Bad Advice

Why is it so difficult to accept that some people just don’t want to have kids (second letter)?

I think I want kids. I’m not sure. The idea of adopting appeals much more to me than giving birth does, mostly because there are already lots of kids who need homes, and if I can provide a good one, why not offer it to a person who already exists? But who knows where life will take me. Right now, kids are obviously not anywhere in my realm of thought, and probably won’t be for almost another decade. But if I do or I don’t, who cares?

Apparently, Slate’s advice columnist does. A woman writes that she just got married, but that neither she nor her husband has any interest in having children. Yet their friends, relatives and aquaintances constantly lecture them about the benefits of child-rearing. Prudie writes:

As far as acquaintances are concerned, “I’d rather not discuss such a private matter” should do it. But family and friends are different. Yes, it’s true that ultimately it’s not anyone else’s business, but from a human perspective this is a loss for both sets of parents. No one has parents who say, “I hope my child grows up to marry someone wonderful and they don’t have children together.” With your intimates, next time they bring it up, explain that you understand this is painful for them, but you are both comfortable with your decision and lecturing won’t change your mind. Now I will join the chorus of people who are driving you crazy. You are about to get married, and as life’s circumstances change, it is worth re-examining your goals, especially this one (and yes, I know, I am offending all happy childless people). You’re only in your 30s—if you have children now, they’ll be grown by the time you reach your late 50s! You say you love children, but as close as you may be to your nieces and nephews, that’s no substitute for having your own. The people who know and love you best hope you and your husband have children—that alone makes it something worth considering.

Now, I’m not a mother. But as I understand it, having kids is no walk in the park, and parenthood is hard work — and a life-long committment. It’s probably not something that one should jump into simply because the people who love you think you should. And it’s probably not something that people should do just because it’s the “typical” life choice — children should be wanted, and parenthood should be voluntary.

And yet that simple concept seems to get people incredibly up in arms. Note the kerfluffle over at Pandagon a while ago, with commenters and other bloggers calling Amanda immature, selfish, and inferring that she’s baby-killer (not sure how one is a baby-killer when they assert that they want to avoid babies in the first place, but ok).

For some reason that I have yet to figure out (though I suspect the default response — Blame the Patriarchy — works pretty well here) the decision not to reproduce draws all kinds of ire. Say that you don’t want kids, and people are fully ready to cast all kinds of stereotypes onto you; some of them act as if, simply by not having children, you have personally insulted their life choices. Others assure you that you’re just immature, and in a few years that clock will start ticking. Still others will lecture you on all the virtues of child-rearing, and others will insist that it’s your duty to reproduce. Which is just bizarre, frankly. The general social consensus is that kids do best in families where they’re loved and wanted — not rocket science. So why the push for childrearing by people who have no desire to raise children? Why does Prudie care if I have babies or not?


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65 comments for “Bad Advice

  1. June 2, 2006 at 6:26 am

    Those of us who are adamantly childless tend to view getting badgered like this as “misery loves company”. Fair or not, it does well for those who like to badger to remember that as you badger someone, that person is thinking, “You’re just mad I get to sleep through the night, and you’re jealous I can up and leave my house whenever I want.”

  2. sam
    June 2, 2006 at 6:37 am

    I read this yesterday and got so incredibly pissed off. Here’s someone who clearly knows what she does want, and that’s not to have children, and asks for advice on how to deal with obnoxious people who can’t seem to keep their narrow-minded judgments to themselves. So what does the advice columnist do? chides the letter-writer about not wanting children!

    The old Prudie (this one is new) would have never given an answer like that.

    It reminds me of a situation I was in a few years back – I worked in an office with two women. One of whom very clearly didn’t want children, and one of whom couldn’t have children. The second woman practically made it her mission in life to guilt the first woman into having children (as if it was somehow owed to second woman). Needless to say, none of us could stand the second woman.

  3. June 2, 2006 at 6:39 am

    Kidding (on the square) aside, a lot of people’s comments about how not having kids=committing suicide struck me as evidence that the process of procreation has and is being sold to people as a bulwark against existential crisis. I, like Sartre, much enjoy the process that makes children but children not so much. Also, it’s sex guilt. Morons like Dawn make this primary, but most of us have internalized a lot of sex guilt and procreation is considered a method of purging the sexual sin off one’s self. Calling someone “childless” is to imply they are a pervert to a degree–traditionally childless people are infertile (being punished by god), deliberately single ( for women, this means someone might be a rebellious sort, which is alarming), a reject (spinster), or homosexual. Modern, progressive people have rightly decided to quit treating all the aforementioned people as perverts, but the majority of Americans at least are still very conservative and haven’t quite made the leap.

  4. Peshna
    June 2, 2006 at 7:07 am

    Oh boy, a hot button issue :) Never wanted kids even as a kid. I just “knew” it. I didn’t even play with dolls! I read somewhere about the possibility of it being genetic too (I’ll dig around to see if I can find that article again.) I just don’t have the “urge” whatever that is. The best way I could relate to a friend of mine who is trying for her third child, was by suggesting that perhaps it was like my burning desire for chocolate at that time of the month. (BTW, she thought that was very funny, an agreed that it might be – no offense was taken at all.)

    What is interesting to me, given the stories I hear about obnoxious people pressuring kid free people to have kids, is that other than one single aunt, who cannot believe that we don’t want children, “to look after us in our old age” (what an awful reason to have children in my opinion) nobody presses the issue with us.

    I suspect when I tell people I have absolutely and utterly no interest in having children, my expression says it all. She MEANS it. We clearly value our adult space and freedom.

    I also think that perhaps it is a matter of sophistication? The people we tend to know, at least the people we know well enough who would be comfortable enough to comment on the subject to us, are all pretty highly educated, worldly, cosmopolitan types. The ‘circle of life’ of growing up, getting married, having kids, retiring is not their primary experience of life – there’s so much more to it. So they are very comfortable with different choices that people make for themselves about anything in life.

