At some point in life, we are usually asked a particular question—one that may have a simple answer for some, but not so much for others.
When are you going to have kids?
Key word: When. Automatically assuming someone wants to have kids.
There’s a lot of controversy around this subject today because more and more people are choosing not to have children—and they’re often judged for it (especially those of us that have a uterus), as if other people have a say in that decision. And, either there’s a list of reasons given why that decision is wrong and selfish (again, as if it were anyone else’s business), or there’s the frown and the word “But…” followed by questions one may feel obligated to answer.
If you haven’t guessed, I have chosen not to have children. Thankfully, I’ve mostly encountered support for this, especially from friends. So, whenever people bring up having children, I usually say nothing or change the subject, and all is well. But sometimes, I feel the need to explain myself.
And sometimes, people have an opinion for each of my reasons, assuring me it would be in my best interest to keep my options open. In fact, they tend to make it seem like my reasons aren’t really relevant because (insert example here, oh, and another one here.) I know most of the time people mean well, but it feels like me, and my feelings and values, are being brushed off.
There's a lot of negativity surrounding the idea of not having kids, no matter your gender, and it usually boils down to three core problems. People often tell you you'll change your mind, or that it’s selfish. In addition, there's the misconception that Motherhood and Womanhood are the same thing, and many don't realize how damaging (and untrue) that assumption is.
I've been thinking about writing this post for years, but I haven't because it’s an uncomfortable topic for me—one I prefer to avoid—because I just feel judged and invalidated, pressured and guilty—and unfairly so. But I’m talking about it now because how we approach the subject needs to change.
Photo Credit: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash
Problem #1: Being Told You’ll Change Your Mind
Being told, “You'll change your mind,” is on every single 'Things you'll here when you tell people you don't want kids' list; I highly recommend the insightful and powerful Ted Talk by Christen Reighter, who makes some super important points about it.
Sometimes I wonder if I'll end up changing my mind, but deep down I know it just wouldn't make me happy.
Fortunately, no one has ever said this to me that I can recall. But I can imagine if some told me, “You'll change your mind, you know,” it would be really frustrating. I'd just want to blurt, “I’m sorry, what makes you think you know me better than I know myself?” Call me crazy, but I think I know myself better than…literally anyone who would say that to me.
You might also hear similar verbage with statements like, “You’re young, you’ll change your mind when you meet the right person,” or, “What if your significant other wants kids?”
Well that would be between me and them. Personally, if a potential life partner couldn't respect my decision or understand why it's important to me, he's probably not the right guy for me (and I'm probably not the right woman for him.) If you ask me, the right guy would respect, if not reciprocate that decision and those feelings. (Fortunately for me, he does.)
In addition, that question insinuates that I should give up my personal values and beliefs in order to make someone else happy, at the expense of myself and my happiness. That doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship to me—not for the parents, or for a child.
If I regret this decision, then I regret it. But, as Reighter puts it, at least I am the only person who would be affected. Whereas if I did have a child and regretted it, the child would be affected, too.
People might think they mean well when they say these things, or ask these questions. But the truth they may not realize is they're telling you how they think you should live your life, and it's rude.
In a nutshell, being told I’ll change my mind is not only a complete and utter disregard for my feelings and personal values, it’s just plain disrespectful to me as a person.
Yes, it's possible I could change my mind. But I probably won’t.
And that’s okay.
Problem #2: The Conundrum of Selfishness
The idea it’s selfish not to have kids is a big and popular criticism revolving around this subject, and also one that makes absolutely no sense. Anyone who says it’s selfish obviously doesn’t realize it’s just as selfish to want to have kids as it is not to.
I mean, please, tell me how unselfish it was of you to give yourself children you wanted.
People who say it's selfish, aside from being disrespectful (notice a theme here?), seem to be forgetting that 1. Not everyone is capable of or meant to have children, for a variety of reasons; 2. No person is obligated to have children; and, 3. Yes, people have selfish reasons for not wanting to have kids, but they also have unselfish ones. Maybe, like me, they have some of both.
One of my favorite articles on the subject is Mic's "11 Brutally Honest Reasons Why Millennials Don't Want Kids," because it is brutally honest, and highlights there are a lot of good reasons not to have kids, some selfish and some not.
The reality is there are both selfish and unselfish reasons on both sides of the spectrum, plus a few reasons that might qualify as both or neither. To make it easy for you, I've made a brutally honest chart (and I apologize in advance if there’s something I missed, since the list of reasons on both sides is probably endless):
I can identify with a lot of the reasons in the Mic article, and on the chart.
For instance, I am depressive; depression runs in my family. Because of this I don’t feel I would make a good or capable parent. When I once expressed I didn't think I’d be a very good mother, this statement was dismissed with a simple, “Oh, I think you would be.”
Oh, you do? Well, then it must be true.
Obviously many people with depression still have children—my family is an example—and that’s great for those people, but I’m assuming they wanted their children. So I think that actually solidifies my point for me—depression runs in my family. Why on earth would I want to pass that on to a child?
And I’m not the only one with this concern; a lot of people choose not to have kids so they won’t pass on mental or physical diseases.
Another of my reasons—and I think this is understandable—is that I don’t want to go through a pregnancy, or through giving birth. The idea of going through those does not appeal to me on any level. Pregnancy changes your body. Forever. And I like my body the way it is. Not to mention, it can be dangerous, which is also an obvious downside to giving birth.
