Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Childless" or "Childfree" = Insult?

I wondered if any of you read this article with excerpts from an interview with actress Kim Cattrall where she talks about being a parent because she mentors young actors/actresses and has nieces and nephews to whom she is close.

I have not had time to listen to the full interview (which is 58 minutes long), and there are parts of what she says with which I don't disagree -- like the fact that you can express your maternal side without giving birth and that our society devalues women who have not given birth to children -- but I do take exception with her assertion that she is a "parent" because she loves, nurtures and mentors young people. To me, parenthood includes those things, to be sure, but it includes more, and is more all-encompassing than being a loving aunt or mentor.

Before I had children of my own, I had a nephew whom I adored (still have, LOL), and I was a mentor for children in the foster care system. I was also an "auntie" to the children of a few close friends.

None of those experiences was the same as being a mother to my own children. Not only do I love my sons more than those other children (apologies to my sister and friends if they're reading this), I am responsible for their care and upbringing in a way that I was never responsible for those children's.

I completely agree that biology has little to do with parenting. Rather, it's the nurturing and bonding over years that really make someone a mother or father.

But I don't think you can say you're a parent simply because you are a nurturing, loving person who shares those qualities with others in her sphere.

What do you think?

8 comments:

  1. Parents...

    ...have to clean up the vomit, the urine, the mud, the poo.
    ...get up night after night after night after night after night to feed/care for their child.
    ...decide what school to send the child to, what extracurricular activities to go to.
    ...decide what a child eats, and when, and how much.
    ...are financially responsible for their children (up to a certain age).
    ...are responsible for medical decisions for their children.

    You can have an amazing and important role in the life of a child that you are not a parent of, but you are NOT a parent.

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    1. I agree. You have highlighted several of the most obvious ways in which the responsibilities of a parent differ from those of a loving aunt or mentor.

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    2. I actually posted this comment to the article (without listening to the entire interview) and was surprised with one of my longest friends (who is single, without children, and the godmother to my oldest son and aunt to infant twins) responded so harshly.

      "Me: Yes, Kim, there are many ways to express your matenal side, none of which make you a mother. I'm a godmother and close to my god daughter but I am not her mother.

      Mentor and mother can be similar but are not the same thing. Perhaps only a woman who is both can understand that distinction.

      EB: Well thanks for negating the experience of those of us without children. Given that anyone can be a mother, the superior smugness of mothers is kind of funny."

      Kim goes on to talk about the joys of being single and THAT is actually where I found the distinction to be...she can turn on/off her maternal instincts to suit her lifestyle where parents cannot.

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  2. I think you can definitely mother as a verb, but mother as a noun connotes a responsibility that isn't contained in the act of nurturing. You can not mother your child but still be a mother, or you can mother someone else's child and not be a mother. Or you can both mother and be a mother. (Or, equally, father or be a father.) I haven't heard her interview, but I heard about it.

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  3. I'm sorry, but my response is "so?" Who cares if someone calls themselves a mother even though there is no biological or financial connection to that for which she is mothering. It's easy for us to pass her comment off as ignorant. But it's what she knows as mother. I'm ok with her calling herself a mother. some of us have this privilege of having that title in its denotative context. I will not dog someone who also identifies with it in her own way. It's not a competition is it?

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    Replies
    1. It isn't a competition. But words have meaning, and "parent" and "mother" have specific meanings that are not those she assigns to them.

      I think Lollipop makes an excellent point (above) about the idea of "mother" as a verb vs. a noun.

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  4. I like Clarissa Pinkola Este's concept of "little wild mothers." Basically it means that as you grow up, you need your own mother less (with achieved independence) but still need women (the term can even include men) who take on a mother role without being a literal parent. I like the idea because it emphasizes that while we shouldn't stay children forever we still need to be mothered in different parts of our lives and many different people take on those roles. I know it's a bit of a tangent from the question raised here, but maybe is a way to talk about mothering that doesn't exclude.

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  5. Parenting has such a high degree of responsibility and commitment that does not end at a certain time. Having said that, Kim is just giving her version of mothering. I think she knows the difference between nurturing and mentoring and the role of motherhood. It's a great discussion point though, isn't it?

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