My husband and I don't want to have kids now... or ever. When I revealed our decision to a close girlfriend, she responded with shock. "Wow. Well, just don't ever tell anyone. Just lie and say you're thinking about it." Her husband then explained to my husband and me that "We are Catholic. You do know that THE reason we get married is to have kids?" Hearing this, I had to look around to be sure it was 2012 A.D, and to see whether anyone else had found this open disapproval as offensive and comical as I had.
On another occasion, a friend reacted in a similar manner, saying, "Well, just don't ever become one of those women with a chip on their shoulder because you don't have children." What does that even mean? Why can't I just be me, a happy married woman without children?
The three friends I mentioned are all in their 20's, married, successful, educated, living in D.C. and, obviously, planning to someday have children. While society as a whole is becoming considerably more tolerant of non-traditional families, these conversations, among others, have led me to believe that the "purposely childless family" isn't quite socially acceptable yet.
I respect my friends' beliefs and choices for their own lives. But I have to ask: Is society so closed-minded that parenting can't be an individual choice made without criticism? Sure, most married couples have children or plan to (or so it seems), but why is there a stigma around those who don't? Why do we assume that when a married couple has no children they are either a) planning on it b) unable to do so or c) sad freaks of societal nature?
My husband and I have been married for two years and together for eight. You could say we are the classic college sweethearts, as we did a lot by the book. After graduation we followed great career opportunities to DC. We married at 25 (me) and 30 (him) and soon after, we bought a house in a quaint DC suburb. Yes, we wanted a yard and a large covered front porch -- but we also wanted to be within walking distance to the metro so that we could continue to enjoy the urban life with our still-single friends.
Next, we got a puppy, Cowboy, and he quickly became the main focus of our Facebook posts. But then what? Surely after having good jobs, marriage, a house and a dog, a baby should be at least in the works? Especially since my "clock is ticking," right? Many people told us we would "never truly be ready to have children." We were in a moment where, on paper, we actually did feel ready. We found ourselves thinking that just because we were, didn't mean we necessarily should.
Don't get me wrong, my husband and I like children. He is especially incredible with them. We like playing with them, teaching them, learning from them, but we also very much enjoy returning to our diaper-free lives and quiet home. My husband and I have nieces and nephews who we adore, love, support and look forward to watching grow up to become amazing adults. However, after careful contemplation and observation of parents and their children around us, we decided that being close to them was already sufficiently rewarding for us. So why have our own?
Sure, we would enjoy crafting an adorable baby announcement, designing a luxe nursery and holding our baby for the first time. But the happy thought of these experiences do not overshadow the harsher realities of parenting: there will be sleepless nights, child care challenges, diaper changes, messy meals, little or no time for our own interests, discipline issues, financial stresses, public embarrassing tantrums, limited alone time and horrifying moments when we just will not know what to do no matter how many parenting books we have read. Simply put, it's just not for us.
In the two years we have been married, my husband and I have traveled all over the east and west coasts and Europe. We worked on a major kitchen renovation in our home. I graduated with my Masters and he will be doing the same this year. We have taken classes on food and wine. We bought our dream cars. We have both either been promoted or have taken a more rewarding opportunity. We have played on sports teams together. We have celebrated every milestone with travel, a new experience, or at the very least a bottle of bubbly. We have donated our time for good causes. We have explored new hobbies. We go out socially many weekdays and weekends with our single and married 20-30 something friends. Life is wonderful.
I have to ask (because it seems too many people are fearful to do so), why give any of this up? Many of my friends who have children have said it's the best thing that has ever happened to them. And I genuinely believe that. But somehow my husband and I know in our hearts it's not right for us. We are so very happy now. Not because of material possessions or the extra funds in the bank account -- but the FREEDOM.
The freedom to travel with just enough notice to pack our suitcases. The freedom to not plan my girls' nights and our date nights around a babysitter's schedule. The freedom to donate our time to others in need. The freedom to pick up and move anywhere and not have to worry about school districts. The freedom to make our bucket list a priority. The freedom to take as many honeymoons as we please. The freedom to sleep in. The freedom to make a few bad decisions because a little one isn't depending on us to make the right ones. The freedom to cook for two. The freedom to work incredibly hard in our careers. The freedom to resign from a job we may not be satisfied with. The freedom to have hobbies. The freedom to help care for our nieces, nephews and our friends' children. The freedom to put our marriage above all else.
A Canadian woman named Monica Zeniuk captured it quite well when she told a reporter in September, "The benefits of not having children are in the driveway, in our closet and stamped on our passports." Some could say our lifestyle is a phase, however, I think it defines us. I believe my husband and I are happily married because we both enjoy new experiences, travel and spontaneity with each other. And we agree on this incredibly significant issue. I don't believe in love at first sight or even soul mates. I do believe that if two people 1) get along and enjoy being with each other most of the time, 2) have physical chemistry, 3) share some -- not all -- interests and life goals, 4) communicate well, and 5) have limited outside stresses on their relationship, their marriage will most likely succeed. Knock on wood.
My husband and I have decided that children would be a joy but also a stress for the rest of our lives and that we just aren't excited to experience parenthood -- so why do it? It sounds selfish, but having a baby we aren't 110 percent excited about is more selfish in my book. We know in our hearts that it's healthy to be honest with ourselves about a decision that will change our lives like no other has.
So here is yet another reaction we've heard too many times: "Who will take care of you when you are old?" I deeply hope that people are not having kids to make sure someone takes care of them when they are senile. Why not take the money from the college education you didn't fund and pay a knowledgeable caretaker whose job it is to take care of you? Why burden your children in the prime of their lives with taking you in as you get older and more fragile? Producing a caretaker is the absolute wrong reason to bring new life into the world.
"What about feeding that maternal instinct in every woman?" Well, I definitely have it. I know I will get colorful comments for this, but the truth is our dog, Cowboy, is like our child and he completes our little family. My husband and I have to compromise on discipline, rewards, diet and training. We had to choose the right doggy daycare for him. We have to make sure to go to the veterinarian as needed. It goes without saying that the three of us are featured on the yearly Christmas card. I have even put a band-aid on him... He makes us happy with his affection, we worry about him when we are away, and he gets into trouble every now and then. This is the family that is right for us. We just hope our friends and loved ones can one day accept and respect that.
It was uplifting to find our newfound realization was not unprecedented when I sought out guidance. Jessica Valenti, author of the book Why Have Kids?, explores these notions through research and her own experiences as a new mother. My big takeaway in reading her book was that there is a vast disconnect between the aspiration of parenthood delivering true happiness and the reality of it. Regardless of their sincere love for their children, many new parents found themselves dissatisfied with their lifestyles. Yet for some peculiar reason, it's not quite acceptable to talk about it. To me, this is support that becoming a parent is a choice that should be questioned and significantly weighed so that the ultimate decision is a well-informed one.
I recognize that, although I may not desire my own children, there are many women who desperately do but aren't able to. As far as I know, I am a healthy female in my fertile "prime" and able to have children. As I consider this life decision, I'm also considering helping someone in need through egg donation. It makes me feel quite inspired to think I could change someone else's life for the better in such a monumental way. It may not be the choice for everyone in our shoes, but personally, it is an option my husband and I are researching and considering.
I believe children are a blessing in life, and I could not be happier for loved ones who choose to embark on the incredibly rewarding and challenging journey called parenthood. For some it is their true calling. But for others, myself and my husband included, it isn't. We should not judge, but embrace that couples who choose to be non-parents are merely being honest with themselves rather than embarking on a life-long journey they will not be satisfied with. Don't pity us. Don't question it. If you are our friends and loved ones, be happy for us. Because we are.