Guest Post: Is There Divinity Without Motherhood?

by DefyGravity

(DefyGravity just graduated from BYU in theatre education and history teaching. She’s a theatre addict, avid reader, anglophile and has been a raging feminist since she was in junior high, which fortunately hasn’t scared away her husband of 2 years. She recently started blogging about her experiences as a woman, a Mormon and a feminist at femininewound.blogspot.com.)

I’ve been pondering the various discussions on the bloggernacle about women and children. There are discussion about the fun and not so fun parts of having children from women who have them. There are discussion about wanting children by women who, for whatever reason, do not have children. I respect any women’s experience with having or wanting children, since clearly that is a path many find fulfillment in. But one conversation that appears to be missing is one about women who do not want children. (If I’m wrong, let me know.)

I am married and have no desire to have children. I’m okay with that, but that idea seems to be beyond many people’s comprehension, (bearing in mind that my family and many of my friends are LDS.) My parents, despite the fact that I’ve told them they’re getting granddogs, not grandkids, still assume I’ll change my mind. My in-laws seem to be waiting for a pregnancy announcement, and my friends are running on the assumption that one day I’ll be a parent. Nothing I say will make them believe otherwise.

As I’ve come to accept my feelings about parenthood, I’ve had to try to create a concept of divinity that does not include motherhood. In doing so, I’ve had to move away from LDS church  doctrine, because it does not offer much in the way of female divinity that does not involve motherhood. The LDS church calls motherhood the highest calling a woman can have, and promises single women and women who cannot have children the opportunity to do so in the next life. The only name offered for a divine feminine, when we talk about Her at all, is Heavenly Mother, equating female divinity with motherhood. Women who do not want children are rarely mentioned, and if they are they are often told they are selfish and denying God’s plan. This is approach to womanhood offers me nothing but guilt and doubt in my own revelation.

Mormonism is the faith tradition I was raised in. But my personal revelation and life decisions have no place in that tradition. There is no concept of childless women in female divinity, especially those who remain childless by choice.  So, is there divinity in women that does not connect to motherhood? How do we square personal revelation with the insistence on motherhood? Can there be a dialogue about women who do not want children in the liberal Mormon community?

 

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25 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Those are good questions, DefyGravity.

    In Mormon cosmology, you’re right — there isn’t much of a concept of divinity without motherhood or fatherhood. The only spaces I see within the Mormon framework for childlessness is that angel position in the Celestial Kingdom. Though now that I think about it, doesn’t D&C talk about the male and female becoming gods and having eternal increase and powers and dominions? I think one could make the argument that eternal increase doesn’t necessarily have to relate to the concept of having children — it could relate to the concept of continual progression in your mind and capacities. I think it’s just been common in Mormon thought to tie that to kids. Perhaps the most direct tie in D&C 132 to eternal motherhood/fatherhood is the mention of a continuation of seeds forever. Though maybe there’s another way to interpret that…?

    I’d like to think that God’s love for us and respect for our particularities is so expansive that it could indeed encompass divinity without parenthood. I particularly like that idea since i think it leaves space open for gay couples uninterested or unable to have kids to find themselves a place in the Mormon eternal framework of eternal progression.

  2. I don’t think that couples who recieve the highest level of exaltation will be limited as to what kind of children they have. I don’t think its feasable for anyone to say “ok, you’re a God, get cracking doing exactly what your Parents did” any more than its feasable for someone to tell children here to be exactly like their parents. For you, there may be great enjoyment and increase in creating a planet where dogs are the dominant life form and have cats as servants.

    Right now, the concept of eternal parenthood is the best we can understand, simply because we all have parents (even if only at conception and birth). We don’t know any other options because we don’t see any other parents. What do our heavenly parents do after all their children are grown? Eternal repetition? Probably not.

    Besides, not all planets are suitable for humans, but all are creations of HM&F, and all loved. Maybe there already is a world of dogs, looking forward to the days when their HM&F come for a visit.

  3. C. says:

    Not in our tradition, but there have been many traditions of the divine feminine who weren’t mothers. But every one I can think of was a virgin.

    Which, all things considered, might be more problematic…

    The trouble with personal revelation is that one one else will be able to see it, hear it, or feel it, which kind of leaves you on your own when trying to explain it to even the most well meaning types. I think there is plenty of room in an infinite universe with an infinite and infinitely loving God for all sorts of family choices.

