Ruby: I realized, because I spent a couple of weeks in Berlin where my brother lives with my nephew is there and he co-parents with his wife, they’ve separated, but they really split the childcare 50-50 like week by week. And he has a fantastic relationship with his son and is such an incredible dad. Just absolutely loves it and it’s wonderful to watch him in that role.
And this is something else I find really interesting. He always wanted to be a dad and he’s the guy, right? And I never wanted to be a mom, and I’m the woman. And which again, yeah, this is not a gender specific orientation or vocation. Parenting, the desire and attitude for parenting is not gender specific.
Nancy: Welcome to Your Permission Prescription. I’m Nancy Levin, founder of Levin Life Coach Academy, bestselling author, master life coach, and your host. I train life coaches, aspiring coaches, and anyone who wants to add coaching skills to their current career to elevate their life and their business. I’ve coached thousands of people to live life on their own terms, and now I coach, train, and certify other coaches to do the same.
If you are ready to give yourself permission to finally make yourself a priority and mobilize your vision, you’re in the right place. Let’s dive in.
Nancy: Welcome back to another episode of Your Permission Prescription. And today I am thrilled to be joined by my guest, Ruby Warrington. With 20+ years experience as a lifestyle journalist and editor, Ruby is known as an astute cultural commentator and true thought leader.
Her latest book, Women Without Kids: The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood is truly a revelation. In addition, Ruby is the creator of the term “Sober Curious”. Her 2018 book and million download podcast of the same title spearheaded a global movement to reevaluate our relationship to alcohol. Also, Ruby is the founder of self-publishing incubator, Numinous Books.
Ruby: Thank you Nancy. It’s great to be here.
Nancy: I just lit up when I first saw you post about this book coming out, Women Without Kids. And it has been something inside of me for so long, this conversation, that seems like a taboo conversation. And so what I especially love about your book is that you weave your own story throughout and it is a real inquiry and discovery process and you invite us into your process so that we can also have our own.
And as a woman without kids, I had so much resonance with elements of your story from looking at what were the factors that led up to this choice and as you call it, what do you call it?
Ruby: Oh, Well there’s, I talk about in a chapter on the concept of the motherhood spectrum.
Ruby: I’m introducing the idea that rather than it being either or like a binary, affirmative, yes, I want to be a mother, yes. That is my life path. Yes. That is why I’m here. Or an affirmative, no, no, that is not for me. I absolutely know I do not want to be a mother.
For the majority of people. We fall somewhere in between these two polar extremes.
Ruby: And so this the, I do present the idea of an affirmative yes and affirmative no being the kind of two ends of the spectrum, if you think about it as a kind of a line, I suppose. Although some people think more of a, a sort of a, a multi-dimensional Venn diagram when they think about a spectrum.
But yeah, just, and this came out of my work with sober curious, where we’ve had this very binary idea about problem drinking. You are either a problem drinker or a normal drinker. And whereas most people’s most normal drinking can be problematic sometimes. And that’s what I was presenting with Sober Curious, just a more nuanced kind of idea about our experiences in these areas, our challenges in these areas.
And so I applied some of that thinking to this idea around motherhood. Do I want to be a mother? It’s not necessarily for everybody a definitive yes or a no, even for somebody like me who identifies much more closely with the affirmative no, I always had an inkling wasn’t, I had an inkling that I wouldn’t be a mother. I just couldn’t picture myself as a mother. I couldn’t picture that being my life. And I questioned that deeply.
I had so much shame, self-doubt, cognitive dissonance around this, what felt like an intuitive sort of knowing around this subject. And so even though I’m more of an affirmative, no, I still journeyed up and down that spectrum throughout my twenties and thirties, particularly when the, the life stage when other people had a lot of opinions and asked a lot and were asking a lot of questions about my decisions or my thinking in this area. So yeah.
Ruby: And, and with this concept of the motherhood spectrum, I’m sort of saying that actually we are all to a degree products of our environment.
Ruby: We’re all products of the culture, the society, the family, the systems that we’ve been raised in that we operate within. And so how can these external factors not have an impact and an influence on what we, especially as women have been told, is a biological imperative.
Nancy: Yeah. And so I will say I have been an affirmative no my whole life I never, ever, ever entertained the thought of wanting a child. I never have felt the thing that women say they feel about the biological whatever, which I think is, has been since sort of proclaimed to be made up.
Ruby: I meanin some circles, some circles still very much hold that that is our truth and if we don’t feel it, we are in denial or we need to think again or we don’t know ourselves on some fundamental level.
Nancy: You know, and I can think back to shortly after I got married, of course the questions come in and my mother said to me one day, why do you keep telling me you don’t wanna have children? And I said, well, you keep asking me, so if you stop asking me, I don’t have to keep telling you.
Ruby: Presumably she kept asking you, hoping for a different answer?
Nancy: Of Course. Yeah, of course. Or there’s was all the, you know, well, you’ll regret this when you’re older or blah, blah, blah. I mean, here I am, I’m 58 years old, not one moment has it ever been inside of me to feel regretful or to question my affirmative no. And I feel grateful for that. I feel incredibly grateful for that.
