Kim Cattrall has hit the mother lode.
On Monday, the Sex and the City actress remarked that despite not having kids of her own, she feels like a mother to her beloved nieces, nephews and the actors she mentored over the years.
"I am not a biological parent, but I am a parent," Cattrall said during a segment of BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour. "I didn't change nappies, which is okay with me, but I did help my niece get through medical school. I did sit down with my nephew when he was [going through] a very tough time to join the army. And those are very motherly things to do, very nurturing things to do."
Cattrall, 59, continued: "There is a way to become a mother in this day and age which doesn't include your name on the child's birth certificate."
Basically the woman was helping out, but her words went off like a bomb with some biological mothers. You do not "get it" unless you have a child of your own, they blasted away at the actress on Twitter. Motherhood is a full-time slog defined by struggle and sacrifice, they said, suggesting Cattrall hadn't put in the requisite sweat and tears. One mother tweeted at Cattrall, "That's like saying u can relate to cancer cause u [sic] no someone with it." (Hot parenting tip: don't equate raising a child with a largely incurable disease.)
Amid the tide of scorn, people started playing their own linguistic games: Had Cattrall described herself as "maternal" or "a mother figure" it would have been okay – "mother" is reserved for women who have changed X amount of diapers and spent X hours listening to a baby wail in the night. Fathers also jumped into the fray, mansplaining to Cattrall what motherhood entails. ("Glorious," was her retort.)
According to her detractors, it seems Cattrall committed two social crimes: making the choice to go childless (or childfree, if you prefer) and using the M-word when she hadn't squeezed a baby through her birth canal.
Batting away her critics on Twitter Tuesday night, Cattrall called out the stunningly narrowminded definitions of motherhood that were emerging there – namely that you need to be up with a baby at 4 in the morning and ditch your career to stay home. No one asked where, exactly, that would leave the armies of adoptive and foster parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and friends raising children. This even as we find dog "mommies" and "fur kids" quaint, but recoil as a childless woman toys with definitions of traditional parenthood.
It's obvious why some exhausted moms would bristle, but did Cattrall's statements really diminish their sacrifices? Hardly. The actress never purported to be a better mother; nor did she advocate for everyone going childfree. Those who bash Cattrall, a seemingly nurturing woman, are playing the ugly parenting game of one-upmanship.
The large-scale derision of Cattrall's maternal-ness also lays bare how resentful many still feel toward a 59-year-old woman who opted out of motherhood proper. Childless women are very often still cruelly judged. Some of Cattrall's critics trotted out this old chestnut: parents are inherently selfless while the childless are selfish – you can't co-opt the experience without putting in the grind. It's a common sentiment about non-parents: that they're irresponsible and carefree layabouts with tons of free time, a life to begrudge.
"We are so often perceived as cold, selfish, unfulfilled, feckless, sad, blasé about our fertility and too choosy for our own good," Melanie Notkin wrote in her 2014 book Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness.
Notkin founded SavvyAuntie.com to celebrate"PANKs" – that's Professional Aunts No Kids. According to Notkin, 23 million Americans are PANKs, women "who have a special bond" with the nieces, nephews and godchildren in their lives (Cattrall would certainly qualify). Wrote Notkin: "That a demographic so large is so misunderstood or cast aside as less-than or completely unsavvy about children is not only unproductive but also hurts women, the children they love and the parents who can often use a helping hand."
More than anything, the attack on Cattrall reveals just how badly parents and non-parents are still set up as adversaries, a dynamic that benefits no one.
"There are just as many ways of being a nonparent as there are of being a parent," wrote Meghan Daum in her recent book Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers On the Decision Not to Have Kids. "We do not hate children," Daum clarified. "In fact, many of us devote quite a lot of energy to enriching the lives of other people's children, which in turn enriches our own lives."
To those who argued that loving children and raising them are mutually exclusive experiences, Cattrall replied: "The more love, guidance and support for children the better." Thankfully, some mothers agreed with her. The more "moms" the merrier was their attitude. It takes a village to raise a child, they said.
And this, from Twitter user @RoseFiore1, a woman who mothered much like Cattrall did: "I helped raise a nephew. Every Mother's Day he sends me a card & flowers."
Follow Zosia Bielski on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski