Getting ready for 2013 to be in the history books, it seems impossible to escape year-end countdowns ranking the “top” news stories or the “best” websites or TV shows. I’ve yet to see any mention of issues impacting and involving women without children on anybody’s list, and that includes lists with a limited focus on women.
2013 certainly generated more than three noteworthy headlines concerning childless and childfree women, but now, not that anybody asked me, but here’s my Top Three NotMom headlines for 2013. They may appear disparate at first glance, but they are connected, and I believe they represent an ongoing cultural shift.
» #3: Oprah Winfrey Speaks Out About Her Childfree Choice
In December, Oprah told The Hollywood Reporter:
“If I had kids, my kids would hate me. They would have ended up on the equivalent of the Oprah show talking about me; because something [in my life] would have had to suffer and it would’ve probably been them.”
The remark created a mini-whirlwind media blitz, but it wasn’t the first time that she’d discussed being childless. In 2010, Oprah told ABC’s Barbara Walters that she and longtime love Stedman Graham didn’t plan to marry or have children, though they did consider adoption. She said:
“I could not… have had this life and lived it with the level of intensity that is required to do this show the way it’s done,” Winfrey said. “I’d be one of those people that the kid’s coming and saying, ‘Mom, you’ve neglected me.’… So I have no regrets about that. I have none … not one regret about not having children because I believe that … it is the way it’s supposed to be.”
“Having a child come from my body isn’t as important to me as being able to change the life of a child.”
It’s clear that like many of us, Oprah morphed from Childless By Chance to Childfree by Choice. Every time she talks about her own path, the words resonate with a larger number of women on the same road. The famed halo of ‘The Oprah Effect’, still glows worldwide, influencing people to re-examine their own beliefs about childlessness, motherhood and more.
» #2: ‘The Childfree Life’ Scores the Cover of Time Magazine
Time’s cover shot of a couple posed leisurely on a beach failed to dignify the depth of reporter Lauren Sandler’s work. Early in the piece, the director of the Carolina Population Center sums things up nicely:
“Postponed childbearing is ‘the real story of fertility in the past 20 years. Women put off motherhood because of work, education or the lack of a desired partner and meanwhile, they develop lifestyles they enjoy.”
Call it old-school media if you want, but Time is still a national influencer, and a factory of strong journalism. The story dominated TV talk shows and the Web for weeks last summer. While women and men without kids felt as though they’d actually been seen, others saw the story’s stats and interviews as subversive, perhaps even promoting abortion.
Pro and con, last summer Americans were noticing and talking about their friends, relatives and neighbors who live a child-free life and what that means for them and our society. It was a good thing.
What’s the #1 news story in 2013 about childless and childfree women?
Time might have made the #1 spot, but its focus was mainly American. The larger story is about the entire developed world where individual headlines may be easy to dismiss, but in the aggregate, NotMoms’ numbers are growing, and we are big-time global news. The United Nations reports that fertility rates are below replacement level here and in Ireland, Norway, China, Australia, Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Across the European Union, rates have been trending down since the 1960s.
In countries like Mexico, business is noticing an uptick in kid-free shoppers with money to spend. In India, where childlessness is too frequently listed as a cause of suicide, women are walking away from motherhood and speaking out about their decision. And in a place like Ghana, where a life without children is so taboo that women are labeled ‘barren’ and even cursed by God, NotMoms are making a first-ever attempt to find and support each other.
But, the obvious truth is, without babies, nations are sure to have a more troubled future, with fewer workers producing goods and more elderly without family assistance. This story is #1 because it has many dimensions and impacts for the women and the world. It’s a story that can’t be – won’t be – ignored.