  5. Molly
    June 2, 2006 at 7:32 am

    My dad, with whom I’ve alway had a rather rocky relationship, once told me I was selfish for not wanting children. Selfish both because I wouldn’t sacrifice for a child and also be cause I was denying him the “right” to be a grandfather.

    I was so floored by this I couldn’t respond at the time. The reasons for my not wanting children (at this point in my life) are numerous and have nothing to do with being selfish. Truth is, I’m not sure I would be capable of being a good parent. Why do I think this? Well…it has much to do with that rocky relationship I had/still have with good old dad. I’m far removed from being a child…but old wounds run deep. The last thing I’d ever want is to repeat (even unintentionally) the mistakes either of my parents made.

    The irony of dad’s statement/accusation to me of being “selfish” was that he is actually being the selfish one. He made it quite clear that it his “his right” to be a grandparent and that I (evil, selfish, ungrateful daughter) am denying him that right. Also, if his parenting “skills” are any indication of what his grandparenting will be like, I’d just as soon not put any child through that.

  6. Peshna
    June 2, 2006 at 7:37 am

    Here’s an article I read (and enjoyed) some time ago on the subject:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/women/story/0,3604,1016062,00.html
    excerpt: The notion that different people have different desires shouldn’t be a difficult one, but when it comes to motherhood, many people can’t get their heads around it. Even Cain had trouble at first. She began The Childless Revolution, in part, because she was angered by the dismissive way her childless friends were treated, and because she was struck by the newfound social acceptance she experienced when she had her first baby at 39. Yet part of her still believed that “deep down every woman wanted to be a mother”, a misconception undone by the 100-plus interviews she did for her book.

    What she discovered was that choice, not motherhood, is the real key to happiness. Cain has come to believe that lack of interest in childbearing might be biological, like being gay. “Researchers have found that within mice there is a gene, the Mest gene. When it was in place in a mouse, and the mouse gave birth, it was a nurturing mother. When the mouse was Mest-deficient, it was a non-nurturing mouse. I think down the line we’re going to discover that just as homosexuality is something that’s physical, the same thing will be discovered about women. Why do some women melt at the sight of babies while other women are indifferent? It would seem to me it’s something innate.”

    That is why Cain says women who do not want kids should ignore the well-meaning advice they’re often bombarded with. “Don’t second-guess yourself,” she says. “Trust your instincts.” That might seem obvious, but the strange thing about being a woman without much interest in mothering is that many people you love and admire will tell you not to trust your instincts. Motherhood, they say, is, for all its struggles, an experience of such ineffable joy that those who have done it can’t imagine life without it. end excerpt

  7. Julie
    June 2, 2006 at 7:38 am

    I don’t get it either, and I have children. I love my daughter more than life itself and I am getting exceedingly excited for the birth of my son (I really can’t believe it’s only 6 more weeks!) but I understand, more now than ever, it’s not for everyone. Being a parent is awesome, if you want children, but I could see it being pretty awful if you knew from the get go you didn’t want kids. And yeah… some people can change their minds, some people are ambivalent (my husband was like that… he didn’t really care if we had kids or not, but now that my daughter is here he wouldn’t change it for the world) but not everybody is and I really don’t understand what’s hard to accept about that. I think it’s good to look around and say “I’m not suited to this, so I really shouldn’t be doing it”. So many people have children for all the wrong reasons (i.e. “It’s what I’m supposed to do”) and then end up resenting their children and the immense life change that comes with them. Before I had children, I never cooked at home, I slept in almost every morning, I could walk into a mall and get something for myself without feeling guilt and I could go do something with friends without having to find a baby sitter first. Now to me, the change in lifestyle is completely worth it…. I have a lot more fun with Isabelle than I ever did when I was childfree. But I love kids and I always knew I wanted them. If I hadn’t been ready, if I knew I didn’t want children, I could see me highly resenting a lot of the lifestyle changes that come with having kids. I think adoption is great for people who would like to adopt but if you simply don’t want children, I really don’t understand why people feel the need to get all bent out of shape. I personally think it’s better for people who know they don’t want and/or don’t like children to not have them…. why make everyone miserable just to satisfy some cultural ideal?

  8. Kat
    June 2, 2006 at 8:00 am

    My brother and his wife got married 11 years ago and made it clear at the time that they weren’t going to have children. My mother had this idea in her head that my poor brother was somehow brainwashed by this worldly, career woman into not having children, and that it was something he *should* do because he was *so good with kids*. She even went through a phase where she was downright catty to his wife. It was really very embarrassing and hurtful, and honestly it was really hard to see a woman (my mom) be so critical of another woman (my sister-in-law) on this kind of issue. No amount of reasoning with Mom could make her see that this was as much my brother’s decision as his wife’s. And in any case, the decision was made before marriage so had he not agreed with it, he certainly had the opportunity to move on and not be *trapped*.

    I think part of why some people are so adamant that other must have children is that it is those same people who may have preferred to have opted out of having children but somehow bent to cultural/familial/peer pressure and had them anyhow.

    My Mom, for instance, had 7 children. She was a great Mom, but in some ways very long-suffering. I somehow think having 7 children was not exactly what she had set out to do. One or two may have been more her speed.

    That’s my “I had to endure it for the good of mankind, so you must to” theory.

    I have two kids, I sometimes think I would like more but I am not in an appropriate place in my life right now to consider it (no extra money, for one thing).

    Raising kids can be great, but its hard work and all-encompassing, it affects everything you do and if you’re not really *into* it and just doing it out of some obligation, then you can develop a lot of resentment and discontent very fast.. You have to do it not only for yourself, but more importantly for the kids you bring into this world. Not for some inane pressure and certainly not because someone thinks they deserve to be a grandparent.

    I have a lot of respect for those who know their minds in this issue… whether that be that they want kids or they don’t… and then do whatever they choose the way they want.

  9. Peshna
    June 2, 2006 at 8:07 am

    Yeah, which is better?

    Regretting not having kids or regretting having kids!

    More that I’ve read on that subject here:

    http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art28643.asp

    Excerpt:

    Some Parents Regret Having Kids

    Isn’t it interesting how often we hear that we’ll regret not having kids someday, and yet no one ever tells an expecting mom that she might regret her decision? Regretting parenthood is taboo in our society, and few people are willing to admit that they wish they didn’t have kids.

