“Kids? No thanks, I think I’ll pass”
An essay on my right to choose a child-free life
Three months into my 30’ and three years into a relationship with the most wonderful person, the “kids question” haunts me more and more. Before I start, I would like to make it very clear that this is not about making anyone feel bad about their own choices or to criticise anyone’s beliefs. This is about expressing and defending mine. They have been under social attack for a while now. The time has come for me to put my foot down.
I have never even thought about kids until about 10 years ago. What changed then? This didn’t come from me. Society simply decided it was time for me to have kids. So ever since, this question has been hanging over me like a grey cloud, as if there weren’t enough problems in life as it is. Ever since, I have been carrying this immense weight on my shoulders and feeling guilty about daring to think and live freely. Sometimes this makes me profoundly angry, first and utmost with myself for letting it get to me, but mostly with society for being so blind and irresponsible. Why should I feel guilty if I have all the right reasons and why is this anyone’s business? Let me go through some of the typical and not so typical arguments that I have been confronted to.
First, a disclaimer on vocabulary: I believe it’s misconceiving to say you “want to have children”. This phrasing diminishes the importance of “wanting to be a parent”. I believe “wanting to be a parent” should determine one’s decision to have kids rather than be an inevitable consequence of the latter. If more people asked themselves whether they wanted to be parents before popping kids out, then maybe there would be less childhood trauma in this world.
How can you be sure you will never want kids?
I can’t. I admit that this is the most compelling argument I have had to deal with. The truth is I cannot be sure I will never ever change my mind about having kids. But I find it highly unsettling that I have to decide this in the next 5 years. Yes, that’s an expiration date I have set myself, and for good reasons. I will not go into this here. Let’s just say it’s in the interest of the child. What I do know today is that I do not want a child now and I never have, so I see no valuable reason as to why I would suddenly and drastically change my entire belief system anytime soon.
You’ll see, once you’ve held your baby in your arms you will change your mind…
I believe this is the biggest load of bullshit ever invented. There are plenty of women, whom I personally know, who have experienced no such “magic”. In fact they had to deal with severe postpartum depression and many other socially-unspeakable issues. Whoever says this is ignorant and irresponsible. The truth is that no-one knows how anyone else is going to live their maternity/paternity and pushing this lie on everyone is simply criminal. What if you don’t suddenly fall in love with your child? This kind of thinking may lead you to believe that you’re a terrible person, which can be extremely harming and dangerous. If you do fall in love with your child, that’s wonderful and I am very happy for you. However, I see this as a huge risk, one that I am not willing to take or impose on another innocent human being. I’d rather not have a child deal with my own personal frustrations than make a bet on “magic”. That’s simply crazy.
But aren’t you being selfish?
Maybe. My definition of selfish when it comes to having kids is a bit different from the society. I believe it’s selfish to have kids just to see how your genes turn out on someone else, to perpetuate your family name, blood line or other ridiculous, last century reason. I believe a true mark of a parent is education. You don’t need to push someone out of your vagina to do that. You can adopt. There are so many orphans out there. The numbers are simply heart-breaking. Knowing this, isn’t it selfish to have kids (assuming you want them) instead of adopting? You tell me.
Will you adopt then?
I don’t know. This is an option I am much more comfortable with, although I don’t believe it’s for me either. Am I being selfish? Absolutely! However, I don’t want kids for now. It would be wrong for me to adopt if it’s not done whole-heartedly. As I already mentioned, if you’re not a 100% sure you want to be a parent it’s a huge risk to have or adopt a child because there’s a 50% (or more) chance that things will not be magically perfect and your child will undeservingly pay the price.
So, later then?
Maybe, but probably not. Having kids at a later age not only poses serious health complications for both the mother and the child at birth, but also raises other moral questions for both adopted and newly born kids. Having or adopting a child is a long term engagement. You’re not supposed to abandon them, ideally ever, but at least until they are independent (18 is the norm but this may vary according to context). If you have kids at 50 …well…you may not hang around for that long. Then again, you may get hit by a bus tomorrow. That’s true, but that’s out of your control. We’re talking about conscious decisions here.
Procreating is our duty.
This is probably the laziest and the most ridiculous argument ever. Humanity does have duties and responsibilities, but they have less to do with procreation and everything to do with its disastrous effects. We have been overpopulating the planet, irresponsibly depleting its resources, invading every single space and exploiting every single species for centuries now. Where did this lead us? I don’t like the world we live in today and most of the time I am ashamed of being a part of humanity. It simply does not make sense to me. We have the power to end hunger and suffering worldwide, but we simply choose not to. Isn’t this insane? Why on earth would I want to contribute to this madness by adding another being to “humanity”? Some would jump here to say, that as I just mentioned, I could educate my child to be a loving and responsible person. I could, but why would anyone sane want to see their child live in this absurd world? If my child did in fact inherit or learn my values, he or she would find him or herself swimming against the current, which is not an easy life. I’m not sure I have the right to impose this on anyone else besides myself.
Giving birth is beautiful and there’s nothing medicine cannot do to fix you and make you brand new again.
Forgive my cynicism about modern medicine, but I prefer preventing rather than curing. There are plenty of women out there who can testify that this is yet another lie. The truth is, it’s painful and consequences are different for every woman. Again, no one knows what will happen exactly to your body and it’s irresponsible to tell anyone that there will be no damage. Also, no-one ever talks about the psychological sequels of going through this “beautiful” experience.
Despite what people may tell you, self-confidence is not something you magically gain over the years. It is something you build with sweat and tears. Most importantly, it is something that can be destroyed at any time in your life, so you have to protect it. For me, pregnancy and giving birth is a risk in this sense, one I am not willing to take. This doesn’t mean you can’t, it’s supposed to be a choice.
