By Sam Kennedy
I was at the register, punching in a round of drinks when an older gentleman who was sitting at the bar started asking me questions. It was general small talk and I revealed my major, my career plans for when I graduated, if I was planning on moving… etc. etc.
It started to take a sour turn though when I made an offhand joke about wishing my boyfriend and I could afford to do nothing except travel.
The gentleman laughed and replied, “Good luck doing that with kids!”
I know I could have easily agreed and laughed it off or politely smiled, but I wasn’t thinking about where this conversation was going.
I cheerfully responded, “Actually, my boyfriend and I don’t want to have kids.”
He looked surprised. “Oh! You guys not a very serious relationship?”
I laughed awkwardly. “No, we are. Just-”
“Ah, you kids are young. You’ll change your mind.” He cut me off and waved a hand dismissively.
This is where I nodded and smiled politely, hoping the discussion was over.
After a moment of silence he asked, “How old are you?”
“See, you’re still a baby yourself! Couple years roll around and your biological clock will start ticking and that’s all you’ll be thinking about.” He shook his head and took a long drink from his beer. “Everyone’s more interested their career than family nowadays…You’ll see though. Just give it time. Once you actually settle down, you’ll want them.”
I know he didn’t mean any harm. I’m sure in his mind, he thought he was being nice or helpful.
But I was seething. I couldn’t help it. I have been having this discussion with people since I was 12 years old—and I’m getting tired of it.
No matter how old a woman is, it seems the topic of children will never go away—especially if there aren’t any.
If she is in her sixties she gets asked, “Do you regret it?”
If she’s in her forties she’s asked, “Why–were you not able to?”
In her thirties she’s told, “The clock is ticking!”
And in her twenties, she may have a conversation similar to the one I had.
While it may have seemed like an “obligation” to have kids a couple hundred years ago, it certainly isn’t one today. I don’t need extra hands helping out around the house or on the farm. There is no danger of the human race dying out any time soon… So, why is there so much pressure on women to raise a family in this day and age?
Yes, there is an extra emphasis on “women.” When my boyfriend is asked whether or not he wants to have kids, he doesn’t get nearly the amount of follow-up questions that I do. And I think it’s because some people still have this mental image that a woman’s main job is to be a caretaker.
As far as why I should have kids, I’ve heard it all—
“Having children is so fulfilling”.
“You’ll want someone to take care of you when you’re older.”
“Motherhood is its own reward.”
“You will never love anything as much as you love your child.”
“Motherhood is a learning experience.”
I’ve also been told it’s my duty to become a parent in some not-so-subtle ways:
“Your mom will be so disappointed if she doesn’t get to have any grandkids.”
“But you’re intelligent and kind! You would make a great mom.”
“You’re a woman who can give birth- so why wouldn’t you?”
Yup. I’ve been told that because I can give birth, I should give birth.
And that argument doesn’t fly with me.
Here are some of the lovely reasons why a twenty-something like me might not want to have kids.
1. Some people just don’t like kids.
I’ve never been interested in kids. Babies, in particular, make me nervous. I didn’t enjoy playing with baby dolls and pretending they were my own. When kids in my preschool asked if I wanted to play house, I asked if we could play wolves instead. As I got older, I hated baby-sitting. My parents tried to convince me to watch a couple of kids in the neighborhood for cash but I always begged to just mow the lawn instead. I shied away from the babies or toddlers in church, would always vigorously shake my head ‘no’ if anyone asked if I’d like to hold one, and I would hide in the bathroom if our next-door neighbor happened to bring over her two-year-old. There was something about babies that just really freaked me out until I hit high school, and even then, I was much more interested in being their playmate than their caretaker. (My sister is the one who’s been talking about having a kid or adopting one since she was in elementary school- she can be the one that passes on our genes or whatever.)
2. Parenthood is not a job everyone can do.
Nowadays, I don’t mind being the fun aunt or cousin. I’ve been a camp counselor and actually enjoyed it. I enjoy giving presentations or performing for children at different schools. But part of why I enjoy it so much is knowing it’s not permanent. Parenthood isn’t something you can turn off. Once you sign up, it’s there 24/7. And that’s a lot of pressure. I hold being a parent to a very high standard and I will be honest, I don’t think I would be able to fulfill the standard I’d set for myself.
One of my best friends became a mother a year ago and she tells me it’s the best decision she’s ever made. She loves being a mom, and she’s wonderful at it. I have so much respect for all mothers: single, working, stay-at-home… it is a tough job, and it’s not one I think I could hack. And that’s okay.
3. Some people worry about what health problems their child may have.
Some pretty severe illnesses—both physical and mental—run in my family. I feel as though I would deal with a lot of guilt if my child were to be diagnosed with any of them. I also don’t know if I would be able to handle it, on top of my own illnesses.
To have someone challenge me on my no-kids stance leads me to an internal struggle of, “Do I really want to get personal with this person and go into detail?” Honestly, it’s no one’s business but my own as to whether or not I want to have kids. It does not impact anyone but me and my partner.
4. Raising children is expensive.
In a couple months, I get to start paying off student loans. The idea of adding a kid to that mix, which costs roughly $245,000 to raise until they’re 18 years old, I start to have a mental meltdown. Do you realize how much traveling I could do with that kind of money? What kind of house I could live in? How many dogs I could afford to adopt instead? We’ve all got different priorities as to how we should spend our money, and the idea of spending that much on a tiny human being just starts to stress me out. I’ve been told, “The money will come! You find ways to make ends meet”… that’s not the way I want to raise a child. Like I said, I have very specific standards as to the kind of parent I would want to be. And if I am not 100% certain I can afford to raise them, I’m just not interested.
5. Some people can’t have children.
It’s not uncommon for a woman to not be able to have kids. On average, 6% of women are unable to become pregnant, and 12% of women have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. From a personal standpoint, I have a couple different friends in their 20’s that have discovered that they cannot safely have children. For some women it’s a tender subject—and for others it’s a, “Thank goodness.” Either way, it can be a sensitive topic. To force someone to have to spell out why they don’t see kids in their future can be very hurtful. It’s best to just leave it alone.
6. Some people are more interested in…
Whether it’s travel, career, focusing on your partner or your immediate family… it doesn’t really matter. Tom Fonder’s comic strip below basically sums up how I feel about raising kids-there are other things I would rather do instead. If having children is not at the top of your bucket list or a priority, don’t do it. I have heard horror stories of women feeling like they “should” have children, or being talked into having children. And while they love their kids, they often question “what if” in regards to their original plans. I would never want to have children because I felt obligated to.
For the women in their 20’s who are looking into sterilization procedures, my heart goes out to you cause it’s going to be a tough journey. The majority of women in their 20’s that request these surgeries are denied repeatedly. This is unfair because legally, every adult woman is eligible for these types of surgeries. However, many doctors will deny these young women because of their age with a ringing cry of, “But you’ll regret it!’ It’s a frustrating and exhausting journey that requires persistence.
Why is a woman saying she doesn’t want to have kids an invitation for criticism. Whether it’s from a family member, a doctor, or a stranger- their opinion doesn’t matter when it comes to your body. It’s YOUR choice.
If a woman does not want to have kids, then it is none of your business. If she chooses to be abstinent, use birth control, request a surgical procedure or use some other method to keep her uterus a baby-free zone… she has every right to do so.
Don’t let your perceptions of what a woman should be try to dictate who she is. And some women just aren’t going to be future mothers.
Do you have any stories of when you were questioned about whether or not to have kids? Comment below!