Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fitting the Mold

On FaceBook, friend had recently posted a link to an article that advised what to do when one's child doesn't fit into the Mormon mold (the answer effectively boils down to "be kind"). Fitting in is a big thing here in Utah, and as someone who is neither LDS nor originally from Utah, or even this part of the country, I generally and quite often feel very out of place, even when people are friendly. The multiple assumptions include that one is LDS, and, if one is married, that one has multiple children. I am neither LDS (and for many, many reasons I can guarantee that I am not likely to convert), nor do I have children. As a result, once these facts come out, folks often either keep me at arm's distance, or ignore me outright. After four years here, I still feel like an outsider. The politics are not to my liking - they're a bit conservative for my taste - but I have found it difficult to find my footing here. A lot of that had to do with employment; adjuncting is not conducive to making friends (although I've taught at SLCC long enough now that I know my way around, and know quite a few folks). My having begun a new teaching job recently at a high school means that I get to see and interact with the same people on the days that I'm there, which is a nice change.

Ed and I married in our mid-30s. This is "late" by LDS standards, and even by Utah standards, where one is encouraged to marry and have as many children as soon as possible. There are theological implications for neither marrying nor having children, but if one does not marry or have children, one will receive these "rewards" in the afterlife. I wish I knew what the theological implications would be if one did not want to marry or want to have children. (In Catholicism, there is the belief that we are all called to different lives. Some are called to the religious life; some are called to marriage and/or parenthood; others are called to the single life. Each of these is individually valued, and one is not seen as preferred or "better" than the other.)

But here, I don't fit the mold. I am not LDS; I will not ever become LDS. I don't have children; I may never have any. (Well, it's all but guaranteed that I will never have biological children. We have never been through fertility treatments: I have no desire to put us through that, partly for financial reasons, and partly because of our ages; had we met and married 10-15 years ago, I might have felt differently.) Ed and I are trying to adopt, but I have never felt an overwhelming urge for children. I would absolutely welcome the experience of raising a child or two, but I do not feel that my life would be empty or incomplete without them; I do not feel I was "made" for motherhood, nor do I feel that parenthood is necessarily the epitome of one's existence. (I have heard other women say that their "ovaries ached" at the sight of babies; I cannot relate to this.)

Thankfully, I've had few conversations about this, but there are a few examples of disregard that stand out. While subbing this past January, I had a student teacher earlier ask me, in a very matter-of-fact manner, why I didn't have children. Before answering, I briefly considered asking her why she wanted to know, or asking her why there must be a reason why someone didn't have children. She struck me as young, and simply curious and open in the way I was myself 15 years ago; I know I'm guarded and not especially open about my private life with people I don't know, but it would not have occurred to me to ask such a question, mostly because I don't consider it my business.

At a faculty development event at another school, during lunch I sat down alone at a table; a teacher whom I didn't know sat down with me, and we chatted a bit. A third and fourth teacher sat down and ignored me. These three other teachers knew each other and immediately launched into a lengthy discussion about their children. The woman who had sat down first eventually turned to me and asked if I had children. I said I didn't; she paused and said, "...Oh." No follow-up questions, no changing the topic. After making a point of introducing myself to the third teacher who had sat down and hadn't so much as made eye contact with me, I left; I was completely ignored. This just drove home the point that there's a large segment of the population that needs to learn how to talk to folks whose background is different.

I have no idea how I'm supposed to fit into a mold I have no interest in fitting into. Not having children is not unpleasant; my life is not empty or meaningless. Being made to feel like I'm not worthwhile talking to, or that there must be something inherently wrong with my not having children, or that there's a wrong reason for not having children, does hurt me. Even after four years here, I am beginning to feel that I will never quite fit in.

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