Ruby: Yeah. It’s wonderful to hear you declare it so strongly because, and I’m curious to hear if you’ve felt this way, but for so long as an affirmative no, I always felt like I was the only one. It felt like it was so rare to find other people who had this. And I describe it almost as an orientation.
Ruby: It’s orientation. And given that actually it is deeply tied to our sexuality on some levels, I think it is almost a sexual orientation, you know, that’s sort of a little bit of an out there idea, but something I touch on kind of present in the book in a way.
Ruby: Because it’s obviously tied to our reproductive capacity is tied to our sexuality. And so not engaging with our sexuality in that way, that’s part of our story as women without kids and something that’s not really spoken about.
But yeah, it’s been very difficult until very recently to find other women who share this orientation. And so there has been a lot of loneliness, a lot of othering and a lot of shame that has come from that. This feeling that if I am the only one and everybody insists or seems to think that I have got this wrong or that I don’t know myself or that I will at some point see the light, and if not, then I will at some point deeply regret having not done this thing, then there must be something wrong with me. And that feeling there must be something wrong with me is what begets shame.
Nancy: Absolutely. And I will say that that is a question I have been asking myself since birth. Because another thing we have in common is I had a brother who was born disabled and I also know that I am also close with, and she’s a mentor of mine, Kelly McDaniel. And so the Mother Hunger work, I’m, I’m now also a facilitator of her work. And so really digging into what was happening during conception in the first two years of my life, I was born into a family where my brother was severely disabled, incapacitated. And when I was two he died. And so there, and my mother and I have had an adult conversation where she said, I didn’t wanna attach to you because I was afraid of what might be wrong with you too.
Nancy: And that conversation in my late forties was really incredible to get this understanding of, oh, no wonder I have felt under scrutiny my whole life. Or no wonder I felt like there must be something wrong with me. Because it was demonstrated. She very clearly was, I’m waiting for something to be wrong with you.
Ruby: Out of fear of potentially losing you.
Nancy: Of course. And so, you know, looking at all of that I know has to have informed my decision not to have children, to not either not feel capable or not want to risk giving birth to a child that I may not be able to care for. And just seeing the grief and pain in my parents that I certainly couldn’t heal. So those pieces too. And just being able to look at all these pieces come together and then being ambitious or being more into what I was into work-wise, always. Which of course is also something that we are vilified for.
Ruby: Right, Exactly. I’d make the point where I’m talking about this concept of the motherhood spectrum. Any woman who values a life of the mind over family life is seen automatically as cold and heartless and uncaring.
Ruby: This doesn’t apply to men then are allowed to have both. And so this is, this is where I, I can’t, I really didn’t want to lay the not blame or I don’t know, I suppose the blame for the stigmatization of women without kids at the feet of patriarchy.
But like I, unfortunately I couldn’t quite avoid it because it just, all roads kind of kept leading back to just this absolute double standard that stems from deep inequality between men and women and deep misogyny actually about women’s role in society.
Nancy: Yeah. Like, we’re here to do this one thing. And I remember early on I had the Bible thrown at me, I had whatever people are projecting onto me about how could I not do this thing that is expected of me and all women should be doing. Really, I found it so curious because of course bringing a child into the world is so much more impactful than not. And yet, what’s the saying? You, you don’t need a driver’s license to be a parent, you know, or whatever. Like you don’t need to know how to do it.
Ruby: Any license, any kind of a license.
Nancy: Yeah. You don’t need any kind of license, you don’t need anything. You just can have a kid. And I thought to myself, I’m expending so much energy in defending my position, which really is not only no one’s business, but it’s not impacting anybody. Whereas a new life is a lot of impact.
Ruby: Yes. Not least on that life. Exactly.
Ruby: Yeah, totally. Thanks for sharing some of the details about your story there. I can understand why you relate so strongly to some of the family and sort of like details that I’ve shared from my life in the book. And I really did, I think from a kind of selfish place I wanted to write this book to give myself permission to really do that deep unpacking of my family story and of all of the different influencers actually on my decision or my, I’m not even gonna call it a decision, this inner-knowing that motherhood was not in my path.
And I also have come to value as an author, as somebody who works with other authors, you mentioned my publishing incubator, and as somebody who has led many retreats and events and healing circles, I’ve come to see the what huge value there is in sharing our stories.
In that when we share our stories rather than just our analytical kind of observations and sort of academic passing of phenomena, whatever, when we share our own relationship in an intimate and honest way to these kind of, I don’t know, events, circumstances, we invite people in to connect with us on a really embodied level. And I know is somebody who loves reading fiction and loves reading story, how much of myself I just see, I, I can experience actually not even see, but how much of my own self I can experience, through reading about the experiences that other people are sharing.