    As for dialog in the here and now, there’s absolutely a place for it. I don’t know whether I want children, and DO not that don’t want the half dozen each of my sisters-in-law seem to be going for, and I’ve had to defend that (still utterly hypothetical) decision to way too many people. We need to be able to talk about our desires about motherhood – whether for, against, not sure yet, unable, unwilling, unwanting, and undecided – in a way that will help women with THEIR decisions.

  4. spunky says:

    Excellent post, Defy Gravity. I think of Eliza R. Snow. I would argue that she has meant more to modern Mormon woman than any other woman in church history for any number of reasons, but including her marriages to prophets, her place in Relief Society organizational history, and her beautiful, beautiful writings.

    But she had no biological children. I say this, because in Sports in Zion, Richard Kimball discusses the idea that infertility was remedied in plural marriage, so in assuming this was the case for her (an I don’t think there is evidence of this at all), she could have mothered other wives’ children if she wanted to. Seems to me that she embraced that she had a different work, as often quotes attributed to her are from conversations she had with prophets, rather than impressions she had in raising children (which I think is common with many other female church historical leaders).

    Should you embrace that you have a different work that is outside the realm of parenthood, by happenstance or by divine inspiration– is between you, your husband and God. I personally have always felt that “multiply and replenish the earth” more in a way that I now see as masculinity ideology (or sometimes seen in terms of Jefferson’s distasteful “manifest destiny”). For me, this is to say, I am to not just consume, but to replenish and maintain resources. Sure, I want motherhood, and the is unlikely to happen. But that does not mean I am serilized from replenishing an multiplying the earth is any number of meaningful ways, just as Eliza R. Snow.

  5. Andrea says:

    I’ll be honest, while trying not to be offensive. I don’t want to judge you, but I can’t help it. I can’t help but wonder why you don’t want children. Does your husband feel the same way? It’s obviously none of anyone’s business, but the concept is just so foreign. Ok, enough of my mean, ignorant rant. (I’m sure you’ve heard it all before….especially from church members.)

    Stick with me here . . . . . . .

    Divinity? I don’t know much about heaven, but my benchmark for divine would be making a difference in the world. It occurs to me that many of the women in history who made a difference didn’t have children. Raising children is an incredibly exhausting, all-encompassing, emotionally draining, time absorbing endeavor. Without the child constraint, society has been able to reap the benefits from the energy and influence of these marvelous women. I remember reading that Susan B. Anthony was often aggravated with Elizabeth Cady Stanton for dropping out of the cause to have more babies and take care of them. Thank heaven for Susan!

    A handful of examples:
    Susan B. Anthony, Oprah, Eliza R. Snow, Gloria Steinem, Mother Teresa, Elizabeth Blackwell (she never married, but did adopt an orphan in her mid 30’s), Gertrude Stein, Sheri Dew, Jane Austen. Oh, there must be so many others.

    As women, we spend such an inordinate amount of time raising children, while men are out changing the world. It makes me wonder if our world wouldn’t be a better place if more women chose not to have children.

  6. Alisa says:

    I didn’t want children in my 20’s. I really didn’t, and thought I never would. I kept wondery why, and felt like no one addressed this. And it was very isolating, especially in the Church. Part of it was that I had had some very negative home-life experiences growing up. Part of it is that I didn’t consider myself very emotionally stable or mature due to my less than ideal upbringing. Part of it was that my husband and I enjoyed being together a lot, and I was afraid of messing up finally achieving this new happiness. Part of it is that my personality is more in-my-head and less out-in-the-world, so I am more cerebral than practical, more future-looking that in the present. Part of it is that I was not very good with young kids in my family or in babysitting, and I didn’t enjoy being with them. Part of it is that I was far, far ahead of my husband in school, and he had many years before he would be able to enter the workforce. Part of it was that I enjoyed graduate school, and then my profession. And part of it is that I was afraid that I would have a special needs child due to some genetic issues, and that I wouldn’t be able to handle it (my family of origin had a perfectionistic culture).

    I happened to change my mind and morphed out of a lot of these concerns, but I am not saying anyone else necessarily will. Another woman may never change her mind. But she’s just as welcome at my church as anyone else.

