Why do people criticise women who have decided to be child-free? I think there are several reasons for this:
1. Our parents lived in a generation where there were still expectations of women and couples to have children. Particularly if your family comes from a culture where there is a high value placed on family, parents can worry and be concerned about our happiness.
2. Despite the advances of feminism and strides in women’s equality, there is still a great inequality and double standard in how women's and men’s value in the world is perceived. It is rare, for example, for a man to experience pressure and criticism due to his personal choice to have children or not. The female identity is still entangled with child-rearing although things are changing for the better.
3. Having a child does change your life, so much that it can be difficult to see an alternative path. Friends of yours who have had children and feel very ‘in love’ with their new life may have an evangelical fever – similar to those of people who have discovered a new religion or given up smoking! I also feel that there can be a tinge of jealousy or need to maintain that their choice was the ‘right’ one. Seeing a friend living a different life to the one which we are leading can be unnerving and can lead people to unconsciously try to ‘convert’ a friend to address this unnerving feeling.
4. Finally, people can often say things without thinking! Many of us are caught up in our own worlds and own worries. We all say thoughtless and unfeeling things to others at times.
The other thing that I see happening time and time again is that when clients feel unsure or uncertain about a decision, they can experience more unwanted feedback or criticism from others. Through working on becoming clearer about what they want, and so becoming more confident about their decision, clients report that they find that they receive fewer negative comments and feedback! When we are able to be centred and respond calmly and clearly to others, it puts up a gentle boundary – it does not invite further discussion or debate. It does not invite negative criticism. If someone does persist (because perhaps they are a very unaware and insensitive person), their words will not have the power to hurt you. In the exercise below, I am going to teach you a simple centring exercise that I teach to all my clients.
Coaching Point: Four Part Centring Exercise
This is a Conscious Embodiment exercise that I learnt from the founder of Conscious Embodiment, Wendy Palmer. Before we start, pick a quality that you feel will help you both with the situation of dealing with pressure/criticism and generally in life. Qualities include
Take your time and say the quality out loud. When you choose the right one it will really resonate – you should feel a sense of ‘yes, this is the right one.’ If you are struggling, pick the word ease to work with for now.
Now you are ready to begin. Focus your awareness on your breathing and imagine that as you inhale, the breath is going up along your back, through your neck giving you a little bit of uplift and straightness. Then give a nice long slow exhalation. As you do this, imagine the breath travelling back down your front and then connecting you to the ground.
Now let gravity take the weight of your shoulders and jaw, feel the tension releasing these areas, opening up your upper body.
Now imagine that you are surrounded by a bubble of energy. Imagine that this bubble of energy is equal all around you – at your front and your back and your left and your right, above and beneath you. You are totally centred in this bubble of energy and any time you feel stress, negative feedback or criticism coming towards you, you can simply allow yourself to imagine that this stress or criticism is landing on your energy bubble – not within you.
In your mind's eye, hold the question ‘What would it be like if I had just a little bit more of my quality in my body right now?’ Allow whatever answer needs to come – whether it is a sensation in an area of your body or an image or a thought. Just notice what answer comes to you. Allow yourself to be with this question for a moment.
Return your awareness to your breathing – to the uplift of the inhalation and then to the grounding energy of the exhalation. Repeat this several times and then slowly bring your awareness back to the room, open your eyes and just notice what you feel like.
You can now use this exercise in your everyday life to help you deal with comments or criticisms of other people. Whenever someone begins to criticise or comment on your choice to be child-free you can simply imagine that you are surrounded by your bubble of energy. Imagine that their comments land on your bubble and that they can disappear. Invoke your quality and breathe up and down before you respond. This should help you to respond in a calm, confident and centred way. Notice their reaction – is it different from other reactions? And more importantly, how did you feel? Did you feel less stressed and less likely to focus on them and their words?