So I really wanted to approach the book first and foremost from that place of memoir to give myself the opportunity to kind of unpack some of my own stuff, some own experiences, which I hadn’t ever really done up to that point. I think I was 43 or 44 when I started mapping the book out, started planning how I wanted to write it, but then also cause I really wanted to invite people in to experience their own stories, to use my story as a mirror to reflect back what their deeper possibly subconscious or unconscious motivations around being women without kids might be.
Nancy: Hmm. Yeah. I was delighted when I discovered that it really is a teaching memoir of sorts so that you are using your own story while you’re also inviting the reader to ask themselves questions. Especially because this isn’t a topic that you can find much about.
Ruby: No. Which is just, well I suppose it’s, it isn’t surprising in that women without kids have been so sidelined and we’ve, we have been in the minority, but our minority is growing, the numbers are, are consistently growing in terms of the numbers of women without kids. And this is the thing. So like I said, throughout my twenties, thirties, I always really felt like I was the only one. And even people, friends, colleagues who I’d never really had the conversation with, oh, oh, they’re now having a child. Oh, oh, they’re doing that thing. We never discussed it, but I realized we never discussed it because it was just assumed that that’s what we were all gonna do. And so I was always sort of, sorry, oh you, you’re having a kid. And it was just like a, well, yeah, I’m gonna be a kid. That’s what we do. Right?
Ruby: So I sort Of, but it was when I reached my kind of early forties, I began to look around and I realized that actually there were quite a few women in my friend group and my sort of wider community who hadn’t had kids for all sorts of different reasons. And that I was not the only one and had probably never been the only one. It’s just that there hadn’t really ever been a space for us to acknowledge our affirmative no or even our sort of agnostic, I’m not really sure
Ruby: Right? And so yeah, it’s just what’s revealing itself now as a surprise is that there haven’t been spaces for us to gather and communicate about this deeply personal but incredibly impactful orientation. Again, however we may find ourselves here, because this isn’t just a book for the affirmative nos, this is a book for any and every woman without kids.
And I, I really tried to be inclusive in what I’m sharing both about my own story. But then, so the memoir piece is probably 25% of the content, and then I bring my journalistic kind of mind and skills to the rest of the information I’m presenting. It’s heavily researched book and really seeks to join previously kind of disparate dots I suppose, in terms of our story as women, ultimately.
Nancy: Yeah. And I love, there is of course a distinction between child-less and child-free. And I also appreciate the way that you approach the affirmative no, as an orientation as opposed to a choice or a decision.
And certainly it is those things, it can be those things, but I like the way that you presented it sort of in terms of sexual orientation. I really appreciated that.
Ruby: Yeah. It felt a little edgy in a way.
Nancy: It is. But it’s also, I think what it does is, for me, I wanna say like it makes it easier, but it, that’s not really what it is. Maybe it makes me feel like I don’t know if i really have to defend anything because this just is, it just is how I am.
Ruby: Yeah. I’ve even been playing with the term since the book has come out a-reproductive the same way some people determine as self-determined as asexual, just a reproductive. I just never had the urge. It just hasn’t ever been physically, psychologically something that I have felt any pull towards. Not that I didn’t try and sort of talk myself out of this orientation because of the expectations of the wider society. Yeah.
Nancy: Interesting. I absolutely wanna talk about what you originally wanted to call the book because yes. So you originally, your working title was Selfish Cunts.
Ruby: It was, yes.
Nancy: I love it. I love it. And I get why it wasn’t the right title.
Ruby: Yeah. Right. From a marketing perspective, I think it would’ve been a very hard sell. I think it would’ve seriously limited the audience because the word cunt is so reviled.
Many people find it highly offensive or very triggered by it. And I just think, again, there’s a, a section where I talk about why that is to me, that just anything that is so taboo just tells me there’s a ton of shadow work to be done.
Nancy: Absolutely true.
Ruby: A ton of repressed anger, fear, emotion, violence that has just still not been processed individually and as a society. So yeah, the, the title kind of dropped in really, really quickly simultaneously with me deciding that I, I was interested in writing a book on this subject and it came from the place of just realizing in my kind of early mid forties that like you, I had no regrets about not having done this thing that I felt incredible gratitude that I lived, had been born in an era and in a country where I did get to choose how I lived my life, where I got to pursue the education I wanted, the kind of career I wanted and just to really live my life and plan my days in a way that suited me and and allow me to really enjoy my life.
And almost immediately on reflecting on my gratitude about this, I heard what a selfish cunt. And that just seemed shocking to me that that message was so internalized in me that to have lived my life as I choose makes me selfish when my life and my actions have not as far as I am aware, caused any harm to anybody or prevented anybody else from having the things that they want and need in their life. If anything, especially with my work as an author, I’ve really, I hope contributed something valuable by pursuing the things that I want for myself. And then the sort of double meaning with the fact that it is largely due to the fact that I haven’t had a child, that I’ve been able to pursue these things. I have been selfish about what I have done with my cunt.
Ruby: That just kind of hit home really hard. And I mean, I am not a confrontational person. I’m not somebody who’s out to shock necessarily. I am very drawn to discussing taboo subjects, but not in a, not from a rebellious place or a place where I’m, I’m out to shock or kind of cause a stir necessarily just because I really truly believe that these are the things we need to talk about. These are the places we hold shame. And when we are holding shame in our bodies and in our psyche, it prevents us from fully expressing ourselves and from being free ultimately.
