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Wednesday, September 8, 2010


My house, one Thursday night, after putting the babies to sleep.  I'm sharing a bottle of wine with my husband when an internet article by a woman who does not know me assaults my way of life. 

Polly Vernon begins her article for Marie Claire by essentially complaining that she has more work to do because a fellow coworker is out on maternity leave.  I understand where she is coming from when she says she bristled and acted in defense when some man who doesn't really know her says, "That's okay. Women hold the fort for each other because you'll be hoping someone will do it for you."

Vernon says it's not okay because she's not going to have children, but she's wrong.  It's still okay.  She may someday need to go on disability.  She may someday have to quit with little or no notice.  She may experience a death in the family, or some emergency she must tend to, forcing her to leave the office for a bit, forcing another person to pick up her slack - male or female.  When someone is out, everybody left should work a bit harder to make up for them.

Still, in many ways, Vernon's article is right.  She should not have be on the defensive over her lifestyle choices.  Too often groups within a society belittle, mock, and make light of those who choose a different route.  But Vernon's bitterness does not give her a carte blanche to attack her fellow women, most of whom are not her enemy.

The brush she's using to paint every mother is an ominous shade.  Women who have children, she says, have "a sense of entitlement that can lead to some profoundly uncivilized behavior — as anyone who has ever been thrown off the pavement by a stampede of unapologetic Bugaboo-pushing mothers would agree."

That's an awfully small segment of society, I would say.  Having children doesn't automatically place me in a Bugaboo herd, just as not having children doesn't automatically make her unsatisfied with her life.

And to say that she accepts that most women don't feel the way she does is an ineffectual disclaimer when juxtaposed against the name calling in her next sentence.  "Still, I think as cultural movements go, this one has veered wildly out of control, consuming huge chunks of airtime, to the detriment of other concerns. Also — shhh — it's kind of boring."

Parenthood, like any lifestyle, has a following of readers and television watchers.  If you are bored by certain topics, it is well within your means to avoid them.  There are any multitude of channels you could surf, and millions of blogs and magazines that cater to world issues.

Also, parenthood is not a cultural movement.  Just because Vernon feels ostracized for her choice does not make parenting a "fad."  She cites celebrity births, lists a few movies in which bearing children is the plotline, and mistakenly involves women who are having trouble conceiving, in her quest to prove this is a "trend."

"Meanwhile," she says, "those trying, and failing, to have babies launch themselves into expensive rounds of fertility treatments, railing against being denied what they consider their absolute right, the one thing that the movies and TV shows and pop songs and celebrities are telling them is their defining opportunity for happiness."

Apparently, in Vernon's view, women who are trying to conceive are doing so because pop songs and celebrities are telling them to do so.  I, who never longed for children, find this one of the most tasteless and insulting paragraphs I have ever read on the internet.  Women who want children perhaps want children for reasons of their own, reasons which I will not attempt to prescribe for them, reasons that, I'm guessing, have nothing to do with pop culture.

Women have been having children since the dawn of human existence.  Looking back through history, one will find times where women, as a group, had upwards of 12 children, and times where women had none.  If she had looked just 50 years back, she would have seen the baby boom.  Simply put: having children is nothing new.

I have, of course, saved what was most personally insulting for last.  How can I not take offense when Vernon says "regular women have taken up the trend. Ubiquitous mommy blogs host heated debates on the relative merits of organic baby food, four-figure strollers, and the latest inventions of "momtrepreneurs.""

A parenting blog makes no claim on anyone's time.  A debate on organic food is heated because there are people out there who care about that sort of thing.  If Vernon is not one of them, might she just leave those women who are alone?  Must she poke at them and make them feel lesser as human beings because what they happen to find important, she finds laughable?  Isn't that exactly what she is fighting against in her own life?  And, who knows, perhaps one day an invention by one of these "momtrepreneurs" will save her life.  Why is a mother's invention any less valid because she is a mother?

Vernon had an opportunity here to meaningfully stand up for her way of life, to shut the doubting mouths of those who would brush her decision aside.  She chose, instead, to instigate a bitter attack against a group of people just trying to get by with one less food stain on their carpet.

