Freeing Monopolies on Love
by Emma Palmer
“People locked onto motherhood as a key to feminine identity in part from the belief that children are the best way to fulfil your capacity to love, even though the list of monstrous ice-hearted mothers is extensive. There are so many other things to love besides one’s own offspring, so many things that need love, so much other work love has to do in the world.”Rebecca Solnit, 2018
I know I’m not alone becoming irate when I hear, “you never really know love until you have a child”. Or outbursts of empathy in response to awful violence, with the all too familiar prefix, “as a mother”, or “as a parent”. I’m remembering Samantha Cameron visiting child refugees in Syria some years back, “as a mother, it is horrifying to hear the harrowing stories from the children I met today. No child should ever experience what they have,” she said. Of course it’s horrifying to hear harrowing stories and no child should ever have to experience what they have – whether in Syria, or more recently in Ukraine and in too many places worldwide. We know that because we have beating hearts and humanity, rather than because we are parents – no?
I remember how two women prime ministers – Theresa May in the UK and Julia Gillard in Australia – were accused as having less of a stake in the future because they were without child. Pronatalism is alive and well – and still well embedded in how things run. I’m with Solnit in the opening quote, love has plenty of work to do, for example, in illuminating and dismantling pronatalism given the harm it causes.
We know that love often isn’t unconditional in the stresses of everyday life – even for the finest, most mindful and loving of humans. How could it be otherwise, given that we’re complex, brilliant, messy humans? These love league tables and comparisons are useful to no one, parents and non-parents alike, setting up and reinforcing unhelpful and undermining divisions and stereotypes.
The hackneyed assumption that childfreedom is always selfish has always struck me as strange, particularly when folk are thinking of the parenthood decision with the planet and life in mind, actively going beyond the personal. I’ve been fortunate to have recently been involved in Motherhood in a Climate Crisis here in Bristol, an incredibly creative project – in its own words: “providing a platform to a rarely explored aspect of women’s intimate experience… (charting) the stark personal and political choices of a generation facing a world shaped by climate change”. This is a subject close to my heart, after the 2016 publication of my Other than Mother book.
I’m also remembering and celebrating the creativity and care of all the fellow past winners of International Childfree Day. For example, Soot Liang Woo in Thailand, choosing to be childfree to help address human overpopulation, who works 365 days to care for and re-home street dogs and cats. And Childfree India radically challenging the status quo, bringing together people globally who have no children for personal and ideological reasons. And Canadian film maker Magenta Baribeau who produced the documentary Maman? Non merci! – approximately translated as Being a mom? No Thanks! – about women in the Global North who are childfree by choice.
I feel much gratitude to all behind the scenes at International Childfree Day for continuing to raise awareness about childfreedom and celebrating often invisibilised and stigmatised childfree folk. And I send love to all of you in the run up to this year’s International Childfree Day. Let’s free the monopolies on love!
Since being awarded the 2018 International Childfree Person of the Year, Emma has written for and co-edited the book #MeToo – Counsellors And Psychotherapists Speak About Sexual Violence And Abuse. Her work as a therapist, facilitator and writer continue, including writing chapters for a few therapy book collections. In addition to loving gardening, during the pandemic, Emma has also reconnected with poetry writing. More info about Emma’s work here.