Time for another Hard Topic discussion
I’m not sure how to bring this topic up, but I’ve seen something a while ago online. It’s concerning a pretty hard topic, and there’s always a huge debate, complete with semantics, guilt-tripping and obligations that are, honestly, quite relative. I’ve made my decision on that topic, and still hold firm to this day that I made the right decision for myself.
The decision that I made – and I made it years ago – was that I was not going to have any children of my own. I will not adopt. I will not foster. Hell, most of you may know this already, but I don’t particularly like kids.
I’m hardly alone in this choice.
Decisions to not have children – especially if women make that choice; men get considerably less flak – are met with everything from the dismissive, patronizing, and insulting “You’ll change your mind!” to the outright offensive “Well, I’m glad you’re not having kids, we don’t need more people like you!” Oh, spare me – on both accounts. First of all, whoever tells a childfree woman that she will change her mind should should first ask what makes him/her psychic to such a degree that the person knows what’s best for the woman in question. As for the second, let me just point out a little unpalatable truth: does anyone remember Andrea Yates? Susan Smith? Theresa Knorr? Debora Green? In case you’re wondering who they are, they killed their children. And theirs aren’t unique cases, because in 97% of the instances of child abuse or death, the parents are the culprits.
Just to shed a little bit of perspective.
There’s also a comment that I got when I was younger, one that just annoys the hell out of me. “The human race will die out if people don’t have kids!” To this I issue a thorough shut the fuck up. We the humans are at seven billion, which is past Earth’s sustainability already. If anything, the people should have less children if they want enough food to go around for the people who were already born. The actual subtext to that comment is that “X race of people will be outbred” – but no one will ever admit to it. And few things ever infuriate me more than the idea that one ethnic group is somehow superior to another.
Another one is the, “But you were a child once?” To which I say, “And so bloody what? I grew out of it.” Being a child once doesn’t somehow obligate reproduction of my own.
But I digress.
I found a post online wherein one woman openly admitted that there are days where she hates being a parent. I’m not linking to the post unless asked, for various reasons. It’s not the post, though, it’s the comments, and those comments shook me to the core. Women of all walks of life, all ages, came out to say in the anonymity of the Internet something that they cannot admit in a public medium otherwise: they do not like being mothers, whether all the time or at some points. They do not think that parenthood is joyful and fulfilling. And, in a reiteration of an Ann Landers survey in the 70s, some of them admitted point blank that if they had to do it all over again, they would not have kids.
The comments on the aforementioned post got to me. From one-shot venting to genuine I reached the end of my rope scenarios, they are uncompromising in how raw and honest they are. And simultaneously, when I read those comments, I get more and more furious at the fact that everywhere a person turns, parenthood is put on a pedestal, and all the negative realities of it are masked over by “It’s all so worth it.” For all the articles I come across, if a high-achieving woman is mentioned, so is her marital/family status. And, until someone asks some Very Tough Questions, very few people, male and female, realize that parenthood, like a great many other things in life, is a choice. No one ever talks about the realities of being a parent, and few people ever separate women from their status of motherhood or lack thereof.
The women who commented on this – and many similar posts, as I’ve found more than one of them – may never have heard a dissenting voice on whether or not to have children. Everywhere, they would hear, “Oh, go ahead, have a baby! It’s so worth it!” Do they hear that it’s okay to wait to have a child? Or to not have one at all? Do they ever hear, “It’s going to be hard as hell. Sometimes you will want to drop everything and run”? Do they hear “Are you absolutely sure you’re ready for a child?”
Most of the time, the answer is no.
I don’t blame the women – what I blame is the social norms and the people who would go to great lengths to enforce them. It’s normal to just buck up and have a kid, and not having one is seen as a personal flaw. And it is very disconcerting that seemingly no one around ambivalent young women tells them the realities of having children. You know, the kind no one talks about. The kind glossed over by an, “It’s all worth it.”
Few people ever think to mention that any scrap of free time vanishes when a woman has a newborn. They sleep only two hours at a time, and it takes them at least six months to develop sleeping patterns. They are sick a lot, and most of the time the people closest in contact with the children also get sick. They cry – a lot. Loudly. Sometimes in inopportune settings. And they cost a lot of the mother’s – because about 80% of the time, the fathers do not take an active childcare role, and some men can and do bolt without a trace – time, effort, money, livelihood, and personal relationships. Everywhere a woman goes, she hears how taking care of babies is so easy and fun – what about the harsh realities that sometimes, a lot of times in fact, it’s the opposite?
