Childfree – A Latina’s Perspective

The following Childfree Story is brought to us by Gloria de Leon. Gloria is a Latina, and as a member of that community, has some interesting perspectives to offer on the pressures experienced by women of this ethnic group.

While some readers may take issue with her characterizing herself as childfree – she became a stepmother to her husband’s children – I find it informative to read about the evolution of thought that Gloria experienced. Even more, I find it amazing to read about how Gloria is helping subsequent generations of Latina women learn that having children is a choice.

Choice and Circumstance

Photo of Gloria de Leon

Gloria de Leon

As a mature Latina of Mexican American descent, I recognized my life would be defined by choice or circumstance.  Given the history of traditional roles and predictable demographics, my path was limited.  Every one of my peers was headed towards the same direction. I found myself surrounded by girlfriends engaged by senior year in high school.  My thought was, “I’m not ready to get married!”

Meantime, my four older sisters married right out of high school and became mothers by the time they were 21.  I babysat, changed diapers, spent quality time loving all my nieces and nephews.

Initially, the tug of maternal instinct was easy to postpone.  I didn’t want children “right now”.  Completing my education was important.  Although I was clearly headed toward marriage, a broken engagement forced me to consider “what am I going to do with a college degree?”

The answer was to find myself.  Seasoned professionals encouraged me to move into larger circles, prompting the move from my home town to Austin Texas.  I met wise, thoughtful and engaged community advocates, in particular, the man who would become my husband.

I became a step Mom to my husband’s four children in my mid 20’s.  At 29, we founded a nonprofit Latino leadership organization.  Within the first decade, we had expanded to other states and today serve thousands of national and international students.

Life was exciting and engaging.  Every day, I woke up with more to do than hours in the day.  My husband and I were constructing a new model, a distinct shift in the mindset of Latino youth. It became a social movement instilling a desire to lead, innovating thought leadership in the next generation and leveraging community assets.

Life circumstances changed me.  I didn’t obsess about motherhood.  In the few fleeting moments I did consider having children, I could only imagine halting the life I loved.  My husband already had four children.  He never insisted on more.  Our “baby” was our life work and that was multiplying annually.

Motherhood is an honored and cherished tradition in the Latino community.  My Mom was a great inspiration but I often wondered if she ever had a choice for anything else.  It wasn’t until my father died and we left home that Mom found a separate identity.  In her 60’s, it was the first time in her life she bought new clothes, attended Christmas parties, or surrounded herself with a circle of friends.

Engaged as a college sorority advisor for 15 years, I’ve witnessed first and second generation Latinas struggle with family pressure and insinuations regarding marriage or children.  Many have never known a woman who is fulfilled outside of motherhood.  It’s hard to deny the sound of their biological clock.  They express concern about not finding a prospective spouse in college or less likely at work.  Like many college women, the haunting fear is the inability to chart the predictable linear schedule of college, marriage and children.

Today’s pressure towards motherhood triggers young Latinas to make choices that often leads to the rise of single mother households.  Some have children outside of marriage, others marry, bear children and eventually divorce.  The heavily weighed social norm continues to be a woman’s value on the basis of she was “asked” to be married and if she bore children.

I recognize I’m not the norm.  As a young woman, I knew I was different.  Mom coached me to “not to grow up too fast”.  It was a clear message that marriage and children would alter my life.  As the youngest in the family, I was the first and only college graduate.  My example altered the course for the succeeding generations. College is no longer of question of “if” but “when”.

I was inspired after high school graduation by the new emergence of women. My college advisor was a single, 40 year old, polished Latina Professor.  She was establishing a new department at the university and constantly in important meetings, writing and lecturing while flying around the country to conferences.  She inspired me, predicting, “You will be successful at anything you do.  Your enthusiasm is contagious!”

Living at home during my college years, the daily commute became a time of observation and reflection.  The Rio Grande Valley of Texas was an agricultural region relying on field hands to pick vegetables.  My family and ancestors came from that background, picking cotton, working in packing sheds, migrating around the country in search of seasonal work.    The images reminded me of the status quo.  Trucks filled with generations of grandparents, parents, children unloading for their daily work in the fields.  If life was going to change, I would have to change.   And so did other women at the time.  As a Mexican-American, my generation would be the first sizable group of women to attend college.

College changed, freed and liberated me.  My life was destined to be far from traditional.  Social forces were shifting opportunities for all women in education, sports, and public policy.  In my mind, it was inevitable that women would delay marriage and children.  Today, we should consider it normal that some may never marry or become mothers.

