I am a thirty three year old woman with a secure job in a long term relationship with a man seven years my junior. We are both at the start of promising careers, me in education and he in catering and music. We have been together for five solid years, are deeply in love, and live together part of the time with the intention of soon making it full time. Nearly all of the couples we know have children. He is godfather to a bright and beautiful six year old girl, who we see often; we have close friends with one and two year olds, and at family parties there are usually five or six little ones running round and playing in the back garden. We are active in their care, babysitting on request and voluntarily; there is no shortage of interaction with children in our lives. We smile at their sweetness, sigh over their cuteness and giggle along with them at their silliness. We head them off if they are about to hurt themselves, cuddle them when they cry, play with them, speak to them gently, and truly love them.
And yet. The likelihood that he and I are going to have children of our own is a possibility growing further and further away with each passing year. My rejection of the social script to progress from the stage we are now at, to marriage, and then children, at the expectation of others is a commitment that in my mind is nearly as strong as our commitment to each other. When people ask me, “Do you want kids?” my standard answer is, “It varies…between ‘maybe’ and ‘hell no!’” The older I get the more it has become clear that the conscious choice I have always made to prevent pregnancy has been the right one for me.
That I have come to this conclusion surprises me as much as it confuses others. Most of my life I have wanted to be someone’s mother. I have daydreamed about what I would name my children, how I would teach them to be good people, what languages they would speak and what family heirlooms I would pass on to them. But as I have come to the realisation that having children is not something that makes sense for me in the immediate or short term future, the rationale has taken shape in my mind. So, I present below the reasons that make up my current case against having children, for reasons other than not liking them, loosely organised into THINGS I WANT and THINGS I DON’T WANT.
I want to remain the protagonist of my life. I don’t want to have to constantly be thinking about someone who for at least 20 or so years (until I am in my 50s) cannot care for themselves. I do not want to spend my 30s changing diapers and bedsheets for a being that wees and shits all over itself and me. I do not want to have year after year of very little sleep and sore nipples from breastfeeding. I do not want to research the best things to feed toddlers or then latest parenting method; instead I would rather work on my research papers. I do not want to have to go to bed early so I can wake up to wash them, feed them breakfast, and take them to school at 8am. I do not want to move houses so we can be in a better school catchment area. I do not want to clean crayon off the walls or have small items around the house suddenly go missing. I do not want to take a tiny being to expensive places like Disneyland and put all my effort into making them happy when they are young if it will be just a blip in their memory when they grow up.
I want to spend my money on myself, on gifts for loved ones already living, on traveling and have something saved for retirement. I don’t want to feel obligated to buy the latest toy to make them smile only to have them forget about it a few weeks later. I don’t want to be hassled at the grocery store where the aisle of sweets is strategically placed at a child’s eye level. I don’t want the negative vibes that come from continuously denying the requests of someone I love, minor and ridiculous though they may be.
I don’t want to raise a child in late capitalism who will be socialised into a generation so far removed from my childhood that I don’t understand their culture, logic and way of thinking. I don’t want to to be disturbed by the music they listen to, the technology they are obsessed with. I don’t want to have to speak in child-friendly language and terminology for days or months or years at a time. I don’t want to have to explain everything, because I would feel that responsibility. I don’t want to have to deal with teen sexting and adolescent porn use and the impact these will undoubtedly have on their self-esteem and sexual development. I want to have adult conversations and I also want to be able to avoid the lies that parents sometimes have to tell. Like that the world will be ok when they grow up, or that I am sure they will find a job and pay off that student loan. I don’t want to raise a child with Western expectations of material pleasure and success without the means to help them actually achieve those objectives. I don’t want to watch my child’s generation be less successful than me, as this is the trend we are currently in and which doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon.
I want to drastically reduce my carbon footprint in a way that I could never do simply by keeping the heat down and the lights off. I want to be able to distribute my love widely and not have it concentrated on one or two precious beings who will then keep my hands full and unable to serve others. I want to follow in the traditions of religious who devoted themselves to their work and to their spiritual practice by not marrying and having a family. I have always been inspired by women of the cloth, as in generations past that would have been the only way for someone like me to have a life of the mind. I understand how much effort it takes to live a life that intentional and for this reason I love that their clothing was referred to as ‘habit.’ If we make our clothing a habit the energy we expend on selecting items of dress and beautifying ourselves is much reduced and there is effort left over for other, more important things. Once children arrive, they become the subjects of ultimate importance, and as such, assume their rightful place in the priority list. If all is as it should be, everything else comes after. Babies are helpless beings who depend on us to satisfy their every need. I associate this relationship of dependency, at least the way we have arranged it in contemporary Western nuclear-family capitalism, with a requirement for selfless, unconditional giving on one hand, and a learned behaviour of demanding and taking on the other. If it was a relationship between adults I would call it abuse, but it is not in a child’s nature to do anything different. This imbalance is enough to drive one to mental illness, as the many mothers with post-natal depression will tell you. Thus, much like nuns once opted for uniform clothing, I choose to be child free in order to preserve energy and sanity for my work in the world.