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Taking on compulsory child-rearing

August 27, 2012

As I mentioned in my last post, I had written my first submission for Feministing already when I decided not to apply. Why let a good post go to waste? Here it is, unedited. And a note: I haven’t completely ruled out children for my entire life, but it’s definitely not in my immediate future. This post reflects the frustrations of someone even considering being childless. Related: why is my birth control not free, Obama?

For the last year or so, I’ve been toying with the idea of living child-free. This probably doesn’t seem odd to many you, but I’m a white, Catholic, middle class Midwesterner who married at 23. I’m also an only child, so my offspring would be all that’s left to carry on some elusive family heritage. This isn’t to say I can’t be a child-free adult, it’s just not a decision that someone in my shoes regularly makes.

 

Anytime I mention this consideration, I’m met with the same good-natured yet still condescending responses: “Children are a blessing,” “My children fulfill me.” “Your biological clock will kick in soon,” “You’re just not ready yet,” “What does your husband say?” Yes, children are a blessing, but so are my husband and our socially anxious cat. Some may find raising a family fulfilling, but I find my work incredibly fulfilling. And I’m not so convinced that women have “biological clocks.” And don’t assume that I will want children one day. What if I don’t? Does that make me less-than? As for my husband, we’re on the same page…. Indifferent for now.

 

Every response insinuates that at some point in the future, I will be ready to produce children. This decision is clearly not mine to make. I live in a culture of compulsory child-rearing and I’m not okay with that.

It’s not that I think people shouldn’t decide to raise families. Absolutely not. Instead, it needs to be more acceptable to choose to be child-free. Child rearing should not be compulsory. Opting out is an equally valid and deliberate decision for many* and ought to be recognized as such, not pitied or looked down upon. I shouldn’t have to explain myself why I don’t want kids. I never ask new parents why they do.

*I recognize that some are forced into this option due to an inability to conceive or adopt, and that’s just heartbreaking to me, but unlike deciding to be child-free, that’s not a deliberate choice one makes.

 

Just because I may not want children of my own does not mean I can’t be a positive influence in children’s lives. I look forward to being that kooky Aunt Renee who makes smoothies in the winter and hot cocoa in the summer. I will cherish the relationships I cultivate with nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends’ children. And if I have children of my own someday, I will cherish them completely. But I want the option to not have children to be as uncontroversial as the decision to have children.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Allison permalink
    August 27, 2012 9:32 am

    I completely agree. I want children but I don’t see why it’s unacceptable not to have them. But it’s like those who don’t marry. If you’re in the minority, people are less likely to understand.

    And to your point about free BC, why isn’t all medication free? We are *choosing* not to have children, which means, to me, it’s my responsibility to own up to choices j make (although it needs to be easier and not forbidden to get said BC). But I did *not* choose to have type 1 diabetes and a lifetime if insulin injections to stay alive. I pay 3 times as much on diabetes supplies as I do on BC every month, even though I had nothing to do with my body breaking. Now *that* is unfair.

  2. August 27, 2012 9:33 am

    I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think I want children, and I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. People have also been telling me, for as long as I can remember, that they are absolutely convinced I will change my mind (insert knowing smirk), when I get older. If anything, I’ve only become more firm in my “no thanks, not for me” stance. As for my boyfriend, we’ve talked about this many times, and he says he absolutely wants to spend the rest of his life with me and the abstract idea of a child that we may or may not have is not something that would ever deter him from being with me. Maybe we will have children, in about 8 years, but in the meantime, I want people to stop looking at me like I have two heads when I tell them I’m just not a kids person. I don’t look at you like that when you tell me you’re a republican, I just nod and keep my thoughts to myself. Ahem.

  3. jenner220 permalink
    August 27, 2012 11:59 am

    I would love a culture where marriage & children weren’t simply expected, particularly for those who aren’t legally allowed to marry and for those who were unable to conceive for medical reasons. I couldn’t imagine having to answer that question over and over again and not want to cry.

    Terra has a really great post about her choice to remain childless and how she responds to people if you’re interested! http://www.terra-bear.com/archives/2748

  4. Mel Corbett permalink
    August 27, 2012 3:01 pm

    I completely agree as someone who is 28 (gasp) and doesn’t have kids and isn’t planning on them for at least a few more years if ever, I feel it’s completely inappropriate for someone to tell me about my own health and how I should have them now.