Our life script is subject to change.  As women, we are unique and not apt to fit into societal or cultural definition of who we should be.  Life presents a set of circumstances.  Motherhood is but one choice.  If it doesn’t come into play, look at your alternatives.  If you really want to be a Mom, explore your options to freeze your eggs, adopt, etc.  Or you may find yourself as I did – engaged with young people as my life work.  You may realize that to love and develop the next generation is not exclusive to natural birth.  Life presented me with so many choices.  I chose unlimited possibilities.  I love my life and have no regrets!

About the Author

Gloria de Leon is the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of the National Hispanic Institute, a non profit leadership organization headquartered in Texas.  She is a graduate of the University of Texas Pan American and holds two honorary Doctorates in Human Letters from Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth and Austin College in Sherman Texas.  She has been honored as UTPA Distinguished Alumnus, Woman of Distinction by Girl Scouts, and recognized by National Association of Colleges and Universities among her many awards.  She is Advisor and Honorary Sister of Kappa Delta Chi, Latina Sorority.

 

10 Responses to Childfree – A Latina’s Perspective

  1. Sarah December 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    Thanks for your story, Gloria! I hoped this site would not be “strict” about the “childfree” or “childless by choice” labels. That is really limiting, and excludes so many folks…

  2. Monica Cortes Viharo July 15, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    I agree. Too many of my fellow Latinas don’t know that being child free is a an option!

  3. Brooke September 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    So, let me get this straight. Someone who had periods of wanting children and actually lived with/raised children is “honorary childfree,” yet someone who’s actually without kids after Infertility is “childless.” Makes perfect sense. She married a man with children, she helped raise them, she made that choice. I’d say the label “childfree” is HIGHLY questionable by the demonstrated strict standards of much of your readership.

    • Lance September 26, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

      On this site we’re trying to explore the process of how people decide to be childfree. The perspectives of people from different generations, different backgrounds, and different circumstances are all of interest to us and hopefully to our readers as well.

      What’s of most interest to me is the fact that Gloria recognized a choice existed in a time and place where the overwhelming majority of people did not. My guess is that, given the time and circumstances, she faced as much – or more – stigma 20 years ago by not having children of her own as the average married 25 year old woman does today. This in spite of being a stepmother.

      The fact that she has dedicated her life since then to helping other women recognize that there is a even a decision here makes it even more impressive.

      • Brooke September 26, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

        I understand your aim. But even the first couple of comments are VERY different than the reception that Rachel got. It seems like a HUGE double standard – her choice to marry a man with kids gets her a badge. Rachel’s choice to walk away and embrace an unexpected outcome got her blasted. And be honest – we ALL grew up in a culture that is very child-centric. We all have to answer questions and we all probably feel we have to defend our choices vs. expectations. I honestly don’t find Gloria’s situation that unique.

        • Brooke September 26, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

          And I do appreciate (and want) the childfree community to be more accepting of less strict avenues to getting there. I feel the destination is more important than the journey, personally, in this case. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: we all have the same outcome, and there’s no need to be smug about wanting this from day one. But from the responses last week, it seemed that many of your more vocal readers felt that “never wanted kids, avoids pregnancy, has a punch card at the abortion clinic” was the only acceptable definition of childfree.

          • Lance September 26, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

            We published Rachel’s story knowing it would, shall we say, ‘spark’ conversation. 🙂 It did. It is our 3rd most read post of all time and reached that position in just a week or so. It is hands-down our most commented post.

            While a number of the comments were hostile, many were supportive. Also, many of our readers (and I) came to Rachel’s defense…as they should.

            We want to publish stories that make people think about what it means to be childfree and that means talking about stuff that’s on the bubble. Rachel’s and Gloria’s stories are in that gray area.

            Thanks for the comments!

          • Lance September 26, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

            BTW – I am completely with you on the “a real childfree person would abort a pregnancy” comment. Sigh…

  4. Dee Kay September 26, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    I am a woman of color and really appreciate this piece. Thank you so much for writing it. I also am a teacher and have a lot of young people of all ages in my life. I don’t think that I have to be a mother to know what it is to love and care for the next generation(s). I also *know* for sure that being a mother would mean the disappearance of a lot of parts of myself and my life that I really need, want, and enjoy.

  5. Zara September 26, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    I am a mature woman of ethnic background. The pressure to have kids is huge. Personally did not want that as my life, I desired to be a traveller globe trotting, having a career. At 45 years of age now, my mother nags me to have babies. I think it is sad that parents and cousins, aunties, think its okay to put pressure on women to have chi.dren. Regardless of that woman’s circumstances, finances marital status. I had a cousin who has grown up kids, lecture me on having babies, I asked her if she would have more babies, she was adamant that, that ship has sailed. It’s not the good thing to do, to have a child under any circumstances, or buckle under pressure from family, friends or whoever. They are not living your life.

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