“If you ever want anything in this life, don’t have kids.”
My parents frequently offered up that little self-esteem-building piece of advice to me and my sister, probably as an inside joke between the two of them. An inside joke edged with truth. I used to love reminding them of it whenever they asked about grandbabies. “We never said that,” my mom would protest, then add grudgingly. “Though it’s probably true.”
I don’t know how much that folksy bit of wisdom influenced my decision to be childless by choice, but I suspect only a tiny bit. More than anything, I believe that having children is a spiritual calling, one I never heard. I thought about this decision a lot, prayed about it, waited to change my mind and my heart like everyone assured me I would … and then never did.
While I weighed my options, I watched friends and co-workers marry and have kids of their own. I saw moms who struggled with motherhood and some that openly hated it. I saw LOTS of dads who lied to their wives about working late so they didn’t have to go home till the kids were in bed. And I knew tons of parents that adored having children and thought it was the best thing they’d ever done in their lives.
There seemed to be so many complex, nuanced and mercurial emotions involved in having children, but only one applied to not having them: regret. A lot of people were sure I’d regret my decision.
I’m here to tell you, though … not having kids is awesome. I’m deliriously happy with my decision and don’t feel an ounce of regret.
I also believe that I would have been happy having kids. I know this because the moms who claim they hate having kids and the dads that lie about working late (so many of them) and my own parents who really did believe that “If you ever want anything in this life, don’t have kids,” – they love their kids too and are generally happy. And I have friends who swore they would never have kids, then did and are over the moon about their decision.
Because life is complex and nuanced and mercurial. Could it be there’s just no wrong way to find your happiness?
Regret, however, isn’t the only myth people believe when you’re childless by choice. Here are a few more:
Myth: I hate kids
Actually, I love kids. All my jobs not related to my career have been with kids – nanny, camp counselor, daycare worker, substitute teacher. I was a Big Sister for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America for 7 years. And I’ve been a devoted Auntie since day one of Morgan’s life. But the need/desire/calling to actually have a child of my own? I never felt it. Though I did laugh when I saw this.
Myth: I’m making a feminist statement
Someone actually said this to me once. Like I’d structure my whole life to make a point. Sure, I make lots of feminist statements (The future is female!) but being childless by choice isn’t one of them. Rest assured, I know lots of feminists who are raising fierce, confident kids of both genders. And their kids aren’t a feminist statement either. Choosing your own life path, without asking for permission or making apologies is the feminist statement. Oops, there I go again.
Myth: I feel morally superior about my decision
Nope. I’m supportive of women who choose either path. Do your thing, ladies.
Myth: I’m going to die alone
Probably. The love of my life loves his red meat and rarely works out, so yeah, I foresee some hardcore Stephie time in my golden years. Sure, I’ll have Morgan and my Bungalow 4, but there’s a good chance I’m going to die all alone. But you know what? I’ve volunteered in lots of nursing homes and assisted living facilities over the years. Lots of people die alone, whether they have children or not. Now go call your grandma. And increase your contributions to your 401k while you’re at it.
Myth: I can’t have kids
That must be it, right? I’ve been asked about my ability to reproduce on more than one occasion. (Rude!) I’ve never gotten pregnant so there’s way of knowing for sure, but everything seemed to be in working order. Rest assured, I was fully prepared to adopt if I decided I wanted a mini me. Alas, no. Either way, though, don’t speculate about someone’s reproductive health. That’s just tacky.
Myth: I’m selfish
Even Pope Francis believes this one. Yes, I work hard. I like to travel and sleep late on Saturdays. I love going out and working on my fitness. But I also know lots of moms who do all of the above! I am selfish. But I still think it’d be more selfish to have kids that are merely props in my picture of the perfect life.
Myth: I’m overthinking things
How is that even possible? You’re bringing a new life into the world. Shouldn’t that take some serious introspection? You don’t have to believe that motherhood is a calling (as I do) to really think through your decision. I know a lot of smart women who don’t and it definitely makes their learning curve a lot steeper.
Myth: I’m not nurturing
I hope my friends and family would beg to differ. I try to be there for anyone who needs me. I’m empathetic to a fault. I have a doggie I love with all my heart. I make good soup. I don’t think kids are only ones who need your time, attention, comfort and support.
Myth: My life is missing something
For the life of me, I can’t think what that would be. I mean, have you met Morgan? Being there for my niece brings me great joy … and is practically a full-time job.
Myth: That’s probably why my marriage failed
So while my life doesn’t seem to be missing anything, my marriage sure was. Could having a child (like my ex has now) have given our marriage a sense of purpose? United us toward a common goal? NO! Bring kids into strong, happy marriages. Do not expect them to save your weak, failing one. This is non-negotiable.
Want more perspective on having kids? Friday, the Aunt-bassadors will share how they made their decision or what’s influencing them as they’re still deciding.
Till then, check out: Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids an anthology collected by Meghan Daum. It’s has several good perspectives on being childless by choice.
What about you? What are your thoughts about having kids? Can’t wait? Can decide? Can’t even? Do tell.