    I am always dumbfounded when people continue to pressure people who don’t want children into having them. Why would they encourage someone who doesn’t want kids to bring a child into this world?

    Dr. Phil recently did a show on women who “can’t stand being a mom.” Some of these women even let their children know that they regret having children. They were afraid of becoming abusive parents, they resented the time parenthood required, and they blamed their kids for their unhappiness. What a horrible environment to grow up in!

  10. June 2, 2006 at 8:08 am

    I, too, have written a blog entry about this — because really, the second letter to Prudie is a complete 180 from the advice she gave to the woman in the previous letter. It’s actually quite breathtaking.

  11. celticfeminist
    June 2, 2006 at 8:09 am

    This reminds me of a (rather baffling) conversation I had with a friend of mine awhile back. I had just gotten married and he asked me if th’hubs and I were planning on having kids. The conversation then went like this:

    Me: Well, possibly. Not anytime soon. Neither one of us is sure we want to be parents.

    Him: I get that. I know other people who don’t want to have kids either. That’s cool.

    Me: Yeah. It’s a big decision, and one we don’t want to make lightly. On top of which, I’ve never had the biological urge to have a baby myself. It wigs me out a bit. If we do have kids, it’s just as likely we’ll adopt rather than have kids ourselves.

    Him: What? Are you really *that* selfish?

    Me: …..

    To this day, the conversation still rankles me. I mean, he was fine with the revelation that we might not have kids at all. But suddenly, upon me revealing I’d likely adopt over giving birth, I’m “that selfish”. Presumably because I’d rather parent someone else’s child than allow my husband to sow his seed in me. Or something. I still can’t entirely wrap my mind around his reasoning – even though I’m certain of where it comes from.

    As several other people have commented, parenting is a highly personal and important choice. I can’t imagine making that decision just because others think you should. A child should be wanted and welcomed – which means that both parties should be (mostly) certain they want a child. I can’t imagine just having a child to please others or to fulfill some prescribed “normal” social role.

  12. Marian
    June 2, 2006 at 8:18 am

    You get it when you want children too, but just not right-right-right-away after your wedding. I had people asking us during our engagement period when we were going to have babies. I had a mother-in-law tell me I was reaching “advanced age” (25!), and she insists on wishing me a happy “Hopefully it will be Mother’s Day for you next year” ever since the wedding. (I didn’t mind this year because we do plan to try soon, but the question is what if we try and don’t succeed? that remark will sting next year then).

    Add to that my grandmother, who upon seeing me after 5 months of marriage, chided me for not “showing up with a bundle of joy in your belly,” and started telling my (non-Christian) husband that in HER bible, it says to be fruitful and multiply, and that she THOUGHT that in Indian culture, they supported big families too!

    We all thought it would shut off after my sister had one (being 7 years older than me, it makes sense that she would go first!), but now I get “You’re Next! What’s TAKING you so long?”

    Add to that the opposite–folks (mainly from NY) who tell us that at 27 and 28, w’ere both still “babies” and need to wait at least another 10-15 years.

    So all in all, we have a lot of people bossing us around about how we should live our marriage. I can only imagine the bossing from others if you don’t want kids at all!! *ick* Why is it that people think we should have kids we don’t want at all, or aren’t ready for?

  13. Peshna
    June 2, 2006 at 8:25 am

    Oh and STILL on a roll on this subject (smile) the REASON I’m so hot and bothered about this belief that motherhood being every woman’s highest calling, is that it came up for me primarily on a support forum for women considering abortion.

    The anti choice lot of course roll out their arguments, that ALL women WANT to be mothers, and don’t do it because abortion will traumatize you and you will always suffer regret because you will be going against your NATURAL instincts to be a mother.

    To which of course I responded, “rubbish.” This is not a one size fits all. A significnatly growing number of women don’t want kids, don’t have the urge, and live very fulfilled lives without offspring.

    It is dishonest and a disservice to tell women who are considering abortion (many of them on this forum are younger, probably not that self-aware yet) that motherhood is ALWAYS wonderful and that it is the highest calling of ALL women. Women should be given all the information, so that they can weigh all their options and make the most informed decision for themselves that they can, hopefully with clarity.

    So to idea that motherhood is the natural and true desire of every woman (whether she knows it or not), I say what utter and total nonsense.

  14. Thomas
    June 2, 2006 at 8:34 am

    Because I’m a parent, I have no sympathy for those that want to force the choice on others. It is hard. I had to put my son in the hands of a surgeon at five weeks — twice. Nobody ought to be obligated to that kind of worry and responsibility unless they volunteer.

  15. June 2, 2006 at 8:43 am

    I was estatic when my younger brother and his wife had their baby. My mother has never pressured either one of us on that front–it’s my aunts who constantly harass and badger “the kids” of the family to get married and have kids. Now that my brother has provided the first grandkid and my cousin is pregnant, the pressure is off me. I not only have no urge to reproduce, I don’t even want to get married. I’m one of those oddities who likes to be alone. Don’t ask me to explain it, because I just can’t. If I were a man I’d be a “confirmed bachelor.” But I’m a woman, so I guess it just makes me a freaky cat lady. I love my niece and it’s so awesome watching her grow into a little person. But I had to make enough of an adjustment with my personal space when I got pets. I don’t even like living with other adults, let alone kids. Yeah, I’m weird.

  16. June 2, 2006 at 8:48 am

    Meh, they act as though just having a child will shut them up, but child pushing never ends. Even as I go through a difficult unplanned pregnancy for the one and only child we want, my partner’s family is making exacerbated noises about how I’m selfishly denying our child a sibling. That all children must have siblings is an incontrovertible fact, the entire family has two children per couple with one exception due to death. Pointing out that not all siblings get along doesn’t phase them, they simply disbelieve. Getting irritated and pointing out that I’m an only child only reinforces them. See, aren’t I selfish? I only want one child, I wouldn’t be that way if I’d had a sibling like every child should… Fortunately I’m to the point where I just tell people to mind their own business, Italian family or no.

