Comedienne Chelsea Handler recently lamented on The Daily Show that childless women (like her) are shamed for not having children. Her snarky response to the alleged shaming: “I’ve got news for everyone. Instead of shaming childless women for what we’re doing to the country, you should be thanking us. We are saving society…we have a lower carbon footprint. We’re the reason there are fewer screaming children on airplanes, in movie theaters and restaurants.” She got huge applause. Hooray! Fewer crying children.
When a comedienne is applauded for not having kids, I’d argue there’s less shame over declining motherhood than choosing it these days. Respect for the role of motherhood has endured a steady chipping away for years. Popular culture now characterizes the mom role as more burden than blessing. Just scratch below the surface of our social and political debates and you’ll find proof.
Listen carefully to the language embedded in those debates and you’ll discover a veiled vernacular that disparages motherhood. From protests to pundits, we get a daily diatribe against the burdens of motherhood and the imminent threat those burdens pose to every woman’s well-being.
The diatribe is broad, claiming that motherhood poses a threat to ALL areas of a woman’s life—her reproductive, mental, physical, social and economic health. In a telling interview, the head of the Ms. Foundation, Teresa Younger, enumerated the costs “of having a child when you are planning for it” including: 1) a negative impact on a woman’s lifelong earnings potential; 2) lower investment in a woman’s career development; and 3) costly childcare. Younger then moves to unwanted pregnancies, saying “if you become pregnant and you are forced to have a child,” there are added threats, including: 4) disproportionate economic security; 5) health disparities and heightened healthcare costs; 6) higher rates of death during birth among women of color; 7) diminished retirement earnings; 8) schooling costs for children and, 9) stunted educational progress for the mother. A well-known Georgia politician offered a creative addition to this list of burdens—inflation woes. Gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams blamed inflationary anxiety on the presence of children in our lives, stating, “Having children is why you’re worried about your price for gas. It’s why you’re concerned about how much food costs.”
Shouting Down Motherhood
It’s not just political verbiage that shouts down the desirability of motherhood. Entertainment and popular culture are fully on board this bandwagon. Moms in movies (“Bad Moms”) and television (“Better Things”) bemoan the burdens of motherhood. And real moms second the feeling. The Facebook group “I Regret Having Children” has over 47,000 likes, which is thousands more than the group called “MomLife I Love My Kid.” Similarly, a 2018 Maclean’s article entitled, “I Regret Having Children” highlights an array of research that points to moms who…well…regret becoming moms.
The story is much the same in the news media. The Washington Post recently featured an article about a mother who explained that climate change has stopped her from having more children (she has one child), due to her concerns about the harmful effects that additional diapers, toys and carbon emissions might have on the planet. This same Post article cited a headline from another source (the THINK Newsletter) that defended the anti-motherhood, anti-child stance: “Science proves kids are bad for Earth. Morality suggests we stop having them.”
And then there’s the slow parade of statistics confirming the trend against motherhood: declining birth rates (falling 20% in America since 2007), delayed pregnancy—as women prioritize education, career and income over starting a family—and, most recently, an increase in the abortion rate. All point to a population of women truly reticent about having children. Senator Chuck Schumer recently confirmed the trend when he observed, “Now more than ever…we have a population that is not reproducing on its own with the same level that it used to.”
Let me be clear. I am not a “burden denier.” I get it. No motherhood is perfect. And we need to acknowledge that. So I’m not unsympathetic to women who struggle out loud with their concerns about the future or moms who admit to being overwhelmed by the endless demands of motherhood—especially with a simultaneous career. I have lived these things. I left a job in television to be a stay-at-home mom and quickly experienced feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. And when I worked part-time, I was often torn between not giving enough to work and not giving enough to my kids.
Of course there are burdens and sacrifices for women who mother. In fact, the biggest burdens are felt by impoverished women, including teen moms and single moms, who are more likely to raise children who struggle with problems like poverty, violence, juvenile delinquency, drug dependency, and a propensity to drop out of school. Single-mom families are continually cited as the population most likely to be poor.
What About Absentee Dads?
