When we talk about a childfree woman, many of us might picture the power-hungry, cold, conniving Claire Underwood of the TV show House of Cards. In season four, in response to being asked if she ever regrets not having kids, Claire asks the questioner if she regretted having them.
This woman is, we viewers understand, someone who has chosen not to have children because she wishes to get ahead in a competitive, male-dominated field. We recognize, especially in the US, that having children can severely impact a woman’s career. And for a woman like Claire, who doesn’t seem particularly maternal, this seems like an understandable choice to make.
But what happens when you’re a teacher? Surely my profession is set up perfectly for motherhood? My salary is determined by a salary table. I get a comparatively generous maternity leave. I am theoretically never penalized by my choice to have children. In fact, my contract hours are perfectly set up (says those who have never stayed up until midnight working on a lesson) to be with school-aged children on breaks and holidays. I’m certainly not a model, dancer, or professional athlete whose body is her professional tool. On top of that, I am warm, kind-hearted, and in many ways, maternal. There is no ladder that I wish to climb; I take great joy in simply being with my students and helping them grow academically and personally.
Perhaps it is because I am a teacher that I am choosing at this point in my life to be childfree. Maybe it’s because I can make an impact on the lives of adolescents without also having to feed them and shuttle them to soccer practice. Or maybe it’s because I see so many students with complex physical or mental health issues and think “wow, I can’t imagine the strength and patience it would take to give this child what they need 24/7”. Or maybe it’s because I recognize how stressful it would be to be a mother while also being a teacher: both jobs where you are never done working, never done making a big enough difference.
There are many reasons why a straight married woman in her mid-30s not having children is fraught in our society: we have sought to contain women through reproductive choices for millennia. To be that same woman, and be a teacher, is even more taboo. Furthermore, for my colleagues that identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, or any other marginalized identity, many of their bodies receive more scrutiny and judgement than my own.
In the past, when people ask why I haven’t had children yet (why do people still ask???), I’ve used a variety of answers:
- I value the time I get to spend with my career-focused husband (true).
- I have some health issues that might make getting pregnant difficult (true).
- I’m not sure if I’d be a great mother (not true – I think I’d be a fantastic mom).
- In this economy? (somewhat true).
- I’m worried about the future of the planet (I mean, I am, but I’m sure I could have kids and just use fewer disposable straws).
- I respect the job of motherhood too much to make the decision lightly (very true).
However, I am now trying to push back against the narrative that I cannot be my best teacher-self without having children or that I am wasting the opportunities that my job affords me. I am trying to push back on the assumption that it is acceptable for colleagues, administrators, and parents to comment on my choices. Therefore, the one response that I’ve settled on when asked why I don’t have children, taking a page from Claire Underwood’s book, is: Why did you?