  17. Marian
    June 2, 2006 at 8:50 am

    Blitzgal–You’re lucky. In our family the pressure is on you no matter what, and it only seems to be on certain people. My grandmother has been pressuring me to get engaged since I was 18, and since my sister had the requisite ring-by-spring when she graduated, she didn’t have to hear it. But she did have to hear about kids since she was married 11 years before getting pregnant.

    Then take my cousins–one same age as I am; the other 2 years younger. Not married, no kids, no pressure. So they are allowed to be single and unattached at any age, but I was an old maid at 22. go figure.

  18. June 2, 2006 at 8:54 am

    Amanda: You’re totally right about “You’re just mad I get to sleep through the night, and you’re jealous I can up and leave my house whenever I want.” I’ve spent the last several years listening to my mom-friends complain about how tired, broke, unstimulated, and generally depressed having children has rendered them. Not to say a life without children is all daisies and sunshine, but honestly, if every molecule in my body isn’t screaming at me to have a baby, how the hell are their ‘testimonials’ about how wonderful having a kid is supposed to stack up from what I know is the real story? I think it’s the opposite of “the lady doth protest too much…” When I hear people carry on and on about how wonderful childrearing is, I often think “who you tryin’ to convince, there?”

  19. Marian
    June 2, 2006 at 9:20 am

    What about having children just to keep the population up so that the wrong people don’t outpopulate us (Jennifer roback Morse, Mark Steyn, etc., we’re looking at you)? Does anyone know anyone who has done that? Honestly? It seems to be a pundit talking point, but wouldn’t it be sad if someone had kids just for that reason?

  20. Norah
    June 2, 2006 at 9:23 am

    I’ve always wanted kids, am TTC right now, and I don’t get how the desire to remain childfree is “selfish”. Selfish to who? The nagger, usually an older family member? They’re being deprived of the right to…what? Buy you a crib for the baby shower?

    Selfish would be creating a child you didn’t want, and heaping your resentment onto it for the rest of your life.

  21. June 2, 2006 at 9:34 am

    a lot of people’s comments about how not having kids=committing suicide struck me as evidence that the process of procreation has and is being sold to people as a bulwark against existential crisis

    I don’t know – the comments equating not having kids with suicide came into the thread after an environmental argument had been made for not having kids. I’m entirely in favor of people not wanting kids not having them, and don’t think that Amanda not having kids is the least bit like suicide. But I think the environmental argument for not having kids is pretty weak, in that most people who really want kids aren’t going to choose not to have any at all based on whatever marginal effect on the environment their own individual kids would have, any more than most people would choose not to have sex, or to try to switch their sexual orientation, based on some marginal effect of their choices on the world at large.

    That said, I don’t think anyone should be pressured to have kids, including people whose personal reasons for not having them involve the environment (hey, whatever reasons you want to give are fine – what matters is that you don’t want them). I lean the same way as the Guardian article Peshna cites – I suspect that some of us probably naturally have more of an interest in parenthood than others (though social pressure is a huge factor in how many and which of us actually have children).

  22. zuzu
    June 2, 2006 at 9:36 am

    You think dealing with parental pressure to have kids is bad? Try finding a surgeon who’ll perform a tubal on a young, unmarried woman who knows she doesn’t want kids.

    I luckily found one through a friend who was in the same boat, but the doctor — even though she performed the surgery — still gave me a lot of static about not having a record of having asked for the surgery and been refused so that she had some documentation that I really reallyrillyrilly wanted it. Please. Why even ask if you don’t have the insurance to cover it? I happened to have a different health plan than I’d had previously when I made the request.

    And still, I had to go through a state-mandated one-month waiting period before I could get the surgery, sign umpteen release forms (more than for any other surgery I’ve had), and *still* have the doctor trying to talk me out of it on the table.

    Gah.

    By contrast, a friend of mine from law school went to the Planned Parenthood in Michigan and got it done with little fuss.

    And no, not a moment’s regret (well, except for when I woke up and was in pain from the gas they used for the laparoscopy — that hurt like hell). It’s also a nice way to cut off discussions of “maybe you’ll want them someday.”

  23. Marian
    June 2, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Norah–I work with a woman who just had a baby. she brought him in the other Friday, and she, the assistant, and this pregnant coworker were talking about “how do you know when you’re ready.” The lady with the baby said you just know. The pregnant lady said, “I never felt ready, but I was turning 37 and my mother lost her fertility at 40, so I figured I’d better.”

    I wonder if that qualifies as truly wanting a child, or just saying, “It’s what you’re supposed to do and I’m getting old, so I’d better.”

    I also don’t get what you’re depriving others of, other than bragging rights (“I have a grandchild/great-grandchild”). If I’d had a baby my first year of marriage, we would have been deep in debt (I was a temp, so that would have meant quitting, not maternity leave, and hubby at that time made $35k, in New Jersey), living in a cramped apartment with poor heating and A/C (what a way to leave a child open to sickness), and not emotionally ready, but what would my grandma have to do? See the child once a year, at Thanksgiving, and show pictures to her friends.

    The people who pressure us aren’t going to help pay for the child costs; they may provide childcare but not when they live 1000 miles away, and they won’t help us get a job to provide for that child, or help us buy a house. I would think having a child for somebody else is the *worst* reason in the world, and shame on them for thinking we owe them this!!

  24. Marian
    June 2, 2006 at 9:39 am

    Cross-posted so I missed it, but Zuzu, I actually know of a 23-year-old who got her tubes tied. She had to go through some hurdles to do it, but finally found a doctor who would.

  25. Spotted and Herbaceous Backson
    June 2, 2006 at 9:39 am

    Prudie has ticked me off before (refusing to support an overworked wife whose husband wouldn’t pitch in on housework) and I informed her of her malfeasance; maybe some of us should do that in addition to growling here.
    I recall being told as a teen that I would change my mind and start crankin’ em out. Guess what, at 50 I am still child-free and content.
    It might also be pointed out that one could adopt, teach, volunteer at schools and daycare and so on, etc.

