December 4, 2016

I Don't Want Children, And That's OK



“The expectation is that they will marry and have children,” explains Sue Fagalde Lick, author of Childless by Marriage. “If they don’t, everyone wants to know what’s wrong with them.” 

Today at church we had a 'baby dedication ceremony'. Basically, anyone who has had a kid in the past 365 days stands on stage and is told how important their role as parent and teacher is while everyone in the audience oohs and ahhs over their squishy faces. People make jokes about "That will be you one day!" and "I can't wait to be a parent!". It's great and encouraging.

 But I don't get it.

I just don't understand. When I see little kids, I think they are adorable, but I mainly want them to be kept away from me. When I looked at the stage full of parents and children this morning, I didn't see my future. I saw burden and mess and lost freedom. Don't get me wrong; children are a beautiful thing and I know that they are blessings to many. They just aren't for me. Of course, I've thought about how I might parent or what I might choose to name a child, but these are largely thought experiments. The idea of being pregnant is repulsive and the idea of having to care for a child oppressive, no matter what stage of my life I frame the picture in (not to even mention the litany of health challenges and genetic counseling my partner and I would have to go through). (I know many do not share this opinion, but that is the point. There is no uniform view on motherhood and children that can be assigned to a person simply because of their gender. I find the stereotype of the incompetent father as damaging as the stereotype of 'all women want to have children and are naturally nurturing'.)

This perspective tends to make normal interactions... interesting. During bible studies, lessons are impacted down to 'how such and such will affect your future husband and children,' or people show me baby gifs and I go 'meh, I guess that's cute'. The list goes on: 'you are going to be such a wonderful mother one day!' 'Would you really want him to be the father of your children?' 'How will you balance such a demanding career with raising your kids?' (mind you, I have neither the career nor the children presently, which makes this particular question all the more puzzling). These assumptions that I will/want to/ought to be a mother simply because I am a woman are frustrating and we ought to work to eradicate them. More toxic, however, are the responses I receive when I reply 'no, not really,' to the much-dreaded children question. I am told to 'just wait' or maybe given a smile and nod combination that seem to say 'ahhh suuuure you don't want children'. Or my personal favorite: 'then what will you do?' which points to the underlying assumption: that somehow, becoming a parent will 'fill' me or give me some long lost purpose. 

I know that my purpose is not to be a mother. I just know. Perhaps one day I'll be in a situation where I decide to adopt a child who needs me, and I will love them and teach them to the best of my ability. But it wouldn't be to complete my main mission. It would be to help someone else who needs me. Important and worthwhile, sure. But not my 'calling'. 

I am perfectly at ease with this fact. But society isn't. A study in 2012 concluded that "Motherhood is so highly connected with adult femininity in the United States that many women feel that they need to be mothers." Kelly Flynn wrote a poignant letter in which she summarized the judgment she felt: "The unasked question hangs in the air: “You don’t have children because — —?” The implication is that if I chose a life without children, I am cold. If I can’t have children, I am to be pitied." Women across the country have faced this reality, regardless of whether their child-free state was an intentional decision. When I tell people in all seriousness that I don't want children, they "want to know what’s wrong with" me. The answer is, of course, nothing, but this consistent pressure is what made me sit in church this morning and wonder "what if something really is wrong with me, what if I really am broken?" 

We need to stop. We need to halt our assumptions, get to know people's hopes and plans before talking about their 'future children'. Such assumptions are inaccurate and damaging. We must likewise halt our judgments. Childless women are not inherently cold, no more than childless men are. 

If a woman ever tells you that she doesn't like kids or doesn't plan to have any, don't tell her that she'll change her mind 'one day!'. Don't even ask her why.   
Just say 'cool', make note, and move on. 

Note: my church does a fantastic job of including women on all paths and I have been grateful to have women mentors both with and without children. However, we still all need to be aware of our assumptions and responses; that is the point of this post