I’ve never wanted kids. From the moment I understood that I had ovaries I thought I’d better do everything I could to keep them from meeting up with any sperm. I have friends and coworkers who will stop everything the moment a baby or toddler is brought into our office; they are captivated by their smiley stares and busy bodies. Unless the kid belongs to a friend or family member, I find it difficult to be interested; I patiently feel for the time where it seems appropriate to get back to my work, and awkwardly rely on my coworkers for cues of when to ooh and aah. (A dog comes in however, forget about it!)
Growing up I had an Aunt and an Uncle who didn’t have kids–they were my favorite. I looked at their lives and thought, that’s what I want. They seemed to enjoy the company of their nieces and nephews but always seemed happy to get back to their life together in the city. From a very young age I connected to this idea of having one single person who was MY person; I never needed more than that to imagine us as a family. Now that I am married, the romance of my husband being the only person I want to share my life with is something I never wish to let go of.
As far back as I can remember and even now, when people hear me say I am not having kids, 90% of them have the exact same response–“Oh, you’ll change your mind, just wait.” From the ages of 20-25, I wondered if this was true. I kept waiting for some feeling to sweep over me. I became overly conscious of my body whenever I held a baby–I kept waiting for some type of warm feeling in my womb, I listened for that click you hear when the oven starts to heat up. The maternal fire in me failed to ever ignite, but a flame burned bright when I met a man who was happy to live out a childless existence with me as his partner.
The thought of having kids terrifies me. I’m terrified of not knowing what to do. I’m terrified of the kid getting sick. I’m terrified of raising a jerk. I’m terrified of making the wrong decisions when it comes to their wellbeing. But wait, you’ll think, every parent has these fears. Well…I’m also terrified of the thought of traveling less, and picky eaters who don’t appreciate amazing food, and beings who cry instead of using words, and a living room where I trip over toys, and Dora on my TV instead of sports. Priorities in my life include frequent trips to the gym, 90 minute yoga classes, and all day writing sessions on Sundays. I realize that for most people these things seem frivolous- they are easily given up in exchange for this other amazing gift. But these things are mine, I love them with passion. I am selfish in many ways, I admit that freely. I think the worst thing I could do is not accept who I am and bring a child into this world because 90% of society expects me to. If I had a child, I would resent them. I would love them, but part of me would resent them. That’s not a popular thing to say out loud, but I think it’s a necessary thing to know for myself.
I do recognize that children are an incredible gift. Most of my friends are either starting or in the middle of growing their families. The joy from each new addition literally leaps off their Facebook pages. Creating a life and then nourishing it and watching it grow is clearly at the top of the human experience. I realize that there is a great love in this world that I will never know, but my heart holds enough joy in loving others who know it well.
A few weeks ago I was in Mexico for a friend’s wedding and wound up sitting around a table on the beach one evening discussing this issue with new acquaintances. Each person at the table besides my husband and I either had kids or planned on having them. They curiously questioned our reasons for not wanting to procreate but then nodded in open-minded understanding upon our explanation. The understanding seemed to cease however when I opened up about the pressure I felt to succeed professionally in lieu of having children.
Raising kids is a huge responsibility. If you do it well, it’s also a huge contribution to the world. To deliver humans that are kind and giving and socially accountable is a substantial accomplishment. I’ve always thought, if I’m not going to do that, I better have something else to show for my life–something that marks my contribution to my fellows. My lack of desire for offspring has never quelled my hope to leave a legacy.
For a while I’ve put people into three categories:
- The “Family firsts”- These are the are stay-at-home Moms and Dads and also the married and single parents working jobs that don’t necessarily fulfill them to support their families. These are the people I have thought of as making great personal sacrifices; they put the care and responsibility of their family ahead of any personal desires or aspirations.
- The “Career firsts”-These folks forgo having children for several reasons, the main one being that it would hinder their career ambitions. They recognize that their personal goals would inhibit them from providing the nurturing environment necessary for children.
- The “Superhumans”-These are the ones that many envy because they seem to be able to do and have it all. Somehow they manage to have the successful career that fulfills them all while raising respectable human beings. They seem to have achieved some magical work/life balance that remains elusive to others.
After sitting around that table that evening I came to realize these categories are bullshit. There are very few people who actually fit perfectly into the narrow definitions that I’ve laid out. There are variations everywhere you look.
The “Family Firsts” can be very self-realized ambitious people. Many start out extremely driven in their professional objectives, pause to take time out for family and then resume the pursuance of their goals when their kids get older.
There are tons of “Career Firsts” who have children despite the uncertainty of their desire to raise a family. Some are transformed by the experience and become less work-centric, others feel ashamed by the regret that lingers on their insides, reminding them each day that they didn’t choose their truth.
Lastly, these so called “Superhumans” may not be so super after all. It is so easy to look at someone’s outsides and assume they have everything together, but what do we really know unless we really know them? A person can have everything that society says they should want-but the joy is lost if it’s not really what they want.
I’ve realized that I do not even fit into the category I have imposed on myself. First, although I’ve made the decision with my husband to not have children, I would still list family as the number one priority in my life. The quality of my relationships with my husband, my parents, my siblings, my nieces, and my close friends is the barometer on which I measure much of my success. In fact, it is only when my mind is plagued with other’s judgments (whether real or imagined) that I prioritize professional success over personal growth.
A short time ago I was chatting with a friend and disclosing my fears about not being where I wanted to be professionally. I told her I worried about not being able to make an impact on the world. About once a month I do this gut wrenching analysis of whether I’m doing what I’m “supposed to be” doing. Her response was to tell me how I had made an impact on her life. She explained that her relationship with her Father was better because I had helped her talk through and identify some important things. That area of her life, she said, was better because she had me as a friend.
I have this part of me that knows without any doubt that if I’m fortunate enough to get much much older, I’ll be able to look back on helping this friend as part of my success. Somehow though, my youth precludes me from that consideration now, at a time when it might buoy my self worth. We’ve all read the stories and seen the lists–no one is looking back at the end of their lives and wishing they’d worked more. Mostly they wish they’d spent more time with family and friends. These relationships are what matter-cultivating them may be just as important as building up that 401k.
Going back to that conversation on the beach, I think what surprised me most was that our new acquaintances had no preconceived notion that not having kids meant one had to be more professionally driven. I started to wonder if these voices I thought were contributing to the pressure I put on myself were real or imagined. And even if they were real, did they matter? I look at myself as some sort of non-conformist since I refuse to let traditional attitudes dictate what my family will look like. But how free am I if I instead defer to some other set of expectations?
A lot of things have started to get better in my thirties (that’s a whole essay in itself). I think one of those things that I’m determined to build on right now is trusting myself. I want to be happy. I also want to contribute to the world. I have to start believing that my desire to do good and to contribute is so innate that any aspirations towards my happiness will inevitably improve the world in some way, whether big or small. If I am joyful, it is because my presence or action improves the circumstances or lifts the spirit of some other soul. I suspect that as I continue to grow personally and professionally, my definition of success will also evolve. I believe that it has to, cause the person I am now is not capable of the kind of success I wanted much earlier in my life. Thank God for that.