Last Sunday night, Barbara Walters aired her annual segment, Ten Most Fascinating People segment for 2014.
I’ve watched the show every year since I was a young teenager, sometimes to laugh about what’s considering ‘fascinating’ (remember when the Duck Dynasty cast made the list last year?) This year though, I was pleasantly surprised when something really special happened as Oprah took center stage. They talked about how Oprah is sixty years old and Walters asked her the ultimate question: do you have any regrets?
Oprah said “no” without hesitation, and then things got really interesting. Walters pressed Oprah, asking specifically if she had regrets about not getting married or having children. Oprah’s answer didn’t change. Instead she stood her ground and said something that really resonated with me: “I wouldn’t have been the kind of mother I needed to be.”
What a powerful statement. Oprah didn’t have children because she didn’t want children. More importantly, she didn’t have children because she recognized motherhood wasn’t her calling and that any children she had would have suffered for it. To understand that about yourself, to step back and admit that you aren’t maternal or that you wouldn’t be able to give a child everything that it needs in a mother is really noble.
Society at large disagrees. They see Oprah’s child-free life and play detective for her motives. They speculate that maybe she can’t have children at all and she’s just playing it off. They pity her for not experiencing the ‘true love’ that comes with motherhood. In some spaces (and it would seem Hollywood is included) motherhood is the pinnacle of female accomplishment. To some, it’s inconceivable that she simply didn’t want to be a mother. Oprah is an independent, successful, strong woman. And despite all of the amazing things she’s done, despite the media empire she’s built from the ground up, and all the good she’s done to better the lives of others, people refuse to believe she’s found happiness apart from having children.
But I get it. And there are a ton of other women out there who get it too. We are like Oprah. We don’t feel maternal. We don’t feel called to parenthood. We know that if we were to have a child, we would not be the kind of parents that child deserved. I’m not saying we wouldn’t love our children. I’m not saying that Oprah wouldn’t love her children had she had any. What I am saying is that it takes more than love to raise a child and I think Oprah truly understands that.
Take my own mother for example: She’s a beautiful woman who worked her ass off to provide for my brother and me while somehow still attending every school function on sometimes less than two hours of sleep. She cleaned the house; she cooked every night; she dried tears and nursed scrapes; she was always there to tuck us in at night even if it meant leaving after the babysitter got there to work third shift. She did the best she could as a single mom and she loved us dearly. When I think about what a woman called to motherhood looks like, I immediately think of her. She once told me that she never wanted anything more in life than to be a mother. She said everything she gave up, every hardship, even her divorce from my father had all been worth it because she loved being a mother. I know it’s true. The proof is in every facet of my childhood. She was there. She was always there, no matter what.
I am not like my mother. Were I to have a child, I wouldn’t always be there. And not just physically, but emotionally too. I’m selfish in that way. I think about my future and there is no place there for a child. I would be a distant mother. Physically and emotionally unavailable. I would love my children but I wouldn’t be there, not like my mother was. The aspirations I have, the future I crave, I know I’ll achieve it and there are aspects of my life that will suffer for my pursuit of it. And if I was a mother, it would be my children who took the backseat. I know this feeling isn’t just a switch I can turn off. I know that about myself. I think Oprah knows that about herself, too.
I applaud Oprah for her candor. I appreciate that she put into words something that I’ve been feeling since I was a child myself. Most of all, I admire her for not letting society pressure her into a role that she didn’t want and couldn’t adequately fill. The fact that she’s honest about her motives helps give voice to the millions of other women who aren’t called to motherhood. And the next time that someone asks me why I don’t want children, I’ll borrow Oprah’s words: I wouldn’t be the kind of mother I need to be.