And so this is why I’m drawn to these taboo subjects, drinking, obviously being the other one big one that people know me for. So yeah, that was my working title throughout I even pitched it to, to Sound True, who’s my publisher with Women Without Kids. And I had a call with an editor and they’re like, yeah, we quite like it, but it’s, it’s really gonna be impactful, I don’t know.
And I was, I was like, wait, wait, let me come back to you in a couple of days. So I re-pitched it with the title Selfish Cunt and that’s when they bought it. But, but yeah, best sales team, I think we’re all in agreement that this would be a very tough sell in terms of a more mainstream book.
Nancy: Yeah. And what I personally love about the title is one would think that really the offensive word is cunts.
Nancy: And yet so many women are so triggered by selfish. And I know that in my own work I really, I’m like on a bandwagon to reclaim selfish because we have given it such a bad rap. And in fact, for all the reasons you said to me selfish is honoring my own needs and honoring my own choices and taking really good care of myself, not at the expense of someone else, but I’m willing to give myself the consideration that I give others. And that unfortunately right there, that baseline has been labeled as selfish.
Ruby: Absolutely. And I think just the fact that selfish is such a derogatory term, particularly when directed towards women, and particularly in this area but yet mothers are called selfish when they dare to take any time for themselves or dare to put their needs ahead of their children’s needs or their partner’s needs, you know, or their wider family’s needs.
I think it just says so much about how selflessness is still upheld as an ideal for women. And it also says a huge amount about who in our society is allowed to aspire to, dare to aspire to, a life where they actually get the things they want, right?
Nancy: Absolutely. And really in looking at selfless, we vanish, we disappear. There is no self and yet we are, that is what we are upholding. And so the moment, especially as a woman, we come into this knowing that I need to take care of myself or I need to give myself my own oxygen or I need to really consider what do I want? What are my desires in my own life? And that were labeled so quickly. I think there’s such a piece with the shame and the guilt around it that I will often when working with clients invite them to look at guilt in this particular context of taking care of yourself, is a signal that you’re on the right track. It does mean it’s an indicator that you are doing what you need to do for you.
Yeah. I feel so strongly about reclaiming selfish as it’s really good. It’s really okay.
Ruby: Yes, exactly. And I think I said this is a lot about who gets to live a life where we get what we want, but this is about what we need.
Ruby: As much as what we want. Right. Like for as one example, I know that I need a lot of solitude and a lot of alone time in order to be able to show up in the ways that I want to and be in relationship in the ways that I want to. I need, this is something I’ve learned about myself through trial and error over many decades, but actually something I oriented towards, even as a small child, I very rarely played with other kids. I often just wanted to be on my own. I always loved reading. It was, I’ve always been a very self-contained person. And I’m not sure how astrology literate your listeners are, but…
Nancy: Yeah, bring it in.
Ruby: This Is just something that came up today. Cause I was reading one of my astrologist, new favorite astrologist, newsletters. She was talking about Neptune, which is the planet of, it’s this, the planet around spirituality and sort of empathy and compassion and healing. I have Neptune right on my ascendant. And just to briefly explain, I’ve always felt, and this sort of placement affirms it, I’m just incredibly porous. I kind of, I feel a hell of a lot. Like sometimes honestly, I’ll walk down the street and just feel such deep compassion for the strangers walking past me, how hard it is to be a human, how hard it is to make ends meet, how hard it’s to put food on the table for your child. How hard it is to show up day in, day out in a system that completely devalues our human needs.
And I will like find myself on the brink of tears, but just walking past strangers on the streets, feeling overwhelmed by like the sheer level of suffering in the world. And I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic here, but this is just kind of, this is part of my makeup. Like I absorb all this stuff. I can’t help but take it in and feel it.
And I think that my need for solitude is a need to kind of release all of that and to kind of just let all of that leave my body and leave my psyche. And I just kind of need, I think of these, I, I describe them the sort of cleansing hours of solitude in the book. Yet solitude of motherhood don’t really go hand in hand, right?
Nancy: Hell no.
Ruby: So I’ve also identified in the writing of this book that this has been one of the drivers of my deciding. I don’t think motherhood is for me, I don’t think I’m gonna get the level of alone time and solitude that I need. But some people would view that as incredibly selfish to declare that I need this amount of time alone. But I know from, I was just on the road for over a month promoting the book, doing multiple family visits, hosting all kinds of events, I slept in tons of spare rooms and on sofas and was at dinners every single night. And I just kind of, by the end of it, I really felt like I’m really struggling to find myself.
I really could feel myself just sort of getting completely lost. And I’ve spent the past week since I’ve been back, just really kind of grounding down. I haven’t seen anybody apart from my husband and my cat. And I’ve just kind of felt myself gradually kind of held the different pieces kind of gradually coming back to me. So I know from my experience that not enough alone time leaves me feeling very lost, spun out, fragmented, and just sort of diluted in a way.