Maybe it sounds dumb, but the thought of those things terrifies me.
Yes, I do realize the reasons I’ve mentioned so far could be eliminated simply by adopting; if I ever change my mind, that’s the route I’ll take, because there are already plenty of kids out there who need a home.
But, simply put, when I think about my future, kids just aren't in it—I like solitude, and I like my life without the stress and worry children bring to the equation. And, before you ask, my boyfriend would agree with me. We like our peace and quiet, and despite us both working full-time jobs, it’s possible we'll never have the financial resources to take care of a kid.
Obviously, (or not so obviously?) there’s a mix of selfish and unselfish in there. But it shouldn’t matter because it’s my life—I’m supposed to do what makes me happy, right? I shouldn’t have to justify my decisions.
In case I didn't make it clear: Telling someone their decision is selfish is just as rude as telling them they'll change their mind. Plus, chances are someone might already feel some level of guilt or discomfort over not wanting what others want for them; don't add insult to injury by making them feel like crap for wanting something different.
Problem #3: Womanhood, Motherhood, and Otherhood
Kids are awesome—I think I should clarify that. I like kids just fine. I simply have no desire to have any of my own, and zero desire to be a mother. That doesn’t make me a bad person.
A lot of people might say I don’t know what I’m missing out on, which is completely true. But that doesn’t mean my life is worse or inferior. (By the way, this also applies to people who aren't women.)
My mom told me having me and my brother was the greatest thing that ever happened to her. That's great mom—really; you were meant to be a mom.
But that doesn't mean that's how I'd feel about having kids. That doesn't mean it's something I'm meant to do, or am even cut out for. I'd rather take a chance living a supposedly “unfulfilled” life by not having children, than having children and then resenting it, and having my children feel resented by me.
A lot of people might counter this with the assurance that not having a desire for children or not liking children will change once you have kids; for some that may be true, but if I were going to have kids, I’d want to want them, you know? I’d want that desire to be there already, not to hope it comes along. And I imagine people who don’t like kids wouldn’t want to force themselves to like their kids just because they have them.
Society assumes that having children will make me “complete” in some way, as if, somehow, I’m not really a woman if I don’t have children, or as if I’m failing my duty to society if I don’t have children. And yet, half the women in the world today don’t have children. It’s not a woman’s duty to provide children anymore.
Yes, we’re gifted with the amazing ability to grow life inside us. But that doesn’t make motherhood an identity requirement. Motherhood is often a part of womanhood, but womanhood is not defined by motherhood; each woman is her own person, with or without children.
Let me repeat that: Motherhood and Womanhood are NOT the same thing.
And it's damaging to insist they are the same, because when you do, you invalidate someone—either because that person is a parent and you're totally ignoring they have a life outside parenting, or because that person is not a parent and you're insinuating they're not a real woman/man/person. It angers and saddens me that there are people out there who feel like something’s wrong with them because someone made them feel guilty or ashamed about not having kids.
There’s a very subtle phrase surrounding this issue that really bothers me: Childless.
As if a person is somehow less without a child. As if they’re lacking something, or are a failure as a human being, or their life is missing some kind of meaning without children in it.
But I am not choosing to live child-less; I am choosing to live child-free.
My value as a woman and a person is NOT defined in any way by whether or not I have children—I am still a person regardless.
My life already DOES have meaning. Having children isn’t the only thing that gives life meaning, and my life will continue to have meaning despite the fact that I will not have kids.
What fulfills me and gives my life meaning is different from what fulfills someone else and gives their life meaning. Neither of us is right, or wrong—just different. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Simple as that.
And, new to the mix, the pandemic has certainly added to the debate (see: “One Legacy of the Pandemic May Be Less Judgement of the Child Free” from The Atlantic), as well revealed some things about the ways some of us choose to live our lives. The future is pretty uncertain right now; technically, it’s always uncertain, but it seems the pandemic has highlighted this particular reasoning for not wanting to have kids, and not having kids is starting to make more sense for some.
On top of all that, there’s a very important distinction that seems to have been overlooked by society as a whole: the difference between the terms child-free and childless. It’s important because living child free is when people choose not to have children; a childless person is someone who would like to have kids, but can’t, and the choice is usually out of their hands.
I will repeat that I think kids are awesome—I just don't want any of my own. I just don't. I even took a dumb internet quiz about when I would have children; it said I would adopt (which, should I change my mind, is true), but in the description it said, “you're not even sure you want kids.”
See, even the internet gets it.
The Final Note
The plain and simple of it is, I shouldn’t—and don’t—have to explain myself to anyone. No one should. We all just want to live our lives to the best of our ability, and do what makes us happy. It’s not up to society, or your family, or even your partner, whether you should have kids or not, and certainly not whether you should want them.
We’ve all got our reasons for living our lives the way we do; just because you disagree with someone's lifestyle choices doesn’t mean that someone else’s life is wrong. And just because someone doesn’t want what you want for them doesn’t mean they’re unhappy. At the risk of repeating myself: We’re all different, and that’s the way it should be.
So if someone ever tells you they don’t want to have kids, don’t try to tell them they’re selfish, or try to convince them they’ll change their mind, and don’t pressure or pester them about it. Just listen, and respect their decision.
If you want to have kids, have some kids. If you don’t, then don’t. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either of those choices.