I was shamed by a nine-year-old the other day.
She stood there, hands on hips, glaring up at me. She’d just asked me if I had kids. I told her that I did not.
“I never felt that was the right choice for me.”
She told me that my life was boring and sad.
It was actually pretty cute.
What took the sting out of her statement was the fact that grownups have been shaming me over this for quite some time. Sometimes they attempt to lessen the blow by saying something along the lines of – “you do what is right for you, but you should know that becoming a mother makes your soul expand and you become capable of love bigger than you’ve never imagined and it’s the most valuable thing you could ever do with your life.”
I always wonder how they know how big my love is.
People who decide not to be parents hear this a lot. (And actually, there are increasing numbers of us Childfree folks.) I’ve been questioned and cajoled and told that I’ll change my mind. There seems to be this assumption that I’ve not quite thought this through, but the questions posed are always ones that I’ve asked myself a hundred times. I’ve never met a Childfree person who has come to the decision haphazardly.
Sometimes when people decide to say what they really think, they call me selfish and say I’m not really a woman. I’m still confused about why anyone cares if my husband and I have kids or not, but it sure seems like a bunch of them do.
I like kids. Even the ones who stand with hands on hips and call me boring and sad.
But in my 37 years of life, and 10 years of marriage, I’ve never once felt the ticking-clock twinge of wanting my own children. (And believe me, I’ve held babies and smelled their powdery heads, trying desperately to kickstart it, because I felt like I was defective.) But there isn’t anything wrong with me. It’s just not my thing. I’m also not interested in having a boat. I like boats. I’m sure it’s super fun to have a boat. I’m happy for other people who enjoy their boats. I just don’t feel the need to have my own.
And yes, I am aware that children are not boats – they are even better than boats and having a child brings much to one’s life. I know it changes everything and brings buckets of joy and does all sorts of other things that I will never understand. I believe all of that. I’ve seen it in action.
But raising children is an incredibly important job and it just doesn’t make sense to hand it to someone like me who doesn’t want it. If I were half as interested in having a child as I am in volunteering at an animal shelter, I would do it. It’s like choosing a President who is fonder of ceramics than politics. Who is that good for?
If you choose to grow and learn and leave your legacy by having a kid – I think that’s awesome. And while you do that, I’ll work on improving the world that kid will eventually inherit. That just seems like good tag team long-term planning. It’s easy to imagine that childfree folks spend their entire lives thinking only of themselves, sleeping in late and getting drunk at brunch. But I promise that I’m doing my part to contribute to the world, just in a different way than parents. (I’ll skip the part where I list all the important, non-selfish things I do – it’ll make me sound boastful and more than a little defensive.)
But the real reason I’m writing about this is because it’s indicative of an issue I keep seeing everywhere, something that causes a lot of suffering. I know moms who work outside the home and moms who don’t. Both have been bashed and abused for that decision. I know homeschoolers and Montessori lovers and public school parents – all of whom feel they have to defend their decisions. And the judgement doesn’t stop with parenting issues. I know painters and sales people and jazz singers and almost all of them feel like they need to justify what they do with their lives, because someone is always waiting in the wings to tell them they are doing the wrong thing.
There are so many critics out there and we tend to internalize the disapproval and feel like we are constantly failing. Why does it matter that my husband and I don’t have kids? It doesn’t. It’s not really that interesting, but people keep asking about it so I’m happy to discuss it.
Why does it matter what personal decisions any of us make for ourselves? I wonder what the world would be like if we assumed that everyone was doing their best. What if people made different decisions and we didn’t see that as a threat to the validity of our own choices? What if we kept our eyes on our own papers – our own lives and families – and stopped bashing our neighbor for not buying organic? Things would be incredibly dull if we were all the same. What if we celebrated the fact that life is not homogenous and realized that everyone is doing what they needed to do to wade through this challenging world?
Because when it comes down to it, if you’re spending your time criticizing someone else’s personal choices, it just makes you seem insecure about your own life.
As for me, I like being able to act as designated driver for the Girl’s Nights when my mommy friends can let loose. It seems that my “alternative lifestyle” has its perks for all, but most importantly, I get to live my life authentically — even if it’s hard to explain that to a deeply offended nine-year-old.