A couple of years ago, I started writing both of you letters. Slowly at first, as my health took a gentle downward dive; and then more fervently, at NPO midnights and early surgical mornings.
I've decided that bringing a squalling, blood- and pus-covered infant into this world is not for me. I have no major ish with other people’s squalling, occasionally blood- and pus-covered offspring -– in fact, I find some of them downright adorable.
Most of us of the childfree persuasion do not recoil in horror at the sight of a binkie, nor do we bathe in the blood of unbaptized babies. We just, you know, don’t want babies of our own. This doesn’t mean we hate your babies, or can’t remember what it was like being a kid, or have no real purpose in life.
But it does mean we occasionally get annoyed at all the strange things people say to us about our lifestyle choices. Thus, I give you a list of Six Strange Things People Say to Childfree-by-Choice People:
1.“I thought I didn’t want kids, too -– but then I grew up.”
Other versions of this include, “You’ll change your mind when you get older” or “You’ll feel differently once you’ve matured.” Or even, “Oh you’re just going through a phase.”
This line of reasoning is scarily similar to things queer people often hear -– it’s just a phase, you’ll get over it, you’re just trying to be edgy/trendy.
But by declaring that your childfree friend will change his or her mind implies two things:
- You know your friend’s mind, hopes, dreams and desires better than your friend ever could. Your friend is mistaken about his/her desire to live a childfree life, and, by proxy, maybe not so smart.
- You think your friend’s very responsible, often quite difficult, decision has been made flippantly and without much consideration.
Of course, quite the opposite on both points is often true. Arriving at the decision to never have children -– not just “maybe” not have children or “we’ll see” about children –- is a tough one that typically involves quite a bit of soul-searching and introspection. Not least of which because those of us who make this choice know we are going to be spending the rest of our childbearing years defending our choice.
The conclusion: Self-awareness is a hallmark of maturity, and it takes a lot of self-awareness to choose to remain childfree with eyes wide open. So there.
2. “So you must really hate kids, then.”
No. No, a thousand times no. Anytime I ever express with even a whiff of certainty to someone that I don’t want children (nope, not even adopted ones! Just furry ones, OK?), the next time I speak to them I get gems like this one: “So, I know you hate kids, but I was wondering if you’d be OK if my niece hung out with us today?”
Just to clarify: I said I didn’t want to invite a tiny tyrant into my house to live, permanently, holding me hostage to "Blue’s Clues" and whatever else the kids are watching these days, every day, for the next 18 years. That is a far cry from kicking it with someone’s rad offspring every couple of weeks.
Just because I don’t want a pet lizard or a pair of sky-high Manolos doesn’t mean I hate either of those things. Lizards are super-cool! I like that they exist and I appreciate visiting them in the zoo or at friend’s houses, but I personally prefer a different sort of pet. Manolos are beautifully constructed shoes but alas, my feet just aren’t suited to that sort of life. Cest la vie –- everyone’s different and differences are good!
3. “You’re just selfish.”
Despite this statement being a bitter, vitriolic insult, for some reason people feel comfortable saying it to my face when in the kid context. The thing is, no one would call me selfish if I had said, “No, I’d rather not lend you $241,080 you’ll never pay back, thanks.” ($241,080 is the average cost to raise a child in 2013 according to CNN Money, by the way –- and that’s not including college tuition.)
So while refusing to lend your friends money or let a stranger borrow your car is just common sense, politely declining to live with and care for an expensive, time-consuming human being that you actually kinda-sorta-no-wait-really don’t want? That’s just selfish! (Riiiight.)
If you think critically about it, not having kids -– and all the vigilance that entails for many people -– is actually a pretty unselfish choice. If you don’t want to be a parent, you may not make a very good one – in fact, you may wind up resentful and bitter, or even abusive (emotionally or physically).
The mythology surrounding parenthood –- self-sacrifice, unpaid and often unappreciated hard labor -– goes a long way to support the idea that childfree people are just selfish. But at its core, choosing to have children (and dedicate your life or large part of it to them) is a self-motivated –- and therefore selfish -– act.
Yes, parenting is hard. And it does require sacrifice and it is underappreciated –- but that still doesn’t make me selfish or wrong.
4. “One day, it’ll just happen.”
This phrase is magical thinking mixed with horrible euphemism, and leaves me feeling a little violated. It’s so bizarrely perverted; if you dig beneath the surface, what the person is actually saying is this:
“You say you don’t want kids now, but one day all those preventative measures you’re taking will inevitably fail, and BOOM! You’ll have responsibility for a human being you never wanted! Isn’t the miracle of life just incredible?”
That's just messed up.
And: Saying this to straight people is bad enough. But saying it to queer people? Hilare. Believe it or not, I’ve actually had people say this to me, and one day, when I’ve had exactly the right amount of martini, I’ll respond with: “You do know how babies are made, right?”
5. “So, what’s your purpose in life, then?”
The idea that people without children have no purpose is deeply disturbing –- not just personally, but on a philosophical level. Humor my "woah, dude" moment: If every humans’ greatest purpose in life is simply just to reproduce, then what are we? Mindless replicating machines? To what end? We have children so that they can have children so that they can have children and nothing anyone does outside of that has any value or worth? I don’t want to live in this dystopian world.
It boggles my mind that there are people who think this way, but it comforts me to know that perhaps they haven’t thought too deeply on the subject. Even profoundly dedicated stay-at-home parents surely measure their worth and guide their lives by multiple criteria, just like the rest of us. Good partner, loving parent, rock-star entrepreneur, environmental activist, kick-ass sister, long-distance Frisbee champion -– it’s a veritable smorgasbord of life’s-purpose choices out there, and limiting yourself to just one thing means you’re going to get a heck of a lot less out of life than you otherwise could.
6. “But who’ll take care of you when you’re old?”
The state, duh.
I kid, I kid. But seriously, since when is everyone’s offspring required to sign a legally binding contract that they will care for their parents in their old age? American culture is such that counting on your kids to visit you more than once every few years at the nearest Qwik-E-Retire-Mart they abandoned you at in exchange for your signature on a living will is asking a lot.
I joke, but the state of elder care in our nation is in serious crisis. Sure, some people’s kids grow up to be responsible, caring adults who are financially sound and emotionally mature enough to care for aging parents. But, some people’s kids grow up to be deadbeats, or assholes, or too poor to be able to help much.
Counting on children as a retirement plan is a gamble at best. Best to make other plans, even if you do have kids.
I anticipate these sorts of comments will continue unabated until I hit menopause. Putting up with people questioning my motives and stick-tuitiveness is just a side effect of making a life choice that’s a little out of the ordinary.
And that’s fine –- I feel pretty secure in the knowledge that not wanting my own children is not the same thing as being a heartless, selfish, baby-hating bon vivant. (I’m just a regular bon vivant, thank you very much.)
I look forward to a life full of other people’s kids -– and being one kick-ass aunt. But I still don’t want my own babies -– and there’s nothing wrong with that.