When I met a new colleague at work the other day, he asked me the two questions I dread the most: if I was married, and if I had kids. As a woman in her early 30s, when I answer “no” to both of those questions, I’m usually met with a look of confusion, disappointment, or worse: disgust. The latter is usually what happens when I admit that I don’t actually want either of those things.
No surprise, my new colleague began to rifle off a series of questions, pushing me on my reasons, offering counter-arguments, and closing off with: “I bet you get a real hard time about that, huh? Given your age and all…”. He was oblivious to the fact that I was offended, and I was too polite to tell him otherwise.
To be clear, I understand that these sorts of questions aren’t outrageous. But at the same time, why is it considered acceptable to grill someone on a personal life choice when you are meeting them for the first time?! I think there are a lot of assumptions and judgements about people who don’t want children. While I’m not going to have time to cover all of them here (nor would I be able to speak for everyone as a whole, anyway) I feel the need to clarify at least a few things.
Hands down, one of the most annoying assumptions to me is when people think I do not like kids. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I think kids are adorable, genuinely get excited to hang out with them, and feel privileged to be an Auntie (something I am insanely proud of – I’d take a bullet for those kids in a heartbeat).
People then have a multitude of other silly questions for me. Like asking me if I am afraid of childbirth, or afraid that bearing children will ruin my body? Ummm, definitely no. That would not only be fairly shallow of me, but also, the last time I checked: I wasn’t routinely strutting around in a bikini, flaunting the smokin’ hot bod that I think I’m trying to preserve. Personally, I think I already look like I’ve born a few children…And while I won’t broadcast it, if someone close to me ever needed me to be a surrogate, I’d likely do it for them.
What might actually be the hardest thing for people to understand is that I don’t *actually* have to justify myself to anyone. For that reason, I’m not going to get into the details…but for the record, my choice basically boils down to one core concept: that I am not cut out to be a mom. I simply do not have the urge to have children. I actually can’t even fathom it being a good fit for me. I sometimes really wish that I wanted children, but that’s a different issue.
What you might not realize is that it’s actually something I feel guilty and self-conscious about. I see what other people do for their children and it never ceases to amaze me. My sister, for example, will burst with such love and enthusiasm for the tiniest milestone made by my nephew, like watching him try a new flavour of baby food. I know that I wouldn’t feel like that. I feel terrible about it, and wish that I could, but it just doesn’t resonate with me, and it’s not something I could fake. I am often sensitive about this, wondering if there is something “wrong” with me for not feeling like others do.
I feel guilty when I overhear a co-worker talking about how she was up all night because her child was sick. She laughs, makes reference to “barf buckets” and washing sheets at 3 AM. She doesn’t even have the slightest trace of irritation in her voice. It’s witnessing the simple moments like this that make me realize I would not be a good mother. I’m not strong enough, I’m not patient enough, and am lacking a million other attributes that are required for a good parent. In my defense, I think it takes some level of
maturity and insight to recognize that. It wouldn’t be responsible of me, or fair to the child, to have one just because it’s sometimes expected of me, or because I think I’m “supposed to”.
I wish that people could respect the decision I’ve made, instead of incessantly questioning me on it. People almost always imply that I’m making some sort of mistake. Or imply that my life is easy, that I’m selfish, and so forth. Case in point: I would absolutely love it if I never heard this line again: “It must be nice not to have kids”. This is usually said with sarcasm, eye-rolling and condescension, after I’ve excitedly told you about a trip I’ve planned or a party I’ve been to. I don’t feel it’s fair to be jealous or angry with me because we live different lives, or because you chose differently.
People seem to forget that it works both ways. If I make it to be 80 years old, do I get to complain to you that I’m lonely, have no one to take care of me, and whine that “it must be nice to have kids?” Of course not. Raising children has a number of benefits, and I imagine it would be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience.
If you’re asking what my bottom line is, it’s to (hopefully) offer you a sliver of perspective, to ask for a bit of respect, and to remind you that not everyone will be open to talking about their choice. When you bring up the topic, you are maybe just being conversational, maybe you’re just trying to “figure me out”, or you’re interested in hearing a point of view that’s not your own. That’s all well and good. But whether you realize it or not, it can be an extremely sensitive issue – so please tread cautiously.