20 December, 2019

Don't render me invisible

During my evening with friends last Monday, there was just one moment when No Kidding Mali popped up her head from Book Reading Mali, or awesome-Beetroot-and-Feta-Tart-cooking Mali, or just Old Friend Mali. I was doing something in the kitchen (just a couple of metres away) and the others were talking about how quickly the year or years go by. (Yes, we're old!) And one of them, a friend who has never made me feel less-than for not having children (until just then perhaps), uttered some cliched thing about the years going by, babies coming, etc.

"Or not!" piped up No Kidding Pouring-Drinks Mali, in a cheery, non-judgemental tone.

There was a momentary deafening silence, then the conversation continued, and we had a lovely evening.

But I'm glad I said it. Another of these friends bristles whenever I mention not having kids, as if I am complaining, yet it is just as much my reality as her children and grandchildren. (She suggested I could "still adopt" when I was 50!) The other two have always made an effort to respect my reality, as I do their kid-centric (or at least, whilst the kids were growing up) lives, and we always have plenty of other things to talk about together. I have always appreciated their efforts.

Still, these stereotypes that babies come for everyone need to be challenged, and regularly challenged. When babies don't come - for whatever reason, choice or not-by-choice - for 20-25% of women, then that is a significant reality that should not be ignored, glossed over, or treated with an awkward silence. I was literally the 25% in our group of four, and I wasn't going to let myself become invisible.

I feel uncomfortable about it now, perhaps because there wasn't an "oops, yes, sorry <Mali>" response that would have made it better. That might have made me hope that the next time, they'll think twice about using such a lazy and increasingly inaccurate stereotype. These friends would hesitate to use such a stereotype when it comes to other sectors of the community. So why do they do it so easily around the childless?

Yes, I know that the most significant sign of ageing for parents is their children. Of course it feels normal to talk about babies arriving and growing as their primary marker of time. I understand that. Their norm isn't normal for a significant proportion of the population. But by only using this benchmark, we are rendered invisible. That is not acceptable. And I'm not going to let that happen. Not for me. And not for you.


  1. Exactly!! "Not having kids... is just as much my reality as [others having] children or grandchildren." If someone can't handle my reality or respect my life, then they unfortunately don't get to be a part of it.

    Congrats to you for speaking up. On paper, it sounds so simple to do, but we all know it can be challenging to do in the moment.

  2. I am very glad that you weren't quiet. I've also stopped being quiet and it feels good!

  3. Ooh, beetroot and feta tart sounds delicious! The deafening silence not so much.

    I'm glad that you spoke up. I'm glad that you reminded your friends that not everyone counts their years in that same way. It reminds me of a lunch conversation at school when all the moms were talking about how busy Christina's is and how it can't possibly be busy if you don't have kids. Not "as busy," but not busy at all, like kids were the only way to show celebrating the season. Argh. I spoke up but it was way uncomfortable. I
    your friends are normally inclusive, and that you feel comfortable to become no-kidding Mali when it's needed. (PS, the advice to "still adopt" at 50 rankled me!)

  4. Thank you for speaking your truth! You’re a trail blazer and I salute you. p.s. I am slowly catching up with my blog reading. I’ve literally been waiting to exhale the past month — and I think you know why! You are so kind and generous — appreciate you sharing my latest writing and research on Mel’s blogging roundup. Much love to you my dear friend xo

  5. Mad props to you, dear Mali, for reminding people that your/our reality is not necessarily the same as theirs. As Phoenix said, it's not always an easy thing to do, and I so appreciate you for speaking up on behalf of those of us who suffer in silence.