This post has been writing itself in my mind for over a year, when I had my first real encounter with someone who refused to accept that I did not plan to have children. During a discussion about his two-year-old daughter, the son-in-law of a family friend asked when I was going to have kids. My response of ‘oh, I’m not having children’ was met with a guffaw. He condescendingly insisted that I was wrong and would change my mind. It was a frustrating encounter, but not unusual. It seems childfree people are often told that we either don’t know what we want or we are selfish for wanting what we do.
Oh, I know what I want, and that is a life without my own children. I do not want to raise them. It’s not something that interests me, it’s not something I’ve ever desired, and it is not part of what I want for my life. Please note: this doesn’t mean I don’t like any children – I volunteer as a leader for a Campfire group of 10 four-year-olds. I happily hold my friends’ children, play with them, get them slightly age-inappropriate gifts. It just means I do not want to raise one of my own.
I get that someone who has always wanted to have kids might be taken aback when they encounter someone with an equally strong but opposing viewpoint, and that they might gasp “why” initially, but perhaps after the first “because I don’t want kids” they can let it go. I mean, think of how weird it would be to really start questioning a pregnant woman about why she wants to have children, telling her that she will change her mind and that she’s really missing out on a fantastic life. Seems pretty inappropriate, right? Yeah. Same for refusing to accept someone’s statement that they don’t want kids.
Also, I get really tired of the people who sort of nod, giving us the idea that they either get what we’re saying (or have the manners to let it go), then smile and say “yeah, I get it. It’s fun to be a little selfish.” Say what? The decision to have children is just as self-centered as the decision to not have children. What comes AFTER that may vary in selfishness, but think about it. I think most parents expect that they will find some joy in parenting. My understanding is that it is (or can be) very rewarding but also very difficult. That it’s something that gives parents satisfaction. It’s something they are doing out of a desire, to accommodate their vision of the future. To help them have the life they want.
Sounds remarkably similar to the reasons why people choose not to have children. So why is one choice seen as selfish?
Part of the problem seems to me that the reasons people (who have children) suggest people like me aren’t having children are inevitably quite trivial, but if you ask most of us, the reasons aren’t trivial at all. I’m not childfree so I can sleep in. I’m not childfree because I can’t handle the responsibility. I’m not childfree so I can have lots of money to spend on fancy clothes.
But even if I were – why should anyone else care? Why should anyone feel so invested that they want to change my mind? Or want to suggest that I just don’t know myself as well as someone who does want children? It seems so … unnecessary.
If you still can’t really wrap your head around why someone would not want children, or thinks it’s a ‘bad’ decision, try this analogy:
I don’t want to be a doctor. That doesn’t mean I think doctors are bad, or that pursuing a medical career isn’t a great thing. I also recognize that we need doctors in the world, and are lucky that there are many, many people willing to take that on. No one yells at me for not wanting to be a doctor, or condescends that I will change my mind; they accept that being a doctor is not for me and that I know myself best. They don’t call me selfish for not wanting to go to medical school; they accept that I’ve weighed my options and becoming a doctor doesn’t come up high on the list. And doctors don’t come up to me and say “Oh, you should be a doctor. I know you say you aren’t going to be one, but you’ll change your mind. It’s awesome, and the best possible route for everyone.”
And to address that other looming question: what if everyone thought like I do? Well, what if everyone wanted to be a lawyer? What if no one wanted to be a sewage system operator? There are lots of different roles people can fill in the world, and most people fill many, many roles. But we don’t expect everyone to fill all the same ones; in fact, that would be a recipe for failure. Why must the exception to that be reproducing?