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Nancy: I resonate with that very deeply. And my young childhood and even adolescence was very much that way. Also, I was very much a loner. I was always reading, my mother was the kind of mother who’d say, go find friends. And I was like, I don’t want friends. I just wanna be in my room with myself. And just in the last little while I’ve been able to connect a dot or connect a couple dots around, you know, I was in an 18 year marriage that I left and then I had another relationship for about eight years that ended. And I really prefer being with myself. I, I’m like a relationship if we’re gonna go a, you know. I’m an a relationship. I really noticed that my natural way of being and my natural way of wanting to be is with myself, is not with another person and is not with a lot of people. I have a handful of very close friends and that’s wonderful and I still don’t wanna be in their presence all the time.
Ruby: And yet, and again, this is another orientation that we are taught is somehow dysfunctional.
Nancy: Yeah. This, yes this whole thing of like, what do you mean you’re not dating anybody? And I’m like, no, I don’t wanna date. And they’re like, oh, you’ll find someone. No, no, I don’t want, I’m not looking for someone. I don’t wanna find someone. Believe me,
Ruby: I’m content.
Nancy: Yes. I mean, if I wanted to date I could. If I wanted to have sex, I’m sure I could. All of that is out there for the taking. What I really want is what I have right now. And I think I got sort of sidetracked along the way by much like, I think women sort of, this is what I’m gonna say. It’s not the right thing to say. Women just sort of go along with having kids because it’s what you’re supposed to do. And I think people get married cuz it’s what you’re supposed to do the same thing. It’s not really like there isn’t a real grocking of what that actually entails.
Ruby: Right. And I think that is an absolutely fair thing to say. I’ve had many women who’ve, many mothers who’ve read my book reflect to me, you know what, I had kids because I thought it was just what you do.
Ruby: I didn’t really question it and now you’ve given me permission to question it as a mother and to question whether I would’ve done this had I had my time again. And rather than that bringing up shame for people, it’s more of a permission to
Ruby: Always revel in mothering to question maybe there is more to life, life, maybe it’s okay to want more. Maybe my whole identity rather doesn’t have to be mother. Maybe I’m allowed to be a woman without my kids.
Ruby: I’ve had lots of people feeling very grateful to have those sorts of realizations on reading this book too.
Nancy: Absolutely. I think it’s true. And I think for me, much like women who do that or like I just went along with doing what I’m supposed to do, I feel like I went along with that for marriage. I was not a kid who played with dolls getting married. I wasn’t a girl who dreamt about getting married. Even when we decided to get married, it wasn’t like a proper proposal. It was, do you wanna get married? Okay. You know, it was like that.
Ruby: That seems like the next thing, right?
Nancy: Yeah. Like I guess, what else are we doing? Whereas now I would have a whole different perspective on it. But yeah, I think that for me what it, this past even I would say short period of time, maybe even the last, even six months, has been this real reckoning of, oh, I’ve just come back to who I really am. I got sidetracked. But now I’ve come home, I’ve come back to what is true for me, in terms of relating with others and what I do need. Yeah.
Ruby: I feel a bit like that. Having read this book actually it helped me put to rest so many of my questions about this orientation and some of it has meant acknowledging a lot of pain and dysfunction, particularly within my family. I wonder if you can relate to this. I do think that, so I have two brothers, one with the same mother, stepbrother or half-brother. And so my half-brother, my dad’s child with his second wife as we touched on, has very, very severe disabilities. Very all consuming. My father who’s 75 and his wife who’s 66 are still his full-time caregivers. It’s an incredibly challenging situation for them all. And as my father’s daughter to see him in. And it also has meant I have not really had, he was born when I was 20.
Ruby: At which point I was in my own very difficult kind of dark night of the soul situation. But I, from that age, I haven’t really had a father in the same way. Yeah. Now my brother, who’s just three and a half years younger than me, he also got very, very sick when he was 10 months old. He got meningitis and almost died. I can’t remember if I left that in the book, but maybe I didn’t.
Nancy: I don’t think you did.
Ruby: He became very sick, very young. And my mom became very fearful for his health and his needs going forward. And I just, I can’t help but think that a lot of my lonerish self-sufficiency was not necessarily a coping mechanism, but something I developed very young because my caregivers were otherwise engaged.
Ruby: They were incapacitated to, to a degree, to care for me. And I just learned very young, I think even before my brother was born, as I discussed in my podcast episode with Kelly McDaniel.
Nancy: Yes. Which is brilliant. Brilliant. I listened to it. I listened to it three times, Ruby!
Ruby: You went deep! Quick aside, I did a a ton of really fascinating research interviews for the book that I recorded as a limited edition podcast series, which people can listen to.
Nancy: Yes, yes.
