I Don’t Want Kids, and I Won’t “Change My Mind When I’m Older”
Madison Carlson | On 21, Aug 2013
I don’t remember exactly how old I was. I know I was young, maybe middle school age, not yet gone through puberty. My cousins and I were staying the night in the upstairs room of the old yellow farmhouse where our grandpa lived with a new wife we still resented for not being our grandma. While his younger brothers slept, Dan and I talked about the boy he’d stayed the night with who let a girl sleep in the bed with him and how utterly scandalized we both were by the fact that the two had snuggled close while my cousin slept uncomfortably at the very edge of the mattress. That was about the time Sam started crying.
Dan and I looked at each other. If we ignored it, it had to stop eventually. It didn’t. As the crying went on, we rushed frantically for solutions – waking him up, getting him water. Nothing worked. Dan, exasperated, looked at me, and said “You’re the girl. You fix it.”
A decade later, when I say I don’t want children, the response is often shock, followed by denial.
“What do you mean you don’t want kids?”
“You’ll change your mind when you’re older.”
“You’ll love them when you have them.”
They don’t come right out and say You’re the girl. You’re supposed to have children, but it’s the subtext behind every word. You have a uterus for a reason.
While explaining to my family for the 15th time that “No, Mom/Grandma/Aunt, I really don’t want children. Ever. Seriously. Please stop asking” gets old, it’s the demands for justification from people I hardly even know that really frustrate me. Yes, I have reasons; I have a lot of them, but I shouldn’t have to share them with strangers who assume that I must want to have children just because I (maybe) happened to be born with a working set of female reproductive organs.
Our world is being rapidly overpopulated. Hundreds of thousands of children are born every day. As an environmentally conscious person, I don’t feel that it’s responsible to have a child. Worldwide, more than a hundred million children are without parents. If I do, at some point, decide I want a child, I will adopt or apply to be a foster parent.
Those are reasons people like to hear. They are “acceptable” justifications for not fulfilling one’s purpose as a woman. The acknowledgement of an economic inability to properly care for a child is understood, if not as noble. It’s a responsible decision.
Less accepted are reasons like a choice not to make a massive lifestyle change for children, or an aversion to the idea of pregnancy and labor, both of which are also reasons I don’t plan on having children. That I’m a lesbian and have no intention of ever being in a situation in which natural conception is possible, while not a certain ‘no’ to babies, is not a good reason either. The kind of people who expect me to have a child because I’m a woman aren’t usually that accepting of my sexual orientation.
Time Magazine’s cover this month is an article titled “The Childfree Life: When Having it All Means Not Having Children.” Responses have ranged from enthusiastic agreement to furious dismissal. TruthStreamMedia responded with a piece arguing that the decision not to have children is a threat to our economic and social stability, going so far as to reference Children of Men as an example of the consequences a dramatically lower birth rate might bring. Gretchen Carlson of Fox & Friends wondered if anyone had ever seen “anything more selfish, decadent, and stupid,” and called Time Magazine a “natural home for a cult like this.” Emily Shire at The Week, echoing Mary Elizabeth William’s piece in Salon, wrote a response which called into question the fact that the Times article does not talk to men about their choice to remain childless. Its stories and interviews are centered around women, which Shire believes “ultimately adds to the extreme pressure on women to have children.” By focusing only on women’s choice to have or to not have, the piece, once again, places all responsibility for child bearing and rearing in the hands of women.
Of course, Time isn’t the first publication to discuss the choice to not have children. Many women have written blogs and columns about their own decisions to do so and the responses they’ve received. Comments on those pieces, while often supportive, also contain examples of the exact kind of shaming that the authors were speaking out against in the first place.
One response to the Blog Critics’ piece “Marriage and Children are No Longer Top Female Priorities” argued that one reason for the decline in the U.S. birthrate is that “men are not men anymore (sperm counts are dropping alarmingly, and they are actually being feminized), so women naturally take on the role of being more manly.” Because only manly women decline to have children, of course.
These comments, however, are much fewer than those advocating the individual choice in having children. It would be difficult to argue that they represent a social trend. In many places they don’t. On the ultra-conservative site InfoWars.com, the response to the Times piece was a warning of “relentless assault on the family in America.” Readers decried the stupidity and selfishness of those who choose not to have children, and opposing viewpoints were not appreciated. One comment stated that “A childless couple is NOT a family unit.” Another by the same person called those who don’t have children “useless consumers.” Many of those sharing their opinions felt the need to include anti-immigrant sentiment and racism in their tirades. Minorities are “procreating like cockroaches,” and the “true” (white) American will be overrun by their spawn. It is therefore the duty of patriotic white women to bear the children of patriotic white men, and selfish is too nice a term for those that don’t comply.
InfoWars isn’t mainstream society, but that doesn’t mean the sentiments expressed by its supporters don’t exist, more subtly, in our every day lives. One in five American women will not have a child, and yet those of us who insist that we choose not to are still looked at as aberrations. We’re told by complete strangers that we don’t know our own minds and that we just need to “grow up.” We’re selfish, and self-centered, and materialistic, and we’ll be sorry when we’re old and dying all alone and we finally realize that money can’t love us back.
Here’s some news. Whether someone chooses to have a child or not has nothing to do with anyone but them and their partner. It’s their choice, and their reasons. Anyone else’s are not important.
It’s 2013. “You’re the girl” isn’t good enough anymore.
Written by Madison Carlson
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