Despite what people want to believe, despite what they tell me, I don’t want kids. I have never wanted kids. As a little girl I would daydream about my future life, and what I envisioned never included children. Dreams of the future involved differing scenarios, like being a ballerina or a veterinarian, but most often I would picture myself writing. Writing furiously on a typewriter near an antique window, in an attic like Jo in Little Women, a cigarette burning in an ashtray (I grew up on black-and-white movies where everyone, especially writers, smoked), a cold cup of tea forgotten beside me because I was so enthralled by “my work.” I dreamed of writing and dancing and animals, but never of being a mother.
I am at an age where many of my friends are beginning to have children (if they don’t already have them). My twin sister has two children and two stepchildren. I go to more baby showers than I ever thought a person could go to in their lifetime. I seem to be surrounded by children; everywhere I look there are families with two, three, four, five little ones in tow. And don’t get me wrong, I love children. I love talking to them when they come into the restaurant where I work, asking them directly rather than their parents if they want crayons and paper. I make faces at babies, tickle the wriggling feet poking out from beneath blankets, play peek-a-boo with strangers’ kids.
So I guess I can’t blame people when they say I am “such a natural,” when the question I hate always seems to follow: “When are you having kids?” I hate this question because my answer never seems to be what the person wants to hear. I am of child-bearing-and-rearing age, I am in a committed relationship, I obviously delight in the company of (well-behaved) children. So why don’t I want kids?
Well, when I think of my life and what I would like to do, kids just don’t factor into the equation. I don’t yearn for motherhood like many people say I will come next year, when I turn 30. I don’t feel like something is missing. I don’t picture what my hypothetical children with my boyfriend would look like or think of baby names. What I picture is similar to what I pictured as a child: writing. Writing, first and foremost, whether it be in an attic on a typewriter or (more likely) on the couch on my laptop. I picture traveling the world, experiencing new cultures and locations. I picture meeting all different kinds of people, hearing their stories, learning about their customs. I picture trying new things, going on yoga retreats, perhaps finally learning to love to cook. I picture a house full of dogs and dinner parties and being an aunt to dozens.
Though I know I don’t want kids, I do sometimes think about how different my life would be if I had children. I think of how I would not be able to do things as I like to do them. Like waking up and sitting outside with my coffee and a book, just me and the sunrise and the sounds of birds, like I did this morning. Like spontaneously meeting a friend for lunch or going for a drive or sitting down on a Thursday to write my blog before I head off to work. I know that even the simplest of plans, like going for a walk, is complicated exponentially by a child. I know that from going on walks with my sister and the kids. It’s trying to get the kids out of their pajamas and into fresh clothes after breakfast, wrangling shoes on, packing snacks and water and blankets, bringing a change of clothes in case they get dirty. It’s work. But I know that the work is worth it if you want and love your children, as my sister so clearly does.
I adore spending time with my niece and nephews. The love I feel for those little beings swells my heart and fills my eyes. They’re magical. I love hearing my youngest nephew’s little stories and my niece’s laugh. But you know what else I love? Being able to head back home when I’m tired. Being able to go to sleep and wake up when I want to. Being able to dictate my day off by how I’m feeling and by what I want to do. If this makes me selfish, then so be it.
Just because I am a woman with ovaries does not mean that I want or need to be a mother. This doesn’t mean that I look down on mothers; quite the opposite. I have the utmost respect for mothers (and fathers), for the women who love their kids fiercely yet gently, for the women who want babies. That is their choice. But my choice is different. And I am lucky that I live in a time and place where the choice to have children is mine to make. Where making babies and keeping house isn’t my only option in life. I live in a time where we as women have so much more freedom than we had not so very long ago.
Though we as women of the 21st century are afforded luxuries and opportunities that our foremothers were not, there is still an expectation that we will, hands down and across the board, have children. We are expected to have it all, to lean in, to have babies and raise families and have kickass bodies while we run companies or start our own businesses. But then, if a woman is a success at work we admonish her for being away from her children. Or we look down on women who want to forgo the workplace and stay home to raise their children. What we lose sight of along the way: we can choose.
If we look back into the very recent past, the opportunities that we had as women were nonexistent. We were expected to take care of the house and the children, to be good wives, to be sweet, meek, mild, and pure. We were not allowed to express ourselves, be it sexually, creatively, or monetarily. Recently I was moved by a Huffington Post article that found and detailed an archive of marital advice columns from the 1950s. Women were blamed for their husbands’ infidelity, they were scolded for ever dreaming of or wanting more. We were not supposed to hope. We were supposed to be complacent.
In the 19th century women who attempted to hope, to break free of the confines of society, were often institutionalized. When women questioned their role in the household, their place in the company of men, they were deemed hysterical. This practice of silencing the voices of women continued well into the 20th century, when women were subject to electroshock therapy. This “therapy” dulled their cognitive capabilities, not to mention their spirits.
So it is astounding to me, in this day and age, that I am often scolded as soon as I reveal that I do not want to have children. Like it’s a waste (of what?) if I don’t. I am shocked when other women tell me that I’ll regret my decision. That I’ll change my mind as soon as I hit 30. I am offended when they suggest that my life will be devoid of meaning. Or that my boyfriend should break up with me because I don’t want kids. I am annoyed when people assume that I am depriving my boyfriend of children when he doesn’t want them either. Don’t you think we’ve talked about it? It’s kind of a big life decision, to have kids or not, don’t you think that a couple who has been in each other’s lives in some capacity for the past 12 years has already discussed it?
On a Sunday a few weeks ago my boyfriend and I were sitting on the couch together with our coffee, trying to decide what we wanted to do for the day. Did we want to go to the beach? Get brunch? Call our friends to hang out? Go see a movie? Take the dog for a walk? All of the above? It was almost like my boyfriend read my mind. Suddenly he turned to me and said, “This would not be happening if we had kids.” We laughed and then were quiet for a moment, contemplating how different our Sunday and our life together would be if we had children. We looked at each other, eyes wide with relief, smiles stretching across our lips. The day was ours.
I wish you a wild, free life.