Ruby: Women Without Kids. And there’s one with Kelly on the subject of Mother Hunger. Because something I learned in discussing the book and the themes with my mother was that I started sucking my thumb self soothing in utero. So part of me, even before I came Earth side, was equipped to look after my own needs. And so I do think that this uber self-sufficiency that I have, which manifests as a, a lonerishness because actually I’m just very content meeting my own needs in the moment as they arise and not needing or relying on others to do that for me, it’s a gift in many ways. And it also I think came from a place of not necessarily feeling those needs were gonna be met by my primary caregivers, which some people might see as a, a dysfunction or loss or a lack. And my adaptation to that has served me very well actually.
Ruby: Here we are.
Nancy: Yeah. Same. I mean I look at the same way it’s a coping mechanism or a survival strategy, but it’s the same, you know, I was imprinted with “better I be self-sufficient and independent because his needs are more important than mine”.
Nancy: Or to some degree around that. And you know, oh we could have a whole conversation on Mother Hunger too.
Ruby: Of course. We could.
Nancy: We could.
Ruby: Maybe we will. But Mother Hunger, I guess your listeners probably know about Mother Hunger and what it is.
Nancy: Yeah, They do. Just because I’ve had Kelly McDaniel on the podcast and I’ve actually, I just recently, I taught a day long workshop on Mother Hunger and I talk about it a lot. But we will also link to my episode with Kelly in the show notes. And we could link to yours as well.
Ruby: Yeah. And I just, I bring it up cause I do think that, so I make the point in the book that it’s really only women born from the late 1960s onwards on the heels of, or in the midst of the women’s liberation movement with the advent of accessible, reliable birth control and safe legal abortion until recently. Obviously.
It’s our generations who are the first really in a kind of a mainstream way to have actually had the option to A. question whether we want to become mothers B.make the decision about whether or not to become mothers C. pursue education, D. pursue careers where we might be able to support ourselves financially. This has always been available to some women, but not on the kind of larger scale. And yeah, I do kind of, I make the point that one of the reasons I think we’re seeing more women without kids is because of these advances in terms of women’s empowerment and then also a shadow aspect to this, which is sort of, again, taboo to say, but I’m just gonna say it.
Ruby: Is that women balancing careers and work lives with motherhood has meant a lessening of the hands-on caregiving and potentially in, Kelly in our conversation affirmed that she believes this is true, potentially leaving more people being raised with a sense of Mother Hunger. I’m not getting enough of my mother, I’m just not getting enough of my mother. And this is not to blame or shame any woman, particularly in a society and an economy where it’s actually not financially viable for most women to be stay at home mothers and to not also be generating an income to support the household. So it’s not about shaming people for doing that, but it’s sort of saying what is lost when we have women, particularly with, you know, just intractable kind of conversations around giving people proper paid parental leave for example.
Ruby: What is lost is that kind of 24 7 hands-on nurturing caregiving that very young infants do need in order to form a really secure attachment.
Ruby: And a really secure sort of sense of stuff. And for some people I count myself as one of these people that can manifest in a more avoidant attachment style. I don’t need me too people.
I’m good, thanks. I’m good, thanks.
Nancy: Yep. Same.
Ruby: So it’s complicated because none of it’s like good or bad, it’s all very yeah, complex. But I just think the more we can acknowledge it, the better we can actually understand ourselves. We can understand what we do need, what works for us, what doesn’t.
Ruby: And just yeah. Make a, make a life hopefully that really reflects what we need and who we are.
Nancy: Yeah. To this point, a couple things come to mind. Earlier this year, my mother had surgery and my sister, my sister’s four years younger than I am, my sister and I both went to be with my parents when my mother was having the surgery. And my sister has a husband and kids and she stayed as long as she could and then needed to go back to her family and then she came back again.But I stayed for six weeks.
Nancy: Really taking care of my mom. So if anyone had been asked, which kid will stay with her, everyone would’ve said my sister. Oh, she’s the nurturer because she’s the mom. She’s the mom. Exactly. But because of my lifestyle and my schedule and my working for myself and all this, it was easy for me to be the one to stay.
And it was so very healing for me and my mom to have that kind of time together that even my sister said, you needed that time together, the two of you. Because my mom and I have a very different relationship than my sister and my mother.
And the other thing is that my sister’s got two kids, they’re 18 and 21 when they were little,I, I would go stay with them for a weekend. That’s harder than anything I’ve ever done in my entire life.
Nancy: I mean my sister is so fortunate that she is able to be home with them. She refers to herself as CEO of house and home and you know, she has been there. She has been able to be there for them and provide the nurturance, protection and guidance for these kids.And that is invaluable. But this whole thing of there is no having at all.
Nancy: It’s that something’s gotta give, something’s gonna come at a cost. So like you were saying, it’s like if we focus on career, the being with our kids is lessened. The being with the kids, the career may not exist and there’s no reason to be looking for the all that is again the patriarchy barking at us.
Nancy: But the other thing I noticed is that, that in a time that I was with my mom in those six weeks, I got the tiniest glimpse of the context switching, the constant context switching that must happen for mothers, that I don’t actually have that level of fluidity. I like to do what I like to do. I like to focus on what I like to focus on. I don’t like being pulled out of something into something else. I don’t like rushing, I don’t like leaving something and having to really clear my mind entirely to get ready for something else. And I think that must be how mothers live.
