Given my advancing age (I’m turning 39 in August), people have asked if I am looking to have children as soon as possible. A part of me doesn’t understand this line of questioning, given what these people know about me. Why would they think I’d want children at this stage of my life? It’s true that I’m not getting any younger, but I have so many things I need to cross off my list before I even consider reproducing. I’m not against having kids, but they’re just not a priority–“Benjamin Button” ovaries or not. Still, what is curious about the mild nagging is their strange desire to see me with children. I honestly just don’t get it.
Let me clarify that I love kids. I was once a kid, and I have taken care of kids, so I have nothing against their existence. I believe that society has a collective responsibility in raising children–that means even child-free/unchilded people like me don’t get off scot-free. I’m happy to pay taxes that would support universal healthcare, publicly funded daycare, excellent public schools, and strong public financial support for low income parents (think Sweden and Finland). I am dealing with someone’s child every time I book a hotel, every time I fill a prescription, every time I drive on the road, every time I eat at a restaurant, every time I order a pizza…you get the picture. Today’s kids are tomorrow’s adults, and ensuring that they don’t turn into tomorrow’s fuckups are in everybody’s best interests. Bringing up young people is everyone’s responsibility, as long as you are a part of that society.
That said, of course parents have a much larger share of the responsibility compared to unchilded folks like me. I’m not the one who has to change the diapers, I won’t be the one to get up in the middle of the night to calm a baby down, and I’m not the one who has to change or cancel vacation plans because the children are too unruly. Still, I’m quite sure that parenthood brings many joys and rewards that I may never experience, which is fine by me. Curiously, many parents aren’t fine with my “deprivation”–they insist that I need to experience what they experience, which really bothers me.
So what’s behind the hard sell? Why can’t they accept that I’m ok with not having kids? Why do they insist that I need to experience some higher level of happiness that only they understand? When parents hector others into having children, they need to understand that they make themselves look really really really really bad. Like the people they’re really trying to convince is themselves. It’s not a good look. It seems as if their happiness cannot exist unless they make sure that everyone else within striking distance can witness it.
I’m not one of those “proudly child-free” people, simply because not having kids is something that I’m neither proud nor ashamed of. But I do understand why the pushback is there. The constant pressure to reproduce (the constant pressure for anything, really) can be truly irritating. However, I don’t agree with their insistence that their lives are richer and more fulfilling because they don’t have kids. To me, it’s just like parents saying that their lives are richer and more fulfilling because they have kids.
What needs to be acknowledged is that parents and child-free people need each other. All this passive aggressive bullshit, “who has a better life” crap just needs to stop. Parents should be glad that some people choose to forgo reproducing, which frees up more available resources and opportunities for their offspring and reduces environmental waste and pressure. Non-parents should be glad that someone took the time and energy to produce the next generation of scientists, doctors, artists, morticians, sanitation workers, and teachers. The relationship between parents and non-parents should be a win-win proposition, not some sick “happiness and fulfillment” competition.
Children can be a blessing or a curse. For better or for worse, all of us–parents and the unchilded alike–will always have a stake in raising the next generation.