Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Non-Mom Club

When was the last time you felt left-out?

And I mean the utter left-outness that one feels in elementary/middle school – picked last for the kick-ball team, not being asked to dance, not being invited to the party – totally left-out. 

It can be gut wrenching, that left-out feeling.  Being left-out leaves one feeling alone and isolated and sometimes un-loved.

Now, I haven’t taken any official polls, nor do I have any scientific data to back this up, but my guess is that every young woman of a certain age who does not have children has felt that left-outness in a very profound way at some point in her life.

Truly, I know what that feels like, because up until mid-December, I was a woman of a certain age without children. 

And let me be clear – I have a wonderful husband, parents, sister, in-laws, friends (both near and far), and dog.  I have a pretty great job/vocation as a Lutheran Pastor serving a wonderful congregation.  I have a lot of fun, with all of the above-mentioned people in my life and in my work.  So, one would think, my life was pretty fantabulously awesome – and I assure you, it was and is – however, there was one thing missing for me, a child.

Our family decision to have our child and the way we chose to do that is just that, a family decision, and though it was filled with it’s ups and downs, I am glad that I have been married to my best friend for so long prior to joyfully welcoming a child into our family. 

My husband and I have fun together…lots of fun together!  We travel, go to concerts, go to movies, stay up late eating junk food, spend time with family, and generally have a blast where-ever we go and whatever we do.  This is not to say that I was of the mind set that we “had to” do these things before kids, but I am practical in realizing having kids will change how we continue to do these things…as a family.  I am also practical in realizing that someday, the nest will be empty, and I want a firm foundation with my husband prior to that dreaded empty nest. 

Please, don’t misunderstand, I am not being critical of couples who chose to have children sooner rather than later in their relationship.  I am just stating part of the how and why I ended up in that infamous “non-mom club” for so long. 

Ahhhh…the “non-mom club.” 

And here’s where we get to the left-outness of it all.

It still seems to be the natural order of things, that a young couple falls in love, gets married, and soon after starts having children (I intentionally did not say “start a family” because I have always thought that me and my husband, with the family dog, are a wonderful family).  Of course, studies continue to show that couples are waiting longer to get married (if they choose to get married at all) and then waiting longer in the relationships to have children. 

It’s tough to live in a world where women still feel judged by whether they are mothers or not.  I know we have come a long way as a society, but there is still a judgment about such things…and I know this is true by how many times I have been asked in the 8+ years I have been married “when are you going to have children?” which to me implies that I should or must have children to have a fulfilling life/be a complete woman.

And then there comes the time in every young woman’s life where her peer group starts having babies.  Some women will never know the complete and utter heartbreak it is to be in the “non-mom club” because things seem to go well in their reproductive lives (however, I am well aware that every reproductive story has at least some measure of heartbreak in it). 

Being in the “non-mom club” truly becomes like a club.  Women who don’t even know each other who are a part of the club can be in a room with other women who are mothers, and all those in the “non-mom club” have to do is simply just make eye contact with each other.  It’s like wearing a special ring or tattoo or wristband, but it’s deeper than that.  Many of those in the “non-mom club” wear that sorority in their hearts and only other members see it in their eyes.

In my fairly long tenure in the “non-mom club” there were certainly times where I was the only club member in a room full of mothers…who are dear friends of mine, but still mothers.  Mothers have a way of understanding the joys and gripes of motherhood that those in the “non-mom club” not only cannot understand, but also can feel resentful about. 

How many times have I heard from friends and other loved-ones in my life, “at least you can get a good night’s sleep” or “it’s great that you’re so free to go to concerts whenever you want” or “I wish I could just go to the grocery store without the kids, like you do.”

I think it is human nature to at times gripe and to self deprecate because when we gripe, complain, or undervalue ourselves and our lives, it can be a form of trying to be humble or downplay a really good situation in our lives.  (I also realize that many times mothers are complaining about the tough moments because those moments are on their hearts.)

However, this is not what a member of the club hears when they hear complaints about motherhood.  A complaint about motherhood can still be a vicious smack in the face reminding the “non-mom club” member that they are not mothers. 

Of course every reproductive journey is different (including those who choose not to have children, those who have difficulty having biological children, those who choose to adopt, etc), and I would be a fool to state that every woman without a child wants one desperately.  I would also be a fool to state that every woman needs to have a child to feel complete.  I certainly do not think either of these things are true.  But, my guess is that many women who are members of the club have had to wrestle with what that means and many women in the club have had a tough time with it at one point or another.

I can now say, because I now fully understand from experience, that becoming a mother dramatically changes my priorities.  It dramatically changes how I view my family and the world because I now have to think not only for my husband and myself, but also my child.  Becoming a mother has dramatically changed how much mental space is taken up for the sake of my child – from daily schedules to how much I worry and how much I love him.  And so it is very understandable and natural to want to share all of that with all of my friends and it is very understandable and natural for me to start to gravitate to other friends in my life who are mothers. 

But I love my friends who are members of the “non-mom club” too and I always will.

So, now that I am no longer a member of the club -  
-       may I never talk endlessly about my child to women in the club.
-       may I never share my complaints about motherhood in the presence of a “non mom club” member.
-       may I never only post things about my child on social media sites, forgetting that there are other parts of my life that can be shared.
-       may I always be mindful of those in the “non-mom club” and not spout unsolicited advice or “I remember how it felt” because once a woman is out of the club, she’s OUT!  (It doesn’t matter how long woman spent in the club or what kind of heartache she endured while in the club, once a woman becomes a mother she is no longer a member of the club, that’s it.  She cannot comment on her time in the club to members who are in the club ever again…unless she is genuinely asked by a “non-mom club” member to share her story.)
-       may I never pull away from my friends who are members of the “non-mom club” because I am no longer a member myself.
-       may I always continue to be me.

And last, but not least, may I always work harder to maintain those wonderful relationships with those women friends of mine who are in the club.  My friends who are members of the “non-mom club” should never feel like they have to work harder to maintain a relationship with me.  It is my life that has changed, not theirs, which means I need to work harder to maintain my friendships with them in ways that are respectful and fun for all involved.

My time in the “non-mom club” was not in vain even though at times it was isolating, lonely, and difficult.  It taught me a lot about love – how to give it and how to receive it – from my husband, family, and friends.  It taught me a lot about how to maintain friendships and develop new friendships (or let some friendships go).  It taught me new levels of snark and sarcasm.  Though I am no longer a part of the club anymore, may I always be aware that there will women in my life who I love who will be in club and may I always treat them as the true friends that they are.  

(super special Thank You to Dana Blouch-Hansen and another wonderful friend for helping me develop this post.)

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