Note that I use the word childfree. Not to be confused with childless, because childless implies that something is missing by not having a child.
Placing behind a cut for waxing personal.
Some time ago, I had a friend of mine ask me, very puzzledly, how it’s possible that I don’t want kids, and in all honestly, could not believe that I would actually not want to have children. Another one was amazed that I would say that if I met someone who was right for me in all ways but having children, then he’s not the right one. This seems to be a repeating theme with people, which I expect, being 28 with no prospects at relationships, but bottom line is this: I do not want children of my own, and will not have them.
Allow me to posit this question: why, exactly, is this such an unfathomable thing?
Let’s be honest for a second: not everyone wants children. Not everyone should have children. Certainly, not everyone is fit for having children, as evidenced by the eyebrow-raising and the hair-raising stories of child abuse that make the news. Considering I was in criminal justice, I know far more on the topic than what makes the news, but let’s not go there.
The recent incident in China, where a baby was flushed down the toilet – this makes me shudder, on many levels – only highlights that the it’s only high time to have a real conversation about the fact that not having children should be something discussed as a socially supported option, the reasons why, and the simple fact that the idea of going through life and not being a parent is every bit as natural and fulfilling as someone’s want to have a child.
Let’s talk a little about how we, as a people, approach the subject of having kids, or, better – not having kids.
One of the things I hear the most, especially when I make it clear that my uterus will remain unoccupied, is how “selfish” I am. Okay, you know what? I’ll own that with pride. I’m selfish indeed. For all my insomnia, I know I can get a full night of sleep if I go to bed at a certain hour, which I’m also very free to do. My body will not be wrecked by pregnancy and childbirth; not every woman will have it scot-free and there’s no woman in the world who’ll convince me that it’s “not so bad”. Let’s not delude ourselves. Childbirth is, biologically, the most traumatic experience for a woman’s body that occurs in nature. One in 13,000 women still dies due to childbirth, even with all the modern medicine. It’s still a very dangerous process to go through.
And having children costs money. A hospital stay for the delivery and the subsequent recovery is anywhere from $10,000 to triple that. From birth to age of majority, without college tuition, it’ll cost you an average of a half a million dollars to raise a kid. And yes, I’m selfish in the regard that I like my money in my own pocket. Or on a trip. Or on stage. Or in the form of new technology. Or spent on a beautiful new camera.
Yes, I’m selfish for all of those things, and I like it that way. But that’s not why I chose not to have kids. This is all a consequence of me not having kids. Because I don’t have kids, I have money in my pocket, sleep soundly, and work on my body and health without having to undo the trauma of pregnancy and birth. But that’s not why I went that route.
I chose not to have kids because, number one, seven billion people on the planet is enough. Overpopulation is very, very real, and it’s the root of a lot of problems in the world. Number two, I can do a lot of good for the next generation without adding to it. Number three: I know myself and my personality as a whole well enough to know that I am not, and never will be, parent material. And number four: watch the news, or attempt to. I wouldn’t subject a child to a world like this, if out of basic compassion for what the child will have to learn as it grows up. And, if you want to take the green slant on it, when you have a child, you’re adding a whole new carbon footprint on a world where greenhouse gases are at peak high. Think about what that implies, for a minute. My carbon footprint is minute, and I know that the one thing I’ll never do is add another. Our planet needs less humans, not more.
So let’s not play the selfish card unless you’re also willing to ask parents and wannabe-parents why they want kids. I have, and I’ve yet to hear an unselfish reason.
“I want” seems to be the prevalent reasoning behind having kids, and it puts selfishness into a different perspective. “I want someone to love me” is a popular reasoning with young moms, and to this I ask: can you not love yourself that you need to produce someone for that purpose? “I want someone to take care of me when I’m old” – visit a nursing home and ask those people where their kids are.
Another variation is “God says” or “The Bible says” – really? Give me a break. Adam and Eve, if they were real, were only two people of a nationality. Of course, God would tell them to be fruitful and multiply, they were two people. and the only ones of their kind. However, if Cain could settle in the Land of Nod, this means that they were far from the only people in the world, and, in pointing out the obvious, this is not two thousand years ago in the Middle East. This is the modern world. And in the modern world, with seven billion people on the planet, there’s little need for more. So if you’re claiming that God “told you” or the Bible told you, I’d recommend re-examining yourself, specifically your capacity for logical reasoning.
And then, of course, there’s those that betray that people just plain don’t realize that not having kids is a very valid option. “Why else do people marry?” – gee, because they love each other, maybe? “This is what you’re supposed to do” – says who? Traditional is fast becoming a byword for not thinking past antiquated ideas no longer applicable in this day and age.
