Lauren Pheeney Della Monica graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in art history and Spanish Literature in 1995. Lauren completed a program in art connoisseurship at Christie’s, NY. She then worked at an American paintings gallery and at the Citibank Private Bank Art Advisory Service, assisting clients with purchasing fine art and valuing artwork for loan portfolios. As a complement to her arts training, Lauren received her JD in 2001. While in law school, she interned in the General Counsel’s office at The Museum of Modern Art. Lauren practiced commercial litigation and art law at a firm for two years. She then launched her art consulting business, LPDM Fine Art Consulting, in 2004.
Yesterday I met a friend/client for lunch at a lovely restaurant known for its salads and pastries. There were quite a number of tables inhabited by pairs of women. I arrived five minutes early, so I was seated in a corner table on a banquet, right beside two lunching ladies who were in their mid 50s. I could not help but overhear their conversation, try as I might to check my email on my Treo, turn off the ringer, write myself a list in my pocket notebook, and drink my newly poured glass of cold water. But, they were just inches away, and I could hear every word. And I was fascinated. Lady A and Lady B were discussing some women they know who never had children, and so they also have no grandchildren. My mind was racing with each statement made. Their take is that because these other women have not had kids (and these are all quotes as best I can remember them):
(Lady A) “They care more about which restaurant we go to and less about friendship. They will say things like, “Oh, I can’t eat there. The food is terrible.” It is as though they don’t know what is important in life because they have not had children. Lunch should be about the friendship not about where you eat. If the food is edible that should be good enough.”
(LPDM — I just have to interject my thoughts) I simply don’t understand the logic. How does a woman’s womb have anything to do with where she dines for Caesar salad in her 50s? Perhaps the women at issue are not interested in the same menus, in which case perhaps they should not dine together. But why is this about reproductive history? And then how exactly does reproductive history inform one’s understanding of friendship? I thought friendships were learned and developed early on in life before the age of reproduction (and continued long after the childbearing years).
(Lady B) “It is just terrible. When you are seated at a table and all the rest of us have children and grandchildren to talk about it is just so terrible. They have nothing. They have nothing to add to the conversation because they have nothing in their lives. So, I just shoot the others a look and try to turn the conversation away from families.”
(LPDM) Excuse me. Hearing you talk about your children and grandchildren is probably boring and something which others (parents, grandparents or otherwise) tolerate to an extent out of politeness and custom. A few minutes of that kind of proud mother/grandmother talk at any ladies lunch is acceptable, but it can get old fast whether you are a parent or not. And wait, don’t you have anything else to talk about besides your family? Is your life that empty? Not having children and grandchildren does not mean you have nothing in your life. It means that you don’t have THAT in your life. It means that perhaps you can’t relate on that topic any more than when a group of men sit around discussing basketball scores and you are not a fan so you are probably bored and have nothing to add. It does not make you empty, just off topic. Go ahead, change the topic. But please don’t do it out of pity.
(Lady A) “I know. They always need to talk about themselves because they don’t have families to talk about. They need attention. I notice that they create illnesses to talk about just to get attention because they have not had children and they don’t know how to put themselves second and care for other people first. They don’t know that the world is not all about them and they don’t know how to care about anyone else.”
(LPDM) In an age when baby boomers are having to care for their own aging, and perhaps ailing, parents in record numbers according to many sources I find it hard to believe that simply not having children will absolve anyone from ever having to care for anyone else. Chances are they care for their spouse as well as for themselves. They also have had parents at some point and may have had to care for them, and maybe even for a sibling at some time, or another friend or a pet. Women have lots of care taking roles in their lives and the need is only projected to grow over the coming years. I guess it only counts for Lady A and Lady B, though, if you care for your children.
Maybe their childless “friends” are terribly self-centered, vapid hypochondriacs and if so, I think all of these women should stop having lunch together and perhaps give up the charade of friendship. It sounds dreadful. However, if a friend comes to you to discuss her illness have an ounce of compassion — maybe your friend is scared about being ill and needs some support. Since you are such a warm, giving, family-oriented woman perhaps you could spare some kindness and lend your friend a shoulder rather than vilifying her for talking to you.
(Lady B) “Well, you know, they are bored in their marriages and they don’t have children or grandchildren to distract them. That’s their problem.”
(LPDM) Oh, so not having children means one has a problem. I see. Lady, other people’s marriages are none of your business. As my dear friend once said to me, “If you aren’t in it, don’t judge it.” Hard as that is sometimes, it is good advice. Maybe Lady B has some marital issues of her own that she is projecting? And I don’t think anyone would say that having kids saves a bad marriage. No matter how much you love your children, it is still a bad marriage but with more pressure and responsibility.
Finally (and this is really the big one) how dare you be so judgemental! You can never know why someone does not have children. Perhaps it is a conscious decision not to have children and to choose a different lifestyle. Not everyone wants to be a parent, and it is not for you to judge. Perhaps the woman desperately wants kids but has been unable to conceive and has been through years of agonizing and expensive fertility procedures. Perhaps the woman never found the right partner with whom to have children or her timing was off and so it never worked out. My point is that simply having children does not make you better than someone who does not have them. It just makes you different.
Ah, thank goodness. My lunch partner has arrived. Now we can get down to our business of talking about her newborn, our love and lives and our business transaction!s