But what about these single moms who research suggests are most burdened by having kids—perhaps, particularly, the single moms in prison? I work with these moms through a nonprofit I direct, called ChannelMom. ChannelMom’s Forever Moms prison curriculum focuses on guiding incarcerated (often poor) mothers toward healthy parenting and re-engagement with their children. I have polled these moms about their financial and educational setbacks. Not one of them has tied these setbacks to having children, but instead, to the fact of missing or abusive spouses, and to their poor personal choices. Interestingly, we don’t talk much about how absentee fathers and declining rates of marriage could be a big part of the reason motherhood feels burdensome.
On the flip side, what about the more privileged, mostly educated class of mothers? Complaining about no longer being able to go to the bathroom alone. Yearning to go to Starbucks (or get a glass of wine) without a child tagging along. Tiring of the spit up in our hair and the daily grind of carpool. What?! Did we really expect we wouldn’t have to sacrifice something for the love of a child? Do we not understand that the best things in life often require blood, sweat and tears? Are we really going to demand that we shouldn’t have to give birth until we build up just the right amount of income? Achieve the smallest carbon footprint? Are assured of a secure career? Do we want a guarantee that we won’t have to sacrifice anything to have kids?
Isn’t it time that we stand up for the cause of motherhood? Should we not answer the list of mothering burdens with an equally compelling list of benefits and blessings? After all, mothers birth nations. The future of humanity depends on moms birthing and raising up the next generations. That future is now in jeopardy thanks to the pervasive mantra that motherhood = burden.
Maybe mothering doesn’t get the respect it deserves because we have stopped recognizing the exclusivity of the female design—uniquely able to incubate and birth the next generation. And usually responsible for training that next generation. This exclusive role gives women extraordinary power to shape the hearts and minds of the youth who will be our future. If you think about it, moms are the ultimate “influencers,” more impactful than any influencer on Instagram. The mighty impact of women who mother is, dare I say it, a type of feminism. Could motherhood be a feminist cause?
Motherhood Is a Feminist Cause
I can hear the scoffers now. Almost no one would call the privilege of motherhood something to be championed in the name of feminism. Instead, many feminists declare that bearing children carries a litany of burdens which rob women of power—money, career, promotion—and threaten their independence.
Is motherhood a sacrifice of time and money? Yes. But, is there human value that replenishes that loss? Is there intrinsic value found in every individual child designed by the Creator? And what about the economic value of children successfully raised into adulthood and able to contribute to society? Personally, even though I took time away from work and sacrificed career experience and income, motherhood brought me more prosperity than lack, more joy than pain, more purpose than not. Yet, from the time we began to use “barefoot and pregnant” as a slur, western culture has slowly and successfully diminished the role of motherhood.
And our girls are listening.
According to a recent Forbes article, 27% of females in Generation Z don’t want to have children. When asked why they don’t want kids, 89% said they enjoy “the flexibility their lives have from not having children” and 70% said they “value their alone time.” Congratulations. We have successfully convinced our girls that motherhood would be inconvenient.
Notably, the Forbes article warns that a potential baby “bust,” resulting from Generation Z’s resistance to motherhood, could eventually trigger economic problems as significant as recession. The same article suggests that Gen Z career women must have work environments that accommodate the outside-of-work needs of mothers. Perhaps, this would woo more Gen Z’ers to motherhood.
Allow me to issue a clarion call for mothers. A warning shot off the bow of the bruised battleship of motherhood and family. Hiding behind our political diatribes and social stances is an unacknowledged antagonism toward motherhood. And it poses a danger to our future. We must acknowledge the need to lift up our voices to affirm the importance of motherhood, to declare its indispensable value to the planet.
After all, none of us would be here without it.
Photo credit: M.T. ElGassier Editor credit: Patricia Dean (my mom)
Latest posts by Jenny Dean Schmidt (see all)
- Is America Becoming Anti-Motherhood? - March 25, 2023
- My Empty Nest Sadness Ended With This List - August 1, 2021
- There Are Moms Behind Racism and Rioting - June 11, 2020