It’s in my mind it’s this, you know, because my sister just does it without looking even hard. And I noticed that it really sort of, it really rocked me that kind of moving between all these different ways of having to show up.
Ruby: Yeah. I feel the same. And that’s what I was experiencing on that long kind of trip was doing all the family stuff and all the book stuff and then meeting friends and doing work meetings and constantly traveling and constantly packing and unpacking. I just felt completely discombobulated by the end of it.
But I realize, because I spent a couple of weeks in Berlin where my brother lives with my nephew is there and he co-parents with his wife. They’ve separated but they really split the childcare 50-50 like week by week and he has a fantastic relationship with his son and is such an incredible dad, just absolutely loves it. And it’s wonderful to watch him in that role and this is something else I find really interesting. He always wanted to be a dad and he’s the guy, right. And I never wanted to be a mom and I’m the woman. And which again, yeah, this is not a gender specific orientation or vocation. Parenting, the desire and attitude for parenting is not gender specific.
Nancy: Yeah, I agree.
Ruby: So, but yes, just being, just noticing he’s his sort of schedule and just the ups and downs in the schedule and the constant sort of monitoring of the schedule and having to show up in different ways in different situations. It just seemed completely exhausting to me. I couldn’t imagine, imagine living that way.
Nancy: I mean I know and it’s the other sort of, you know, I always will say like my sister had my kids for me so I didn’t have to have them because I’m very close with them and especially with my niece because we look alike, I get to have that feeling that I know that moms, that mothers have of like looking at their child as like a piece of them or them being reflected back at them.
I feel like I get a bonus. Like I get the benefit of feeling that with my niece and nephew AND I get to live my life how I wanna live it.
Ruby: I feel like that a bit with my nephew as well because he really does, we share a lot of physical traits. So when I’m, it’s weird, like when I’m out with my brother and him, I’m like, people probably think we are his parents. This is kind of odd, but.
Nancy: My sister and I always say with my niece because she looks exactly like us. We’re like, oh yeah, we’re like the lesbian moms of this child. We gave birth to her. You know, because it’s what it looks like. It’s very funny, funny.
Ruby: But I sometimes, like, I almost don’t want to share this with my brother because I so feel like he might be a bit like, well yeah you just get the good bits. Like you get all the benefits without any of the hard work. And I do feel like this is one of the bones of contention or one of the things that keeps what I call the “mummy binary.
Ruby: Alive is a degree of envy on maybe like both people’s behalfs, although possibly more so I would say on the case, on the side of the parents, this idea that you get to be a kind of part-time parent. Especially if you’re close to a niece or nephew or even a younger sibling or like if you have those kind of intergenerational relationships where you are not the person who is the primary caregiver who’s like the one who’s there on call 24/7 for the messier and more inconvenient needs of the child, I think there’s a lot of envy on behalf of parents who have been sold.
Ruby: Again, and this is why the message, this is why the message that motherhood is where you will find your true fulfillment is so damaging because it’s really hard work, it’s really hard, it’s massively undervalued and there’s so little true recognition of how important it is, how difficult it is, how challenging it is, how demanding it is, and how selfless one has to become in that situation.
And so I think that can build a lot of resentment, which mothers then don’t have anywhere to put apart from non-mothers. And so you get this kind of binary, this divide of like kind of competitiveness between mothers and non mothers or, and particularly I think some mothers really projecting a lot of that onto non mothers, hence you’re a Selfish Cunt, right?
Nancy: Yeah. Right. And it’s, and becoming a mother is not something to become without a great deal of consideration.
Nancy: You know, it’s, And ideally support. That’s the other thing that really became very clear on the write in the writing of this book was that once you have dependence, you need, not want, need people you can depend on whether that is partner, whether that is a wider family network who you are close to who are gonna help out. Whether that’s friends, whether that’s a supportive employer who is gonna give you a decent amount of paid leave. Like you, when you have dependents, you need other people attending to your needs when you are attending to the needs of another.And that it just became incredibly clear how lacking that is.
Again, not least due to the messaging that this is something that comes naturally to women, that naturally women find pleasure and fulfillment in. No this is work.
Nancy: Yep, exactly.
Ruby: This is work that detracts from you being able to do your other work. And so yeah, I think there’s a big and very important conversation which is gathering more momentum. Particularly with like for example, Marion Williamson is running prison.
Ruby: Ok. You’re smiling. I’m like, can we get Political Here? But I’m very excited that so much of her campaign messaging is around this sort of conversation. Like families are not getting the support that they need to raise their children to live a decent comfortable life. And it’s just completely unfair and it’s completely fixable.
Ruby: You know?
Ruby: This is her message and I’m so excited that she’s out there shouting about it. So that’s where the work, this book and the work of this book goes more into the kind of social justice or political sphere I suppose.
Nancy: Yeah. Yeah. I appreciated all the different aspects you brought in of the child freeness not bringing a child into the world for there’s already enough mouths to feed or the climate or all of it.
