One of the biggest decisions that many of us will make in our adult lives is whether or not we will have children. When I was teenager I thought it was a given that I would, providing it was possible, have at least one child of my own. However, having spent a fair few years thinking about it, I’m not sure that being a parent is something I want.
The responses I tend to receive when I tell people this are, ‘But you’d be a great mother,’ or ‘Don’t you like children?’ both of which miss the point completely. As it happens I do like children – I absolutely adore my five-year-old nephew, and I love spending time with my friends’ kids. I also have no doubts about my ability to raise a child with all the love and care that it deserves, and that it needs to thrive as a healthy human being. But does enjoying other people’s children and having faith in my ability to successfully raise my own mean that parenthood is something I should pursue? As wonderful as parenthood appears to be for others, I genuinely believe that if I’m able to override any emotional impulses that might arise in the lusty throes of love, the likelihood is that I will never have any children of my own.
The simple (and perhaps controversial) truth is that I have serious doubts as to whether I will thrive in motherhood or find in it the same level of contentment that I currently enjoy as a childless woman. You might assume when you read this that I just haven’t found the right partner yet, or that it just isn’t the right time for me to think about starting a family. And this is understandable. In our culture wanting to have children is not only an incredibly common experience, but one that is expected, especially of woman. But for some people, men and women alike, the idea of having kids is simply not desirable or in keeping with the kind of lifestyle that they envision for themselves.
Does enjoying other people’s children and having faith in my ability to successfully raise my own mean that parenthood is something I should pursue?
Some will argue that having a child is one of the most enriching and fulfilling experiences that a person can have. And if this is your personal experience then I fully respect your perspective and applaud you for making the right decision for you. But for someone like me who burns out easily, enjoys spending lots of time alone, and often finds the expectations, needs and demands of others rather stress-inducing, parenthood (especially the pregnancy and early years bit) doesn’t seem all that appealing. Does this make me any less maternal, or any less appreciative of children? No, it doesn’t. I am very much in touch with my maternal side (there are many ways of expressing maternal feelings) and I also understand from being an aunt just how joyful and life-affirming spending time with children can be. However, the difference between being someone’s parent and being their aunt is enormous. To start with, I’m not responsible for my nephew’s day-to-day care – I do not even see him every day. And as much as I adore him and am always happy to see him, I also highly value the freedom I have to choose when I will spend time with him, and for how long.
In addition to feeling uncertain about how satisfying parenthood will actually be, there are of course many other reasons why a person may choose to remain childless. It might be that they don’t have enough money, time or inclination to invest in the learning and development of a child, or that they aren’t with the right partner to start a family. It might be that they don’t enjoy being around children, or feel there are too many people in the world already. It might be that they don’t want to put their body through the stress of pregnancy, or pass on any genetic predispositions to mental or physical illness. Or it might simply be the case that they do not wish to bring a child into a world where Donald Trump is the president of the most powerful country (the latter is definitely a worry for me!)
But whatever a person’s reason for deciding to not have children, it isn’t for any of us to negatively judge them, proclaim that they’re wrong, or insist that their decision will be regretted in the end. We are each of us different, and the way that we define contentment, fulfilment and joy in life may vastly differ from person to person. And that’s okay – we don’t all have to desire or find pleasure in the same experiences. In fact, when it comes to creating little human beings, I for one strongly believe that it’s better for everyone, including our yet-to-be-born/perhaps-never-will-be-born children, that we acknowledge rather than ignore our differences.
For many people having children is a hugely rewarding experience, and I hold a great deal of respect and admiration for every one of my friends and family members who have chosen to pursue parenthood. But as normal and expected as wanting children is within our culture, each of us has the autonomy to decide whether starting a family is right for us. For some people it simply isn’t; let’s please stop judging them for feeling differently.