9. Does This Mean You’re Not Part of the Woman’s Club?

Jun 11, 2024

In this episode of Childless and Moving Onward, I delve into the social exclusion faced by childless women, sharing my own personal experiences. Childless women frequently find themselves treated as outsiders in both social and professional settings, leading to feelings of isolation and judgment.

The pervasive societal belief that motherhood is integral to womanhood often results in childless women feeling inadequate. Part of this is due to the fact that many social gathering discussions are often centered around motherhood. I provide some tips to help combat these feelings of isolation.

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Does This Mean You’re Not Part of the Woman’s Club?
Key Episode Takeaways:
  • Feelings of isolation and inadequacy are common in women who are childless not by choice.
  • Social gathering discussions are often centered around motherhood and children.
  • The constant exposure to motherhood’s idealization can leave childless women feeling less accomplished.
  • Childless not by choice women often experience ongoing grief.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Full Episode Transcript:

Hi, you're listening to Childless and Moving Onward. This is the place where we talk about thriving in life when you're a woman who is childless, not by choice, regardless of the road that brought you to childlessness.   Welcome to episode nine of childless and moving onward. And the title of today's episode is, does this mean you're not part of the woman's club? Where did this come from? Um, I'm actually in the midst of writing a book. It's almost done. It will be out in the fall and one of the people that I'm working with on this book as we were talking through the the topics and I mentioned something about like isolation and being on the outside of things and so the assumption was made. Oh Then like because you're not part of the mom's club. And I said no it's more than that, we're treated as if we're not part of the women's club. So one of my personal experiences, uh, was at a women's luncheon that I attended a while back. Uh, I got there, I walked up to a small circle of women that I recognized, but I had never actually formally met with the exception of one woman in that group. So I walked up to the group, I, I introduced myself and everyone was welcoming, but that welcoming was short lived. Because shortly after introducing myself, the question was asked, do you have children? As soon as the no came out of my mouth, the mood of the group changed. It was immediate. It was palpable. The change in their body language was obvious. They were physically shifting. So that they were no longer, not just looking at me, but the women on, on each side of me, they physically turned their bodies away from me. They didn't turn their backs to me completely, instead they turned at an angle so that the back of each of their shoulders was facing me. Making it really clear I wasn't welcome there. They didn't want me there. And that wasn't all though, because as they turned away, they also stepped in just a smidge, but enough that it was like, it was noticeable. It was obvious. The message was clear. It was enough to make that circle smaller with them inside of it. And me on the edge, really on the outside. Their moves may have been subtle, but the results screamed loud and clear, We don't want you here. You don't belong. It, it really, like I felt it in my core. I honestly, I had flashbacks of middle school not being one of the cool kids and being shoved out by the kids who were. You know, as a kid, feeling isolated and alone, except we were all adults. And I didn't, I don't want to say I didn't understand why it happened. I didn't want to fully acknowledge the reason behind it because I didn't want it to be true. I didn't want to believe that I was being rejected and looked down on because I'm not a mom, because I don't have kids. But it was true, my friend confirmed it. Because at a later time, a friend who, who hadn't been there when I walked up, but you know, came in later and I told her what happened. And at a later time, she asked two of them if they had a problem with me. Because we were kind of, we were all in this, uh, we all knew of each other in this community, um, where I live. And while I hadn't formally met them or except for one, you know, they didn't know about me. So she asked them if they had a problem with me and in fact they did and what was it? My being childless. Because to them that meant I was a selfish person. We don't trust any woman who doesn't have children was their comment to my friend. So now I want to qualify this while women who choose to be child free are not selfish my friend did explain my situation to them and said, well, Gail didn't choose this. This wasn't what she wanted, but they didn't budge in how they viewed me. In their minds, anyone who wants to have a child can have one, one way or another. To them, I just didn't do enough. I didn't try hard enough. I was not worthy of being respected in any way and certainly not worthy of being accepted. I can still remember the pain that I felt when it happened and then when my friend told me. Thankfully, I've moved on from that and I've realized that anyone who thinks that way isn't worth my time. Their negativity, their assumptions, their stereotypes, their