This post is a response to a Huffington Post article by Ann Brenoff titled, “Midlife ramblings: What I don’t get about my childless/childfree young friends.”
Specifically, this part:
I happen to agree that people who don’t want children should not have them. I’m delighted to wish you well on whatever road you take, but I do find myself stopping mid hand-wave and asking this question: Really?
How can you be so sure? I think having kids is one of those things you should probably never say never about.
Why would she (anyone, really) say “Never say never” should be especially true when it comes to having children?
Maybe because of this:
…based on nothing but my own experience and beliefs, parenting is a unique experience that stretches our capacity to show compassion toward others. It lowers our self-absorption level and requires us to put another’s needs ahead of of our own. That’s a good thing, especially when carried out on a large scale.
Brenoff might be using the royal “we,” here.
What probably happened is that having a child stretched her capacity to show compassion, lowered her self-absorption, and taught her to put another’s needs before her own.
If she isn’t using the royal “we,” she’s implying childfree people are – because we don’t have children to knock some humanity into us – self-absorbed and lacking compassion, which is of course untrue.
“We fear what we don’t understand,” goes the quote. I have to assume that as much writing as people do about the childfree, there’s some fear there. I hope the answers to the questions below make the childfree less scary.
How do you know you don’t want kids?
Exactly the same way you knew you wanted them.
What if you change your mind?
This is where being childfree is a distinct advantage. It’s easier to change your mind and bring a child into your life than it is to change your mind after you’ve had one.
What are you contributing to the world?
If parents have kids with the hope that they’re injecting something positive into the world, I like to think that by trying to be as kind as I can be, as helpful as I can be, and as loving as I can be, I’m being the contribution my parents hoped to make.
Did you decide not to have kids so you could never really grow up?
When did having children become synonymous with growing up?
All it takes to squash the notion that parents are “grown up” is a look at any number of parents today. Some are kind and teach their children empathy. Others bring their kids with them to picket funerals and feed them nothing but French fries and candy because they don’t feel like cooking.
Parents, like anyone else, are people. They just happen to be people whose copulation resulted in pregnancy that was carried to term. (If you do want grown-up parents, though, you’ll usually find them in the group of people who adopt children.)
What do you do with all your free time?
Whatever I want.
Don’t you feel bad/selfish about getting to be so “free” all the time?
Do you feel bad about enjoying your children the way you do?
Aren’t you just as free, as you’re living the life you chose?
Isn’t it selfish to not take care of another person?
Only if there’s a person needing my care and my lack of care is negatively impacting that person.
What will your life count for if you don’t have children?
How does having children make a parent’s life count? Doesn’t it make the children’s life count?
Anyone who’s made a positive contribution to the world while a parent probably would have done the same things (and with fewer complications and delays) had they never had children. Would their lives count less for it?
I have pushed myself hard to be the mother these precious children deserve. I have learned from them how to value a kind word and how to forgive those who would use unkind ones. I have risen to the occasion, found strengths and patience I didn’t know I had, and believe that the very reason I came into existence was to launch these two children into happy, fulfilled lives. From them, great things will flow. Which gets me back to not quite understanding why so many of the best and brightest seem to be shunning parenting.
It could be that many people don’t need to have kids in order to learn those qualities and that there are other reasons for having come into existence (assuming a reason is required).
Maybe some of the childfree are the “them” from whom great things will flow. They – we – are, after all, someone’s children.
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of The Age of the Child, which imagines a post Roe v. Wade United States (and then a post-post Roe v. Wade United States).
*This post originally appeared here in 2013, but the same questions are still being asked, so…
~ Featured photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels