Whenever I am doing the polite get-to-know-you Q & A with someone, it inevitably happens. I am asked whether I have children. I used to say, “No, we do not have children” but since I look far younger than I am, I would get the pity look and the “You still have time” comment.
So a few years ago I changed the response to, “No, my husband and I chose not to have children.” Judging from some of the looks I got, you would think I sprouted horns out of my forehead. Their mouth would freeze in this half-smile of politeness (that looked more like a grimace) while their eyes furtively searched for someone else to talk to. Preferably someone normal. Someone who liked children.
Hello? I do like children. Even love them. My friends’ children. My nephews (one of whom recently introduced me to his girlfriend as his “Other Mother”). I am the woman who babies burble and giggle at. Kids like me. I like them. But liking children and having them are very different.
And no, I was not scarred by bad parents. Quite the opposite in fact. I have loving, well-equipped parents, just no surging biological desire to have children of my own. I was not immune to societal messages urging me to want to have them: I had more than my fair share of messages thrown at me.
But I already knew the stress of my chosen profession and my own need for quiet time to re-charge myself. I had seen both sides of parenting: the joys versus the sacrifices and hard work involved in raising a healthy child. In my work as a therapist, I also saw the darker side: when parents ill-equipped left wounds on their children that bled for years.
Did this skew my thinking of how hard parenting would be? Maybe. But in a society that touts the joys of parenthood, isn’t a reality check important too? Yes, the rewards are enormous. I do not need to have children to see the glow in a parent’s eyes; to see the love and awe that being intertwined in each other lives forever brings. Without a doubt, parenting brings much joy. But it’s not a simple fairy-tale get-married-have-children-and-live-happily-ever-after. Parenting is a huge responsibility.
Do I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to be a parent? Do I look at my husband and wonder what a child of our mixed genes would have looked like? Which of each other’s quirks and nuances we might have seen in our child? How our lives would have been different, had we chosen the path of parenthood?
Of course I have. But choosing not to have children was a conscious decision that involved deep soul searching on both my husband and my part, alone and together. We talked about it when we seriously dated, we talked about when we planned our lives together, we talked about it in my 30’s as our relationship grew and evolved, and we revisited it again when I turned 40 to make sure that neither of us would have any regrets.
We chose what was right for us. It was our choice. Yet it is a choice that often gets me shunned looks, “what-is-wrong-with-you?” stares and a double-standard of questioning. Somehow it is okay to ask me why I chose not to have children and belittle my response (or simply assume I am selfish) yet how often are parents asked, “Why did you have children?”
Being a parent is a job. Yes, it has incredible fringe benefits but they come with huge responsibilities. Shouldn’t the decision to have children be given some soul-searching to see if one is up for it? Skilled enough for it? Willing to make the sacrifices necessary to do a good job at it?
No parent is perfect. No parent needs to be perfect. But a child needs a parent who at least knows what being a parent involves. A child needs someone who has the ability to provide a foundation of love, respect and security.
So this Mother’s Day, I honor my Mom, my sister, friends, and the many women who have taken on this role with the commitment and sacrifice it takes to raise healthy children. But I also honor those women who looked within themselves and chose not to have children.
We do not have horns. We do not have four-eyes. We are not selfish. We are women who made a choice that showed our respect for this joyous yet challenging role.
We honor you. Please honor us.
“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road does not mean they are lost.” — Dalai Lama
“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.” — Viktor E. Frankl
“The two most important days of your life are: the day you were born, and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela