I turn 26 in a little over a month and am unsure about whether I want to raise any kids in the future. While I feel okay about not knowing, at this point I lean toward not having kids so that I can maintain my independence, a core value of mine. What frustrates me more than not knowing whether I want kids: the stigma against those who do not have kids, as well as the glorification of those who do have them.
Flash backward to a conversation I had with one of my ex-friends about two and a half years ago. In her sunlit apartment, I sat on the couch while she sat on the carpeted floor. I think I recall her playing with her cat, throwing a little stuffed mouse for her to chase. I told her about my reservation about having kids, about how though I see the merits of adopting a child, I could also imagine a complete and fulfilled life without doing so. When I said this, she immediately said something along the lines of “but Thomas, think about the warm and loving life you could give a child, you could give them a life so different from the ones our parents gave us.”
While I recognize my friend’s intent to compliment my compassion and caring, I felt a slight annoyance because it reminded me of how so many people have told me that I should have kids because I am a nurturing and kind person. These statements frustrate me because as feminist essayist Rebecca Solnit writes about in her amazing essay “The Mother of All Questions”, the world contains so many different things in addition to children that would benefit from nurturance, like communities torn asunder by natural disasters, political movements designed to improve the quality of life for marginalized folks, and the fight to reduce climate change so that more kids can exist on Planet Earth at all. Speaking for myself, I do my best to exhibit nurturance through activities such as providing therapy, mentoring students, and caring for my close friends. My decision to have children should not influence people’s perceptions of my kindness or my warmth, especially because I know many people who mistreat their kids, or people who treat their kids well while mistreating folks like their coworkers or graduate students.
In her essay “The Mother of All Questions,” Solnit makes the astute point that “while many people question the motives of the childless, who are taken to be selfish for refusing the sacrifices that come with parenthood, they often neglect to note that those who love their children intensely may have less love left for the rest of the world.” This logic resonates with my own life. If I were not to have a kid, I would have more love and more time for other values-aligned activities, such as my clinical work, supervising students, and spending energy and resources on trips to visit my closest friends or bonding activities with my friends if we end up in a similar location. Though I could still do these things with a kid, I would have to do them less, at least during my kid’s earlier years. I am not saying that providing therapy, mentoring students, or investing time in close friends is better than raising a child in a healthy way. Rather, nurturing a kid should not be glorified as inherently better than nurturing a world that would be much better for kids to live in in the first place.
At this point I envision that I will love my life regardless of whether I have a kid. I feel like I would thrive with the independence afforded by not having children, though I could also see myself enjoying nurturing a child with the right social supports. In my life I have had mentors who had their own kids and I have had role models who have not had kids, including Caroline Knapp, one of my favorite writers whose work has helped heal so many folks. Regardless of what the future holds, I feel grounded in my joyful present, like showing off my strawberry blond hair while running across the tennis court, laughing with close friends over Skype and FaceTime and Zoom, and writing about whatever social or personal issue comes my way, doing my best to resist patriarchy and heteronormativity at every turn.
How do you feel about the prospect of having kids, whether in the present, future, or past? What do you make of the heteronormative, patriarchal expectation that people – especially women – should have kids, and how do we fight that? General reactions to this post? I of course recognize that historically marginalized folks have been prevented from having children which is totally oppressive too. Until next post!