever regret my choice concerning children? Not really. There were times when I was younger that I envied my friends with kids, but I’m sure that at times they, in turn, envied the freedom I had to travel the world, work for a nonprofit organization, and focus on self-development. That’s human nature—we make our choices and even if we are mostly happy with them, there are moments when we wish we really could have it all.

For me, “having it all” has been experiencing bliss and happiness within myself every day for the past 42 years. And the best part is that every woman, no matter what her childbearing choices, can “have it all” by diving into that reservoir of pure happiness within—and feeling nourished and revitalized, spread that nourishing happiness to all around her.

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

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