No one mentions that. No one mentions that those women – exhausted from childbirth, possibly still suffering from the after-effects; birth is still a dangerous process for the body – have limits. No one mentions the absence of sleep, or the effect that continuous sleep deprivation has on the body. No one mentions the very, very real factor of PPMD, which can be extremely dangerous if not controlled. Nope – it’s all worth it, they say, even though the women who actually had those things happen to them beg to differ. They want nothing more than some time to get back in touch with themselves. Some want to just pick up and run. And of course, there’s still the very real risk of death or life-threatening complications in childbirth.
“But Kat,” you say, “you can’t say that for sure! You don’t know what motherhood entails!”
I actually can, because I do know what it entails. I read. I listened to my friends as they went through the pregnancies, the impact on family relationships, on friendships. I stuck by my mom friends as they struggled through their children’s early years. I saw the effects of everything. I watched my own mother, and her mother, on a constant basis. I asked myself a lot of very tough questions based on what they all told me, and based on my own observations. I considered all the ups and downs of parenthood even back when I was married and my ex-husband was pushing me to have a child as soon as possible. The more he pushed, the more I started asking myself about the particulars, and it came down to the striking realization that it’s okay to not want to be a mother and, more to the point, it’s perfectly fine to not have or want kids.
Just personally, I never had “the instinct”, and never will. I am a perpetual insomniac and have already seen the effects on my health as my insomnia gets worse with age and stress, and am definitely and steadfastly unwilling to go off the deep end. And, rather than bring another life into an overcrowded, overpopulated, violent world, I’d like to take care of my own life while I can.
But how, ask I, is this sort of self-questioning encouraged? Certainly not by the “just have one to try it out” family members/friends/coworkers. Certainly not by every ad campaign that sticks a baby onto its products to get them to sell. Certainly not medical professionals, who will pooh-pooh a decision to remain childfree. And definitely not partners – boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives – who just cannot accept that someone doesn’t want kids.
What is worse, then, if you have a child and regret it, or if you regret not having any? After all, it’s different when it’s your own, right?
Oh, it is different. It’s different because once you have a child, you are in it for life. Whether you like it or not. You can’t return a child to sender. You can’t just “try it” and go back if you don’t like it. Not having a child can be rectified. Having a child cannot. And most people don’t consider it. They think, “It’s your child, it’s better, it’s happier, it’s precious” – but those are moments. The everyday of parenthood is drudgery, and stretches for years. The “Kodak moments” are few and far-between, and the reality is far, far harsher than what people portray. “It’s different when it’s your own” is a guilt trip by any other name.
It’s different when it’s your own, and children are damn perceptive. A kid always knows when he/she is unwanted. Always.
So now we’re having these articles crop up about the de-mystifying of childfree women, and how parenthood doesn’t automatically equal happiness, and how marital satisfaction actually takes a nosedive in the immediate few years after the birth of a child. There are articles about how raising a child is exorbitantly expensive, from birth to college graduation that number goes to $400,000 and up.
None of those things are new. But why haven’t they been mentioned earlier? Why hadn’t this been mentioned ten, fifteen years ago?
Now, Ann Landers – an advice columnist of good renown back in the 70s – asked this question of her readers: if you had to do it all over again, would you have children? Over seventy percent of those readers have responded with a no. Over seventy percent. Think about it. And that’s forty years ago. Now, with the advent of shows like 16 and Pregnant, Pregnant in Heels, Teen Mom, how would that number rank?
The thing I’m trying to get across here is to start being honest when the person’s ambivalent about something as permanent as having kids. Yes, you may argue that a sterilization’s permanent too, but know this: not having children and wanting them is a situation a lot more rectifiable than having children and wishing that didn’t happen. But let us start being honest. “It’s all worth it” is a very relative statement, and if it’s put on after unloading all the realities of parenthood, it’s also a backpedal. It’s as though being honest about this topic is taboo.
It shouldn’t be.
Not all parents are happy being parents. Not all parents are happy, at that. So let’s not backpedal with a relative statement like “It’s all worth it”. For some it is, but for others, it’s not. And that is what people need to know.