    Also, what about people who can’t have kids or choose not to have children because they don’t want to pass on genetic disorders? And you are pressuring them to have children, and they try to politely put you off.

    I’ve been getting a lot of pressure from certain family members (well one certain family member) and several coworkers, and oddly, random women that I happen to meet, say, at the bus stop. I think it’s inappropriate and extremely rude to force that conversation on someone or pressure someone to conform to your beliefs.

  5. Jes permalink
    August 27, 2012 3:48 pm

    Agree agree agree. What a boring friend I am.

    Also, who would want an indifferent mother (or father)? Or, god forbid, a resentful mother (or father)? People who feel called to parent should be parents for THAT reason–because they want to be. Having children as a result of a bad case of “The Shoulds” seems like the start of many crummy years for the children AND the parents.

  6. August 27, 2012 5:22 pm

    I’ve written about this before. I think as a society we have this thing completely the wrong way round. Rather than making people who don’t want children feel pressured to justify their decision it should be expected that people who do will explain why and what makes them qualified. There are far too many people having children for this just reason, they think it’s mandatory, and they’re absolutely awful at it.

  7. August 27, 2012 5:44 pm

    I cannot express enough how much I want to Facebook “like” this post. Because I’m single I (thankfully) don’t have to face people asking me when I’m going to have children, but I’m not sure that I will ever want them and when it comes up in conversation, people kind of laugh at me as if I just haven’t matured enough to realize that I want them. Children are not a rite of passage to life, and they certainly aren’t mandatory. You can lead an extremely fulfilling life without ever being a parent – I would argue that you can lead an even more (or I suppose the diplomatic word here would be “different”) fulfilling life because you have the benefit of time and money that you aren’t spending on your kids.

  8. August 27, 2012 8:27 pm

    Until I hit 30 a few months ago, I was not at all interested in raising a family. I was one of three kids and our family had fallen apart because of divorce. I have issues with anxiety and just didn’t want to expose my kids to it. My husband and I wanted to be able to travel as often and wherever we wanted to. But when we started talking about building a house/looking for a new home…We suddenly wanted a family to put it in. It was the weirdest thing. I’m not saying that will happen to you. But what you should remember is that just because you decide one thing doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. Always do what your heart feels is right! 🙂

  9. August 27, 2012 11:39 pm

    Assumptions in general tend to tick me off, but this one has a special place for me. Hell, even right up until I found out I was, indeed, pregnant, I was pretty ambivalent about wanting kids. Me, a mom? Sure, someday, maybe… or maybe not. And then suddenly I was expecting and… well, here I am. Not really sure what the point of that was, other than to say – if you don’t want kids, that’s completely up to you and your husband and other people should stay out of that decision. (Not that they will, but they SHOULD…)

  10. August 29, 2012 1:53 pm

    It was so interesting reading this — I’m an only child, I married at 24 (I’m now 32), and my husband and I have very similar thoughts on this. It’s just not for us. Maybe one day it will, but that’s seeming less and less likely. But, we’re already the cool aunt and uncle/godmother and godfather to a lot of kids in our lives, and we love it. We’re incredibly happy for our friends who love being parents, but we really appreciate it when they’re equally happy for us living the lives we’ve chosen.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  11. September 7, 2012 10:48 am

    Thank you so much for writing this. I am very ambivalent about having children for many reasons: I love to travel, I love my cats, I worry I will be too selfish to care about children, I worry I will make the same mistakes my parents did, I have a nephew with special needs, and I know I couldn’t take care of a special needs child… But on the other hand, it might be nice someday to teach a little person the joy of writing and grammar, the awesomeness of dinosaurs, how to make pickles and to be nice to everyone, even if they are different from yourself.

    To respond to the specific point where you say you never ask your friends with children why they had children, I would say, I do ask people that, when they ask me why I don’t have them.

  12. September 7, 2012 2:31 pm

    My thoughts and feelings are similar to Kaci’s above – I was going to have children if and when it happened and that was that. Then I got married and the pressure to procreate began. Ugh. And as soon as my son celebrated his first birthday, the pressure to procreate AGAIN began. After having a miscarriage (and not broadcasting it to our friends/family because really, my fertility issues are none of their business) I became absolutely sick of being asked when we were going to have another baby. Family decisions are family decisions and whether or not you decide to have children should be nobody’s decision but your own. Thanks so much for posting this!

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