Our society doesn't make it easy for people who don't want to have, or even adopt, children. I'm 54 now, so even people who thought my clock would start ticking ten years ago have finally shut up and realized that I meant business when I said I didn't want children.
When I was in my early 20's, before it was even an issue, I sometimes thought that I would have them, but that was always within a context of it not being an issue. I never particularly wanted children, nor did I ever see myself as a mother. The closest I ever came to marriage before Mr. Brilliant was a guy who wanted his kids raised Catholic, and that pretty much put an end to those plans. And even then, I didn't particularly even WANT kids.
When you're still in your fertile years, your choice is constantly questioned. It's assumed that you'll change your mind. Some people think it means you're a child molester and so you're afraid to have children of your own. I always knew I didn't particularly like children. I never played with baby dolls as a child. I loved dogs and cats, and was always able to care for and nurture them, but a child? Yuck. Some of it was that while most women think about having children and see a little bundle wrapped in a blamkie with little tiny fingers, I thought about dirty diapers. While most women thought of dressing up a little cutie on Easter, my mind went right to the sullen teenager with the pierced nose and the Mohawk who thinks you're a complete idiot and hates you. Then there's the fact that children just aren't rational. If you've ever seen a mother try to reason with an overtired 3-year-old in the cereal aisle of a supermarket, you know that trying to reason with a 3-year-old is like explaining to a Republican that just because something isn't forbidden doesn't mean it's going to be mandatory.
When I was 44, I went to an anniversary party where a cousin I hadn't seen in over a decade assured me that I would change my mind, that she'd had HER youngest at 44. It's amazing how well people think they know YOUR ovaries. I never did change my mind.
I know some great moms. One woman I know has two kids and would have six if she could afford them. Her greatest joy is spending time with her kids. This family skis together, her daughter does dog agility with her. This is a woman who finds her kids to be no end of fun, and did even when they were three and screaming in the cereal aisle at the supermarket. I know one mom who despite the fact that her daughter is a "glue baby" conceived in the hope of bringing the marriage closer together (it didn't) is a great mom. Her daughter is ferociously smart, speaks in complex sentences with 3-syllable words and she's not even three yet. One of my friends has managed to raise two kids who are confident, happy, and have never been in any kind of trouble. And if that stays the case in the next three years she'll have navigated adolescence without a hitch.
I've also known the people who don't seem to know what to do with their kids, who think their kids are an extension of themselves, who seem to not have wanted children so much as they wanted to shut up the parental yammering in their heads about grandchildren that they've heard since they started menstruating.
I have endless respect and admiration for people who are good parents. I wish, though, that people who just don't have the knack for it didn't feel they had to have children because society expects it, or their parents expect it. I wish more people were able to sort out their own feelings about having a family without this cacophony of expectations. I may have had crappy self-esteem for much of my life, but for some reason, this was one area in which I was able to tell the rest of the world to mind its own business.
So of course I made a beeline for "9 Silly Things People Say When They Hear You Don't Want Kids (And Ways to Counter Them)"
over at Alternet. If you or someone you know is wrestling with this dilemma, pass this on. Because we need more great parents in this country...and those who just don't feel they can do it shouldn't have to.
Labels: social policy