Recently, I've read a few articles by people regretting the fact that they are childless. The common thread seems to be people who've chosen to delay marriage and child-bearing in the interest of pursuing careers, traveling, or what have you. Then they reach their mid-forties, realize the ship has sailed, and thus...regrets. And I've had conversations over the last few years that have included such things as "you're in your 30s now, you can't wait too much longer" or "how can you possibly put your career ahead of a family?"
The thing is, my husband and I aren't waiting. We've been married for a decade now, and we aren't delaying a family for the sake of living it up while we're young or devoting ourselves to our careers. We're not childless, we're childfree.
The fact is, we don't want kids. Full stop.
And we're not alone. Other articles I've read recently have discussed being childfree, but if there's one thing in those articles that makes my teeth grind, it's "I'm too selfish to have children."
Well, maybe you are, but we're not. We're not foregoing children because we want material things, or because we don't want to give up our creature comforts. It's not the sacrifices or the long hours or the fact that you have to put children ahead of yourself. It's not the prospect of balancing a career and a family.
We simply...don't want kids.
Yes, we do travel a lot, have expensive hobbies, and devote a lot of time and energy to our careers. This is not the reason we don't have children, though. Rather, it's a byproduct. It's a fact that raising children is expensive and time-consuming, and those of us without children naturally aren't going to be faced with that, but correlation does not equal causation. We didn't forego children so we could have time and stuff.
And to be clear, I don't hate kids. Yes, my husband and I will sometimes grumble about some brats, but the vast majority of the time, our irritation lies with the parents. For example, on a plane, I am infinitely patient (and quite sympathetic!) with the infant who's screaming because of ear pain, or the toddler who's exhausted on a red-eye or scared because of turbulence. I'm decidedly less patient with the eight year-old kicking my seat for three hours while his mom is wrapped up in a book (true story). I don't bat an eye at a noisy, rowdy birthday party in a family restaurant, but I'll grind my teeth over a couple of kids being, well, kids in a bar where there shouldn't be anyone under the age of 21. I can deal with the kid who bumps into me and says "excuse me", but not when the parent glares at me for having the audacity to be in her kid's way.
I fully understand kids aren't going to be quiet and still all the time, and wouldn't expect them to be. The whole "children should be seen and not heard" thing is bullshit. Kids have energy. They're still learning their way around life in general. They don't yet understand appropriate behavior for all situations, and even when they do, sometimes they forget, or they're tired, or they're hungry, or whatever. I was a kid once too. I understand.
But I also understand my own limitations. I know all too well what I can cope with and what I can't.
Last year, I went to some author conventions for the first time. Like you would imagine any conference or convention would be, they were teeming with people. Some strangers, some not. And anyone who was around me at those cons last year may or may not have noticed that, on several occasions, I disappeared for a while. Sometimes I went back to my room. Sometimes I found a quiet corner in a restaurant. At least one time, I just went out to the parking lot. Why? To decompress. Catch my breath. Be alone for a few minutes or even a couple of hours. When I got home, I didn't leave the house for a day or two, and didn't want to be around anyone except my cats and my husband.
I love the conferences, don't get me wrong. I'm looking forward to attending several this year. I just know when I'm reaching sensory overload and social critical mass. When I need to step away and collect myself. As long as I make sure to give myself that downtime, I'm good to go. If I go too long without it, I get overwhelmed, and it's not good.
More than once, during those momentary recesses from socializing, I've caught myself wondering how I would handle that if I was a parent. I've seen how difficult it is for parents with similar personalities to mine, and how much they struggle to meet their children's needs when they themselves are desperate for some time to regroup. Is it selfish to acknowledge that this aspect of my personality would make me a miserable parent? No, I really don't think so. My attitude is not "kids would tire me out, so forget it," so much as "I'm not wired for constant social interaction, and I'm afraid that would be detrimental to my ability to adequately fulfill the needs of my children."
Kids have needs. They deserve parents who are equipped to fulfill those needs. I don't believe I am, so...I'm not a parent.
But all of that being said, it does still boil down to one simple thing: I simply don't want to have kids. I'm happy with my life. My husband is my family, and of course we have our parents, siblings, cousins, etc. We're content. Neither of us feels like anything is missing.
We're certainly not incapable of love or of forming emotional attachments. Though perhaps one sign that we are not wired for parenting: neither of us gets excited over the sight of a baby, but just watch what happens if we see a kitten. "It's different when they're your own." Not necessarily, and I'm not about to gamble with a child's happiness to see if it's true. Does that mean there's something wrong with us? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever the case, my maternal instinct is calibrated for pets, so I have pets. Everybody wins.
Finally, a rather staggering number of parents have, when they've learned I'm childfree, confided in me that if they had it to do over, they would have done things differently. None of them are suggesting they don't love their kids, nor have any of them wished their kids didn't exist. Rather, when stepping back and looking at their lives objectively, they realize they would have made different choices if given the opportunity. The younger parents say they would have waited 5-10 years. The older parents say they would have had their kids 5-10 years earlier.
More than a few, though, have said they wouldn't have had kids at all. Many have said they never even thought about whether or not they wanted kids. It wasn't optional. Having children is what you do. (Anyone who's been married for more than 17 minutes can attest to this: the second the rings are on, so is the pressure.)
Are all or even most parents miserable? Absolutely not! Most parents I know are blissfully happy and wouldn't trade their families for the world, and I'm thrilled for them. The less enthusiastic testimonies simply opened my eyes to the fact that it's not always sunshine and roses. The stark reality is that parenting is not an easy task, it's not a light commitment, and it's not for everyone.
To sum it up, a mother I know gave me this piece of hard-earned wisdom: "Unless you are absolutely over-the-moon excited about having kids...don't." And I think that's very sound advice. Kids deserve better than to be an obligation. They deserve to exist for better reasons than "it's what you do." Or because you want someone to visit you in an old folks' home one day, or because you want to pass on your genes, or because you want to carry on your family's name.
I'm not over-the-moon excited by the idea of having kids. Neither is my husband. In twenty, thirty, forty years, will we regret it? Who knows? But quite honestly, I'd rather regret that I didn't have children over regretting that I had them.
So... we're not having them. And we're happy.
It's that simple.