  26. Molly
    June 2, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Selfish would be creating a child you didn’t want, and heaping your resentment onto it for the rest of your life.

    ****APPLAUSE*****

    That is EXACTLY how I feel.

  27. Kat
    June 2, 2006 at 9:56 am

    I’ve spent the last several years listening to my mom-friends complain about how tired, broke, unstimulated, and generally depressed having children has rendered them.

    Unfortunatly, the expectations of others don’t stop once you get pregnant. Once you become a parent, there is a whole other set of expectations to live up to to be a “good mother”. This leaves some moms thinking that if they aren’t tired and miserable they must not be doing enough for Little Johnny and Janie. So I think its not so much that this moms don’t love being a mom, but that they are still bending to pressure to be a mom in the “expected” way and are feeling guilt that they are not meeting standard and discontent in the way things are playing out. You have to shake expectations and find your own path, but this is tough when you’re surrounded by pressure to do things a certain way. There is lots of tongue-clucking and sideways stares directed at parents who don’t do things “right”.

    I had to put my son in the hands of a surgeon at five weeks — twice. Nobody ought to be obligated to that kind of worry and responsibility unless they volunteer.

    This is such a great point. My son has a disability, and it takes up tons of time and money and patience but I never regret it in part because I wanted him so badly to begin with.

    Even when you want to be a parent in the first place, there are days its overwhelming. I can’t imagine pressuring someone to deal with that without wanting it.

  28. Thomas
    June 2, 2006 at 10:03 am

    It’s also a nice way to cut off discussions of “maybe you’ll want them someday.”

    Heh. I’d love to watch someone walk into that wall.

    A woman my wife grew up with had it done in her twenties. She always knew she would not want kids. I’m not sure how many hurdles she had to jump through.

  29. zuzu
    June 2, 2006 at 10:09 am

    Another favorite of mine when someone gets too nosy with the “Why don’t you want children?” thing is to smile and say, “Oh, I had some.”

    Beat.

    “They were delicious.

    Because babies, as we know, are a good source of lipids.

  30. Peshna
    June 2, 2006 at 10:16 am

    bending to pressure to be a mom in the “expected” way

    And it appears to be expected that you become a mother in the “right” way too. Another friend of mine hadn’t met Mr. Right in time (she isn’t against marriage, but she really wanted to have a child) so she selected “daddy” from a check list at a sperm bank.

    She bumps into a LOT of attitude about being a “single mom by choice.” She also gets attitude about not having every part of her life REVOLVE around her child. She’s a wonderful mother who is providing very well for her child, emotionally, intellectually, and materially.

    But noooo…. The righteous masses have told her that it “does not compute” and that they know better than she does herself, how she should live her life.

    I wish people could learn to respect other people’s choices, even if that choice is not what they would choose personally.

  31. JenM
    June 2, 2006 at 10:31 am

    My doctor is a very nice sweet lady – but as we’ve been dealing with biopsies after abnormal Paps come back she always asks me “you haven’t had your children yet have you?” or makes a point to reassure me that I shouldn’t worry about being able to have children. I just smile at her.

    I’m in my mid 30’s and have single older friends who are stressed out b/c they do want children. They can’t believe its not one of my general life stress issues. When they ask I tell them I wouldn’t mind being a mother but absolutely do not want to be pregnant or even deal w/an infant – adopting a child would be a possibility though. I don’t care if that does sound selfish – just seems practical to me b/c while I enjoy caring for others especially a child who doesn’t have anyone seems a good thing to do that entire no sleep thing for 2 years would make me psychotic – and that’s definitely not good for a child.

  32. June 2, 2006 at 10:44 am

    zuzu — been there. I spent several years trying to find a Gyn who would perform a tubal on me. They refused on the grounds that I was too young. I asked them to tell me when, in their estimation, I was an “adult” who was capable of making these decisions. 22? 24? 26? Because if that was the case, I would just understand that I had to be celibate until I reached the age of my actual adulthood. One gyn suggested I “wait until I was married.” I asked her if she felt that it was a decision my husband needed to make for me.

    I finally found a nice surgeon who accepted that I was serious, that I knew what it entailed, and performed the tubal. I haven’t regretted it at all.

  33. June 2, 2006 at 10:46 am

    …Oh, and the best part of the tubal was being harrassed as I was going under by the nurse who was assisting the doctor– for being too young and insufficiently childed to be fit for a tubal.

  34. Chicklet
    June 2, 2006 at 11:05 am

    Childfree Abby rips into Prudie:

    http://fray.slate.com/?id=3936&m=17586455

  35. Raging Moderate
    June 2, 2006 at 11:18 am

    It seems to me, judging by the comments here and my own personal experience, that it’s mostly women who push the “mandatory motherhood” thing. I lived with a woman for six years. I remember being asked at family functions “when are you gonna get married and have kids”? We were asked that by two of my aunts and 2 female cousins. The same thing happened on her side of the family (we were asked the same question by my girlfriend’s mother and sister-in-law).

    I have never heard any of my male friends ask any other man when he was going to have children (or get married, for that matter).

    Maybe I’m completely off base here, but aside from the Bible-Thumpers, the “you should have children” line generally comes from women.

  36. June 2, 2006 at 11:21 am

    Amanda 1 & Mighty Ponygirl #18 – I think the push to have children is far more subversive than jealousy over the freedom being childless allows. Societal expectations aren’t built and maintained by jealousy, but an all encompassing expecation of what “one” does.

    The decision to have a child has to be the most relevant choice in the spectrum of personal freedom and responsibility. Fuck your parents, friends, and society, choosing to not have children is not selfish (Norah put it more artfully in #20).

    While there are greater issues behind it, think about how common it is for people to condemn the choice of an individual to get a tattoo that will last their lifetime…does anyone really think a child is less defining and permanent than a tattoo?

  37. June 2, 2006 at 11:25 am

    No one has parents who say, “I hope my child grows up to marry someone wonderful and they don’t have children together.”

