As a child, I was never interested in playing mother with baby dolls — I much preferred to make up elaborate soap opera-esque stories between my Barbies and Kens. Perhaps that should have been my first clue that the desire to be a mother did not exist within me.
Fast forward to high school, when my classmates were dreaming of their future weddings and the huge families they would one day have. I played along when I was asked how many children I wanted.
“One?” I would question.
“You’ll be a great mom,” they would tell me.
When I began dating as an adult, I was surprised by the number of men who wanted children one day — basically all of them. In my mid-twenties, I was in a semi-serious relationship with a guy in his thirties, and while he never spoke of marriage, he would often bring up the fact that he one day wanted children. Still figuring out for myself how long-term I wanted this relationship to become, I would usually just nod along in these conversations. One day I finally asked, “What if I don’t want children? Would that be a deal breaker?”
I knew his response before he spoke because he physically recoiled a foot away from me. Our relationship didn’t last very long after that.
About a week into dating my now husband, I asked him if he wanted children.
“Um, I don’t know — maybe? Probably not.”
The wave of relief that rushed over me was undeniable.
It’s strange to me how women are expected to want children, and any kind of hesitance is typically met with confusion and denial.
I have experienced the following responses when admitting that children are not in my future plans:
“You’ll change your mind one day.”
Probably the most common response anyone who is unsure of children will receive. This dismissive reply feels like commentary on lack of maturity — as if it is a “stage” one might grow out of one day and wisen up.
“But you’ll have such pretty babies!”
There is quite a bit that could be analyzed with this statement, starting with viewpoint that something should be created only if it is beautiful by society’s standards. But without getting into all of that, being curious about what my potential offspring would look like has never been motivating enough to bring a life into the world.
“Don’t you want your parents to have grandchildren?”
To take on a lifetime of responsibility so that my parents can have children around on holidays and the occasional weekend feels like an unfair request. It’s also a great assumption that our parents want grandchildren. I asked my father one day at breakfast if he felt like he was missing out if he never became a grandfather, and he quickly said, “Nope.” Perhaps there are those who, if given the option, would prefer to relax after rearing their own children and not be responsible for babysitting grandchildren.
“Don’t you want to have someone to take care of you when you are old?”
There is absolutely no guarantee that your children will want to be around you, let alone take care of you, once they are adults.
“It’s different with your own.”
Is it? This is usually in response to a child who is behaving badly, as if to say, your child wouldn’t be like that. Maybe they would — in fact, they probably would, because children experience frustrating emotions, and these emotions are typically expressed through a tantrum. Would I love the child through the tantrums? I’m sure. Would that love make those moments less difficult? Probably not.
The Physical Recoil
My ex-boyfriend isn’t the only one who has responded this way. I imagine it would elicit a similar response if I told someone I had a flesh-eating disease. This physical reaction is typically followed by one of the phrases mentioned above.
Having children feels like the natural next step in adulthood once one is married, well into their thirties, and established in their career. Up until that point, there has been some kind of tangible goal to work toward, so it leaves one to wonder as they continue to progress: what am I working for?
There is also the fear of missing out (FOMO), which reveals itself in a couple of ways. One is the fear of missing out in the future. Will I regret not having children when I’m older? That is the biggest risk with just about any decision — will I have any regrets in the future. However, once again, there is no guarantee your children will be around when you are older. Consider the best case scenario: you have a child, they are a joy to raise, and they become super successful adults — then they move away and only come home to visit a handful of times a year. Is that parent any less alone than they would have been if they never had children?
Suddenly there is a certain exclusivity within a friend group that can only be penetrated if one becomes a mother.
Then there is the fear of missing out socially, which is a reason rarely admitted. Although motherhood is known to be isolating, there is actually quite a strong social aspect to it. Once your friends start having babies, the conversations that used to revolve around careers and relationships quickly shift to feedings, diaper changes, and daycare. There is no malice intended in leaving the childless out of the conversation, it is simply the subject that is most pervasive in a mother’s mind. Suddenly there is a certain exclusivity within a friend group that can only be penetrated if one becomes a mother.
To call a woman selfish for not wanting children is inaccurate. I have been guilty of blaming my lack of desire on selfishness because that seems to be the most satisfying reason for those who disagree. However, choosing to not have children is no more selfish than choosing to have them. In the end, people on both sides are choosing a certain kind of lifestyle for themselves, and each one has its benefits. Basically, any of those benefits could be classified as selfish. And being a little selfish isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have to decide for ourselves what will make us happiest in life — thinking of the self.
Choosing to not have children is no more selfish than choosing to have them. In the end, people on both sides are choosing a certain kind of lifestyle for themselves, and each one has its benefits.
There is a perception that a woman, or a marriage for that matter, is not whole without a child. Several bloggers I have followed over the years write that they were not strong until they had a child. They did not have a true purpose in life until they had a child. Follow mothers on Instagram and it’s a similar story — they are posting photos and stories of playdates, feedings, and carpool, and although they admit to being exhausted, they reaffirm they wouldn’t have a true identity without their children — their life is much fuller and complete with children, and they have a newfound love for their spouse after children.
I’m not saying any of that is a lie — in fact, I’m sure it’s true for each of those women. However, this information can be confusing. It leads a woman to believe she will never love her spouse to the ultimate degree without children. It leads a woman to believe she will never achieve her complete strength or fulfillment in life without children.
There is a perception that a woman, or a marriage for that matter, is not whole without a child.
There are endless articles and books that state a person should feel content with oneself before entering into a relationship. For some reason, parenthood is left out of that conversation. In fact, if one is feeling incomplete, society seems to push parenthood as a solution — maybe if the couple had a family together, they would have endured. If a person is unhappy with their life, a child is not going to fix it. If a person feels unloved in their marriage, a child is not going to fix it. The only achievement in those scenarios is bringing a life into an unhappy situation.
Ultimately, having children should be a choice and not a lock-step progression in life. Children are a lifelong responsibility, and the decision to have them should not be driven by societal pressure or be an attempt to fix an unhappy life. While it is natural for many women to desire children, there will always be the few who truly do not long to become mothers, and it should be okay to admit this and not be judged, excluded, or reprimanded.