    • MonikerChallenged says:

      Thanks for sharing this. I share many of your concerns–and am still in my 2os 😉 I’ve seldom heard anyone talk about not having a desire for children, about having a latent one, or about having had no desire for them and developing those feelings after one was born. There is so much variety in human beings there has to be a variety in their feelings and attitudes in these matters, but I don’t think many feel comfortable sharing what they may consider atypical or shameful experiences.

  7. SPE says:

    DefyGravity:

    Every time I see your online name I want to belt out into the song from Wicked, it just makes me happy :).

    I have to say that I respect your decision. We waited a few years into marriage to have a child. I felt partially pressured into it by family, partially pressured by time, and I was also looking for something to strengthen my at-times weak marriage (sad and irresponsible, I know). We got pregnant easily, my pregnancy was normal, labor uncomplicated, cute baby born. Then I was hit with severe postpartum depression and I was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of work, home, and this new human being who demanded my constant attention. My marriage has had its ups and downs, and we have enjoyed being parents, but sometimes I wish I would have waited. For us, we had decided to have one child and then see how we felt about adding to our family. Right now, I can say that I don’t plan on having any more for a long time. People flap their hands at me with a knowing look in their eye and say “oh, just wait until she’s in preschool…you’ll be DYING for another one!” and other such nonsense. But no ones knows quite like you do.

    I think you will find that you will grow more comfortable in your decision as time goes on. Personally, I think our divinity is largely misunderstood. I know that if I have to bear offspring for the rest of eternity, I would rather be a “ministering angel” than a goddess, thankyouverymuch.

  8. DefyGravity says:

    Thanks for the various views of creation and progression. A view that eternal increase does not necessarily mean kids is an idea I haven’t considered, so thanks for that! Frank, thanks for affirming my doginess!

    Spunky and Andrea, that’s my attitude, that there are other things I’m supposed to do. Andrea, thanks for acknowledging that there are reasons to not have kids, even though you don’t understand that choice. There are many callings and many ways that women can do good, and I would love for all those choices to be respected like they are here

    Andrea, yes, my husband feels the same way. Neither of us enjoy little kids or babies, we’re both trained to work with teenagers and enjoy that. It just doesn’t appeal; having small kids around all day making no sense. I feel like both of us have things we need to do that don’t involve kids. I also know that if I had kids right now I would resent them. I would be a bad parent, and that is simply unfair to them, to my husband, and to me. If I have kids, I want to do it right, I want to do it well, and I can’t now with how I feel about motherhood.

    • mac says:

      I feel very similar and it’s so wonderful to hear another woman express the same feelings. I myself don’t want children. I first began feeling this way as a young girl. I was a fairly mild, obedient kid but my younger sister could be so horrible to my mother (she’s 19 now and still can be really cruel to her). I just didn’t want to deal with that. And at that age I thought I was going to Hell or spirit prison or whatever because I didn’t want to do the one thing I was told I should do. I didn’t want to fulfill my “divine role”. My mom later told me I was selflish for feeling this way.

      Now, i’m married to a wonderful man who respects me. And the more I learn about pregnancy and giving birth the more I’m terrified of having a child. I don’t feel as though I’m mentally prepared to be mother. I’m working on my depressing and body issues but I can’t responsibly bring a child into this world. The only reason that enters my mind why I would ever want to have a child is that my husband would make a wonderful father.

      And of course, it’s likely that I will at the very least have a hard time becoming pregnant. It entered my mind just recently that maybe it’s a blessing I don’t want kids because I might not be able to have them. Of course, I think adoption is a wonderful option if I do ever decide to have kids.

      Sorry that was a such a jumble. I just get so excited when others think like me. It doesn’t happen a lot here in Provo.

