When tasked to come up with one thing that every human is universally good at, I’d love to pick something nice. Like being kind, thoughtful, or patient. (Or funny – we should all be so lucky. Imagine a world filled with John Mulaneys!) But in the glaring light of this blog post, not to mention the purposes of my own argument, I’m going to run with judging. Humans are universally good at judging. The more major the subject, task, or behavior, the more intense the judgement. Naturally it would only follow that for women, one of the most prevalent judgements we face is when we decide not to have children.
It genuinely doesn’t seem to matter why we make that decision, or that of all decisions, this one in particular is the business of absolutely no one but the woman in question. But classic humanity: those very qualifiers obviously make it one of the most widely accepted topics to openly discuss. Prioritizing our careers. Deciding kids aren’t for us. Not being a fan of kids in general. Attempting to stave off overpopulation and reducing our carbon footprints. If there’s one thing you can rest assured when it comes to deciding not to have children, it’s that the majority of the populace will assure YOU that one day, many shriveled years (emphasis on shriveled) down the line, you will regret that decision.
As a woman that’s fairly sure she won’t be reproducing at any point in her lifetime, I’ve read and enjoyed a large number of snappy comeback lists to just those assertions. Tumblr, Buzzfeed – the internet as a whole is full of them, and they’ve got some great rejoinders. (The internet is also apparently full of renaissance paintings infused with the face of Guy Fieri, something I discovered when trying to find a Mother/Daughter painting for the header of this post. Please go look at them.) Every list makes me laugh, but a friend linked one on Facebook a few weeks ago, and about six GIFs in, a nascent response from a fellow frustrated woman actually gave me pause. It mentioned that her least favorite presumption about us is that women that choose not to have children must, clearly, hate children.
There aren’t a lot of decisions in the modern world that you can’t unmake. Your career, your education, your streaming subscription. Your marriage. Having pets. Buying a house. Short of those sins that come with a life sentence, pretty much anything can be reversed. But not having kids. That’s fairly obvious, right? Given that certainty, given the inescapable level of commitment that comes with having children, it’s kind of insane that choosing to have kids is a presumptive societal default. Really, it should be the reverse. Unless you’re absolutely over-the-moon certain that parenthood is for you, maybe we should encourage people to hold off.
There’s no longer a question as to whether humans will survive (well, that’s not entirely true, but let’s just say running out of humans isn’t exactly our problem anymore). So why do we cling to the idea of everyone needing to have children? If anything, we should be grateful that some humans are willing to take one for the homo sapiens team and say “yeah nope” to progeny in general. But a practical argument is hardly guaranteed to stand up against these expectations, so it can be hard to be one of the women that “yeah nopes”. And like any circumstance when you’re judged unfairly, the most hurtful part of it is the conclusions people inevitably draw.
I couldn’t give a shit that you think I’ll regret this in ten, twenty, thirty years. But I really wish people would stop thinking that just because I don’t want kids, I think they are the eleventh plague, that I’d rather die (or at least grimace) than hold a baby. Maybe, y’know, I’d just rather be Auntie Kathy than Mom. After all, being Mom is a helluva lot of responsibility. All of the things we lightly joke about on those rejoinder lists I’m actually quite serious about. Sure, I’ll never know the love of my own child, but it’s not going to kill me. The risk of what could happen if I did have kids and regretted THAT decision ten, twenty, thirty years down the line is potentially far more painful.
So we’ve covered the fact that you can’t just assume I hate kids because I don’t want them. But something a lot less talked about, that is actually almost more of deterrent than the kids themselves, is how much I don’t like moms.
There. I said it.
It’s not quite that simple, because I don’t dislike all moms. Very far from it! Most moms are pretty great (shout out to mine, she’s one of them). But some moms…whoof. Some moms act like the primary requirement to joining their Motherhood Club is an enduring and unquestionable sense of self-righteousness. I just do not think I am ready to deal with that. I have no interest in being dragged into parenting strategy discussions. No interest in the judgement, almost more severe than what I would have faced had I not had children, that eventually follows when you meet a mom that doesn’t think you should be giving your kid potato chips. And I know. I KNOW: “You’ll never understand because you don’t have children.”
Well, in the words of Chuck from Sons of Anarchy, I accept that.
There are other ways to use the energy that mothers expend on loving their own children. I can’t argue that they’re equally fulfilling, but I would argue that they are equally admirable. Working with youth that don’t have supportive family systems. Fostering. Adopting. Volunteering. Or going to the other end of the spectrum – all of those people filled with decades upon decades of gut-wrenching and hilarious stories of their own, sitting in group homes with a weekly visit from family at most. Visiting them, talking with them, keeping them company. There are so many humans out there to love.
Do I do all of those things? Absolutely not. (Is it physically possible to be that saintly?) But should I feel that I have an unused portion of my heart come my older years because I chose not to have my own kids, I am quite certain in my knowledge of my own spirit that engaging in any of the above would go far to make up the gap. Beyond that, I already have the luxury of (nearly!) two nieces to dote on ceaselessly. Somehow I doubt they’ll begrudge having an extra benefactor should it come down to it, and from what I’ve been given to understand, the Aunt Club is just a touch more chill than the Mom one.
I am so excited to hear when my friends decide to have children and become mothers. I can’t say I’m passionate about changing diapers, but I’m happy to help and laugh when it’s an awful mess (Huggies are not my strong suit). I do think we should be more aware of how many more people this planet really needs, but I don’t believe restricting how many kids people have is the answer.
I hope people are equally less judgmental of my decision to go childless, however much judging is their forte. I mean, maybe I will change my mind in ten minutes or three years. That’d be just fine too.
Because when it comes down to it, there are no wrong answers to whether or not a woman wants to have children. But there is definitely a wrong way to respond.