By my age, most people are married, or at least have a solid divorce under their belt. They also usually have children, mortgage payments and at least one good suit.
I am 34 and none of these things apply to me. It’s as if my adulthood has been indefinitely postponed, except for the fact that my body is starting to wear gravity like a light shawl, pulling on me gently. Before long it will be on me like a heavy winter jacket.
There are times when I feel bad for not having these “adult” things. Not because I want to have kids, or that I even need a good suit, but because I feel that I SHOULD. Wouldn’t it be more acceptable to have the trappings of family life by now? Toddlers that will grow up to be trusted companions? A 401K plan? A husband? Yeah, it’d be nice.
Or would it? When I was growing up, the only examples of family life I ever saw included a lot of unhappy adults who felt trapped. This is the model on which I base my life. Commit to nothing and you will never be stuck in a bad marriage or disappointed by divorce. You will never be that red-haired woman sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, crying after signing her divorce papers. I must have been about 10 or so when this friend of the family came over to share the news with us. She was smoking a cigarette, and when she leaned over to put her face in her hands, she singed a bit of her red hair. When I think about marriage, I don’t see a blissful union between two people. I see her.
As for having children, I am torn. I like the idea of having grown kids who bring their friends and spouses over, who fill the house with life and activity. But that’s the problem – I imagine grown kids, not little kids. When I think of small children, I imagine restless and shrieking animals who demand attention, and then later, money. As a kid myself, I never daydreamed about having my own family, or played with baby dolls while fantasizing about motherhood. To this day, I have trouble picturing it. And as for that “ticking biological clock” thing, I don’t hear it. Not even the slightest tick.
Sure, sometimes I see happy families portrayed on TV and feel a slight pull. And I know my ovaries have an expiration date on them, so if I’m going to spawn, I’d better do it soon. But that strong desire just isn’t there. Shouldn’t kids be something you desperately want, or even need?
I do think about adoption. There are plenty of kids who need a loving home already, without me filling the planet with more of my own. This idea appeals to me quite a bit more. But as it stands right now, I’m just not ready.
My mother says you are never “ready” for children. She also says it’s best to have them when you’re young, and still too naïve to understand all the myriad ways you can screw a child up. Having children at a young age also means you still have that exuberant, youthful energy it takes to chase them around. Seeing as I’ve never had a whole lot of energy, even as a youngster, that’s one more strike against me as a future parent.
Another strike against me is this telling fact: children, more often than not, really annoy me. I’m told that it’s different when they’re yours, that you’ll love them because they are a part of you. But when I go to the park and a half a dozen kids start chasing my dog while shouting and grabbing for her tail, it makes me wonder if I am completely unsuited for parenthood.
I can see my 80 year old grandmother, wringing her hands and making that “tsk tsk” sound she makes when she disapproves of something. I see her clutching her chest, groaning, “Oy,” as she imagines her granddaughter as a barren old maid. But I am not daunted by those outdated views. There are times when I feel the pressure to catch up to my married and pregnant peers, thinking “What a sad, grown woman I am, single and childless.” But then I look around. I know just as many people my age who are un-tethered, and make no apologies for it. It seems, as the generations evolve, that more and more people are choosing not to have children.
I recently read an article in a feminist magazine about childlessness as a sort of “movement”. Many women are angry and feel stigmatized by society for not being a parent. There is a sense that they have to “explain” their childless status to a society who looks upon them with judgment or pity. These women firmly embrace their decision and want the world to accept it, too. It made me realize that there are a lot of women choosing not to procreate, and that it’s ok.
Understand, I am not a baby-hater. I think being a mother is one of the great, noble callings in life. The only thing that makes me feel regret, is that I might not get to experience the true selflessness of being a parent. I worry that I won’t mature to full capacity, or that I will become increasingly selfish. But these reasons alone are not enough to inspire me to run out and find a donor.
I am open to the possibility that one day I will hear the ticking of the proverbial “biological clock.” If that happens, I will embrace the idea of raising a family of my own. For now, I pour all those unused nurturing instincts into my 9-pound dog and feel content.