  9. Jenne says:

    Because I feel frustrated by the lack of presence of the feminine divine in Mormonism, period, I have turned to learning about goddesses from other traditions. Since Mormons do believe that we can embrace truth wherever it can be found, it stands to reason that we can gain some truth from the goddess traditions that have existed for thousands of years. With a group of friends recently, we’ve particularly been exploring non-mother aspects of the feminine divine and found some great stories and examples. Since so much of any theology regarding the Mormon Goddess is purely speculative, we find that we can imagine Heavenly Mother as Maiden, Mother and Crone, Warrior, Wise Woman, etc. Women are full, dynamic, multi-faceted people and we can find those characteristics reflected in how we choose to imagine the divine. There is nothing wrong with you that you cannot find that reflection in our faith tradition, it says more about the failings of our faith tradition. Its just not among the brethren’s interest at this point and who knows if it ever will be. Until then, we keep seeking for personal meaning and continue to seek for the true nature of our God the Mother. I really like using Kevin Barney’s Dialogue article as a starting point, or the Neal A. Maxwell Institute article called “Nephi and His Asherah.” Since then I’ve come to accept Asherah as the name of the Mormon Goddess.

  10. jks says:

    My mother said she was worried about motherhood because she didn’t love other people’s kids. However, it is different.
    So I never thought I had to actually love kids or anything to be a good mother.
    I am an absolutely awesome mother. I don’t love babies. I get postpartum depression. I hate nursing. I need time to myself.
    I do not think I have ever been “baby hungry.”
    I have had children because I have faith that it is part of our purpose on earth. Sure, it has been a little difficult at times, but most worthwhile things are a little difficult. I have four children and the oldest is 14.

  11. ssj says:

    My husband I talk about whether we want to have kids or not all the time. I’m still somewhere in the middle of figuring it all out. I’m wondering if you were raised in the church? For me its hard to wrap my head around the idea that I won’t be a mother. It’s not that I feel like I have children for my self identity or feel the need to cave in to the cultural pressure to do so. It’s just my whole life and major decisions have been based on the idea that I will have children someday. That for me is hard to let go of. I chose a career in education because it is family friendly. If I don’t have kids then why I do I have all summer off? Should I have chosen a different career path? Those are the kinds of things I think of.

    I really don’t expect people in the church to understand why I wouldn’t have kids, so I don’t try to explain it. In the end, I probably will end up adopting or foster parenting.

    • DefyGravity says:

      I was raised in the church, so I know the feeling of trying to wrap my head around such a foreign concept as not having kids. But I never felt like I had to plan my life around kids, because I had more control over my education and career decisions then marriage. I also always assumed I’d work even if I had kids. I also chose teaching as a career path, but not because I thought it would work well with kids but because it appealed to me.

      I’m with you; if kids are ever in the picture it will be adoption or foster kids.

  12. Ray says:

    DefyGravity,

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m 25, single (and loving it thank you very much) and having children is something I go back and forth on all the time…for a good portion of the time it just seems unappealing to me. However, should I ever decide to have children I do not want them to become my whole world.

    I think it’s an odd thing for our religion to believe that a woman can only access divinity through someone else, her children.

    Do we not believe that we are already divine? That the divine is inherent within us? A right and privilege given to us? For me, I don’t think we need to see divinity as something that must be qualified for like the Boston marathon…I think it’s already a part of us.

    • DefyGravity says:

      I agree that we have internal divinity, and I find it sad when divinity is attached to outside sources. I’d like to see us find that, instead of feeling we don’t have it til we do x,y and z.

  13. MonikerChallenged says:

    Hey DG!

    Nice post–I’m happily surprised that you haven’t been completely eviscerated in the comments. Is everyone busy getting an early start on Christmas shopping?

    Being several years childless, I’ve thought of the implications of childlessness a great deal myself. I think it’s often implied, or stated tacitly that rearing offspring is the only path toward spiritual enlightenment in life (People who can’t get children can only attain enlightenment after death; people who didn’t want them are up the proverbial creek. ) Like, Mother Theresa did pretty well for a spinster, we must concede, but it’s too bad she didn’t get married and have some kids. Then she would have been able to fulfill her true purpose!

    So, after a great deal of soul searching, my answer is: rubbish! Doubtlessly the salvation of some comes through parenthood, and they are refined by parenthood in ways they wouldn’t have been otherwise. Doubtlessly parenthood has taught others more about bodily fluids and their clean up than it has about the purpose of life and achievement of godliness. We’re all different. It’s funny that we have to spend so much time trying to beat each other into uniformity.

    So, in (merciful) conclusion, there only is and only will be one of each of us. We must each decide what the world needs of us–that’s not something that anyone else can determine. Which kinda sucks, because I don’t know what to do with myself, but hey, isn’t free will empowering 😉

    PS–Perhaps we could take concurrent lunch breaks sometime–my treat!

