The Motherhood Village: Childless but Involved and Appreciated

By Meta J. Mereday

Parenting is truly a “learn as you go” process despite many experts who believe that their strategies are the best course of action to raise healthy and happy children. 

Society, being focused on the mantra of “being fruitful and multiplying,” has made it difficult for aspiring parents, especially childless mothers who are made to feel that they don’t measure up because they did not have any children. 

Marriages themselves are in jeopardy for a variety of reasons let alone the perils of parenthood. According to research by Jennifer Baker from the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, 50 percent of first marriages and 67 percent of second marriages end in divorce. 

More women are deciding to have children on their own, and more men are stepping up as primary parents who want to raise children on their own, either through divorce or adoption.

However, childless mothers still garner significant criticism for not procreating as if their own lives have no meaning without the “patter of little feet.” 

Some women are childless due to medical reasons and often their circumstances may not allow them to have children and they harbor reservations regarding adopting the many children who need homes.  Others have made a conscious choice to not have children despite the stigma, or they become involved in child rearing due to other reasons.

 In her article, “Choosing to Be Childless,” Marcia Trahan writes, “I don’t want to seem as if I’m judging people who decide to have kids, any more than I want to be judged for my decision to remain childless. In my mind, reproductive choice isn’t solely about legal access to abortion and birth control-that is, it’s not just a matter of choosing when to have children. It’s also about deciding whether one wants to become a parent. True freedom of choice would mean that we respect all decisions related to parenthood.”

There are childless mothers who did not physically bear children, but who are instrumental in raising the children of others who may have died early in the lives of their children or just needed the support that only another female can provide. 

Women, who are without sisters or close relationships to them, often count on their female friends to provide the additional nurturing assistance to help them to raise their children.  In many cases, it is these “aunts” or “godmothers” who step up when relationships do not work out and the mother has no one else to turn to.

These childless mothers have not borne the burden of childbirth or felt that mystical connection inherent with bringing a new life into the world. However, when you think about it, neither have fathers, but men do not face the stigma if they remain childless. 

A childless mother can still have a strong connection to a child with whom they have watched grow through the years, soothed the hurts, shared the sloppy sandwiches and attended endless activities, ball games and concerts. 

In some cases, they are the only “mother” the child knows and do not feel appreciated for their efforts because of a society that reminds them.

As stated earlier, there is no real guidebook for parenting, nor is there any final determination as to what defines a parent, particularly a good one. 

Yes, giving birth is a remarkable experience that creates a unique bond between the baby and its mother. However, there are many cases in which women have given birth to children and failed in the role of being a mother and giving them the love and protection they needed to develop into loving and secure adults.   

There are men who were merely sperm donors, while others with no blood relationship bore the sweat and tears to raise a child.  These are the unheralded parents who did not provide the gene pool, but an unending reservoir of love, guidance and protection that children need to become successful adults.

Let us not judge any book by its cover and let’s appreciate all who contribute to helping to raise children.  It can be a thankless job all around. 

There are many childless mothers in history who have contributed to the children of the world in addition to the recognition of mothers.

Anna Jarvis, who advocated for Mother’s Day to become a holiday, was a childless mother herself.  Jarvis was so devoted to her mother that she championed the recognition of all mothers.

Mary Eliza Mahoney was America’s first professional African American nurse, who encouraged others to become nurses and was a childless mother who took care of many motherless children when she became the head of New York’s Howard Orphan Asylum in 1911.

 Finally, Mother Teresa, the Albanian nun who dispelled many myths about the pure love that a childless mother can share through her life’s work with orphans and the terminally ill. 

I am sure there is a childless mother that comes to mind for many who inspired and encouraged. Think about her and if she is still around, reach out and thank her.

Clearly, we need to value the important role of motherhood, and great parenting overall. Also, we need a new word to define those women of faith and fortitude who do not bear children, but who give their love and lives towards helping to raise them. 

Although godmother is already taken, if not taken seriously in many family situations, it does come close to an alternative title. 

Someone told me once that I was their “guardian-mother.”  I was empowered.  Maybe that is it!

Happy Mother’s Day to the real mothers, the godmothers, the aunt-mothers, the grand and great grandmothers receiving next generations, the sister-mothers, the second mothers, surrogate mothers and guardian mothers!  Bless you all!!

Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Magazine, a publication dedicated to the African American community.

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