IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Was Child-Free By Choice Until I Had to Step Up And Raise My Young Niece

My husband and I loved our Child-Free By Choice lifestyle. But life intervened three years ago with a hysterical phone call.
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Publish date:
July 28, 2015
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motherhood, marriage, IHTM, foster parent, DINK

From a comfortable distance, motherhood has always fascinated me.

On the one hand, the fact that our bodies are designed to create and birth life is exceptionally creative.

On the other, having spent the better part of the past 20 years watching and witnessing many of my girlfriends get pregnant, give birth, and raise families, I feel all the more confident in my Child-Free By Choice lifestyle.

Truthfully, I didn't grow up dreaming about marriage or motherhood. For me, I've always envisioned my life as a more unconventional adventure — travel, writing, and great love affairs.

Throughout my 20s and 30s, whenever friends or family asked about my desire to get pregnant and have a family, I'd jokingly reply, "I'm missing the Mom Gene."

"But you have the perfect birthing hips," my mother would frequently argue, never realizing her benign comments about my pear-shaped body actually contributed to my body image struggles — one of the earliest reasons I never wanted children. The fear of what pregnancy would do to my quirky body was among my top reasons to choose the child-free life.

Over the years, my reasons multiplied. As a freelance writer, I cherished personal freedom and financial independence. Logically, choosing to be child-free gave me freedom of choice.

Case in point: At the age of 33, I made the bold decision to leave my corporate job, the only steady, stable paycheck I'd ever had. After five years working for someone else, I simply wanted to explore new and exciting adventures beyond the confines of a cubicle.

Throughout my last day of work, I watched with fascination as a parade of married-with-children co-workers stopped by my cube, a look of envy in their eyes. "You're so lucky you get to do this," they whispered.

Yes. I was lucky. No. I didn't have another gig lined up. But with my single-gal salary, I'd socked away plenty of savings so that I could walk away without a plan. Having no dependents to depend on me — and no spouse to get permission from — I had the luxury of leaving my steady job to explore the great unknown… indefinitely.

A freelance writing career and published books followed. So did those great love affairs and globetrotting adventures I envisioned in my youth. And as my 30s progressed, I became all the more committed to my choice to remain child-free.

I'm not alone. Plenty of women have come before me and traveled this same path. And plenty more are following. According to the latest U.S. Census, 1 in 5 women between 40-45 don't have children. That number was 1 in 10 in 1970. According to an article published on dinklife.com, a 2011 study by the Center for Work-Life Policy finds that 43 percent of Gen-X women and 32 percent of Gen-X men do not have kids. And they're not the only ones.

"I don't want kids," I heard myself say over Mexican food and margaritas on my second date with my now-husband, adding, "I just don't know any couples with kids who still have sex and are happy."

In my experience in the world of relationships — both as someone who stumbled and bumbled through them as well as someone who wrote about them online and in books — it had become clear to me that the biggest issues couples with kids fought about were child-rearing, money, household chores, a lack of sex, and lack of free time.

"By not having kids, we keep our money, hire a cleaning lady, have plenty of sex, and tons of free time."

This was and still is my DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids) By Design life motto. So the irony isn't lost on me that life intervened three years ago with a hysterical phone call from my mother-in-law to my husband: "Your sister's been arrested. Her baby's in foster care."

My husband and I may have been DINKs By Design, but the thought of our then-13-month-old niece living with strangers in an overcrowded and underserved system — while my sister-in-law and her baby daddy sorted out their legal issues from jail was unacceptable.

While most parents-to-be have nine months to prepare for a baby, my husband and I had exactly nine days to petition a judge for custody and then transform our home, our businesses, and our lives to take care of our niece.

In the 10 months that followed, I almost lost my mind, left my marriage, and broke my business. But along the way, I actually discovered a deeper self emerging. This new ME slowly but surely fell in love with being a mom, established a more profound relationship with my husband, and actually fell in love with being part of a family of my own.

Yes. Our sex life suffered. We lost countless hours of sleep. Our finances strained. Our house became a disaster zone. And time became a constant negotiation: "You can go to your evening meeting on Tuesday if I can go to my networking event on Thursday."

After initially resenting these constant negotiations and the never ending lifestyle tradeoffs, I slowly but surely learned to love my New Normal. Today, my niece is 4 and every day she's a more fun, interesting, smart, amazing human being. She's living with her mother full time, who has made every attempt to get her life back on track. I'm so proud of her!

As for my husband and I, we now straddle a unique line between being child-free and co-parenting a preschooler. We pick my niece up every Saturday and spend the day together. During the week, we talk to her on the phone multiple times.

And while there's been a proliferation of major media headlines in recent years from the likes of CNN and Time magazine as well as major studies conducted at Princeton, Stony Brook University, and The Open University in England debating who's happier — parents or couples who choose to remain child-free — until now, no one has been able to conclusively answer the debate because no one has lived both lives.

As one half of a DINKs with Diapers couple, I can unequivocally say that the advantages of being a DINK far outweigh the advantages of being a parent. You have more money at your disposal, regardless of income bracket. You also have more free time, allowing for more sex, more sleep, more travel, and more life enjoyment.

And just as the Princeton/Stony Brook study found, as a DINK, your happiness is steadier throughout your life vs. the higher highs and lower lows experienced by couples with kids.

But ... as that same study found, as a DINK, you will never know the extraordinary highs of watching your child become their best self. Yes, there are the low lows to contend with. Things like dealing with unexpected tantrums in the grocery store, catching countless colds from your kid and spending more of your disposable income than you might want on kid necessities like nannies, day care, school supplies, clothes, a car, college tuition, etc.

And… there are also the irreplaceable emotional experiences of loving and raising a child that DINKs will never know or understand. My father used to lovingly tell me, "You just won't know unless you have a child of your own." To which I used to snarkily reply, "I'll just have to take your word for it." As usual, my father was right.

Now that I've experienced both lifestyles, I recognize that no amount of steady DINK happiness can trump those extraordinary and surprising moments shared with a child you love and who loves you unconditionally.

Having said that, the beauty of the debate is that there is no one absolute answer. It's really all about what's right for you.