A woman without children is a useless wife!

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Excerpt from Hausa Blues:

What are you even doing here?” my mother-in-law, Lami, asked when visiting. “You are worthless— just wasting time, and eating food.”

The respite between family visits was always too brief. It seemed they spent more time living with us in Douala than they did in Yoko.

“We want babies! It’s a baby or nothing,” she said, threatening me with the reminder that my husband would send me to live on the streets or bring home another wife if I failed.  She chided me with the same persistence as when she tried to convince me of my unworthiness as a cook, wife, and daughter-in-law. Rabiu sat silently listening as she berated me day after day for my failure to bear more sons for him–except on the occasions he chimed in to express feigned feelings of dissatisfaction in my lack of fruitfulness.

My extended family became increasingly disapproving, convinced of the fact that Rabiu was deeply discontent with my inability to bear him more children. They believed that I had cast a curse on him—preventing him from sending me away or simply finding another wife. They would never believe the truth even if they heard it—that my own husband had forced me to have two abortions after our first son was born and it was because of him I was now infertile.

Growing Number of Childless Women

A cultural shift in the way women are processing maternal expectations is evidenced by a surprising new statistic—47% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 do not have children and 49% of women between the ages of 40-44 are voluntarily childless. ( “Check your cat-lady preconceptions about childless women” by Kelly Wallace.)

While there is more acceptance in the current cultural climate for women without children when compared to historical attitudes or women in more male-dominated societies, to say it feels comfortable for childless women right now wouldn’t be entirely accurate. As with all major societal shifts and transitions, this one seems no different—characterized by doubts, insecurities, and the unshakeable knowing that change is inevitable.

This feeling of uncertainty when forging a new horizon of normal can be heard by voices such as Zoe Zarka. She wrote an article recently titled, “I’m coming out—I don’t want children.”   Zoe explains how she feels she is part of a movement that is striving for equality and acceptance, likening it to minority groups that have gone before her– identifying with the gay and lesbian movement as they fight for their alternative lifestyle. She worries that she will be excluded in some way by her friends that decide to be mothers. It seems she wonders if she will be deemed to be lacking merit when awards are given out to females embodying the essence of womanhood, but knows that she needs to own who she is—a woman who is many things, but not a mother.

Is there a purpose in marriage without children?

When my husband and I were dating, long before we even got engaged, we talked about our mutual lack of longing to be parents. My mother always told me my feelings would change when I found the right man and got married, so I wanted to keep myself open to that possibility. Still, I would have felt uncomfortable marrying someone who had etched on his heart a deep sense of purpose connected to one day being a father—just in case my feelings didn’t change.

As our relationship progressed and engagement seemed imminent, I began to wonder how deeply connected marriage and children were in my psyche. I had a moment where it almost seemed absurd for us to consider marriage–as if marriage could never be real without giving birth to something that extended beyond our union.

“Do you think there is a purpose to us getting married?” I asked my then boyfriend. It was a hot day of sun soaking and wave beach2watching on the beach at his parent’s condo in Longboat Key, Florida. We loved lounging on the beach together. The way the ocean sounded like it was breathing when the waves receded and lapped the shore had a way of luring me into a calm slow rhythm of long, deep breaths. It was a ripe moment to ask a deep question, but he didn’t respond as he stared out at the water.

“Since we already know that parenting is not for us,” I continued, assuming he needed further clarification. “I mean, if we know we aren’t going to be parents, does marriage make sense for us?”

What I really wanted to ask, but was afraid to was, “Are we being too idealistic to commit to an entire life together based on the idea of love?”

We weren’t marrying for financial security. We both could take care of ourselves. We weren’t marrying to build a family together or a legacy. We weren’t marrying because society even required it of us anymore—we could have cohabited indefinitely with minimal judgment from the world at large. The only reason we had to get married was that we loved each other, but I wasn’t even sure I believed in love beyond the way we felt about each other in that moment. I comforted myself that we were at least half cognizant of what marriage required and were both willing to do the practical day-to-day gestures to keep it going—but it nagged somewhere in the back of my mind, “What would be the real purpose in marriage without children?”

The biggest purpose in life is learning how to love

As I suspected might be the case, I didn’t suddenly feel a deep longing to be a mother after I got married. About 3 years into our marriage, I had a crisis where I wondered if we should try to have a child—despite the lack of a compelling urge.

“What if we regret it down the road?” I asked B.

“We can’t make a decision in the present moment based on how we think we might feel at some point in the future,” he said.

This was the most liberating thing he could have possibly said. In that moment I felt free to let go of my worries and just make peace with not being a parent. Because if there was one thing I was certain of, it was how I felt in that moment. I’ve never been pregnant in my life, but always knew that if it were to happen, I would embrace a baby wholeheartedly. With that caveat,  I couldn’t find comfort in the idea of myself as a mother– despite the fact that I’m the first one to coo and start a babbling conversation with every fleshy, bright-eyed baby I see.

With each year that passes, I feel more convicted of the fact there is great purpose in my marriage—even in the absence of children. That purpose is to learn how to love another human being beyond my own limitations. It’s true that parenting can teach us to live for something beyond ourselves and love more selflessly, but this outcome is not a guarantee as evidenced by many parents in our current cultural climate who believe their children have arrived to meet their adult-sized needs.

I believe marriage without children has purpose because life has purpose no matter what our circumstances. In fact, I don’t believe that I need to be married for me to fulfill my greater purpose on earth either. I am convinced that purpose is what we give to our circumstancesnot the other way around. I can put an imprint of my heart on everything and everyone in my life. For me, I’ve made a choice to be an instrument of healing and love to my small corner of the world—to my own heart, my husband, the disabled children I work with, my family, and to everyone I come in contact with. To me, that feels like great purpose.

 

What do you think about the purpose of parenting in your own life?

 

Do you believe that women can fulfill life’s purpose without children or without a husband?

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