disrespect is about them and on them. I don't take responsibility anymore for carrying their bitterness or anyone else's. I no longer define myself by how others choose to view me. It's incredibly freeing. It feels like there's a giant weight off of me. But not everybody. has gotten to that place. And that is what I help women with, because you're not any less than. But women without children are often excluded from the women's club. It's a club that views motherhood as a central and defining characteristic of womanhood, of femininity. The feeling of exclusion from that can show up in different ways. And that leads to feelings of isolation and inadequacy, that less than feeling and you are not any less than, because you don't have children. But the reality is that discussions are often centered on motherhood. Social gatherings of women, usually they revolve around topics related to kids, right? Pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, school activities, kids graduation, kids weddings, kids, kids pregnancies. So there is this distinct possibility, and it's not just a possibility, it happens all the time that childless women feel out of place and disconnected from the group if they're not able to contribute to these conversations. By constantly talking about children and parenting experiences. Even the most well meaning friends or family members are probably unintentionally, maybe sometimes it is intentional, but mostly unintentionally, are alienating your childless loved ones, friends. Because you are forgetting to include topics that everyone can relate to. In our society, motherhood is equated with womanhood. Um, society in general, it's central to many specific cultures implying that having children is a woman's primary role in fulfillment. So then women who are childless are left to feel judged or incomplete. And it's particularly painful because they're often both indirectly and directly shamed for their situation. I mean, the comments that are made, the subtle, subtle comments and the very direct comments of I don't trust a woman without children, may not have been said to me directly at that point, but this is what is said, and we know about it. So it, it feels like you're shameful. And the reality is that these challenging conversations and the, the difficult social situations are lifelong. There's baby showers, kids birthdays, school events, they're all significant milestones that strengthen the bonds among women. But as the, as life stages continue, So do the uncomfortable experiences. Graduations, wedding, grandchildren. They all contribute to lifelong pain for women who are involuntarily childless because it's a never ending cycle of new experiences, new milestones that you don't get to experience. So, it's a reminder of the childlessness and as a result, childless women are often left feeling excluded or feeling uncomfortable attending these events. And again, it's lifelong. It doesn't, it doesn't end. We, it's common to think, okay, my, my friends all had their kids and okay, I'm done with the baby showers or you know, the first day of school, first day of day of kindergarten, But then as you move on in life, they are too and all of those new milestones show up. And it can often be very surprising because you think you're past that and you're not. Unfortunately, as a result, those feelings of inferiority, the ones that are put on us are internalized. Constant exposure in social media, in every bit of marketing, in your personal interactions. The constant exposure to motherhood's idealization can leave childless women feeling less accomplished. So that impacts self esteem and mental health, well being. And another aspect of this is that childless women, when it's not by choice, often experience ongoing grief. And so those feelings are, are exacerbated, are worsened by the social exclusion because they're not just, you're not just missing the child that you so dearly wanted, but you're also cut off from social support. Because you're in these groups, but you're really outside looking in. Or you're in them and you're looked down on and you're not included. So how do you turn to these women when they have this situation where they have each other and they're sharing things that you can't share in? And they don't share in your grief and usually don't understand it. And then as if those social situations with family and friends isn't enough, the, the isolation, the exclusion, it's not limited to just those social situations because there's also work. It's another source of that isolation and awkwardness, because those bonds between moms form in the workplace as well. And in the workplace, they, women often form support networks and share in childcare and parenting challenges. So again, this is another place where you don't have someone to turn to, you're, you're on the outside looking in, and your challenges, you don't have others around to support you. And there also are situations where some workplaces, not all, I get that, that this is not apply what I'm about to say to all workplaces, but some do provide a greater amount of flexibility and benefits for parents. And that can feel inequitable to employees without children. And again, I say this fully aware that women with children are not always given more flexibility at work. But for those that do, again, it can feel very discriminatory to those