    • DefyGravity says:

      I’m with you; everyone has their own route to salvation. For many that’s parenthood. My dad told me you can learn things through parenthood you can’t learn any other way. That may be true, but the same could be said of any life choice. We can’t learn everything, so why shoul learnung from parenthood take precidence over other kinds of learning.

      I am surprised that I have gotten tore apart by a few people. It’s been awesome!

      And we should do lunch! My schedule has been off, but grab me when you’re going to take lunch! I don’t know where they moved you.

  14. MonikerChallenged says:

    PPS- To my understanding, in LDS doctrine there’s not much of an afterlife/divinity outlined for mothers either, so I don’t feel completely disadvantaged there.

  15. Diane says:

    I have had this conversation with my friend over the weekend, I knew even as a young child(12) that I never wanted to be married, nor did I want to have children. My foster aunt at the time just poohed, poohed me(I don’t know if that’s a word,) and said once I got out of high school and in college I would want to meet someone.

    And, here I am 47 years old. I am quite content in being single, I do not get lonely, nor do regret being alone. I have never needed to have a lot of people around me, perhaps my being brought up foster care made me this way, perhaps not. I see nothing wrong with it. I have a few close friends and that all I need.

  16. kamisaki says:

    I have 3 young children. I got married close to 30, and my husband was years beyond that. I was raised Mormon, and I was already an old maid when I “finally” got married. Of course, as newly graduated BYU students, good Mormons, etc…we had kids right away, just as we were heading off to law school, before we had a post-law employment position set, before we knew what “student loans” REALLY were (BYU is extraordinarily cheap, compared to private law schools). That’s my history.

    The truth? I love my kids. I love them dearly. And yet, I often imagine my life without them. Not that I don’t want them, but I long to know what life would have been like without being a mother. I loved being single. I traveled to over 30 countries in a few short years’ time (my husband was just as well traveled). I loved independence. I loved the freedom to be ME. I loved my (dare I say it) girly figure that attracted attention. I loved helping people that I chose to help, and giving my time where I wanted to give it. I loved that I had a name, and an identity.

    Some women thrive on motherhood. They love hearing “mommy” a million times a day, and devoting all their time and love and attention to the little ones. I am not one of those women. However, I did not know that prior to having kids. Looking back, I should have known, but I was so caught up in what I was “supposed” to do, that I never considered what my heart really wanted.

    That sounds calloused, I know. But it is the truth. If I could go back, and do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I would stay single. If I chose marriage, I would not have children, and I would continue to be a charitable, GOOD person.

    However, I love my children dearly. I have chosen this life. It is a hard, hard, life, full of so many trials that I never wanted. We thought we would be able to provide an interesting and fulfilling life for our children, given our humanitarian and international experiences. But we have been bound by failed mortgages, increasing student loan payments, lack of work, and health trials in ourselves and our children. We did not want this kind of life. We did not have children to “multiply and replenish the earth.” We simply wanted to share what we loved about life with our children. But we are here, we love each other, we have a strong marriage, we have fabulous children, we love life.

    Yet still, given the chance to do it over again, I would change things.

    Good for you, for recognizing what YOUR heart is telling you, before getting into something where you can’t go back. Of course we all have to find joy in our circumstances, but we also will find much more joy if we don’t try to be something we are not.

    Good for you.

  17. Cassandra says:

    I know I am really late on this post, but I just recently discovered this website. And I wanted to say YAY! My husband and I are also intentionally childless (we have been married 5 1/2 years and I am 30 years old). I have found it incredibly isolating in the LDS church to have made this choice. Not only do people disagree with my choice, they seem to not to want to associate with me because of it. On top of that, they treat me like I am some kind of idiot because I have not pushed a child out of my body. Apparently this physical act comes with some special knowledge that I will never be able to access…who knew? I have begun to simply walk out of lessons where my life choices are belittled (childless couples must be selfish) or ignored (gospel lessons turned entirely into parenting classes) because I don’t know how else to manage the situation without becoming angry. I know that my divinity is in tact and that my eventual salvation will be based on who I am rather than who I have created. Thank you for this post and for letting me rant.

  1. May 8, 2012

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