ColumnChildfree by choice: Society still doesn’t accept that some women don’t want to be moms.
On the heels of an August cover story in Time called “The Childfree Life,” this week, HuffPo Women brought us, 23 Things You Should Never Say To A Childfree Woman. Despite the fact that, as Time reports, today, 1 in 5 American women don’t give birth to children, compared with 1 in 10 in the ’70s, apparently there’s still a need for articles like the HuffPo piece for how to talk to emotionally frigid mutants like us.
As far as I know, I am technically able to get pregnant. To be fair, I am 36 and haven’t checked so, the “welcomeness of the womb,” as they say, is unknown. My husband and I made the choice years ago not to have children. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve checked in to make sure we’re on the same page, and I feel lucky that we have been.
As a childfree woman by choice, I have my own list of things I never want to hear. And, as a quick aside, if I’m annoyed by all of the know-it-all assumptions about childless women, I can only imagine how people who actually want kids but haven’t yet, or can’t, have them must feel when they have to endure these comments. I applaud those of you in that camp for not kicking people in the face on a regular basis.
1. You must hate kids.
I don’t hate children. I do believe that as little humans, kids don’t get an automatic pass to be assholes. Crying on planes: I get ya kid; I do it too, sometimes. A bad day and a random tantrum? Sure. I feel worse for the parents in those situations. But, kids who act like snotty, entitled brats and think the word should revolve around them? No thanks.
For proof that I do like kids, see the above photo of me with my fake nephew, Zach. We are reading about planes and discussing whether an apple-coptor would really work. He said “apple” when I pointed at the drawing, so I am fairly sure that he is super smart (definitely smarter than most kids his age) and knows that one cannot fly in produce.
2. You must be selfish.
Some people assume that those of us uninterested in parenting are selfish. My assumption, as long as we’re making them, is that those people are jealous that I have time to read a book with words. That I can say “fuck” whenever I want to, and that I don’t have to save money for someone’s college tuition. My other assumption is that they feel sorry for me because I “don’t get it.” Bringing me to…
3. You just don’t get it.
“It” being: I’m missing out on a depth of love I will never understand. In some ways, I agree that I might be. But I have thought a lot about this, and I’m okay with trading the life I don’t get for the life I have and love. Also, I will make your children love me. Watch out for aunt Libby! I will tell your children embarrassing stories about you and buy them expensive crap that you can’t afford because you have to buy them boring things like food.
4. Who will take care of you when you’re old?
Your kids will! Ha ha. Kidding (mostly, see previous comment re: me buying your kids’ love). This is a big issue so, I will start with the assumption built into the question: That kids will care for parents as they age. Fact: Some kids can’t or won’t take care of their parents. How I will navigate old age is something I think about a lot. This has led to a two-part plan relying on smarts and karma.
First, build a life filled with friends of all ages (at the moment, the youngest person I would call to grab dinner is in her late 20s and the oldest is in her mid-60s). Fake-aunt the shit out of the kids I like. Help older friends navigate their DVRs or whatever new technology is baffling them. This helps you cover your karmic bases and keeps you connected with people who are older and wiser, and with people who know who those girls on the cover of US Weekly are.
Second, save money and get okay with the idea of assisted living (AKA: The Old People Dorm Plan) once you are too old for the—highly preferable for obvious reasons—Golden Girls Plan. To remain independent as long as possible, take care of yourself. I’m not looking forward to dealing with my care during my own demise, but I am pretty confident that my plan will work just as well as having kids.
5. You’ll change your mind.
No, I won’t change my mind, and if you wish that on me, we are no longer friends. I’m hardly an old hag, but we all know that as women age it’s not quite as easy to get pregnant. Telling a 36-year-old woman that she will change her mind is not only not your place, it’s not nice. I have seen numerous friends struggle to get pregnant. It’s not as easy for everyone as they tell you it is in sex ed, so bite your tongue.
6. You owe your totally amazing parents a grandchild.
The fact that my parents would be the best grandparents on the planet (and they would) doesn’t mean I should have a baby. This gem from the HuffPo, “Your mom had you!” seems to get at the idea that it’s my turn to reciprocate.
Well, why yes, my mom did have me. And for that I am grateful. I am even more grateful that she had me because she wanted to, and that she and my dad made a conscious decision to add on to their family. I would also like to applaud my parents for never pressuring me to have a baby. To reward them, I turn the other way when they give my dog people food.
7. Don’t you want a family?
Yes, I want a family—in fact, I have one. My husband and dog, my parents, his parents, some siblings, some stepparents, some grandparents, friends I have known for 33 years, friends I have known for what feels like 33 years, fake aunts, fake uncles, cousins, blood nieces and nephews, fake nieces and nephews, a work husband. All of these people are my family.
8. Do you think I’m lame for having kids?
No, that’s just dumb. I think it’s great that you want to have kids. I respect my friends for being honest about how hard it is to be a parent, for talking openly about what they have given up in addition to celebrating the joy they have gained—and for respecting my choice to be a kick-ass aunt and a supportive friend rather than a mom myself. I genuinely like seeing their kids’ pictures on Facebook.
In the constant conversations about how women create balance, where are the partners? The language used in articles about family and decision-making mirror how our society views children—as a woman’s decision (unless we’re talking about abortion, of course). For a single person (male or female, gay or straight), yes, deciding to have a baby might be a choice made alone. For a woman or a man with a partner, ideally this is a team decision. If it’s not, you may want to rethink your team.
Most conversations about childfree women seek to divide us in yet one more way. As women, rather than undermine each other for our personal choices with back-handed compliments and outright insults, we need to agree that all reproductive choices should be personal and applaud each other for whatever path we choose.
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