How can I unlearn this toxic lesson when it’s so deeply embedded in our everyday lives?
Lately, it seems everyone everywhere wants to talk about whether or not I want to have kids. I can't escape the conversation, and while I can handle the inquiries, the looks of surprise at my answer (“No, I don't want to have kids”) are, quite frankly, frustrating. Based on the fact that women are reproducing later and later these days, I'm not at an age where my biological clock is ticking. There's time yet, and I can always change my mind.
On the other hand, I simply do not feel that powerful maternal instinct so many of my friends claim to have. Even though I'm an independent, self-aware adult who doesn't see kids in the future for the most part, the large majority of people I know who have children or are planning to have them one day, find this confusing. They’re the ones who like to say: "I'm so in love with my baby. I can't imagine my life without my kid."
I joke that with four grandchildren already (from my brother and his wife) and likely one or two more from my married little sister, my parents are all set, and neither want nor need me to bear any children. They put zero pressure on me, which is, I suppose, an immense source of relief. When I admit that a traditional family is probably not for me, the next question people ask is if my partner is okay with that. How does he feel, people want to know. Does he not want kids either?
He does not, I assert firmly. In these conversations with parents or parents-to-be, I don't tell them about the time that my partner and I were out to dinner when an adorable family sat next to us at the communal table and remarked that we looked "like we had a good thing" and not to "mess it up." This from a lovely young couple with two very well-behaved children. We laughed at the time but later talked about how crazy it was that they would say such a thing. We would never get ourselves in that predicament, we seemed to tacitly agree.
I also don't mention the time that one of my partner's oldest friends in describing how crazy he was about his daughter said in the same breath, completely unprompted, "If I could do it again [i.e. have a kid], would I? It's hard to say. Maybe not." Yikes!
Nowadays, it's far more acceptable than it once was for committed couples to choose not to procreate, but people with kids often just cannot comprehend why anyone would make this choice. When I hold friends' darling little babies (and I admit, I love a cute baby as much as the next woman), I'm often told that I'm a natural. "You'd make such a great mother," people tell me not infrequently.
Oh yeah? I want to say. You should've seen me in the park a few weeks ago when the dog ran away. By the time I got him back, I screamed at him and yanked his leash the whole way home. Poor little guy. Yet, the kind of mother I would or would not make really has nothing to do with my fear of commitment.
Our dog is like our kid, and I once told my partner (who often acts like my second child), that I could understand how people were so obsessed with their children because look at how nuts we were about the freakin' dog! We know lots of couples whose first "children" were puppies. He pretended not to understand, saying he did not see the connection. But I do, and sometimes when he is overly concerned about the pup, babying him and checking his paws for nicks and scrapes, I look at him and think, “Wow, he'd make a great dad one day.” Since I mean it as a compliment, I understand that my mom friends do as well when they raise their eyebrows upon hearing that my stance has not changed in all these years.
He and I have had plenty of conversations about it. We neither dislike children (although, admittedly, we typically prefer them in small doses) or have difficulty understanding why so many of our friends have babies or are trying to. We just like our life the way it is. We love traveling on the drop of a dime. We love eating pancakes for dinner on the couch while catching up on our shows those nights when we're super tired. We like going out to dinner at 6:30 or 9:30 (not that we ever really stay up past 10 p.m. most nights!).
We appreciate not having to consider the financial aspect of raising a child. Oh, and I really like getting eight or nine hours of sleep each night. I also really value my relationship the way it is, and I don't want it to change (even if it is super awesome to see a product of your love and to see your man turn into a marshmallow in front of his child). Maybe I'm selfish, but I think it'd be more selfish to have a baby just for the sake of having a baby because otherwise I might miss out on something.
On occasion, I am afraid I'll be doing myself a real disservice and suffering a great loss, but as an older friend of mine (who became a mom a little later in life) once said, "Either way, you miss out on something."
There's really no determining who's better off -- those with kids or those without -- and, in fact, in a recent report by Princeton University and Stony Brook University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (as relayed on CNN they indicated "very little difference" between the life satisfaction of parents and people without kids. At the very least though, we should all feel comfortable standing by our decisions and not feel the need to rush to our defense whichever side of the fence we reside on.
Reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Street. Want more?