This post was inspired by a Huffington Post article by Ann Brenoff titled, “Midlife ramblings: What I don’t get about my childless/childfree young friends.”
I happen to agree that people who don’t want children should not have them. I’m delighted to wish you well on whatever road you take, but I do find myself stopping mid hand-wave and asking this question: Really?
How can you be so sure? I think having kids is one of those things you should probably never say never about.
Why not? I understand that we never know what’s going to happen, but why should “Never say never” be especially true when it comes to having children?
Probably because of this:
…based on nothing but my own experience and beliefs, parenting is a unique experience that stretches our capacity to show compassion toward others. It lowers our self-absorption level and requires us to put another’s needs ahead of of our own. That’s a good thing, especially when carried out on a large scale.
I suspect Brenoff may be using the royal “we,” here, and that having a child stretched her capacity to show compassion, lowered her self-absorption, and taught her to put another’s needs before her own. If she isn’t, she’s implying that childfree people are – because they don’t have children to knock some humanity into them – self-absorbed and lacking compassion, which is of course untrue.
“We fear what we don’t understand,” goes the quote. I have to assume that as much writing as people do about the childfree, there’s some fear there. I hope the answers to the questions below make the childfree less scary.
How do you know you don’t want kids?
Exactly the same way you knew you wanted them.
What if you change your mind?
This is where being child-free is a distinct advantage. It’s easier to change your mind and bring a child into your life than it is to change your mind after you’ve had one.
What are you contributing to the world?
Myself. If parents have kids with the hope that they’re injecting something positive into the world, I like to think that by trying to be as kind as I can be, as helpful as I can be, and as loving as I can be, I’m being the contribution my parents hoped to make.
Did you decide not to have kids so you could never really grow up?
When did having children become synonymous with growing up?
It probably does help some people get their act together and become more responsible, but those are people who weren’t responsible before. Or teenagers. But any able-bodied person who has a job, handles his or her own bills, and doesn’t need to be taken care of by someone else is “grown up.” (And all it takes to squash the claim that parents are “grown up” is a look at any number of parents today. Some are mature, some are immature. Some are kind and teach their children empathy, others picket funerals. They, like anyone else, are people. They just happened to have produced offspring.)
What do you do with all your free time?
Whatever I want.
Don’t you feel bad/selfish about getting to be so “free” all the time?
I see it like this: parents (they say) want, more than anything, for their children to live their dreams, embrace the experience that is life, and be anything they want to be. I am honoring my parents wishes for me. What’s to feel bad about?
Isn’t it selfish to not take care of another person?
It would be if I had a child I weren’t taking care of because I was too busy being free. But, there is no child. Too, it’s easy to take care of someone without that person being your child. I’ve taken care of my father, I’ve been there for my sibling, I’ve been there for my husband, I take care of my pets, and I’m always there for my friends. I think many childfree adults could say the same.
At what point are we taking care of enough people? Why must the person be a child? (And is it really safe to assume that people who have children automatically morph into selfless, giving citizens when they procreate? It would seem more likely that we are who we are, and we continue being who we are even after children, good or bad.)
What will your life count for if you don’t have children?
Having children doesn’t make your life count. It may make parents, themselves, feel like they count because they have someone who needs them, or – if they’re lucky – their child will grow up to do great things that positively impact the lives of others, but impacting the world positively can be done without having children. Instead of having children who may or may not grow up to do such things, we can do them ourselves.
Also: think of any parent who’s made a positive contribution to the world through their actions. They did that separate from having children, or in addition to having children. They probably would have done the same things had they never had children – would their lives count less for it?
I have pushed myself hard to be the mother these precious children deserve. I have learned from them how to value a kind word and how to forgive those who would use unkind ones. I have risen to the occasion, found strengths and patience I didn’t know I had, and believe that the very reason I came into existence was to launch these two children into happy, fulfilled lives. From them, great things will flow. Which gets me back to not quite understanding why so many of the best and brightest seem to be shunning parenting.
It could be that some of us don’t need kids to teach us these things, or that we’re confident that we have another reason for having come into existence. Maybe we are the “them” from whom great things will flow. We are, after all, someone’s children.