It's Very Condescending to Tell a Childless Woman She'd Be a Great Mom

But people do it anyway, all the time. Why?
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Cristina from Grey's Anatomy doesn't want to have kids (ABC)

There are a lot of things I might be good at, such as competitive figure skating, window washing from ten stories up, and being an open heart surgeon. I might also make an excellent Kamikaze pilot—except for the fact that I don't want to learn how to fly and have no interest in taking my own life on behalf of Japan.

Recently I ran into my old friend Rich in line at Target. I was standing there with my industrial sized bags of Skittles and a magazine about doing yoga and eating healthy. I was catching him up on the last year of my life, which went something like: "So, yeah I'm divorced and dating around and I love living alone and I'm working all the time—traveling about every other weekend as well and finishing up my book about being Childfree." For some reason, this prompted him to say, "Aw, come on, Jen Kirkman. You'd be such a good mom!"

This statement is at best condescending and at worst, patently false and potentially dangerous. It's like telling a friend who you know has a paralyzing fear of wild animals that she would make a great game warden. Seriously, she should just shake off her deep-seated anxiety about being around rhinos and lions and just go out there and guide some poor innocent family on a safari. I'm sure you'll do fine!

A few years ago, my ex-husband Matt's parents threw us an engagement party at their house. My former future mother-in-law and I stood side by side in the kitchen prepping for the guests. (Well, I think I was just pouring myself some wine while I awkwardly watched her chop vegetables.) It was an idyllic scene, the two most important women in one man's life, coming together over food and wine. (Okay, I was the only one with the wine.) Sort of semi-casually, her knife hand holding the neck of a celery stalk hostage, she said to me, "So, I think we should talk about how you and Matt don't plan to have children."

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I braced myself, expecting she'd take a blender, turn it on and hold my hand over it threatening, "Tell me again. Tell me one more time that you're not giving me grandchildren. I dare you." I figured she'd at the very least say something like, "You're a horrible, soulless, morally barren woman who is stealing a future-family from me and my son!"

Instead she said very simply, "I support that decision. I participated in the Women's Movement so that women could have more choices in life and this is one of those choices." I felt relieved. She worked full time and raised two kids but she didn't try to make me feel like I needed to do the same.

But what would a conversation with your mother-in-law be without a little nugget of guilt that she gets to leave on your pillow before she turns down your metaphorical marital bed?

"Still, I can't say that it isn't a little bit sad to think that I'll never see your children," she continued. "And I know that you two would make great parents if that's what you wanted."

***

When we were married, Matt and I often told people that we were a family, just the two of us. That sentiment felt secure and it was true. We were legally a family. But people who had kids usually just looked at us with pity—the kind of pity I reserve for people who are folding and unfolding strollers and clumsily going through airport security.

I knew that people stared at us and thought, But you can't have a two person family. What if one of you falls off of a boat when you're on vacation? Then what? A family of one? What good is a family of one? If you're the only one in your family then who do you blame for all of your mistakes? No, it's YOUR fault that I dropped the carton of orange juice that I was drinking from while standing in front of the open refrigerator because you walked into the kitchen on your tip-toes. You KNOW that when you try to walk quietly it scares me more than if you just walked normally. Also, I had a bad day at work and I blame you because if it wasn't for you, I'd have more free time to meet the heir to an oil empire and if HE married me—I'd never have to work again! I'm not feeling good about myself but I'm too afraid to look within so I'm just going to fixate on the fact that your toothbrush is on the top of our toilet tank.

I imagine if Matt had come home every night and said to me, "Oh Jen, but you'd be such a good cook," our marriage would have broken up a lot faster than it did.

***

Throughout most of my life there seemed to be only two types of women represented in TV shows. There are housewives slaving away over a hot stove and then there's Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw who once said she uses her stove to store handbags. I'm neither of these types of woman. Before and after we were married, my husband's dinner would continue to be something that he bought for himself at the Whole Foods sandwich counter. I'd be coming home from work at nine o'clock and eating my cottage cheese-and-cucumber-Saltine-sandwiches. I wasn't a totally useless wife. I was always able to open a bottle of wine for dessert.

I have memories of my grandfather Kirkman making mashed potatoes that were so good because they tasted like a bowl of butter. I love my mom's brownies. My favorite thing about both of those recipes is that someone else made them for me. Occasionally I feel an urge to whip up some mashed potatoes and brownies but I don't ever feel an urge to scrape the crust from the baking pan, or to squeeze out some progeny so he or she can remember that while mommy was out of town often doing stand-up comedy, she baked a mean banana bread to try to make up for her flagrant neglect.


This post is excerpted from I Can Barely Take Care of Myself by Jen Kirkman. Copyright © 2013 by Block of Cheese, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster.

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Jen Kirkman is a stand-up comedian, writer, and actress. She has two comedy albums, Self-Help and Hail to the Freaks, and writes for and appears on E’s Chelsea Lately and After Lately.  She is the author of I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids.

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