TWO SIDES: Women are judged whether they have kids or not
Ginger is a mum and Melanie doesn't have any children. Although they live very different lives - they often get judged for it.
THE CHILD BIND -- by Ginger Gorman
"I FEEL like having kids is a 1950s con," I wrote in a message to my friend, Melanie, "and a tool for judging all women. If you don't have them, you are judged. If you do have them, you are judged."
Yes, I was having a bad day. This came after having my legs waxed by a 19-year-old whippet of a beautician. She tut-tutted my insanely hairy legs and told me I should take better care of my skin.
"I've got children, I replied, "I don't even have time to pee."
Silence. And then a few moments later she says, "So are you just a mother?"
Just. A. Mother.
"No I'm not just a mother. I'm a full-time working journalist," I snap back, wishing it was possible to leg it out of there without baring my pale flabby, hairy, wax-streaked body to the world.
"I kick myself for defending my status as a mother"
Mulling it over later, I kick myself for defending my status as a "mother" with the shield of a full-time job - as if this is thing that gives me value to society. My job.
Why didn't I point out to this impertinent lassie that no woman with kids is "just a mother"?
Mothers do a knuckle-grinding, thankless 24-hour a day job that's far harder than any day job could ever be.
Alongside nurturing little hearts and minds, they change wet sheets in the middle of the night, wipe spew up and make endless packed lunches. (Note to Dads: Don't be offended - I know some of you do this too, but right now I'm talking about mothers.)
At parties - or at the beautician, it seems - stay-at-home mums are labelled as bores before they even open their mouths.
And a woman who works at the same time as being a mother, then God forbid. They are selfish bitches. Working dads get promoted and earn more. But mums? The opposite is the case - their pay drops.
Especially after having a second baby, women don't get promoted or lose their jobs altogether.
I'll never forget interviewing Kate Jenkins, who is now the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, as few years ago about being a working mum.
Among many other insightful comments, she said: "You can't win either way. If you want to return part-time, you get lesser work. If you want to return to full-time people question whether you are really a committed mother and none of these things happen to men who have children."
It's no wonder that someone like me always feels they are failing at mothering. (And sometimes even hates being a parent altogether.) There is no way to win.
If you feed your kid sugar, you're a demon
If you don't bake for the school bake sale, you're a demon. If your kid's schedule isn't packed with after school activities or you let them climb trees, well, don't you care about them?
Often this leads to me being completely despondent about mothering, despite fiercely loving my children. Recently a young journo without kids contacted me for a chat. In the midst of weighing up having children, she confessed to being a workaholic and asked how I manage the juggle of work and kids.
"I do it in a crappy, stressed, rushed, short-tempered, unglamorous, fat kind of way," I replied.
Yet as ambivalent as I am about the baggage that comes with parenting and also as judged as I am for having kids - and for pretty much every single parenting decision I make - it seems my friends without kids are judged just or more harshly.
"I'VE NEVER FOUND THE RIGHT PERSON TO HAVE CHILDREN WITH" -- by Melanie Tait
Last year, I flew to Melbourne for the joint birthday parties of one of my best girlfriend's two eldest daughters. They're completely adorable.
Armed with carefully planned out Frozen-themed presents, I was greeted by my friend and her delightful husband. Wanting but not wanting to steal them for the whole party, I surveyed the scene for where I'd settle in next.
I knew pretty much everyone there - to the right of me was my friend's gloriously pregnant sister, inside was her about-to-pop best friend, nearby was a girl we'd gone to school with who'd just had twins. Other people were wrangling babies and toddlers around the cubby house.
At this party, I was the only one who didn't have children. Or children on the way. Or a cycle of IVF happening. As I chomped into a piece of fairy bread, I couldn't help feeling a bit sad. Sad about this right of passage all these people were experiencing that I wasn't, and not out of choice.
I'm childless, but I'm not entirely sure it's because of a choice I've made, or the situation I found myself in. I've never found the right person to have children with.
'Anyone can have kids. You've got freedom'
My friend's mother, who's been a loving part of my life since I was 15, joined me at the cheezels bowl, seemingly reading my mind. "You know Mellie, you're the lucky one here. When I hear about what you're doing - travelling here and there, doing all these interesting things in your career - that's what's wonderful. Anyone can have kids. You've got your freedom, and you should value it more than anything."
Instead of making me feel better, her well-meaning words made my eyes sting - and when I got home I cried rivers. Part of me would love to be part of 'the club'. To see a little person go from helpless to being able to read. To join a mothers' group. To have opinions on parenting. To have to leave work to pick up my little one. To have a person who I watch and love and support and teach over decades. To have a person who really, truly needs me.
I'm 37 now, and have been single a long time
So people don't tend to ask me about having children. Being on my own, I'm unable to adopt in my home state Tasmania, so I've just begun the checks and training process to be a foster parent.
It might seem like being childless in your late 30s is all cocktails and overseas trips, but there are lots of ways you're excluded from conventional society. By that I mean, at my age, a great percentage of my friends and family are raising children: the birthday parties, the advertising aimed squarely at parents, even the family tax benefits.
That said, I'm in a better place financially and professionally than my friends with children - they've been really penalised for having them. As a woman, you can't win with children, you can't win without them.
Both of us
There are so many reasons why women do and don't have children. Some of these reasons are choices. Others are simply tough cards we've individually been dealt - like infertility, ill health or a relationship breakup. Whatever those reasons many be, in the end we're all just trying to do our best. Sure. There can be pain and joy in mothering. But the exact same thing goes for being childless too.
And the fact is, you don't know someone's story unless you ask and unless you listen. And maybe that's the key point here.