A woman is supposed to be a mother. It’s in your nature
This is probably the most sexist argument about parenthood out there. The sad thing is that it mostly comes from women. Are all men supposed to be fathers then? I don’t think so. Being a parent is a choice, one that comes with great responsibility. Anyone unwilling or unable to take that responsibility shouldn’t have to bear the pressure of “nature” or “tradition”, because they are doing the right thing by not having kids. It would be irresponsible to have a child if you’re sick. It would be equally wrong to have a child if you’re too poor to afford giving him or her a proper future. Therefore, it is also irresponsible to have a child just because “nature” or “tradition” says so. Tradition is a very effective blindfold, but who wants to go around life blindfolded? Becoming a mother conveniently relieves the need of finding our place in this world. However, that is an existential need every woman has the right and need to fulfil.
You’re being selfish with your partner by denying him a family
Maybe. So far my partner isn’t really sure what he himself wants. I have always been very clear about my doubts on wanting to have kids. Sometimes it was a clear no, sometimes not so clear. After all, as mentioned before, I cannot be absolutely sure I will never want kids. I’m only human. So we may not always agree on this but we share our doubts and most of all, we share our commitment to figure this out together. Uncertainty is part of life and as long as there’s honesty and communication we can live with it. Nowadays, the word “family” means different things to different people. My partner and I don’t necessarily fit into the norm and people shouldn’t pretend to know better. Bottom line is: it’s up to us to decide what kind of family we want and it’s none of anyone else’s business.
I am selfish with my partner. But not in the way most people would think. When we first met and fell in love I toyed with the idea of having kids. Genetically speaking they would be beautiful, green-eyed wonders who would learn to be responsible with the planet and loving of all living beings. So, why not? What could possibly go wrong? Well, as I imagined our prefect future together I realised that getting to that ideal would take considerable effort and time on our part since we also have very strong characters and they would most probably inherit that genetic baggage too along with the good stuff. I suddenly realised I wasn’t willing to share the time we, as a couple had together with anyone else. Yes, not even my own children. Does that sound selfish? Absolutely! But it is also very true. I cannot stress this enough: I’m not sharing!
My partner and I love to travel. I wouldn’t say that having kids would prevent us from doing that, but it will require sacrifices I am not sure we are willing to make. Besides, this would also mean we would be imposing our own lifestyle on our kids, which might not be fair. I am sure someone will jump here and say: “if you’re worried about ecology isn’t travelling a big no, no? Maybe you should settle and have kids instead?” Well, we try to make up for our eco-sins as best we can elsewhere in our lives. I am not sure I could guarantee this for our kids though. “But aren’t you saving the planet for future generations? Your kids?” No. I’m sorry to disappoint. I am not doing this for humanity, at least not the wealthy part. I am doing this for the planet and all of its other inhabitants who suffer as a result of our greed and self-centeredness. I am trying to repair the damage humanity has done to it. Maybe if more people changed their view about their place in this world and assumed their responsibilities we could turn the tide around, but for now, we don’t really deserve to be saved. We could easily change, but we chose not to. To me, that’s unworthy of any kind of sympathy.
Freedom and independence
The most important thing in life for me, and for anyone, is freedom. Whenever I feel tied down I feel profoundly unhappy and infuriated. There’s nothing anyone can do about this, you can’t make a bird love its cage. This goes for every aspect of my life: work, relationships, society, etc. When you have a child you’re sort of obliged to love them. If you really wanted to have a kid than you’d probably do love him or her anyway. But what if you don’t? It’s a relationship as any other, it may go wrong. I’m not saying I am not going to love my kid, but it’s a different kind of love. This is someone who depends on you in every single way, so it’s not really a free union. You as a parent have an unbreakable responsibility towards your child and if you don’t feel comfortable with that you shouldn’t have a child. Because once you are a parent, you have no choice. This is for life. Being locked into an unhappy relationship can bruise anyone for life. Being in a relationship with an adult is different because you are on equal terms and the beauty is that you’re supposed to feel free and bound to that person at the same time. You’re supposed to love someone just because you want to. That is true love.
So you had a traumatic childhood I guess or a bad relationship with your mother or father?
No. I had the greatest childhood I could ever have. It could have been traumatic because it took place during a civil war, but my family did everything they possibly could (and more) to make it a happy, sunny, colourful and culturally diverse childhood. For that, I am forever grateful to all of them.
I know all kids say this, but my mother is the greatest mother in the world. She wouldn’t hesitate for a split second if she had to give her life to save her children, although, I would never ask that much of her. My mother is a human being, so she is not perfect, although I would never ask that much of her either. Still, she is the greatest mother I could ever ask for and she has made me who I am today. She has inspired me immensely to be a good, loving and generous person, although I’m only human so I’m not perfect either.
My father wasn’t around much when I was a kid. My parents got divorced when I was 7, but I never missed a father figure around. I had my wonderful grandpa, my uncles and my stepfather later on. I don’t think my parent’s divorce has anything to do with my character (I know all the Freud fans out there will think it does), it’s always been a distant and irrelevant memory. It’s part of my past; it’s not a part of my present.
So you must hate kids then?
No. I wouldn’t exactly say I love kids, but I certainly do not hate them. I enjoy their company and I admire their honesty and world view. They always have such big dreams and so much self-confidence. I wish I could be like them! I love my nephews and nieces and I really like to spend time observing their universe. Each of them has their own and they are all fascinating to me. I also admire the love and courage of their parents and I am happy to be part of our extended family.
But what if you change your mind?
Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. If I do, I’m prepared to face the consequences. I’d rather regret not having a child than regret having one. It’s my right to choose.