women who don't have children. I mean, one situation I was in it at a particular job was the work schedule was worked around those who had children, so that, um, we didn't work five days a week. It was a set up so it was four days a week, and it was set up so that that day off was around the needs of the parents. Well, I happen to have parents, senior, very senior parents, who, um, were both in, uh, assisted living, who both had, um, Alzheimer's. And I was, while they were in assisted living, thankfully, I didn't have to do all of the care. But I had, um, A set of care that I was responsible for, including doctor's visits and that, and I was required to use PTO. The work schedule wasn't set around me so that, you know, they made sure my, my day off you know, fit with the schedule, my needs to take care of them. It was we can't schedule around you, so you have to use PTO. Again, I, I realize that not every work situation does this, but many do. And to say that it feels discriminatory is an understatement. But the assumption is always made that childless women have more free time. You don't have responsibilities. So again, it can lead to unequal distribution of tasks or expectations to cover for colleagues with children. Again, I realize it's not every workplace that does this, but many, many do. And what results from that is resentment and the lack of fulfillment with jobs. And that is a common problem among women who are childless. Because of this perceived unfair treatment. Oh, you're childless, you don't, you know, you have extra time, so we're going to give that extra shift to you. Your childless so, you know, you don't need to celebrate the holidays, so you're going to cover on the holidays. There's no asking. It's just assumed and it's done. And even outside of the workplace, community and volunteer opportunities often focus on activities that involve kids, like school events or youth programs. So, there may not be a place or, or, an easy access for childless women to contribute meaningfully to the community. And again, that leads to more social disengagement. And that leads to, okay, where do I belong? Thoughts like that. It's not just feeling isolated. It's this distinct feeling of not fitting in anywhere. And again, being on the outside looking in, and that just feels like oh, not really worthy of things. But it doesn't have to be that way. Whether it's a social situation with family or friends or work, it, it is possible for consideration of those who are childless in a way that's respectful, not pitying. I don't know of any woman who's childless not by choice who wants pity. It's degrading. It's not helpful. It feels awful. So let's stop the pitying. Instead, here are three steps you can take to feel included. And this is directed at while the community at large, society at large really needs to hear this and think about how they are excluding a large group of women, these tips, these suggestions are for women who are childless. These are things you can do to feel included, to show the world that not being a mom doesn't make you any less than, because you're not. First is take the lead. Organize social activities and gatherings that aren't centered around parenting. Don't wait for others to do this for you. You step up, you take the lead. The second, establish and promote local support groups for childless women. You're helping yourself. You're helping other women. You're letting people know this is needed and that you matter. So if you step up and create these local support groups, you'll be surprised at how many women eventually show up. It takes time because of that shame, the stigma that surrounds this. And so women don't want to come forward, but you'll see that eventually you will get women coming forward for this. Women, you never expected because you didn't, you probably think you were just so alone in this, but you are going to be able to provide a safe space to share experiences and find some understanding. And develop a sense of solidarity. The third is again, taking the lead. Don't wait for others, but instead step up and develop workplace policies that consider the needs of all employees, parents and non parents. That will provide fair opportunities for everyone and not be exclusionary. Okay, so I want to end this with a quote because I want the message to counter the effects of what women hear and see all the time, the messaging that women who are not moms aren't women or are less than in some way, I want to counter that. So this is the quote that I'm going to leave you with, and that is "To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don't need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself." And this is from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, To put it in, in terms that will help like taking that first step forward. Until you accept yourself and believe in yourself, others won't follow suit. All right. That is the episode for today. I will see you next week.  Thanks for tuning in to Childless and Moving Onward. I hope you enjoyed today's episode as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you. If you liked what you heard, don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform. You can stay up to date on everything I do by following me on Instagram at Childless Path Onward or on Facebook and YouTube at Path Onward. Until next time, thanks again.