We’re going to start this one with a statement of fact: not everyone wants to have children. If this fact confuses you or causes you great moral outrage, proceed with caution. It’s only going to get bumpier from here. If you’re capable of processing that first fact, but are still kind of tilting your head, wondering if it’s really necessary to point out that very simple, basic notion, let me assure you: it is. I just want to make sure everyone’s clear on that before we go any deeper. Mostly because life experiences have taught me that way too many people have a notion in their head that having children is not a decision; it’s a predetermined fact. And for someone who has decided not to have children, that notion is equal parts infuriating and exasperating.
People who have decided not to have children call themselves a variety of things, but “childfree” and “childless-by-choice” are the two most common. Some don’t call themselves anything special, because they are optimistic enough to believe that making a personal decision like that doesn’t need to be given a name. Unfortunately, it sort of does. Because being a parent is seen as the default, and anything that is different from the default seems to need a name so people can process it better. If I have to use a name, I prefer “childfree,” because any version of “childless” implies that children are the desired result, and I am lacking in them. There’s also the fact that “childless” is often used to describe someone who is infertile, or who wants children and does not have them, for whatever reason. While the childfree may be infertile, it’s usually by choice.
When I was younger, I would have classified myself as “militantly childfree.” It was a defense mechanism, really, since at every turn, I was being told I was wrong and young and stupid and didn’t know my own mind. Being part of the over-30 set now has brought me a little bit of credibility, I guess, because while the questioning and the insulting still exist, they’re a lot less overt. So I’d say my current stance is more “gently childfree.” I don’t begrudge the people I know who are parents any happiness with their children, but it still doesn’t mean I want any of my own. And it really doesn’t mean I want to try to be convinced otherwise.
Childfree people get a lot of shit from other people about making this choice. You know, because other people totally have the right to pass judgment on what is, at its core, a very personal decision. Here’s some of the crap we hear:
-“You’ll change your mind.” This is probably the most infuriating, because it assumes that someone doesn’t know their own mind well enough to make a major life decision. And yet, no one says this to anyone who, at 19 or 25 or 30, decides that the only possible way their life will be complete is to have children. Why is that? Why are people who decide the “default” given the benefit of the doubt that they know what they want, while those who decide something that requires an awful lot of contemplation are assumed to be flighty and immature? Do you tell someone who’s pregnant that she’ll change her mind? That it’s permanent and you can’t undo it? That a baby is a big decision that affects the rest of her life and she can’t possibly know at 19 or 25 or 30 that it’s something she’ll want forever? Of course not. But try being a woman who wants to get her tubes tied before having any children. Try telling people that your life plan doesn’t include reproducing. Then, suddenly, you’re an idiot who doesn’t know her own mind, regardless of age.
-“It’s different when it’s your own.” This one comes in response to someone saying they don’t like kids, or don’t have the patience for them, or any other reason that involves not actually wanting a child around in your everyday life. The argument is that when it’s your own child, those things don’t apply. You love him or her no matter what. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Plenty of parents can’t stand their own kids. And even if there’s a possibility it’s true, should someone really take that chance? That maybe they won’t hate kids once they have one? Seems awfully unfair to the hypothetical kid if it doesn’t turn out that way.
-“You’re selfish.” So? Quite frankly, I have the right to be. If I decide that free time, discretionary income, peace and quiet, and flexibility with various parts of my life are important to me, then it would be awfully dumb to think I could still easily have all that with a child. As parents are fond of telling anyone in earshot, having children changes everything. And if someone doesn’t want everything to change, then why do we try to force that? Plus, isn’t having children one of the most fundamentally selfish things one person can do? What are the reasons people give for having kids? “I want someone to love (or to love me) unconditionally.” “I think my DNA is special enough that it needs to be propagated.” (That one’s clearly a paraphrase. Save the angry emails.) “I want a little me.” “I want a perfect combination of me and my spouse.” I want, I think, I want, I want, I want … I have rarely, if ever, heard a reason to have kids that doesn’t start with “I want.” So don’t call me selfish. Everyone’s selfish, and we’re allowed to be.
-“You don’t know real love until you have children.” Yeah. Fuck you very much. Who are you to decide that the love I have for my husband, or my parents, or my friends, isn’t “real?” There are lots of kinds of families, and the ones created from choice are just as meaningful and full of love as the ones created by biology.
-“It’s a miracle.” Every living organism ever since the beginning of time begs to differ. Everything alive reproduces. One could argue that it’s the least miraculous thing possible. It’s happened billions and billions of times and will happen billions and billions more.
-“You’re not a real woman.” Yes, I’ve heard this. Yes, the person was serious. Yes, I did somehow manage to stop myself from telling the person to go fuck themselves. Aren’t we as women, hell, as people, past deciding for other people what makes them a “real” woman?
-“Who will take care of you when you’re old?” Do me a favor. Go to your local nursing home or assisted living facility. Talk to some of the residents. Ask them when their children last visited them. Producing offspring doesn’t guarantee you security when you’re old; money does. Most people end up having to pay people to take care of them in their declining years. Plus, fifty years sounds like an awfully long time to wait for a payoff, and frankly, the investment is too high for the potential return.
-“But you’re such a good dog mom!” Last I checked, you can’t crate kids while you’re at work. Not to mention, dogs are pretty self-sufficient, except for the feeding and walking stuff. They amuse themselves. I don’t need to teach them values and spelling and how to use a fork and stuff. The dogs = children thing is not even a thing. Seriously. I love my dogs; hell, I love them more than I like most people, but they are not a substitute for children.
The point I’m trying to make here is that all the choices are valid. Just because you don’t agree with mine doesn’t mean you need to belittle me, infantilize me (and how’s that for some irony?), and insult me. And take a moment to think about this: if someone has decided that they really don’t want children, why would you spend so much time trying to convince them otherwise? Does it minimize your choice as a parent if someone takes a different path? If you feel that children are The Greatest Miracle Ever and being a parent is The Most Important Job In The World, wouldn’t it be preferable if every child were born to parents who are 100% certain that they want them? After all, a child is a permanent decision, and I’d rather take the very very small chance that I regret not having one than risk the more likely outcome that I would regret it if I had one.
This post originally appeared in PoM’s blog, Nice Girls Don’t Swear.