    I like to think my little girl has a parent who can say, “I hope my child grows up to follow whatever path gives her the greatest happiness, and if it’s something that makes me a little wistful I’ll suck it up and remember it’s her life.”

  38. Thomas
    June 2, 2006 at 11:50 am

    Zuzu, try, “oh, after the first one, I don’t think the State wants me to have any more …”

  39. Kim
    June 2, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Those of us who are adamantly childless tend to view getting badgered like this as “misery loves company”

    Exactly! The underlying sentiment seems to be, “I had to change diapers! I had to spend a bundle on schooling! Who are you to get out of it?” Because it’s apparently never occured to them that one doesn’t have to breed.

    I think it’s weird that so many people have kids anyway. Being a good parent is not something that just anyone can do, but almost everyone feels entitled to have a go at it. I wouldn’t ask another being to put itself in my care: I know myself well enough to know that I’m bound to screw things up.

    Besides… rugrats would totally cut into my Me Time.

  40. June 2, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    I know someone who had a tubal in her early 20s — after a lot of trouble getting doctors to agree — and doesn’t regret it, despite deciding she wanted kids later. (Note: I don’t think this is common. She adopted.)

  41. June 2, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    i just have to share a retort, directed at a persistent questioner, penned by a very frustrated childfree friend on her blog awhile back. it was pretty over-the-top, but it made me laugh. i’m paraphrasing here…

    Q: “when are you going to have kids??”

    A: “the minute you die, so my children won’t ever have to deal with the nagging, self-righteous likes of you!”

  42. Oneiros Dreaming
    June 2, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    No one has parents who say, “I hope my child grows up to marry someone wonderful and they don’t have children together.”

    Well, except for the fact that I do. As does my sister.

    But of course, I’m a fucking no one. I don’t even write for Slate.com.

  43. Erin M
    June 2, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Re: zuzu #22

    Why do I get the feeling that this attitude is what contributes so heavily to the restrictions on GRS for trans folks. Yes, yes, there’s the whole “can you hack it in your new role” stuff in the HBIGDA guidelines, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s all about “Don’t remove your baby-making bits until we’re sure you’re that screwed up!”

  44. spectral_ev
    June 2, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    the people who are capable of making a decision and resisting social pressure are probably better for kids than the ones who don’t like kids but have them anyway. has anybody noticed how important aunts and uncles are in a family? you don’t have to have kids to be an important part of their lives.

  45. Norah
    June 2, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    “I hope my child grows up to follow whatever path gives her the greatest happiness, and if it’s something that makes me a little wistful I’ll suck it up and remember it’s her life.”

    Exactly, Nick. I can understand intellectually the temptation to see one’s own children as Mini-Me’s, simply extensions of their parents who will no doubt go on to live a better, richer, life; accomplishing all that the parents never had the chance to…but when I do have kids I will fight that temptation as hard as I can.

    Also: the comments you guys are making about having to jump through hoops to find a surgeon to tie your tubes because you’re young childless women really bug me. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to sign some sort of paper stating you’re aware of the risks and the irreversability, just so all butts are covered; but I don’t see why it should be so much harder for women wanting a tubal than men wanting a vasectomy. Male or female patient, sign the paper, do the procedure.

  46. June 2, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    Exactly! The underlying sentiment seems to be, “I had to change diapers! I had to spend a bundle on schooling! Who are you to get out of it?” Because it’s apparently never occured to them that one doesn’t have to breed.

    Well what really bugs me about the “selfish” argument is that they are deliberately ignoring that childless people contribute to the “village” that raises children. I pay taxes, happily, because I want kids to have good schools. I politically agitate for things that I won’t see the results of in my lifetime.

  47. sam
    June 2, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    “I hope my child grows up to follow whatever path gives her the greatest happiness, and if it’s something that makes me a little wistful I’ll suck it up and remember it’s her life.”

    Heh. I never wanted kids, and have a fairly low tolerance for them (my friends’ very adorable babies notwithstanding). I worked with kids for a number of years and was generally relieved when I’d get to “give them back” at the end of the day.

    My mom used to joke that I’d make a horrible mother (seriously, she was just joking – we’re sarcastic new yorkers), but she was more serious when she would point out that at least I was smart enough, and unselfish enough to know my own limitations, wants and desires.

    Actually, the only time she ever pressured me to have a baby was when she was dying, and even then it was sort of a joke (as much as one can joke when dying of cancer at 49) – totally knowing that I would never have kids, she’d tell me to go get “knocked up” so that she could have grandkids before she was gone. Then I could just leave them by the side of the road once she’d had her fill.

  48. Sjofn
    June 2, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    Me: Well, possibly. Not anytime soon. Neither one of us is sure we want to be parents.

    Him: I get that. I know other people who don’t want to have kids either. That’s cool.

    Me: Yeah. It’s a big decision, and one we don’t want to make lightly. On top of which, I’ve never had the biological urge to have a baby myself. It wigs me out a bit. If we do have kids, it’s just as likely we’ll adopt rather than have kids ourselves.

    Him: What? Are you really *that* selfish?

    Me: …..

    Oh my God, YES. My husband and I are iffy on if we want to ever have kids, but we’ve both agreed that if we have them, we are adopting them, because neither of us feel the need to make one ourselves (in fact, I don’t think I adequately describe the intense desire I have to NEVER BE PREGNANT EVER). He mentioned this offhandedly to some of our friends, and there was a change in the air after he said it. None of them were as obnoxious as the dude in your story, but there was definite sense of, “Oh, is that ALL?”

    He laughs it off, but it really, really bothers me. Rrgh!

  49. jenofiniquity
    June 2, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    That is why Cain says women who do not want kids should ignore the well-meaning advice they’re often bombarded with. “Don’t second-guess yourself,” she says. “Trust your instincts.”

    Oh, yeah. I’m one of those women who never felt the urge to get pregnant or have a child, and was determined to remain childless, and for a variety of reasons I went ahead and had a couple of ’em anyway. So on the one hand, I have these two interesting and sweet children who I love more than anything, and on the other hand, I know that I’d really have to think hard about having them again were I given the choice to live the last 12 years over. Loving them has never gotten me over my intense dislike of the duties and strictures of parenting, and my anger at the impossibilities that are expected of me as a mother. Like cognitive dissonance? Try living with that for awhile.

