Melanie Notkin, founder of SavvyAuntie.com, coined the term PANK (Professional Aunt No Kids) to describe aunts who play a vital role in the lives of their nieces and nephews. In her new book, Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, she looks at how, increasingly, many women are finding themselves without children (or love or marriage) at a time in their life when they expected those things to fall into place. Notkin speaks to the experience of these women—dubbed “the Otherhood”—and their struggle with unfair assumptions, often from well-meaning parents.
What is circumstantial infertility?
Circumstantial infertility is the pain and grief of the single woman who is childless by circumstance; that circumstance being that she doesn’t have a partner with whom to have children.
What are some assumptions about childless women?
1. Their inability to have children because of their circumstance makes it seem as if they don’t want children.
2. Their desire is not strong enough, because if you really wanted children then you would have children, that modern women can go out and have a baby on their own. There’s this judgment that if you were really “mother potential,” you would be a mother. That’s very harmful because most women want that man to have a baby with.
3. There’s the assumption that she chose other things over love, marriage and children. They’ll call her a career woman. There are no “career men.” The term career woman implies she made a choice over one thing or the other. Many of the women I spoke to actually took a step back in their career so they could leave more time for dating. If anything, we sacrifice a lot. It’s very rare that a woman will be proposed to by a man she’s in love with and she will say, “No, I have a conference call.”
4. You don’t know love until you have a child of your own. I’ve never had the relationship that a mother has with her child. But it’s the wrong assumption to accuse childless women who want children—or even those who are childless by choice—of not understanding or not being sympathetic to the love and bond of a caregiver and a child.
What about depictions of PANKs in pop culture?
We’re often spoofed as the moron. A man-chaser who doesn’t really understand kids and can’t seem to find herself, who doesn’t seem to know how to hold a baby. This idea that women who don’t have children are unable to be maternal, or have no maternal instincts.
What should parents know about the savvy aunties in their lives?
There is this very benevolent group of women who are misunderstood as frivolous, superficial and materialistic. We know that these women collectively spend $9 billion on children each year. Seventy-six percent of PANKs spend more than $500 on each child in their life each year. This is not just holidays and birthdays. Thirty-four percent of PANKs contribute to a child’s education. Many are able to offer the parents financial assistance as needed for their children. These are very generous women.
Be sensitive, because women who are unable to have children due to circumstantial infertility have disenfranchised grief in that no one really recognizes it. Be sensitive as well. Sometimes she’s going through her own thing. We need to appreciate that there may be invisible pain there. Approach them with appreciation that they are there. Appreciate that all that they give is a gift.