Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Does Working as a Nanny Make You Want to be a Mother or Convince You Not to Have Kids?

Choosing Between Suzie Homemaker and G.I. Jane
By Ashley Withers of The Daily Campus

I have been a nanny since the 9th grade, so over the past seven years I have spent a ridiculous amount of time with kids ranging in age from two to 13. I love kids and I love spending time with them, but I also love that moment when their parents arrive back home and I can hand over the responsibility to someone else.

The lessons I learned as a nanny were invaluable. I learned responsibility, time management and about seeing the world through someone else's eyes, but the biggest thing it has taught me is that I never want to be a parent.

The first time I told my friends that I wasn't interested in ever having children they were shocked. I was having brunch with three of my best friends from home at our favorite cafe. All three of them love children and absolutely cannot wait for that part of their lives.

They were commenting on this adorable baby in the restaurant and saying how much they wanted one of their own when I blurted out, "Ew! I never want to have kids."
Now, I admit that I didn't phrase it in the most respectful way, but they looked at me like I was an alien, like I wasn't even a woman.

However, recent statistics show that I am not alone. Census data from 2010 shows that nearly one in five American women end their reproductive years without a child. In the 1970s that rate was one in 10.

My friends have since come to terms with our distinctly different desires, but they all still adhere to one of society's unspoken rules: at the root of a normal woman's life there must be a desire to get married and have children. If this isn't your underlying yearning, then you are an "other." As a female I have to pick between Suzie Homemaker and G.I. Jane. This hardly seems fair.

What about those of us who fall on the middle ground? Those of us who believe that a woman is still a woman even if she never sees herself as a mother. Those of us who believe that the sexes have different roles in society, just not ones as narrowly defined as historical traditions would suggest.

The more I talk about not wanting to have children, the more I hear the same response from people: "I'm sure you'll change your mind" or, "Give it time."

It's not about time. It's about my ability and freedom to make that choice.

As it is, our society doesn't let any woman make that decision. Look at Oprah Winfrey, one of the world's most successful women. She created her own brand, hosted a top-rated television show and ran her own magazine all at the same time. All of this success, but she isn't married and she doesn't have kids, so what do people assume? They assume that she must be a lesbian, because no "normal" woman would want to live her life without a husband and kids.

Take a look at political pundit Ann Coulter. Whether you agree with her politics or not, you can't deny that she is the embodiment of a powerful female. But she is almost 50 years old and still unmarried without children. Though she is one of the biggest champions for conservatism, people in her own political party often point fingers and say that she is not a real woman. According to them, she doesn't have the same "family values" as the rest of the Republican Party.

Deciding not to have kids is an automatic social divider and I am aware that this decision will probably separate me from friends in the future. As my generation grows up, mothers will inevitably replace me with play date pals who are more relatable, and likewise I will seek company with people who have chosen a more similar lifestyle to myself.

Both sides of the decision face consequences. This is not some bash on people who truly have the desire to raise children. I think that is an incredibly noble cause. I am just asking for the chance to make the decision for myself, without becoming a social outcast. I am asking to culturally redefine feminism as something empowering for proudly feminine women.

Now, I am not naïve enough to think we can change this societal stigma overnight. I have come to terms with its implications on my own life and fully accept the challenges ahead. And in the future, I may actually end up having kids, who knows?

But it is my right to choose and in all respects, I will still be a woman for doing so.

Ashley Withers is a senior majoring in journalism and also serves as editor in chief of The Daily Campus. She can be reached for comment at awithers@smu.edu

5 comments:

Sarah Marie said...

I'm not sure yet what effect nannying has had on my desire to have children. I've always wanted children in the way many women do: I want to see myself and my husband in a new generation, and I am awed at the privilege of one day raising them with the values I was taught. BUT. Like Ms. Withers, I appreciate that moment at the end of a long day where I can pass the torch of responsibility back off to my charges' parents. I've often thought about what parenting must feel like: nannying deluxe, never getting that release of being "away" from the kids. I've doubted whether I could handle that task.

Regardless, I still feel the need to dispute Ms. Withers' implication that "society" (what a vague and nonconstructive term!) treats childless women as "outcasts". Firstly, I just don't buy that as true- and Ms. Withers provided solely anecdotal evidence. Secondly- and most importantly- is the fact that the pressure to have children is NOT a social construct, but a biological one. Ms. Withers certainly could have done a better job writing this opinion piece....

Michelle said...

Being a nanny makes me want to be a mother. But it scared me from getting married a little from seeing bad relationships. LOL The author wasn't a nanny in 9th grade but a sitter.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your post! I have been a nanny/babysitter since 8th grade(16 years) and yes- I don't want children. When I tell my friends and family this, they say, oh you will change your mind when you are older. Really?! I'm 29!

I say kudos to you for posting this- I'm right there with you!

Fiona Littleton said...

Sarah I think your comments are much too harsh. A college student wrote this and I think it's an interesting point and well written. I feel the same way but couldn't ever put into words what she's written. Better than I could write. I feel like I haven't the financial, physical or emotional ability to raise kids on my own. I'm glad I have the option to work with kids without having to have the burden of raising them solely.

Anonymous said...

When I was 20 I went to a fortune teller- just as something to do when I at a carnival. She asked me what I wanted to know. So I asked if she saw any children in my future. She said- YES, I see many...I asked, How many? She said more than you can count on your hands. I was shocked and said- NO way am I a having 10+ children. She said- -You will be like a mother to many more than 10- but they will not be of your bloodline. I said- OH, I was thinking of becoming a teacher. She said- NO I don't see you becoming a teacher in the school sense. I figured she did not know what she was talking about- so I let it drop- and my time was up anyway.

I've always had to have children in my life- ever since I started as a Mother's Helper when I was 10 year's old. Then a babysitter at 13-- and all thru high school. Then at 19 I had the joy of becoming an aunt.

At 27 I moved away and then got married- and missed having children in my life. However, I was not ready to have any of my own. At 35 I made nannying my career- I am now 45- and don't have any children. So I most likely will not have any of my own flesh and blood. But one day I hope to become a foster parent.

So maybe that fortune teller was right ;-D