  50. June 2, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    Sjofn:

    I think I understand that need. If there’s kids in my future, they will be someone else’s before they get to me. My fiance is rather flexible…kids/no kids make your own/adopt – whatever, it’s mostly up to me. Obviously the first question can’t be answered until we both are sure of what we want, but the second is non-negotiable. The day we decide we want kids is the day we start finding out exactly what kind of hassle and expense we’re in for in the adoption process.

  51. June 2, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    Ugh. I got so annoyed I wrote a response to Prudence. I don’t know if they do what Savage Love does and publish responses, but if not, here’s what I said:

    Dear Prudence,

    As a childfree woman, I found your response to No Child of Mine highly inappropriate. It is already very hard for those of us who don’t want children to have our position respected, and your lack of taking her and her husband’s desire not to have children seriously is exactly the same problem that lead her to seek advice from you!

    Not everyone wants kids. Those of us who don’t should not have to be subjected to a litany of “well meaning” people who think that their way is the only way. And, like it or not, that’s where you went last week when you threw your lot in with the ones telling No and her husband that they were wrong.

    – Childfree and Proud

  52. Sjofn
    June 2, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    Kyso:

    What’s awesome is I can totally blame my mother. She’s always been almost disturbingly honest about how much pregnancy and childbirth took out of her, and that while she loves us all very much, it sucked and women should really be warned better. So she’s not allowed to fuss about it (and to her credit, she’s been the least naggy of the four parents about Where are the Grandkids).

  53. Marion
    June 2, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    I didn’t want kids. Then I did. Then it took a while. I’ll be 38 when this baby’s born and I feel really lucky about the whole thing and how it’s working out. At first I loved the unexpected support I got from other women in this small town – total strangers. It felt lovely. Now it weirds me out a bit. I think, where was all this approval for the last 13 years I lived here? I was real then too. In fact, this is the first “general populace” approval I’ve gotten, ever. Will it last? Or is it just for pregnant women?

  54. evil_fizz
    June 2, 2006 at 9:52 pm

    On the topic of tubal ligations for young women: I think doctors are sincerely worried about their potential liability if a patient decides later that she wants to have kids. I know I’d be nervous to perform such a procedure, although I’d have the same misgivings about performing a vasectomy on a younger man. Incidentially, does anyone know of a man who had a vasectomy in, say, his twenties, whom people criticized for it?

  55. June 2, 2006 at 9:59 pm

    Update! Abby Gets it Right (see second letter).

    Amazing that the two columns bear the same date and everything.

    (Take a lesson, Prudie.)

  56. June 2, 2006 at 11:07 pm

    @ Raging Moderate: Most of the people I work with happen to be male, and I’ve gotten strong reactions from two of those men so far. When they heard we* don’t want children, they each (separately, they weren’t in the room together during either convo) gave me patronizing looks (I’m a generation younger) and more or less told me I’d grow out of it.

    Come to think of it, both my mother and my mother-in-law do the same thing. I’ve been open and honest with them about it to try to prevent misunderstandings, but I might as well be talking to a wall. My MIL doesn’t bother me about it, but she’s hoping. My mother drives me nuts about it and just keeps assuming it’s some stage I’ll outgrow. Her method of “helping” me outgrow it is to just assume I’m not serious and I don’t really mean it, and make endless comments like “oh, you’ll have to move out of your city apartment and into the suburbs when you have kids.” Oi.

    Even one of my best friends, who’s actively supportive of our decision, asked me the other day: “What if you change your mind?” When I replied that we could always adopt, she seemed far more concerned about her following question, “what if your husband changes his mind?”, than any opinion I might even have about it.

    In fact, that’s one of the most common reactions I receive about the whole thing: that no matter what I want, surely my husband wants (or will want) kids, and surely I wouldn’t stand in his way!

    * My husband doesn’t have any desire for children either and is pondering a vasectomy, since his option for getting fixed is much less invasive and painful than mine.

  57. Harrison
    June 2, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    Interesting topic. My wife and I are in our forties, married for 20 years and happily sans children. We have noticed a change over time in the reaction of many people to our decision not to have children. When we were first married, we got a fair amount of static from people. As the years have passed, however, more and more people have said things like, “Well, with all the unwanted kids in the world, it’s good that you know what you want!” We simply smile knowingly, although we sometimes want to say, “No s—, Sherlock!”

    As we have gotten older, we’ve generally gotten less diplomatic about it. This is who we are, take it or lump it. Of course, our true friends and the family members whose opinions we care about have always been cool about it.

    When I get this reaction: “You don’t ever want to have kids? Why? Don’t you like children?” My response is often: “I like elephants, too, but that doesn’t mean I want one!”

    My wife, who has gotten more static about it than I have (because she’s a woman and therefore supposed to want kids? Ha!), will sometimes come back with: “I like children. Fried!” That usually elicits nervous laughter and a change of subject. (Our thanks to W.C. Fields.)

  58. June 3, 2006 at 1:01 am

    But I think the environmental argument for not having kids is pretty weak, in that most people who really want kids aren’t going to choose not to have any at all based on whatever marginal effect on the environment their own individual kids would have, any more than most people would choose not to have sex, or to try to switch their sexual orientation, based on some marginal effect of their choices on the world at large.

    Shrug. Count me as evidence against that idea.

  59. June 3, 2006 at 1:55 am

    Shrug. Count me as evidence against that idea.

    But do you find it acutely painful to give up having kids for the sake of the environment? Or do you simply enjoy kids, but feel you can live without personally being a parent, given that the environment would benefit from having fewer people? No, you don’t have to answer that – it’s not my business, and it’s mainly a rhetorical question.

