Not All Mothers Are Sanctimommies, Hooray!

As part of my blogoversary week of lessons learned…

#2 The Blogosphere Can Foster Strange Bedfellows
One of the toughest aspects of being part of a group routinely held up for scrutiny (e.g. women without children) is facing detractors who feel perfectly at ease casting aspersions or passing value judgements on our lives. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly relish being put on the defensive.

That’s why it was with some relief — and a smidge of amusement — that I found myself witness to, rather than in the midst of, fur flying across the Internet. In this case the topic concerned a letter to a childless woman and, curiously, some of the most spirited protests came not from non-moms, but moms.

It began when writer and mother Janine Kovacs — who has since apologized — wrote “Maybe You Are Ready for Kids, You’re Just Not Paying Attention,” as part of a call for submissions to address the question, How Do You Know You’re Ready for Kids?” (ignoring I might add, the fact that not all can conceive, nor is adoption a sure thing for all who attempt it).

In her attempt to be “hip and edgy,” Ms. Kovacs copped to “trashing” what we later learned was a fictional friend, Doris. In reality Doris was a convenient literary device, a  punching bag composite representing women unsure about motherhood. The piece went viral and prompted more than a few angry comments and responses from writers, many of them mothers, taking Ms. Kovacs to task for:

  • making moms appear “condescending and self-righteous,” per Linda Sharps
  • and pointing out that “maybe the pressure she [Doris] feels to have children comes from a culture that values mothers, but not middle-aged career women.” (Thank you, Kerry Cohen, for highlighting this reality)
  • implying that “raising children is the way to enlightenment, or that the alternate road leads to having nothing in life to care about…” (Kudos to Mary Elizabeth Williams whose Salon piece gave me the term sanctimommy for this headline).
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What really lifted my heart is that after years of feeling maligned (can I get an “I hear you” from the non-moms?) in a society that dotes on parents, there were mothers like Sarah MacLaughlin eager to point out that:

…parenting is not the only endorphin-oxytocin-dopamine natural high out there. And it’s certainly not the only way for a woman to reach her highest potential—do you hold the same rite of passage to fatherhood as wholly necessary for a man? People everywhere soar high and engage in meaningful, excellent, and fulfilling lives without children.

Mary Elizabeth Williams added these friendly words of advice in her Salon piece, “The only person who can ever fulfill you is you, Doris. And you have infinite worth and value right now, just as you are. Don’t let anybody ever try to tell you otherwise.”

She also reminds us that:

zealotry springs not out of faith but doubt. If you’re cool in your own life choices, you don’t need to foist them on anybody else.

Words to heed. Amen, sister.

Yes, it seems women over the centuries have proven highly skilled at finding ways to provoke each other — whether SAHM vs. work-outside-the-home mothers, childfree vs. mothers of all kinds, infertiles vs. fertiles (guilty as charged!) and the list goes on.

It’s only natural that we get highly territorial when we’re feeling threatened or maligned, and there are times when legitimate beefs arise deserving spirited discussion and debate. That’s one of the beauties of the blogosphere.

You’ll hear more about various life paths and room for greater understanding in the Bitter Infertiles podcast interview conducted yesterday. More on that when it’s available for download. Meanwhile, thoughts welcome.

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Updated: Here’s the blog post on the podcast.

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8 thoughts on “Not All Mothers Are Sanctimommies, Hooray!

  1. I read that all with amusement. while I don’t want to reduce myself to name calling here, I have to say she originally sounded like such a smug fertile (now sanctimom, even better). I especially appreciated her apology though. great post!

  2. I’m glad she apologized, and she did sound sincere — but really, what did she think was going to happen when she wrote something like that??

  3. I read the original post and the response in Salon, but not the rest of it, and not the apology, so thanks for flagging that. It was interesting to watch – and is I guess just a reminder that we should always employ our analytical and critical skills when reading opinions. Just because someone has a voice in Salon or wherever, doesn’t mean that they are actually talking sense, and it doesn’t mean they’ve even though through the implications of their words. The apology still annoyed me – it seemed she was more worried about how she was perceived, than the judgements she had made. And it frustrates me that there are so many good writers who don’t have that opportunity to reach such a wide audience – you, for one!

    1. You are too kind, Mali. Thank you — and yes, I hear you — there is a touch of the “sorry I got beaten up, but not entirely sorry for what I said…” vibe to the apology.

  4. AJLonesome

    Seeing the quote from Sarah MacLaughlin made me want to shed tears of joy. NEVER have I heard a mother express that she thought a non-mom could have a fulfilled, complete life with no shortages or chasms. It’s so difficult to hear parents gush about “a love like nothing else in the world,” and having that feeling of life-long left-outedness. I struggle to remind myself that having children is not the end-all of life’s opportunities, with my culture working its hardest to convince me otherwise. Thank you for this post.

  5. Diane in Maine

    Reading posts like Janine Kovac’s simply serve to remind me how grateful I am not to have any Janines in my life. And I didn’t see anything apologetic in her “apology” at all. Thanks for linking on the other blogged responses to her original post; some wonderful writing there. Belated happy blogoversary, Pamela, and thanks for keeping the discussions going, and lively, validating, and informative to boot!

  6. Well, as a Buddhist, I can assure you that having a kid DOES NOT lead to enlightenment. In fact, only life does that. Life – in all its colours and permutations and a seeking spirit that is.

    I did appreciate the Kovac’s apology but really putting your supposed whole point at the bottom of your article full of ridiculous platitudes, and expecting people to ignore all that had gone on before is ridiculous. Still, she is entitled to her point of view. I was also heartened to read all the responses though. (You don’t think she’s going to end up on Ricki Lake, do you?)

  7. […] The dog whistle use of ‘mom’ — as in we all know that women who are moms are infinitely more valuable than women who are not. We beg to differ. […]

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