I recall a silly meme on social media a few years ago portraying a handsome pink flamingo giving a “side eye” glance toward a swank peacock and his dazzling tail in full fan. The caption read something like this… “Appreciating the beauty of another doesn’t discount your own.”
The message is simple, really. We are all different, yet all beautiful in our own unique way, blah, blah, blah, gushy, etc. Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of meme’s, particularly the ones with sunset backdrops and messages about ambition and drive, but last week, the message of those two birds pecked away at me relentlessly until I finally sat down with pen and paper. “Okay birds, you win.”
In light of World Childless Week, (Founded by Stephanie Phillips) and as a woman who is childless myself, I feel compelled to share some thoughts with other women who are childless not by choice (CNBC) and to women in general. If you are a woman who is childless you have most likely heard the common phrases from other women:
“When you have children, you will understand.”
“Motherhood is the most important job you will ever have.”
“Children gave my life purpose.”
“I have a greater understanding of God’s unconditional love because of my children.”
“I’m a responsible grown-up. I have kids.”
The reality is… Every single one of these phrases is true. They are real and true for the women who spoke them.
Let me explain. Before I was an educator, I worked with individuals with various developmental disabilities. There was one young woman in particular (I will call her Amanda) that I spent an hour a week with for several months. Every area of Amanda’s life; social, emotional, cognitive, communicative and even physical development were profoundly impacted by her disability. Confined to a wheelchair, she relied on others to move her from room to room, for toileting, dressing, feeding, and leisure. Her fine motor skills were such that communication on electronic devices was often unsuccessful. She often relied on the actions of others to assure she was not too cold or hot, nor too hungry, or full, or sleepy, or in need of company. I remember talking to her one day and I watched her as she stretched and flexed her legs and arms involuntarily. I remember thinking, “If she did not have this disability, what would her personality be like? What would she want to talk about? Would she be snarky and funny or serious and quiet? What career would she have? Would she run a marathon, write a novel, or start a non-profit? Would she get married and have kids? What sort of person would she be?” Then I stopped myself.
Amanda IS just as she is.
She was created. She is loved. She is here. She is complete.
That is her worth.
I can try to compare my life to Amanda’s. I can compare my best day to her best day; my worst day to her worst. The fact that I can own a home, run three miles, climb a 14,000 foot mountain, earn a master’s degree, travel the world, and maintain a happy marriage, does not undermine Amanda’s trials and accomplishments and it certainly doesn’t minimize her significance as a human with self-worth.
The absence of attributes, abilities, and life experiences in one person’s life is not the antonym to the presence of them in another.
I have heard many times, “Children are a blessing.” As a teacher I can attest to this for certain however, as a woman who is childless, I do not believe I am cursed for never conceiving them. One woman may have come closer to understanding God’s love through conceiving and bearing her children. For anther woman perhaps she experienced it when she held the hand of her mother in death. Some may have felt it in their tears of exhaustion at the top of Kilimanjaro. For Amanda, I believe it was every time she heard her favorite song and her eyes would turn upward to the ceiling in complete childlike wonder.
So dear childless friends… next time you hear a mother say, “I was born the day my children were born,” Simply smile and say, “I can imagine.” Be present with her in that moment she says the words, because she is your friend, because it is true, and because us birds should stick together. And remember that despite her statement…
Nothing about your experience,
Nothing about your purpose on this earth,
Nothing about your worth as a person has been minimized.
Not one iota my friend.