Grow up, go to college, find your true love, start your career, get married, buy a house, and have a few kids. And probably a dog too, who can run around your white picket-fenced yard. That’s the American “DREAM,” isn’t it? There’s this understood checklist of life-accomplishments we need to complete in order to be a happy and normal person. These things though, other than going to college and starting a career, have never impressed me. In fact, I’ve always resisted the idea of “growing up,” but today I wanted to focus on part of the American Dream formula that I get the most criticism for not wanting to comply with, that is, having children.
I’ll admit, there’s a part of me (a dark and scary part of me) that hopes I’m not even capable of having children. I know that’s probably unlikely, but it seems like an unfair hand that there are women out there who desperately want a child and then someone like me who has no interest in procreating. And women are jealous creatures. They can be vicious to one another when they place their own expectations on others.
And that’s where I have the biggest problem. As a twenty-something woman with career aspirations, I’m not “allowed” to not want children. When you’re a teenager and you say you never want kids, people just shrug and laugh and say “You’re young! You’ll change!” and I think usually they do. But somehow once you’ve reached your twenties, wanting kids seems to become a requirement.
When I tell my guy friends or potential boyfriends, they scoff at me or back off. They want kids, why shouldn’t I? They usually treat me with the “you’ll want kids once you marry a super amazing man like me.” I have never dated a guy like this. Fortunately.
When I tell my girl friends, they either look at me with horror or think I’m joking. The horror comes with “But who will take care of you when you’re old? What will you fill up your time with? Aren’t you afraid no one will want to marry you?” And the worst, “You’re just scared of babies, you’ll get over it.” Those who think I’m joking, just laugh it off and tell me all the reasons they love their kids or their nieces and nephews and how they’re going to have 2 girls and a boy and they’ll do cheerleading and football just like their imaginary father. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but girls do act like I HAVE to be kidding about not wanting kids. But the thing is, I’m not.
It’s not something I’m flippantly saying to seem New Age-y or nonchalant. It’s an issue I’ve contemplated and struggled with for the last six years. Once I started college and began to think about my life after college and my career, I began to see how having kids would hinder my ability to make a successful career for myself. But my career is not the main reason I came to my childless conclusion, it was just the spark to start the blaze.
First of all, I have many genetically linked emotional issues—depression, anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, perfectionism—and the last thing I would want to do is pass those traits on to another human being when it’s been so hard for me to cope with them. I have family members on both sides with these issues so I know it is something passed down and not just me being melodramatic.
Second, I would be a horrible parent. Recently, a woman I know on Facebook was venting her frustration at the parents from her son’s 3rd grade class. They had a diorama project due that day which she, being a mom interested in her son’s own creativity and learning, had let him control the project. But on walking into the building and seeing other students’ projects, she realized that there were parents who would basically take their unfulfilled Hollywood set-design aspirations to an extreme and complete their child’s project for them. I’m so ashamed to say that would be me. Not that I don’t value a child’s creativity or learning (I most certainly do!) but I am a perfectionist and an artist. And my perfectionism would absolutely trump my desire to do what’s best for the child. I imagine I would be one of those horrific parents who you can tell is trying to relive their youth through their child by making them participate in all kinds of clubs and activities and make perfect grades. It makes me feel guilty just to think about it.
Then there’s the opposite of this situation, what if I had a child who hated school and perfection? This comes from experience with my brother who is so different from me that my parents didn’t know how to deal with him growing up. (Basically, I made life too easy for them). I don’t know if I could handle having a child who hated everything I put my hopes and beliefs in (i.e. working hard to achieve your goals). But seeing my brother grow up, I know that it’s very possible for this to happen too.
Part of my decision not to have children stems from fear—fear of the unknown. Children are all unknown factors. You don’t know what you’re going to get. Crazy. Disrespectful. Rebellious. For some people that’s exciting and acceptable. For me, that’s horrifying and far too stress inducing to willingly participate in. But the more important part of my decision is that I don’t feel the need to propagate my DNA. When I talk to my dad about not wanting to have kids, he’s always aghast. I ask him why he wanted kids, and he says that he feels like it was part of his duty to have kids and carry on a legacy and contribute to the world. To this statement, I’m usually the one aghast at the idea that somehow by making babies he feels he’s “contributing to the world.” If you think that way, fine. But I have every right not to feel like I need to procreate to feel like I’ve made a contribution to the world. I’d much rather affect the world at large by something that requires my unique skills and abilities. Not just my uterus.
I love children. I’m glad that other people have them. They bring so much happiness and innocence to the world. However, I think it shouldn’t be a requirement or an expectation for a woman to want kids. With more women pursuing independent careers and taking on powerful roles in the workforce, I think this expectation is lessening, but certain cultures permeate these ideas. I would simply suggest that you don’t assume anymore. And you don’t react in horror or surprise if a woman tells you she doesn’t want children. It’s a choice that she has the right to make and a decision that she should be in compliance with her (future) partner over. When we can come to understandings on issues like this, it reduces so much stress for all parties involved.