by Kate Lassiter
I started to feel the white hot flames coming off the top of my head as I read Abby Rosmarin’s article thanking women who choose not to have children and the comments from friends on Facebook who lauded this post for its forthrightness and thanked their own friends—me, I assume—for not having children. Rosmarin writes, “To the women who choose not to have kids, I have one thing to say: thank you….Thank you for recognizing that childrearing isn’t for you and being true to who you are. It doesn’t mean you hate kids. It just means that raising one is not part of your path in life.”
While the sentiment came from a place of gratitude on Rosmarin’s part, the academic in me wanted to cite the numerous reasons that many women do not have children, whether their own or adopted. I wanted to ask why the conversation centered only on women having children and not larger social issues of equity between partners, or support of single women having children. Most of all, I wanted Rosmarin to carefully define how she understands the word ‘choose.’
I have never been pregnant or subsequently given birth vaginally or by Caesarian, but I have been a mom. My sister lived in South America during the time of my niece’s conception and birth. I flew down within that first month of her birth and stayed with them for 2 months. As they returned to the United States, they came to live with me during the year that I was finishing my dissertation and applying for teaching jobs. From the outside, it is easy for me to see how this makes me an “other mother” in the eyes of many—or no mother at all. But I saw myself as a mom to my niece. I held her when she cried in the middle of the night and made decisions that were in the best interest of all of us, not just me alone. I watched and taught how to roll onto her stomach, crawl, eat solids, play with sundry toys, and walk.
Rosmarin’s article falsely assumes that a woman without child equals choice to not raise children. Choice, however, is a delimiting concept. As a theologian, being true to who I am has nothing to do with whether I have chosen to have children or not. I think here about all the abbesses—mothers—in Roman Catholicism, the tradition I know best. Abbesses mothered small children and adult children in multiple contexts—physical, emotional, and spiritual. Some of their children were only with them for a brief period of time; some, much longer.
For me, I became a mom for a brief and intense time during my niece’s first year of life; I continue to be part of her life in a mother-like role, as my voicemail attests when I miss a call where she announces that she’s gone “pee pee in the potty.” Raising a child is not just childrearing and it is not always a free choice. Like many choices that we assume to be free choice, but are actually constrained, becoming a mother is a constrained choice, and sometimes made under less than ideal conditions. Still, constrained choices do not lack the capacity for incredible personal spiritual growth. Perhaps we could even say that the constraint makes possible the conditions for that growth. I may not have freely chosen to become a mom, but it changed me in a way that revealed to me more of who I am, not less. That’s something that all theologians, ministers, and faithful people should consider when we ask a woman if she is a mom.
Dr. Lassiter is an assistant professor in Religious and Pastoral Studies at the College of Mount St. Joseph. She graduated from Vanderbilt University with her Ph.D. in Religion and from the University of Dayton with her M.A. in Theology. Her primary research and teaching interests lie in the critical investigation of theological practices of ministry and faith, formation of the self, and advancement of social justice with marginalized and excluded persons.