By Lisa Manterfield
Have you ever been around people who behave as if you can’t possibly know anything about life because you don’t have children?
I’m sure that all of us have heard the old chestnuts, “You wouldn’t understand; you don’t have kids” or “I didn’t understand until I became a mother” (which implies the same thing) or even “Only a parent could know how this feels,” as if being childless strips away all capability of empathy.
And then there are those situations where you just feel invisible, when the conversation about children and parenting is swirling around you and no one even bothers to make eye contact with you because what could you possibly contribute?
These instances make me think of the wonderful “Mr. Cellophane” number from the musical “Chicago.”
And even without clucking like a hen,
Everyone gets noticed now and then,
Unless, of course, that person it should be,
Invisible, inconsequential me.
Personally, I’m done with feeling insignificant because I don’t have kids. It took me a long time to get to this point, but now I hold my ground in conversation. I contribute when I can and simply listen and nod when I can’t, just as I would if I found myself in a conversation on any other topic on which I’m not an expert.
I also keep a list of amazing childless women in case I ever need to remind myself that we don’t need to be parents to make a difference. On my personal list is Amelia Earhart, Dian Fossey, Julia Child, and Juliet Gordon Low, who started the Girl Scout movement. If you need your own role models, Jody Day has put together an outstanding collection on Pinterest.
You’d be hard-pressed to call any of these women insignificant. I remind myself of this when I find myself allowing others to make me feel like less than who I am.
So what do you do when you start to feel like a Ms. Cellophane? Do you feign boredom, try to hop in with an intelligent anecdote, change the subject, or do you slip away and hope no one notices you’ve left?
What a timely post! Over the weekend, I listened to a podcast featuring an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In her talk with Krista Tippett, (NPR’s host of On Being), Elizabeth provides a wonderful example of how to speak like an expert on issues involving children while at the same time acknowledging that she does not have children of her own. The best part of the interview is near the end when Elizabeth talks about befriending yourself to stop the self-condemnation that can lead to depression. I highly recommend taking the time to listen. Elizabeth now joins Lisa Manterfield, Kathleen Guthrie Woods and Elisabeth Leseur in my list of Cheroes!
You can find the episode at:
I get up from the table abruptly and go to find the ladies toilets and hope they all noticed and realised how thoughtless they were being.
As I’m getting older (65 now) I find that I’m much happier if I don’t go to some events where baby, parent, grandparent conversation is the major focus. At parties sometimes I find I might hang out by the guys more. Their conversations usually are more broad based and interesting. And I don’t feel badly about leaving early if I want to. After all I have to let our dog out LOL. This is my current perspective. Those who are parents/grandparents love to talk about their families. Frankly, it’s in my face constantly. I used to feel sad, angry, envious, a whole range of emotions depending on my mood when I was around them. Now as I see friends succumbing to various illnesses and disabilies I realize that those emotions just sucked out my energy and potential good health. I’m still polite, interested, kind but I do everything I can to get myself back to doing what I need to do for myself to feel whole again. And if the parents, grandparents want to treat
me as invisible, more power to them because I’d rather not be noticed by them anyhow. For me personally, the spotlight is cumbersome. Dorothy, I often tune in to NPR and missed the interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. I look forward to listening to it. It sounds like it would be very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
I have to say that finding LWB has made me more assertive when I find myself in these types of situations, although I admit it does depend upon my mood. And I feel better for it.
Jennifer Aniston wrote an article in the Huffington Post about how society makes women feel that are less than if they are not married or have children. So glad there are women in the media how can speak for the rest of us.