Let’s say you meet a childless woman who tells you she’d be happy as a mother someday. She knows she enjoys kids, and she acknowledges the beauty and wonder contained in the unique act of raising a child of her own.
But she also tells you that she is certain her life would be happy and fulfilled even without kids. She can see the freedoms and peacefulness afforded by the childfree lifestyle and that prospect excites her.
She can imagine both scenarios – kids and no kids – and visualize great joy in both life paths.
In fact, she tells you, what she really values is a stable, loving, healthy partnership. And with or without children, the partnership she ultimately finds herself in will be the true determiner of happiness in her life.
She then goes on to tell you, excitedly, that she’s met a partner who exceeds all of her expectations. He is loving, generous, and kind to her, and he makes her laugh every single day. He also doesn’t want kids. Ever.
She’s alright with this, she assures you. She’s found a partner she loves. She’s in the healthiest relationship she’s ever experienced. She knows that, once again, kids or no kids, this person will bring her a lifetime of love and joy. That’s all she wants.
But, at the same time, she understands there’s a loss with making such a choice, as there is with any major life decision. The act of choosing one path means she’ll never see what the other path holds. And since with all loss comes at least a little grief, she realizes she’ll have to process this grief in time as she moves forward in her life.
She’s strong, though, and she knows her own truth. She’ll be just fine, she tells you. More than fine, in fact. She’s not concerned in the slightest and is grateful to have found such a wonderful person to share her life with.
What would society say to this woman?
What would you say to her?
Assuming you have no qualms about the choice to be childless in general, do you consider her grief an indication that she’s making a huge mistake? Society certainly seems to think this, as a whole.
For society, the value of children is placed above most everything else. There’s good logic to this. For one thing, once we have them, we love our children fiercely. For another thing, children are our future. It makes sense to make them a priority. It makes sense to sacrifice pieces of our happiness for them. Even if that sacrifice is a relationship that fulfills us…right?
I’d like to argue that this last sentiment is not always true, especially in individual situations, such as the one I’ve described.
It’s a situation I’m quite familiar with. It’s my story.
I didn’t grow up wanting children. I grew up wanting a partner. I fantasized for hours what it would be like to meet my first boyfriend. Would we hold hands? How long until we first kissed? Would he love wolves and dragons as much as I did?
It was not until I started dating a man, who decidedly wanted exactly two children someday, did I begin to wonder if that path was also right for me. Although that relationship didn’t last, it left me asking myself a very important question: did I actually want children of my own?
Ask most people if you should have children and the answer is a resounding YES! (with a little bit of, OHMYGOSH they are HARD WORK thrown in). A smaller number of people will tell you that having children is simply up to your personal preferences, backing the idea that there’s a chance for life fulfillment without them. And in my experience, no one has ever told me that I shouldn’t have them at all.
The opinions are very clearly biased in one direction. The consensus is that children are necessary for happiness. Not having them has become an option, yes, but wouldn’t life be so much more colorful if you did choose to have them?
This bias in society really messes with your mind when you’re trying to come up with an answer to such a deeply personal question. Not only that, but it’s impossible to predict with 100% certainty whether the decision to have kids is right for you until you actually have them. And unfortunately, once you do have them, there’s no turning back. Like it or not, you now owe those kids the best parenting skills you can muster.
And, biological clock or not, eventually there comes a time when, if you do want them, you really need to go ahead and have kids, biologically or adopted, in order to make sure you’re alive and healthy until they’re ready to be adults on their own. If you decide you don’t want kids, you have all the time in the world. But if you do want one? Better find a stable, healthy partner who wants them too, and hurry it up!
With all this pressure from time and society, you start to realize that there’s an imminent need to figure out what it is you really want: kids or no kids.
Or is there?
For the ambivalent among us, is it really necessary for us to decide one way or another? What if, after much soul-searching, we come to the conclusion that having children would be a beautiful thing? And, simultaneously, we come to the conclusion that not having children would also be a beautiful thing?
Let that sink a bit. It may not resonate with you personally, but that’s ok. That’s not the point. The point is that there exist people in the world who fall, genuinely, into this category.
This realization doesn’t stem from fear of missing out, or fear of the challenges of parenthood, or the inability to acknowledge what we really want.
On the contrary, we know exactly what we want (for the most part, we’re always changing as humans, right?). It’s just that, what we want is simply not contingent on whether or not we have children. In other words, whether or not we eventually decide to have children does not change how we approach our life.
We would be happy if we had them.
We would be happy if we didn’t
There are challenges with either decision. There are gifts with either decision. And yet, it doesn’t really matter in the end.
Simply put, for us, children aren’t deal breakers.
My hope is that someday, society won’t force us to choose anymore. The mothers and fathers won’t try to convince us of the joy that raising children could bring us (of course it would). The resolutely childless by choice won’t try to convince us that we’ll be sacrificing so much if we decide to have them (of course we would).
My hope is that eventually, the decision of whether or not to have children won’t be that big of a deal anymore. Both decisions will be accepted as well as respected. After all, it’s a deeply personal choice and one that only the individual can make for themselves.
I’m an idealist though, so who knows? In any case, I’ve met the love of my life, and I couldn’t be happier. And since I know myself better than anyone else does, I’d say I feel pretty darn good right now about the direction my life is heading.