Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dear Prudence's Mommy War

A happily childfree, married reader wrote Dear Prudence for
advice on how to deal with nosy relatives asking when she'd have kids. After a brush off response to the reader's question:
Now I will join the chorus of people who are driving you crazy. You are about to get married, and as life's circumstances change, it is worth re-examining your goals, especially this one (and yes, I know, I am offending all happy childless people). You're only in your 30s—if you have children now, they'll be grown by the time you reach your late 50s! You say you love children, but as close as you may be to your nieces and nephews, that's no substitute for having your own. The people who know and love you best hope you and your husband have children—that alone makes it something worth considering.
Apparently, reader reaction was strong, many suggesting she not give advice on questions not asked, still more pointing out how bad the unsolicited advice was. In Prudence's response she attempts to address the objection to the suggestion itself, making perfectly clear that either:

1. The unsolicited advice was her attempt to justify her own lack of resolve and decision to have children she didn't want because her husband wanted her to, or

2. Her claim on being "happily childless" is either camoflauge for her Breeder Bingo response, or a myopic failure to understand she was never really childfree.
What I didn't say in the column was that I understood exactly how the young woman felt. In my 30s, I, too, was comfortably committed to being childless. I, too, had never felt the maternal imperative everyone promised me I would. I, too, looked at my friends with children and concluded, "No, thanks!" Then my circumstances changed when I fell in love with a man who wanted kids. I had to decide whether to let him go, or marry him and agree to have a child.

I knew that I hadn't thought too deeply about the implications of changing my mind when, at 5:30 one December afternoon, my obstetrician told me the baby would be born in about 30 minutes. I remember thinking, as I pushed, "Could we wait a few hours? I'll be more ready to be a mother at nine o'clock." The baby couldn't wait, and at 6:10 p.m. our daughter was born. Thus, I crossed over and became, in the parlance of my correspondents, a "mindless breeder."

Either reason would still leave her horribly unqualified for the job.

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