Vernon may be childfree.  She may be childless.  She is certainly childish.

Marie Claire article linked at the top:


  1. This is fantastic, seriously. You are an incredibly talented writer and I think you hit the nail on the head about why her article was so offensive.

  2. I read the article and I really....err...don't get me started. I love this blog, though.

  3. Perfect, as always. This summed it up for me: "She chose, instead, to instigate a bitter attack against a group of people just trying to get by with one less food stain on their carpet."

    Thank you!

  4. This is written beautifully, but then again, everything you do is!

    1. I think there are valid points on both sides, however one must admit that mothers and Parents are in the majority and the childfree/less are still in the minority. If the author is on the defensive it is because she probably has to justify her choice constantly whereas parents and mothers rarely do. I think it is a contentious issue and one cannot simply lump everyone into a category. Yes, there are "over the top" mothers and fathers and people who should not have children at all. Yes, the media and society seem to be incredibly biased and seem to promote a specific agenda and even Pit working mothers against stay at home mothers and mothers vs childfree/ childless. At the end of the day we all make choices for whatever reason. There is no right or wrong answer here.

  5. Thumbs up, D. Your scathing last 3 sentences win forever.

  6. Well said, I completely agree. You said it alot better than I would. I would just say she is a bitch. =)

  7. This is a great post! As usual.

    Also, it always cracks me up when people call having babies a "fad". Babies: the new SillyBandz.

  8. Perhaps the reason she seems to think momification is a fad is just simply about getting older. As a happily childless woman, yes, it does seem like birthing babies is something an increasing number of women are doing. It's not new. But it's new to me. Ten years ago, I don't think I had any contemporary friends who were moms. Now I have quite a few who are, and more who are planning for kids.

    As someone without kids, the amount of mental space that becomes dedicated to them in parenthood is mind boggling. When would I have time to do things for myself, to travel, to read, to go see new music, to go dancing, if I was devoting all that time to babies? I wouldn't. And, without children, I think it's impossible to understand wanting to make those kinds of sacrifices.

    And yes, I do think mommyhood is getting more high-profile. I think moms in the US use parenthood as a more profound personal identity marker than moms in other parts of the world. American moms have a lot to share with each other, and they form social networks and cliques around these mom topics. Sometimes they're obnoxious, and not because anyone's being forced to read their blogs. They're obnoxious because childless women see their friends' personalities being overtaken by one predominant charachteristic - motherhood - at what may be the expense of so many others. Because they make the women we know and love as vibrant, complex people seem one dimensional. Whether or not that's only perception is a whole other subject.

  9. You know, Emily, that's a really good point. I wrote just last week about how annoyed I was that people assume my identity is "mom" now, but I had a lot of people disagree with me. I guess some people like it.

    I don't.

    And I also don't like that I don't have any time for myself and that my kids overshadow me, but I know that's the choice I made.

    I think those groups are like any other group on the internet. Gamers now have networks, high school friends connect, professionals link in. Mom groups are just another of the many.

    And a lot of times, mothers need those groups because our friends who love us for the vibrant complex people we are would be bored to tears at what makes up 23 hours of our day now. Heck, I'm bored to tears with myself!

    I think that parenthood, along with any other huge life change, only changes the person if they want it to. I know I plan on going right back to being multifaceted. As soon as my kids allow me.

  10. Oh. Here's the link to Your Mama.

    You might like it.

  11. Thanks for the link; I did like that post juxtaposed against this one. If a waitress ever called me 'mom' i think i'd slap her. 'ma'am' is bad enough. ~EG

  12. LOL! It's so true, that Moms need these communities. As a young mother, with a circle of friends that comprises students, young professionals, and more post-grad students, I can so relate to the idea of not having anything to say that doesn't have to do with diapers, mischief, or the wiggles.

    As for groups like these being obnoxious-- well, I open the door for my own stroller, thank you. As my Mom used to say, there are 359 OTHER degrees in which you can look, so make use of one of them!

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