This is the final part of my 3 – part talk on being childless by choice, a talk I presented at Stellenbosch University. This is my favourite part of the whole thing because I’ve learned that extended parenthood is a real thing!
I recently read a quote in the Creative Child Magazine, dated 15 April 2018, it stated the following; “on a day a child is born, a mother is also born. Before that moment she was just a woman, that’s all she was.” As sentimental and emotive as this statement is, I struggle with this perspective because it reflects a very narrow, discriminating world view. Take for example my friend, the single, unmarried orphan – advocate who has built homes across continents for 100’s of orphans, who hang on her neck and call her mama. Or my other single, unmarried friend who works as a house mother caring for abandoned babies who are not hers, bottle feeding them and comforting them on her chest when they cry. Or my friend who has struggled with infertility for close to 8 years, but literally has a dozen god-children whom she mothers with intention, indulgent love and delight. Countless others I’m sure deserve to be added to this list. One of the most impressive in my own mind would be the biblical judge, Deborah, who is a personal heroine of mine. In Judges chapter 4 and 5 she is introduced as a strong warrior woman, a judge, prophetess and leader in Israel, giving right ruling to the people who come to her under her palm tree, and she is married to a man named Lappidoth. It’s doubtful that Deborah had children, as her progeny are not mentioned, but as the story unfolds this fearless leader refers to herself as a “mother of Israel.” Did she literally birth the entire nation of Israel from her womb? Absolutely not, but perhaps this statement reveals an ancient cultural worldview on the meaning of motherhood that we have somehow forgotten. Just last month, social media, international newspapers, feeds, channels and broadcasts spend days broadcasting about the life, legacy and passing away of Minnie Mandela. What I noticed in many of the feeds was the same word over and over again, that of “mama.” Many identified the struggle icon as mother, though they had not met her personally or even known much about her private life, to them she was a nations mother. This truth tells me that mothers are not born on a day a child is born, but they are developed through living out a deeper passion and purpose for their own lives. Freedom fighters like Winnie Mandela, the Burmese prime minister Aung San Suu Kyi, Deborah the Judge, Mother Teresa and even the Nobel prize winner Malala, all resemble motherhood to nations who put their hope and faith within their actions to save countless lives and free many more. Mothers are born perhaps through personal struggles, and through people choosing them, noticing greatness in them and feeling nurtured, loved and in some way defended and cared for by them. In my own way, perhaps this is how I view motherhood and how I have chosen the spiritual mothers in my own life. Personally, part of my mission on earth is to empower others, help bring healing to others, to advocate for justice for all women in the world and to be the hands and feet of a Living God. This is the narrative that needs to be embraced by the church, it is an understanding that needs to be enlightened within the pews of church – goers. That childless women are not self- centred, uncompassionate, or without mercy. In order for the church to do this and become more accepting of people who do not fit neatly in to a long held accepted belief, the church as a whole will have to come face to face with its own belief systems regarding women. This is a quest many will choose not to take, however without addressing certain kinds of thought patterns, teachings and theology which treats women as second-class citizens, relegated only to role of mother and wife, instead of teacher, leader or boss, discrimination against women who are childless will continue.
In my years of being married without children, it eventually struck me that although I had never nurtured a child born from my own womb, I have been an extended parent in so many other ways. Both my husband and I have mentored (and continue to mentor) many men and women. Most of these women have been similar in age to me, or older. As a mentor my focus has been on biblical literacy, character building, and calling development. As a mentor my primary heartbeat will always be to create a safe space, a place of refuge where girls can feel loved, and cared for, where they can trust me and feel loved. We spend hours crying over coffee or on the couch in my living room. In many of these moments, I have been keenly aware that I am actually standing in as a parent, either through representation or practically. This is something I do not take lightly, but with a sense of awe and honour. Another way I have learned extended parenting is through a fierce personal devotion to advocate for the girl child. UNICEF has determined that there are 1.1 billion girls alive in our world today and every ten minutes somewhere in the world an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence. Although this topic belongs to a different conversation, my heart as a defender, nurturer and healer has come through learning that I wish to save every little girl on the planet, from experiencing the atrocities our girls keep on facing. Through hearing their stories and writing their stories, I have become something of a mother with many children, be those children older than me or similar in age to me.
In closing, the childless by choice woman is a beautiful representation of someone who chooses her own path in life and her decision should be respected and acknowledged. She should not be seen as threatening but as powerful. In my 33 years on earth I have discovered many more women like myself, and a very large percentage of these women are on the front lines of serious spiritual and faith-based battles. If theology and society can change its viewpoint on CBC women, it would come to find some serious justice advocates, warriors, specialists and so much more, that can and should be unleashed and supported for their kingdom dreams and goals. Childless by choice women also make for amazing mentors, skill developers, leaders, and so much more. I will end off with the words spoken to me by a young married church leader who has herself chosen not to have children, “it’s about time we turn around and say loudly church stay out of my uterus!”