“I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at.”Ruth Bader Ginsburg
When we assume…
I was struck by a tweet recently that set about a premise that if you didn’t have kids, your opinion was worth less.
I chose to exclude the info on the tweeter as that isn’t the point here. It is the perspective that anyone’s opinion would be worth less than someone else.
Here’s the main part of the tweet:
It was blinded by bias assuming that people without kids choose not to have them.
This struck me deep, because I have felt the judgment from others, and the assumptions, being a childless married woman. They assume there is something wrong with me and that I didn’t want children. This happens in a flash before I get a word as to why.
My husband and I did want children. We did get pregnant, even though it supposedly wasn’t possible. We miscarried. I have had three miscarriages in my life, and the pain of that loss is bone-deep.
People have assumed I chose my career over being a mom. In their unconscious bias, they assumed that is the only reason why. They then assumed I could carry a heavier load at work because I don’t have kids at home. I have had people judge me as not being feminine enough because I don’t have children. How could I even begin to understand the life of a woman mother ?
When I share my story, people jump to “you can adopt.” When I say that it didn’t work out for us, they again assume I am anathema to women. They think I am insensitive and selfish. My poor husband is stuck with such a horrendous female.
And then I think, why do I have to justify myself and explain my situation? Why does this question make me feel so uncomfortable and so unworthy?
Some of it has to do with it does make me uncomfortable, and some of it is because the way I am asked, and how I have been treated in the past. I immediately feel I have to justify why I don’t have children. Not a great place to be, so with that tweet I basically felt I had to write about this. I also realized that this is an unconscious bias that I should write about.
A different path …
This could make me angry, and honestly, sometimes it just makes me incredibly sad. Sad that I didn’t get the experience that other women have had. To bring a baby to term, to care for them, to be called mom. My husband would have made an amazing dad. He sacrificed being a dad by stayed with me. However, he didn’t marry me only for my potential for providing a child, he married me because he loved me, he loved us. So yeah, he stayed. He is a man of worth and his opinion matters!
I am writing this to share a perspective of a woman that had to take a different path. Who loves kids, and God has brought 14 nieces and nephews on one side of my family and five on the other. This has allowed me to experience being a momma bear, and to love them with all my heart, as their aunt.
My experience has also helped me be more empathetic to others when they face challenges like starting a family, infertility, adoption, and the horrendous sadness of a lost pregnancy.
There is, unconscious bias towards women, and men, without children. We seem to be projecting the past notions of “she is of value when she bears children”, and if not, somehow she is less than those women who can.
When we project assumptions on what other people have been through, it only enhances their pain. It also leaves that person, who is full of assumption, living in a small world, that is unintentionally alienating others.
I know some women and men chose not to have children. I have great friends that have made that choice. That doesn’t make them less than awesome. It doesn’t make their opinions less worthy. It means that they have walked a different path that is best for them. They support many charitable endeavors for at-risk kids, as my husband and I do.
If I were braver when I was younger, I would have stood up for myself and not let others make me feel like a failed woman.
Here is what I would have said:
- Do you have children? – No, my husband and I were not blessed with them. We love kids and do all we can to support the kids in our family as well as at-risk kids in our community. (I say this now)
- Can you work late, I need to get home to the kids? – I wish I could; I have plans tonight that I cannot change. I could come in early with you tomorrow morning to finish.
- That must be so hard not to have kids: My three miscarriages were extremely hard. Through that, I have learned to appreciate all that I have, and my nieces and nephews have benefited by us sharing even more with them.
What I would add is, please don’t assume you know why a woman or a man doesn’t have kids. Everyone has to face their struggles and choices. Kids are a blessing, and they teach you so much.
We have friends with kids we hang out with, and we enjoy every moment of triumph and trials that they have. We can’t be parents through this, but we can help enrich their lives.
This is a deeply personal experience and one that should not make anyone feel uncomfortable discussing. Embrace people regardless of their choice, or in my case, non-choice.
We all have some degree of unconscious bias. I encourage all of us to be mindful and explore what they may be and how you can become more aware. To start you can take the Harvard Business School implicit bias test at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
Life is a journey of experiences that we can either be crushed by or we can grow. I wish all of you a journey of growth.
Stand strong, be bold and Shine Brightly!