Jennifer Aniston has no kids. She is 45 years old. She was once married to Brad Pitt, who now shares a home of six kids with wife Angelina Jolie. None of this should matter to us, but somehow it does--people at press junkets continue badgering Aniston with questions as to why she doesn't have kids.
"I don't like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women," Aniston told Allure for their January cover story, "that you've failed yourself as a female because you haven't procreated."
Well Aniston did once play the lead role in a film called The Switch as a woman who, having no marital prospects on the horizon, decided to be artificially inseminated before her fertile window closed. But that was just an acting role. None of this should give us reason to speculate about her personal life, right? I mean she played a stripper in Meet the Millers, but I don't see her fielding questions about pole dancing.
Nonetheless, women in show business are frequently asked about their procreative abilities--and it's understandably frustrating. Zooey Deschanel got a little grumpy earlier this year after press kept asking her why she has no kids, and she noted that's never asked of men. And Jennifer Garner recently vented about sexism at press junkets where she gets asked how she manages kids and career, while her husband Ben Affleck never hears such questions.
But when Jennifer Aniston was questioned recently, she gave the most gracious response yet. And wise. Just because you haven't biologically delivered a child, Aniston remarks, "doesn't mean you aren't mothering--dogs, friends, friends' children."
I couldn't agree with her more: There are more ways than one to be a mother, and one need not be a biological mom to have a mothering role.
A woman could be a single person who is aunt to several nieces and nephews. She could be a religious sister caring for the less fortunate. She could be a woman who is married with no children but who serves a mentorship role in her community. She could be an adoptive mom. A stepmom. A teacher or coach. A lawmaker making things better for those in need. There are as many ways to mother as there are women.
Because by and large women have quintessential nurturing abilities--often serving their homes and communities in a "tend and defend" capacity, whether traditionally or not.
Anyone who has watched the recent PBS series The Roosevelts knows that, while Eleanor Roosevelt may not be known for her mothering role to her biological children, she definitely had a nurturing role serving those in need both as First Lady and UN advocate. Julia Child may not have had biological children but no one would doubt she nurtured and inspired the country. She invited a generation of Americans on a culinary adventure of creativity and pleasure of exciting new cuisine. Oprah Winfrey doesn't have children, but no one would doubt her generosity and influence trying to make the world a better place for everyone around her.
It can be tempting to say one type of motherhood is better than others, but that'd be a mistake. Everyone makes their own decisions about how best to live their lives. Whether or not one regrets a choice later is their business, and that's just a product of free will. Whether or not we agree is not our business.
After all, the only person we're responsible for is ourselves. And maybe also those we're mothering.