From the Blog

Not Having Kids = TOTALLY LEGIT

I have kids. They are twins. They are boys. They are eighteen months old. Here they are.

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It’s the most cliched statement in the world to say that having kids changes you. It’s a true statement. But it’s also an obnoxious statement. It’s often implied that when you change, you change for the better. Even as we contemplated starting a family, I bristled at the idea that having kids was going to change me. In my mind, there was nothing fucking wrong with me, and I was happy to stay the way I was, thankyouverymuch.

The hinted implication of this “change,” is that parenthood is an evolution in your personhood. For one, the center of the universe is knocked from “you” as the axis, to your kids. This sounds like a good thing, right? Like a virtuous, selfless act? Have you ever heard the criticism, especially of women, that NOT having kids is selfish?

Are you fucking kidding me? This idea baffled me before, and now that I’ve crossed over to parenthood, it still baffles me. It more than baffles me, it makes me ragey. I can’t wrap my head around the convention of exhausted, empty-eyed parents chastising childfree couples who are “missing out.” Really? Need validation of your choices much?

I’ve known a number of brilliant, thoughtful, wonderful people who’ve decided they aren’t going to have kids. Without question, they’d be great parents. It feels like the world needs more intelligent, thoughtful people to procreate. That’s the societal pressure. Convention. Clucking would-be grandmothers. Need moar babieeees!!!

I know the childfree don’t need to hear this from me, but holy shit, the decision to not have kids is TOTALLY LEGIT.

Because, newsflash, parenthood DOES change you. Or rather, it feels like the world changes around you. I would have pegged myself as a fairly empathetic person before having kids. Now I have babies, and I feel downright fragile. The world got sharper, meaner, and more ruthless.

Not long after the boys were born, I was waiting for coffee in a cafe. As I waited, I looked over the New York Times headlines from a stack of newspapers. With just a glance, I read a few sentences about an African nation in civil conflict. And in just the quickest, tiny moment, read about horrendous atrocities that people were inflicting on each another. I sucked in my breath and closed my eyes against it. But it was there. It existed in the world.

It was one of the first times, post kids, that I unexpectedly felt ripped apart by “the world.” I had read these headlines before. Before I had kids. Humans have always been barbaric. There has always been horrific things going on in the world.

But standing in a cafe, reading those few sentences in the New York Times, the first thing I thought about was my babies. I couldn’t retreat fast enough. I cursed the NYT for not having a graphic warning before I started reading. It haunted me for days.

I can’t. I can’t read any headlines like that anymore. I just can’t be engaged. Especially anything regarding children. I seize up and withdraw. My own babies’ faces flash before my eyes, and I feel more fragile than they are. I am a wispy thin bubble of glass. My babies are inside. The world rages outside.

There’s that joke, right? Think of the childrennn! Holy shit. I sort of get that now.

So parenthood has changed me. Is it a change for the better? The world hurts, hurts, hurts so much more now.

But the world has also gotten brighter. Would I have thought it was funny to see a baby poke a piece of french toast on his finger and point at me? Maybe not. When my own kid does it? HILARIOUS. Would I care so much if a kid learns to “pet the kitty nice”? When my own kid does it, I feel like I won the lottery.

I can’t say if becoming a parent has changed me for the better. Though I can say this: You will never hear me asking anyone if, or when, they plan on having kids. All the more so now. Have kids. Or not. Either choice is legitimate.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for that. As you know, I have chosen not to have kid/s. all the time i get the “but you’re cool/well-adjusted/smart and you are just the person who should have kid/s” thing. and i get it, but wow. As you said, the world hurts, and it hurts enough without babies. I think I would be incapacitated by fear. I hear/see the bafflement on the faces of my clients and friends as they try to navigate this world, and guide their children thru it. no thank you. i will watch form the sidelines and make pithy/bitchy comments.

  2. I’m personally too pessimistic about the future of the planet to have children, but I commend the optimism of those braver than I who decide to become parents.

  3. Thanks so much for posting this. As a child-free person – maybe not necessarily by choice, more by life circumstances, and is is really anyone’s business why (but I digress) – what I hear a lot is that I’m missing out and that I’m selfish. I’m sure I AM missing out on a lot. But I think that there literally THOUSANDS of other ways I can contribute to children and society, to have a positive impact on children, all over the world – outside of becoming a parent. Whether it’s volunteering, teaching & mentoring, starting a business that helps women in the developing world, working with non-profits that have an impact, writing a blog and being an activist – these are all the things the world needs. We don’t need every capable, stable, nurturing person to have a baby. We just need them all to care about the world we live in, and work toward making it better. And that is totally legit. :)

  4. I found your post via Rowdy Kittens. My wife and I decided not to have children and after 28 years of marriage she was killed in a vehicle accident. Oh, how I longed for a child of ours so that I could still have a piece of her. That was selfish, I know, but that was what I felt.

    Two years after her death, I’m fine with our decision. Had we had children we never would have had the time together we did, the vacations to Europe, the ability to help favorite charities, the job changes that were risky. We would not have been the same couple enjoying life the way we did. I’m not saying that you can’t enjoy life with children, just that it is different.

    Enjoy your twins and watch out when they get older. My wife was an identical twin and the stories she and her sister would tell, I’m surprised her mother never had a heart attack.

  5. Actually, the childfree would LOVE to hear this from you. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that you, as a loving parent, can also see our side of the coin and realize that the parents who screech at us that not having kids makes us selfish is nothing but angrily seeking validation. Thank you so much for this post.