Where is it written that parenthood is obligatory for everyone? On whose authority and on which authority should everyone have kids? Truly, since when are people such sheep that they don’t even bother questioning whether or not what they’re “supposed” to do is right for them? And please don’t bring up the “it’s natural” tripe. Not everything natural needs to be followed through upon. Thinking and overriding hormonal impulses is just as natural, for the record, and humans have a brain that is best used for something other than separating ears. If a lion can recognize his trainer from cubhood and embrace him like a friend and not, say, eat him as his nature will command him to do, what excuse do humans have for not thinking rationally for themselves?
The decision to not have kids is not one to be taken lightly, but not just because of any personal benefit that may arise out of not having kids.
What few people consider is that havind a child is a permanent and lifelong undertaking. It doesn’t stop when they grow up, and there is absolutely no returning to sender or going back on it. Yes, it is different when it’s your own: you have absolutely no recourse out of it if you find that you’re not cut out for it. And you do not know what, exactly, your kid will end up doing with themselves. You have no crystal ball that will guarantee you that your kid will be the next rocket scientist. You have no guarantees that you’ve conceived the next sociopath, either. Those sleepless nights because the baby wakes up and needs its diaper changed will transform into the nights where you keep yourself up with anxiety for a number of reasons, all of which are concerning your child, and none of which will be within your control.
Ask yourself, if you do not have a child already, do you have the nerve stamina for losing sleep for anxiety for the rest of your natural life? Because really, it doesn’t stop even after the kids grow and leave the nest.
Also, there’s absolutely no guarantee, especially nowadays, that you and the other parent will stay together. None. Zip. Zero. A baby is not a guarantee of commitment by any means, nor is marriage the panacea that will ensure it. But there is one thing that having a baby does do: it binds you together with the other person forever. You may think it’s romantic, but I recommend you think again. Supposing that you have a massive fallout with the other parent, and you two have a child together, but you want nothing to do with that person – this means that you will never, ever have a clean severance from them. There is not, and will never be, a moment of, “I’ll never have to see him/her again.” Say you hate your ex, for whatever reasons, and never want them to be in your life again, but guess what: you have a child with them. You have to see them every visitation. You have to tolerate their presence. Unless their parental rights are terminated (which is a bitch to get done, legally, and judges frown very, very harshly on it), then you will, for as long as there’s court visitation, as long as you have a child, and until the child makes it clear in a court proceeding whom they want/don’t want to see in their lives, guess what: you. are. stuck. with. your. ex. forever. For the rest of your natural life. Why? Because you two have a child together, and no matter how old that child will get, it’ll forever be a reminder of that man or woman whom you now cannot stand the sight of.
Child abuse is more prevalent than you think. And 95% of the abuse happens within the family. And while there’s no official study conducted for this, I’m willing to bet that there’s a solid chunk of that abuse happening because of deep-seated resentment that the child was even born in the first place. It’s the elephant in the room on the topic of child abuse; no one ever wants to bring it up that maybe the child is not wanted.
In the 1970s, Ann Landers asked her readers, “If you had to do it all over again, would you have children?” and an overwhelming majority replied with a resounding no. That was the 70s. How will the response rank now?
Also bear in mind this: pregnancy can, and has been, and will likely continue to be used as a form of abuse, going so far as to sabotage birth control. NY Times had written an excellent article about that. Although, really, it’s been happening for quite a long time, but it’s good to see the NY Times shining a spotlight on it.
Having children, and raising them, consequently, requires the expenditure of resources: mental, physical, and otherwise. There is no help manual, there is no guarantees, and the risks are daily and unpredictable. And some people – a lot of them, actually – weigh the pros and cons very carefully before they make the decision to never have children. And that is nothing that should be vilified, whether individuals or society as a whole. Contrary to some reactions childfree folk receive, it takes a hell of a lot of responsibility to admit that you’re just not cut out for parenthood, for whatever reason.
If the childfree have to have their choices scrutinized by everyone and their cousin, there is no reason that people who do want kids should not be subjected to the same questioning and scrutiny for their choices that the childfree face every day. Yes, having kids was their choice, just like not having kids is mine. But if I, and other childfree people, will have their life choice put under a microscope because it doesn’t fit with someone’s idea of the LifeScript ™, then I will do the precise same thing to people who do want children. Trust me when I say that scrutinizing never changed anyone’s mind, but it sure as hell makes them think twice before they in turn do it to someone else.
People’s inability to wrap their brains around something different is not the problem of the person who lives differently. It’s the problem of the person whose comprehension doesn’t stretch that far.
Again: not having kids requires a lot more forethought that some people out there put into having them. That seems to be a very frequently ignored fact in favor of the platitudes of “Everything will be okay” and “it’s all worth it” when the reality is never, ever guaranteed to live up to the platitudes. If we reached the point where there are subway ads aimed at wannabe-teen-moms that outright state that yes, kids cost money, and no, they won’t keep you and the father of your child together, then we’re obviously at the point where we can stop playing ostrich with the realities of parenthood. Not just teen parenthood, but parenthood in general. It is stressful, costly, and not for everyone. But, above all, it’s something that absolutely must be thought of in advance, and if as a result of that thinking, someone chooses to not have a child, then that should not be subject to the “But why?” treatment, lest we subject wannabe-parents to the same.
