I’m taking a break from my regularly-scheduled-something-about-cats post and thought I’d share with you some musings that I’ve been thinking about for, oh, let’s say 35 years now. Since I’ve been reading a lot about this topic in the media lately, I thought I’d add in my two cents. And I’ll say right up front: even though this post is about me choosing to not have kids (and including some lightheartedly fun and informative links and memes along the way), I honor your decision to have children (or not). It’s not a choice I’ve made for myself, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good choice for you…so if you have kids and you love them, hooray for you and your kids! Truly, I am happy for you.
But let’s get back to talking about me, because this is my blog. I’m forty years old, and I’ve noticed something – my entire life, people have asked me about whether or not I’m going to have kids. But as I’ve aged, those questions have changed, morphing to reflect my (I can only assume) biological child-bearing status. Because I’m getting up there, right? And that biological clock is a-ticking!
Well, hold on there a second, pard’ner, because that biological clock? I’ve never heard it tick, not once. It’s probably one of those fancy digital types, or maybe that’s too presumptuous. I might not be that evolved, so maybe it’s like a sun-dial, or whatever it was that the Mayans used to track time. The fact is, I’ve never wanted children, even when I was a child myself.
When I was about five, I remember going on a walk with my mom when I was visiting her in L.A. There was a woman who lived down the street from us who didn’t have kids, and I was always kind of nervous around her because of that. I asked my mom, “Mommy, is it against the law to not have kids?” and my mom actually chuckled a little bit and said something like “Of course not! You don’t have to have kids, or you can have as many as you want!” The reason why I remember this so clearly is because of the immense sense of relief I felt; it was as if a burden had been lifted from my five-year-old shoulders. Up until that point, I believed that I had to have children; I had already received the message that because I was a girl, I would grow up to be a mommy.
Not unlike other girls, I had a doll named Mandy whom I used to take everywhere with me. But really, she was much more of a friend or a sister that I took care of, and people talked with me like I was her mother and she was my baby, and that actually pissed me off. I really hated that people assumed that I was Mandy’s mommy! I resented it. It irritated me that people made assumptions about me because of my gender, and I was keenly aware of that, even when I was five years old.
Then, in my teens and twenties, the lecturing started. The inevitable question would be asked: “do you want kids?” My response was always the same – no. And it’s funny, because I think that when people ask that question, they don’t expect you to be honest – they expect you to say yes. The responses to me were always so dismissive or (again) presumptuous: “oh, you’ll change your mind when you get older”, “when you meet the right man, you’ll want to have his children”, “but women are supposed to have children”, and all the rest. Ugh! I just saw this as so disrespectful of me being an individual, with my own identity, hopes and desires for my future. And, it reinforced in me that there is a huge expectation of women to become moms…otherwise, there’s probably something wrong with you. Because I didn’t feel the desire to have children, obviously I had a problem!
In my early 30’s, I got a reprieve. Most people had stopped asking me if or when I was going to have kids. The reason for this, I suspect, is due to two things: first, most people knew me well enough to assume that a question about my reproductive intentions would elicit a reaction from me that would earn the questioner a swift punch in the throat. Secondly (and I’m ok with acknowledging this), most people were probably scared that “the question” might actually encourage me to really think about having kids, and WHO KNOWS what kind of terror would be unleashed upon the world by humans that carry my genetic legacy.
Since I’ve moved and have a new suite of friends and coworkers, the questions have resumed. But, like I mentioned earlier, the questions have changed now that I’m forty. Now, it’s not so much “are you going to have kids?” but “do you have kids?” and I still get mildly irritated by even that question! However, at this point, I can laugh at myself. My responses are more about my own identity and individuality than it ever was: “HEY! Do I look and act mature enough to have kids???” and “puhleeeeze…why would I have kids? Being taken care of when I’m old…that’s what spoiling nieces and nephews is for!” and even more frequently, “Hell no…cats cause enough stress in my life, and you want me to add to the mix small humans who can’t do anything for themselves except create messes and noxious bodily emissions? Disaster!!!” At this point, the fact that others can’t look at me and immediately determine that I don’t have kids is not my fault, and frankly, I’m a little judgmental about their inability to judge me. So hey – if you want to ask me if I have kids (or even when I’ll have kids), that’s on you. You might be my friend, my colleague, or even a relative, but your perceptiveness score has just gone down a notch in my book.
Honestly, for me, it’s not about being stubborn, radical, hating children (which is not the case, but even if it were, that’s still perfectly valid), having a sucky childhood, being depressed, or any number of assumptions that people make about child-free people. I’ve watched my parents divorce and remarry (several times), and have seen great suffering on the part of children who have parents who aren’t up to the task of having kids (I know that sounds judgy, but seriously – there are so many unhappy kids out there whose problems start at home). I saw a great article in Salon on reasons why the article’s author felt that not having kids was the best decision she ever made. I related so much to her words, and this especially struck home:
Those of us who opt out of having children often do so not because we take parenthood lightly, but because we take it so seriously.” — Liz Langley
Kids were just never in the cards for me. I never imagined myself as an adult with kids – I imagined myself as an adult who worked, traveled, had a quiet and calm home, and who had plenty of time for myself and my husband (and my cats). And here I am, just as I imagined. This was what I envisioned, and how I choose to live a fulfilled life. And that’s plenty of living for me.