I don’t have to tell most of you, dear readers, that in a world that likes to think of itself on a progressive social change trajectory, it has, in fact, become increasingly HARDER to be involuntarily without children.
In our modern day world, the now ever plentiful pathways to mommy-hood grab headlines. Along with the myths and implied simplicities surrounding those pathways that also have seeped into the human conversation.
I mean, you could be a person without children living solo in an igloo close to the north pole with your hands literally tied behind your back, and you would still get the “You really shoulds……..” and the (my favorite) “You could ALWAYS……” overtures regarding becoming a parent.
“You can ALWAYS foster or adopt!” someone said to me three months out of my final failed fertility treatment. Why yes, the instability of fostering – what a GREAT compliment to the four years of cruel limbo I just spent not knowing if my children would ever come home and to the PTSD I acquired in the process!! Fostering on top of that – how genius!! People could ALWAYS try to be better informed before they open their mouths too I suppose, but hey maybe that’s just me. I almost digressed…..
Point being, the path to non parenthood is always (finally, an accurate usage of the word) more complex and tumultuous by far than it is given credit for. Kathleen Guthrie Woods’ new book, The Mother of All Dilemmas, out TODAY, serves as one perfect rebuttal to the “You really shoulds…” and the “You could always……” unsolicited directives we are met with out in the world.
Her book provides an undeniably competent, supremely heartfelt and well thought out real world answer to one of many relatively new modern day options of parenthood – “Why don’t you just do it on your own?”
Seamlessly weaving together the autobiographical, views from other women both with and without children, and cultural perspective from the last number of decades that influenced our generation (Guthrie Woods was born in 1966, I was born in 1972), the book begins with her “Mommy internship” – taking care of her fifteen month old nephew for two weeks.
The reader feels the dual pressure the author is under – jumping in cold to mother a toddler overlaid with dress rehearsing her dreams of motherhood to see if she should pursue single parenthood. The endearing and sweetly detailed descriptions of her nephew and her experiences with him were so vivid I yearned to be a mother right along with her. This was definitely a read that would have been overly painful for me a few years ago. After two weeks, the abrupt end of her mommy tour of duty is something I suspect we can all relate to in one way or another – we form deep and special bonds, whether with the living or the unborn but yet, excruciatingly, don’t have the official parented status to go with it.
Peppered with apt and pointed scenarios, Guthrie Woods’ descriptions of the social isolation and othering experienced as a single woman and/or as a woman without children makes me hope that people without those personal experiences will indulge in this book too. (See being shut out of the conversation by pregnant co workers, girlfriends loosing touch as they get married and have children, and being questioned on the legitimacy of your godmother status because you don’t have kids of your own just to name a few good grief!!).
And, as we all know you can’t have a story about the inevitably precarious pursuit of motherhood without some good, honest sarcasm. The blunt and down to earth humor in this book is an absolute standout.
Guthrie Woods’ drive to unpack the cultural conditioning that shapes her views proves to be illuminating for us all.
I found myself drawn, as I often am, to the fascinating paradox of differences and similarities common within the childless demographic. For example, the author’s external process towards pursuing parenthood was admirably pragmatic and well thought out. Mine as it turned out unfolded as a protracted onslaught of reactive damage control.
And, there is a lot of conversation and association with people and families with kids written about in this book. This broadmindedness and flexibility is commendable and it is touching (though not surprising) to see what an asset the author is, as a woman without children of her own, to the families with kids in her life. I myself would not have been able to handle this level of association with the parented world in my own life and in many ways still “choose” not to for the sake of my mental and emotional health.
And yet. Like me and so many of us, Ms. Guthrie Woods grew up with the feminist spawned myth that we could “have it all” in terms of independence, motherhood and career. The line from the new Pink song (All I Know So Far) comes to mind – “When they dress you up in lies and you’re left naked with the truth”. This book is an exquisitely laid out journey through the process of just that. It is, perhaps, an unwitting ode to those of us who found ourselves living very differently midlife than what had been modeled for us and from what we had been conditioned to expect.
Her version of existential uprooting and rage at the injustice of it all – two things that I’m pretty sure all childless people deal with in one form or another – is welcomely raw and holds no punches.
Ultimately we both approached parenthood in our own very unique ways, with high octane levels of thoughtfulness and consciousness. Her story is more proof, not that we needed it, of the tendency of people who wanted children but didn’t get to have them to care very deeply about the affect they have on those they love and on the world around them.
Growing an abundantly more mature emotional capacity is another common thread amongst our widely varied demographic. For the last number of years I’ve walked around with the feeling that when you can’t be a mother the whole world becomes your children. Ms. Guthrie Woods finally put this feeling beautifully into words when referring to her metamorphosis: “I felt responsible for how I treated each human being, and knew they deserved more than easy answers, useless advice and platitudes. I became more intuitive when someone was hurting.” YES.
A few parting thoughts now as it is 3:30 am and, though I’m a night owl I don’t sense I’m getting any smarter as the evening marches on….
This book speaks to not only the preciousness of dreams, but to how well thought out, how mindful, how conscious they can be and how truly arduous it can be to grapple with them. What a big deal, what a space and life consuming thing a dream is – we as a society shouldn’t shrug off other people’s dreams, and especially the loss of them, so briskly.
Woman in their forties considering motherhood will see themselves in this book and it will serve them as an important resource. That said, I think this is such a critical read for women in their twenties and thirties who are considering motherhood at any point in their future. Amid the often sugar coated, schematic presentations of possible roads to parenthood available today, grounded, road tested accounts such as The Mother of All Dilemmas are crucial.
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