I strongly recommend a read of The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts. Not to be confused with The Feminine Mystique. The Feminine Mistake is a very honest book about the reality of women’s choices, including but not limited to being a stay-at-home mom. It’s things that no one thinks about, no one wants to think that it can happen to them, but it needs to be read for that reason. Because you have to think about certain things, and you have to consider them.
I also would like you to read Childfree and Loving It by Nicki Defago. One of the best books on the subject that I ever read.
Let me come back to the incident in China for a moment. By now, we already have the details. The baby’s mother conceived during a one-night stand (and in advance, spare me any bloviating about one-night stands. That’s not the point of this discussion in the least, and whoever bleats about any perceived promiscuity will be banned with immediate effect) and she could not afford an abortion. Considering the ready conception, pretty good chance that she was not on the pill either, and I’m not excluding the possibility that the guy refused to wear a condom. Bear in mind this: China has had a one-child policy for years, and since it is a very patriarchially-slanted society, there has also been noted infanticide and infant abandonment if the baby is born a girl.
Let me be clear in regards to the baby-flushed-down-a-toilet case: by no means, by no words, will I ever condone what she had done, if it was done intentionally. Whether or not it was intentional, I don’t know, and I don’t give a damn; there are certain things you just simply do not ever do. Honestly, that’s just as detestable as that time that a teenager had given birth in a bathroom and dumped the baby into the trash (I believe that was 2001 that I first heard ot this). Like it as not, as soon as that fetus is capable of breathing on its own and living outside the uterus, the point of no return is passed, and you have to think of its well-being as something outside of a woman’s own body, and if you’re the woman who has that fetus in your body and you passed that point? Now’s the time to really put some thought into what happens after the labor’s over. While I cannot say I agree with China’s one-child policy, I do see the long-term merit in having less/no children, but this approach is just outrght deplorable. I’m sure that China has some sort of a safe haven law that allows a mother to drop off an unwanted baby with no questions asked, much like in the US. However, this is not the US, and it did happen, and now the fallout begins.
It’s incidents like these, which are by no means the first to make the news, and no less shudder-inducing regardless, that are precisely why 1. birth control should be available over the counter, and 2. childfree living should be considered as a viable lifestyle option that is no less socially acceptable and socially encouraged than parenthood. If that mother was in the US and she knew about the safe haven laws, I can promise you that this would be a figment of someone’s imagination. If that mother had readily available access to the Pill without worrying that she would be shamed for even thinking of sex, then she would’ve never conceived. And most of all, if there was a marked social support around her for childfree living, she would have done the research ahead of time to know her options. And in all situations, this would’ve been avoided, and her son, when she would’ve been actually ready to have him if she still wanted kids by that time, would’ve been born in a far better circumstance, and at a far better time. In other words: if the circumstances around the mother before conception even entered the picture were different, then none of this would’ve happened.
But this incident, however disconcerting, is not unique. Every single day, kids are born into families where at least one parent wishes that they hadn’t been born and spends as much time as possible resenting the kid for existing. Every single day, people have kids without a single thought for whether or not they’d make good parents, simply because “this is what you’re supposed to do”. And know who suffers? The kids. Don’t think an unwanted kid will never know it’s been unwanted. They know in a second. And all because either one or both parents never once asked themselves, “Do I really want this?” or, worse, they think that the other parent will simply change their mind once the baby is born. Hint: it never, ever, ever works that way. If someone doesn’t want a kid, they won’t want it before or after its birth. And no one benefits: not the parent who did want the kid who will resent the other parent; not the parent who didn’t want the kid who will resent the one who did, and definitely not the kid, who will be resented by both parents for failing to bring the results expected by its mere existence. If two people want to raise a well-rounded kid, a good place to start is to ensure it’s wanted by both parents. No childhood program or baby-Einstein tape will replace the knowledge that both parents went into it willingly.
Let’s start being honest about having children and, related to that, the idea and possibility and the very, very viable option of not having children. This is a topic that’s touchy, sensitive, but it bears thinking about, because it forces us to confront not just social norms and mores, but ourselves. It forces us to take a hard look at ourselves, our relationships, our personalities, and ask, “how would that affect someone else?” It is no crime or shame to look inside yourself and acknowledge that hey, maybe for you, parenthood isn’t such a great idea.
Know this, though. In the US especially, there is no shortage of programs through which kids’ lives can be influenced. You can contribute to the next generation, you can leave a lasting impact and legacy with someone – without giving birth.
As I tend to say, albeit a bit crassly, “Think before you breed, and you might not.” I did. I thought about it for years before I was in a situation where I had to answer the question of, “Will you have a child with me or not?” with a near immediate effect. The answer was no. It’s still no. And it’ll forever be no, for reasons none but my own.