40 And Childless: Reflections On The Societal Expectations Of Black Women And Motherhood

I am 40. I do not have children of my own. People have judged me because of it. A woman once criticized me for not having a man and a baby yet, as if they are items in a retail store you can just take off of a shelf and purchase. She told me I should just “go to any old bar or club” to get a man. This was her method for meeting men, no judgment. But the outcome for her was always pain, trauma, and abuse at the hands of her partners, including her children’s father. Co-workers and former students have asked me, “Why don’t you have children?” I have generally responded by saying,“That’s personal” or “I just don’t.” Because I never saw it as a problem, I didn’t think it was an interesting topic to discuss at length at work or anywhere else. Why are people so consumed with whether or when you have a child? Aren’t I more than a womb?

There is an assumption in our society that if you’re a black woman, then you must have children, even if you’re not married. Because apparently people believe that’s just what we do: have children—multiple children—without a committed, sustaining relationship. It’s as if bringing a child into the world is something to be taken lightly, another simple bodily function like a cough or a sneeze. Anyone who is able to biologically do it should, even if the child comes into the world in a loveless relationship, amidst drama and chaos, unwanted and unplanned.

Because it is so widespread and accepted to have children without thought or planning, being a “baby mama” is more celebrated than being in a committed partnership—or being a mature, successful (albeit single) woman—before making the conscious decision to have a child. Last fall, the devastating pattern I speak of, was documented on the OWN TV series, Iyanla: Fix My Life. Life coach and minister Iyanla Vanzant counseled a man who had fathered 34 children with 17 different women, several of whom appeared on the show. The women discussed the confusion, pain and chaos in their lives and the lives of their children due to them deciding to not be in a consciously committed or monogamous relationship. This occurrence appeared to be traumatic for all involved, especially the children.

I understand that there are instances where a couple has an unplanned pregnancy, or a woman makes a conscious choice to have a child, whether or not her partner decides to be involved. I am not speaking about those situation. Rather, as a woman with no children, the message I receive from others is that I should have had children by now—no matter what my situation has been; no matter what my goals were; and no matter if there was a healthy partner in my life or not. No one has ever asked me if I am spiritually, financially and emotionally ready for a child. Or if I’m in a partnership where I feel respected, valued, loved and appreciated. None of those things seems to be considered when others question me about my choice.

It seems because I am a black woman, people expect that my standards and expectations for having a child should be pretty low or that I should not have any standards at all: all I need to do is grab any man with functional reproductive organs and get to work. Yet they’re not considering how low expectations or lack of planning can negatively impact a child’s life in the future. Haven’t we seen enough of that already? We have such low expectations when it comes to creating positive conditions for children to come into the world and then parents, educators, and the media question why they have issues with anger, self-esteem, depression, as well as other developmental difficulties.

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Sharon Sanders

Sharon Sanders is Co-Founder, Co-owner of the The MinorityEye. She is also a Digital Engagement Strategist and a Curator of information at The Minorityeye and the President of Clairvoyant, LLC which specializes in strategic communications and multimedia services. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Argosy University and she specializes in “Online Consumer Psychology.” Sharon provides companies with research and insight into the processes underlying consumer behavior in online environments…

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