    My point is that I’ve spent a lot of time around groups for infertile people, people who really, really want kids, to the point of getting depressed every month when the pregnancy doesn’t come. Maybe that skews my perception a bit, and I’m ignoring some large part of the population who feel sort of moderately about the question. But to me it seems that having children or not is something many people feel very strongly about, to the point that they’ll profoundly regret not being able to make the choice they prefer. That’s why I feel so strongly that couples should be matched on this matter to start with, and be ready to cut each other loose and not marry if they’re deeply divided.

    I have my ethical limits on how far I’m willing to use medical resources to bring another person into the world. But not doing that was one of the hardest choices I’ve had to make in my life. I can’t make myself the sort of person who doesn’t long for children. And I can’t think of a harder choice to make, purely on environmental grounds, if I had the normal sort of life where being childless takes years of vigilance, rather than the life I actually have, where becoming a parent (whether by birth or adoption) would take exhorbitant amounts of money and stress and uncertainty of success.

    It’s hard for me to think of a more difficult choice to ask people to make on behalf of the world at large, rather than from their own gut feelings. In either direction – whether it’s choosing for parenthood to benefit others, or choosing against parenthood to benefit others. The effect on your own life is so huge, compared to the effect on all those other people who may be interested in your decision.

    (Choosing between adoption and giving birth might be a bit more susceptible to influence, though I’m not sure about this, since some infertile people seem to feel a lot more strongly than I do about the giving birth part of the deal.)

  60. June 3, 2006 at 2:18 am

    Well what really bugs me about the “selfish” argument is that they are deliberately ignoring that childless people contribute to the “village” that raises children.

    Totally agree here. If I were making any judgments about who is “selfish,” I think I’d make them more on how people (childless or parents) are willing to contribute to the “village” than on whether they have kids or not.

  61. Em
    June 3, 2006 at 9:05 am

    To Peshna, #6:
    I’ve had the thought that the growing number of people who don’t want to reproduce is a self-limiting effort on the part of the species. So what do we do? Call for everyone to reproduce anyway. Hey, mind over matter!

    To celticfeminist, #11:
    I have never in my life heard adoption called a selfish choice. I have no idea what he was even trying to say to you. How ridiculous.

    To Peshna, #9:
    Oh, I definitely know folks who had kids b/c they had plans for them. Funny how kids are their own entities and can completely flummox one’s grand scheme. Do they regret it now? I’m pretty sure they do. The whole family is miserable, at any rate.

    To Raging Moderate, #35:
    I think you’re right, but the reason men may nag is different. Women get static from men and other women b/c they’re seen as resisting the one thing that is supposed to fulfill their life’s purpose. Men nag other men b/c spreading one’s genes is a supposedly easy thing to do and it’s hard to understand why a guy just doesn’t go and do it. “What, you haven’t had a kid yet? Come on, what are you waiting for?”

    To Nick Kittle, #37:
    Are you my mom?

    To Erin M., #43:
    Oh, no doubt. Cisgendered women often have a hard time finding a doctor who will do a regular breast reduction if they’re young, unmarried, or childless, and not completely unproportionally gargantuan-sized in the boob area. It could argued that breasts have a social and pleasureable sexual function that the lower bits don’t have, but most of these women don’t want to be flat. So what’s the excuse? That they won’t be able to breastfeed. Except that experience has shown that having big knockers means it is usually difficult to breastfeed anyway, what with the boobs getting in the way of holding the kid, and the difficulty kids have with latching onto a breast that weighs more than they do, and the reality that the weight of large breasts can stress the milk ducts and cause them to produce less milk than they would if they were otherwise unencumbered.

    As someone who is very much in the middle genderwise and with absolutely no desire to reproduce, most surgeons would nevertheless reject my request for top surgery simply b/c my visible gender is woman; thus, there must be something very wrong with me if I not only didn’t want the Baybee, but also wanted get rid of the milk factories completely. I played the game and got The Letter, but it is absolutely outrageous that body parts that are essentially cosmetic in the absence of reproduction require more than informed consent to alter. Gender is complicated! If I were more binary-identified, I might be able to explain more adequately why I don’t want tits. But should I have to explain? We don’t require psychological diagnosis to qualify to reproduce, and that decision affects the child and everyone else. Me having a flat chest affects me and any partners I may have. There is, of course, the argument that not following the SOC can allow a person who is not completely sure to take steps they’ll later regret. I say this is rather like choosing to drive a car without a seatbelt. It may affect only you, but it’s still a grave decision. Failing to think it through carries the possibility that you’ll fuck up your life severely, and there’ll be no one to blame but you.

    Of course, reproduction worship isn’t the only part of it. Breast implants screw with breastfeeding too, but implant patients don’t need to be diagnosed with Small Breast Dysphoria to qualify for their procedure.

  62. Cassandra
    June 4, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    No one has parents who say, “I hope my child grows up to marry someone wonderful and they don’t have children together.”

    When I was younger and very anti-my-having-kids, my mom always told me she felt the same at my age but changed her mind. She’s chilled a bunch in recent years (though: she has always been an incredible and very chill mom, that something so small as that was one of my pet peeves about her, I think, speaks volumes of her mothering skills) (also: I’m only eighteen now, so she chilled pretty quick), and a few days ago she said to me:

    “I don’t care if you have children or not, but I’ll kill you if you’re a bad parent.”

    She was, obviously, mostly kidding (another sarcastic New Yorker here!), but she was serious about the fact that to her, parenting is something that is hard and should only be undertaken by people who think they can do it right. Ironically, nowadays I’m a little more “whatever” about the kids question (sort of like I used to be mostly atheist and now I’m a hardcore agnostic), and part of that is do to seeing how my mother and I are actually friends, something that I think can happen only if a parent is a really good parent, but that is really wonderful when it does.

  63. Barbara P
    June 5, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    When I was 23 and announced to my mom that I was pregnant with my daughter, her first words were “you idiot!” She felt I was too young, I guess.

    My daughter is now 7 and now my mom has been nagging me for the past 3 years to have another. There is truly no pleasing her, apparently.

    Luckily, I don’t have any regrets whatsoever about having a child. But I agree with the above poster that I DO resent all the unspoken and vague social expectations on me as a mother.

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