  6. Amazing post. Our friends constantly tell us “you would be such great parents,” and the topic of no kids is so hard to find out there. What is so selfish about volunteering our time to help others, and building businesses to help the world, and taking care of ourselves, after all? Judging from people and their reactions, sometimes I feel like telling people we aren’t having kids is like kidnapping one of theirs!

    Thanks for writing about something that so many people are so opinionated about. That takes serious courage. Well done!

  7. Thanks for all your comments, everyone. I realize I there are a few items in this post that I could have unpacked a little more.

    I mentioned how parenthood changes you, and I sometimes find myself withdrawing from “the world” and all its ills and injustices because I feel like I have to focus on my babies. I know it probably won’t always feel this way, but that is the way it is for me right now. Still, there’s a lot of work to do “out there” and I sometimes feel badly that I can’t engage.

    I know not everyone is out to make the world a better place, and perhaps it’s the people I know personally, but I SO APPRECIATE my childfree friends. Most all of them are doing something fricken cool with their lives. As mentioned in some of the comments above, there are a zillion ways to add something to society while not adding to the population. Honestly, we sort of need some people to not have kids.

    All this said, I’m not knocking parents or the choice to have kids. It’s a lot of fricken work. Not just to have babies, and change diapers, but to mold little humans into good people. Not everyone has that ability, (even if they think they do). So I salute those bleary eyed parents. I salute you with my hand that is not covered in poo from the last blueberry blow out.

  8. Wow. You put into words what I have always thought but could not articulate. I have 2 kids who are now 10 and 13. Shortly after my oldest was born, the story broke about the woman in Texas who drowned all 5 of her children…so I can really relate to how you felt about the NYT article…the world sure does seem like a terrible place sometimes.

    As my kids get older, the care has shifted so it’s less “hands-on” and more of a “I’d better be setting a good example” type of parenting. It’s stressful sometimes because I don’t know that I’m doing a good job. My self-doubt on my parenting abilities still haunts me every day…BUT when I look around at other parents (maybe this is judgmental), I figure I am doing better than average, and that makes it better.

    Yeah, I know those kind of people, the ones that judge others for not becoming parents. I used to be one of them. Then I had 2 babies and I realized that my husband and I maybe should have thought it through a little more carefully! It’s fine, though…I am not that religious, but I figure there must be a reason we brought these kids to life, even if I don’t understand it. And those that choose not to have kids, I think you’re right…they were meant to do other things. Or not, and that’s ok, too.

  9. My “baby” is a few months from his 18th birthday . . . it never ends, that feeling you had fleeing from the cafe and the NYT, it truly never ends. In fact in intensifies on so many levels as children grow and separate, becoming more and more independent. I suppose at some point I will feel as if he’s raised, he’s an adult, he’ll be OK . . . Parenting is a continual process of letting go . . .

    A friend just lost her 42 year-old daughter in a horrific (solo) car accident days ago. She is understandably heartbreakingly devastated. How does one recover from losing a child even if your child is an adult?

    Parenthood does change you. Your life is never again your own. I would not trade my experience as a mom for anything in the universe but it’s not for everyone. My husband (second marriage) made a decision not to have children at the age of 25. He became a step parent to my son at the age of 46. I know he would not trade his experience for anything in the world. That said, having children takes the focus from the relationship. Paul R. says it beautifully . . .

    I’m so happy Tammy sent us here . . . thanks for being vulnerable . . .

  10. What a wonderful, powerful, positive, kickass post! Thank you for that!
    This opinion coming from a parent is awesome. And sadly, unique. Usually it is the childfree women who say that NOT having kids is okay. Mothers (especially mothers who blog) seem to feel they have to constantly prove to the world that everything is wonderful when you have children, thereby implying that it is not quite as great if you don’t.
    Again, thank you for this post! You made my day!

  11. Tammy sent me.

    Wow.

    This is how I feel. Now. It has taken me a long time to get to this point. I grew up with the idea of meeting the love of my life = marriage = children.

    The part that really confuses me is the working mom vs stay-at-home mom vs I-don’t-have-kids woman. We’re all women, no wonder men thinks we’re nuts.

  12. Hi Heather,
    I found via the route of RowdyKittens blog. :)
    I want to thank you for what you’ve written about not having kids. I just turned 50 this past summer and for most of my life I carried this shame and guilt around about not wanting kids. I love kids, but never wanted any of my own. That was hard to say out loud because of the time I grew up in– we got married and had kids.
    It took me until I was about 45 to finally release the shame I carried around. I came to discover that I am a wonderful mentor for kids, as well as, I’m here to love animals with special needs.
    Once I realized and accepted that, along with various other reasons, I had to share this in my memoir. I heard from many women who also carried around this shame and how much it helped them to let go, too. It wasn’t easy at first for me to write and share this, but helped me so much to know I’ve helped other women.
    So thank you for being another woman stepping forward and saying this. I, for one, sincerely appreciate it.

    -Barbara

  13. thank you SO MUCH for writing this. I am child free by choice and I have fielded the idiotic projections from most other women when they hear I never wanted kids. “But you’d be so good!” (Yes, no shit, I know) “Well, not everyone is meant to be a mom” (I never know how to unpack that statement). And then I always feel the sympathy from them, like “oh, that’s too bad!” -I actually had someone say that to my face.

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