Ruby: Or even people, I mean the week that we are speaking has been a yet another mass shooting. Unsurprisingly, because there are hundreds every week.
Nancy: I know.
Ruby: And of course how can this not be impacting people’s decisions about whether or not to bring a child in the world if they know that sending their child up to kindergarten.
Nancy: I know.
Ruby: Or primary school every day they could. It’s just how
Nancy: That you can’t reconcile it.
Ruby: Yeah, exactly.
Nancy: There’s a disconnect between, right, between the school shootings and so many teen suicides. Right. And it’s a lot. It’s a lot.
Ruby: Exactly. And then in the meantime, when people are questioning whether they want to become parents or opting not to, they are called selfish, immature, diluted, haven’t thought it through, you are missing out.
Nancy: You’ll never know what love is. That’s my favorite.
Ruby: That’s right.
Nancy: You’ll never know what true love is.
Ruby: Right. Right. I mean I’ve had this conversation, my dad said that to me once and he’s since, because I’ve put it in the manuscript and he, and he’s since joked about who was that idiot that said that to you?
But, and we’ve kind of discussed it and I think that there is, I think that like as with happiness or sadness or any of the other sort of big emotions, there are many textures to an emotion like love. And I think there is a texture to the love that exists between a parent and child that I will never experience. I don’t necessarily think it’s the most pleasurable kind of love. It’s certainly not the most unconditional kind of love. I think I experienced that with my cat actually. Bless Him.
Like, cats just don’t hold grudges, do they? It’s fantastic. Not anything like cruel to my cat or anything. But you know, I went away, I traveled for a month and I didn’t see him for a month. Then when I got back he kind of looked at me a bit like, who are you? But within minutes he was at my side purring all over me.
Nancy: I feel like I could really talk to forever.
Nancy: I have so much resonance and so much appreciation for your courageousness and boldness in writing this book. And as you said earlier, this book is not just for women who don’t have kids, this is also a really beautiful meditation on what it means, what motherhood means and what it means to not be a parent, to be a mother.
And for anyone listening, how would you say, who do you invite to have a read or a listen?
I like listening cause I like your voice.
Ruby: There is an audio book, yeah.
I remember reflecting to kind of friends during the writing process. This is a book about the human condition. This is about a book about what it means to be a human being. It’s a book about where we are headed as a human race. It’s a book about the evolution of womankind. I mean, anybody who’s interested in these kind of big picture questions about, truly is the procreation of the species the only reason we are here is the meaning of life only to create more life? I think that’s something that many of us are questioning.
Anybody who’s kind of interested in pondering these kind of big picture questions about why we’re even here. Like will probably find value in this book. I hope that it’s an enjoyable, pleasurable read. I wanted to, with the writing, I tried hard to make it just an enjoyable read. So anybody who loves memoir and yeah, anybody who I guess is also interested in examining their own relationship to their own mother.
Like one question that I started the writing process with was how can our experience of being mothered not impact our feelings about becoming a mother or even being a mother? And I think that anybody who’s interested in sort of particularly mother-daughter relationships and dynamics will point a lot of value in the book as well. Because I really go quite deep in terms of talking about my relationship with my mom.
Nancy: You do indeed. And again, I so appreciated your transparency and your willing to share so deeply about your own experience and the way that the book is framed with all of this. There’s research, there’s so much to contemplate, there’s so much to contemplate in the listening that goes beyond being a mother and not being a mother. So I appreciate it.
Ruby: Thank you. Thanks for listening.
Nancy: Yes. I loved it. I actually listened to it on three days, on three different hikes. So I was out in nature just listening to your voice as I was hiking along and it was perfect. Yeah, it was great.
I’ve loved having you here. The best place for people to find you is?
Ruby: Currently Instagram. I’ve had a real love-hate relationship, but I’m enjoy when I have something I’m passionate about talking about. I like it. I like having that platform. So I’ve been more active there.
I’m not sure when this is going to be released, but I have an in-person, Women Without Kids Retreat happening in the middle of June at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Massachusetts. So that’s gonna be just two nights, three days, two nights kind of immersion. An opportunity and I, I really felt the hunger for this, the live book launch events I did.
Ruby: Just as we touched on earlier, there are so few spaces for women without kids to speak openly about this in conversation with one another. And I just felt the need, the hunger and the value of that in those, at those launch events just for an hour or two. So I’m anticipating a really deep experience on that weekend long retreat.
Nancy: Hmm. How wonderful. I love it. Okay, so best place to find Ruby is on Instagram and her book that’s out right now is Women Without Kids.
And Ruby, I’m gonna have you back because I just want to,
Ruby: Yeah, I love that. Let’s do it.
Nancy: Good. Great. All right. Thanks everybody for listening and we’ll see you again next time.
Thanks so much for being here with me today, and I look forward to being with you again next time.
Thanks so much for joining me today on Your Permission Prescription. For even more, I invite you to head on over to nancylevin.com and sign up for my newsletter, The Practice, and follow me on social media.
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