Musings Induced by a Kid-Free Life
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I did not see this phase of my life coming. Being a smidge off-kilter in the social department is a given for most creatives, but being blindsided to this extreme is exactly what my freakishly keen foresight is supposed to prevent. I am now fully aware of the following:

A lump of giraffe-shaped silicone meant for gumming to death can run twenty-five dollars.

Something else must be wrong with a child who does not suffer from at least one food allergy.

First-year birthday parties are reminiscent of cutthroat fashion shows; with extra squealing.

Women with children to any other woman above age 21: “Do you have children?”

Breastfeeding apparently requires direct permission from a higher power to work properly.

None of the above relates to me. It never will, much to the apparent disappointment of nearly every mother in my vicinity. I was dragged into all of these revelations quite by accident. If only I could bask in my joint decision with my husband to relish the freedom to travel without external static and off comments. “You will change your mind”, or “But raising children is an experience like no other” are my favorite methods of persuasion. 

The one topping the audacity list is, “You may regret not having them when you’re older.” 

Even after explaining the logic backing my decision for the course of my own life, many mothers have gazed upon me as though their teenage daughter just announced her calling is to write poetry in bathroom stalls. 

I’m thirty-five years old. Because I do not wear makeup or regularly sizzle in the sun, many people mistake me for mid-twenties. This likely prompts the earlier persuasion of “you will change your mind.” Should I reveal my actual age, their strategy shifts to, “you still have time.” Then, I proudly whip out the fact that my husband and I made sure we don’t have an accident, and… cue blank stare from impassable roadblock in conversation. I have learned to accept the awkward silence or amusing spectacle of another woman finding herself dumbstruck over a situation that has nothing at all to do with her. 

But my question is this: Why are these reactions commonplace?

Are most mothers simply unable to fathom an alternate life without children? Or do some secretly deplore the task and desire other women to experience the what they could never label aloud as torture? Either way, it’s their life, their choice. In no way would I attempt to persuade a mother that not having children is a better option for her. It’s just a better option for me. 

I could regale you of all the details and hundreds of reasons that brought me to this conclusion, but I shall be respectful of your time and instead offer this quick scenario. 

Some years back, I was attending a child’s birthday party hosted by one of my husband’s friends. Mothers chased toddlers with sticky fingers while men grasped beer cans and observed from a safe distance. I couldn’t stomach another kid-centered conversation and had exhausted the time deemed appropriate to hang with the menfolk. I meandered to the living room where a woman around my age stood gazing down at her toddler in indifferent silence. A short conversation revealed something that frightened me.

I envisioned myself in her place. Clearly.

Exhausted, trapped, encumbered; feeling none of the joy which was present in varying increments among all the other mothers at the party. Maternal instincts kick in, sure. But true joy? That feeling that children complete you? The horrifying reality is that it does not happen for everyone. I cannot express how much I appreciated her honesty.

I’m naturally inclined to be free-spirited. Drop everything and go for a morning run? Plan a last-minute road trip? Go for a walk after dinner with just my husband? A piece of me would die if I relinquished the freedom to just go.

I’m totally uninterested in being the sole responsible party if a child is wobbling toward a socket while brandishing a metallic object. (Of course, I wouldn’t allow the end result if I could prevent it.) 

I do not enjoy cleaning up after others, no matter if they come up to my knees or tower over my below average height. My mother, in an attempt to fix one of my sister’s countless horrible decisions, tried to guilt me into adopting two of my nephews spur of the moment when my sister gave up custody to her first ex-husband on a whim. I said no.

The point is this; I do not find fulfillment in keeping constant vigil over something vulnerable. Or having my sleep interrupted when I struggle to average a lofty five broken hours as is. Or taking part in the wars of differing views over breastfeeding, vaccines, and the dreaded topic of Santa as a real being or a myth. Mom culture can be brutal and greatly contrasts with my motto of “keep on smiling”.

Kudos to the moms out there who do it well. I truly do have a deep respect for those who allot the time and attention required to raise children properly. Even more so if they genuinely enjoy the process. You are a minority among a culture “empowering” women to do everything themselves; which is impossible to do well.

Time to dial it back. Why am I even writing this? Quite simply, I feel as though I represent a minority. 

My voice is minute in a world where childbearing is still subconsciously viewed as some sort of holy grail of womanhood or a natural progression of prosperity. Again, no judgment here if this is your formula and it works for you. My mother-in-law informed me that she believed she would have been a waste of a human being if she never had children. I feel the exact opposite, though I am certainly grateful she brought my husband into the world.

My lack of desire to have or raise children is not because I dislike them. I have three nephews with whom I have spent a decent chunk of time playing “the fun aunt”. Hide-and-seek, pool visits, and video games? I can handle that for a little while. Screaming over one refusing to share the game tablet with another? No, thank you. Catching poop in the air with my bare hands during potty training? Double nope! Changing pants that have been wet during outings because mommy was too rushed to take her own child to the bathroom before she passed her to me? No again.

Allow me to pause. If I have zero desire to have my own children, how have I found myself locked in these scenarios multiple times with both friends and family? 

I cannot be alone in experiencing the backlash that being kid-free somehow makes other women view me as a free babysitter. Or worse; subject to the mindset that since everything I am doing is less demanding and significant than raising tiny humans, I should perpetually be on call when mommy needs someone to fill in. 

And when I refuse? Or decline a three-year-old birthday party invite where tantrums reign and the only topics entertained revolve around unrelatable food allergies, schools, and stretch marks? (Have you ever attempted to converse with mothers about anything but children at a place where kids are present?) Unfortunately, I have ended relationships with mom friends over shifting expectations and ensuing guilt trips. I was no longer a friend. I was on call for favors. 

I am not opposed to helping once in a while. However, the idea that I should endlessly cater to the whims of burned-out mothers because of circumstances I chose is not only ridiculous, it’s insulting.

No, I do not know what it’s like to go several days without sleep because the baby is sick and was upchucking strained carrots all night. What I do know is that I chose this path in life because I did not want any of that to be part of my story. 

Of course, I am aware that child-rearing is not entirely negative. And yes, I do believe motherhood is an experience like no other. I did not choose this path lightly. It took me several years of analyzing my expectations in life to land here, but I fully believe my husband and I made the right decision for us. Much of the free time I would have spent raising children goes instead to volunteering regularly and being a readily available shoulder for friends in need of assistance with other life issues; a role which most are too busy to fill. A portion of our extra income goes to support organizations which fund disaster relief and clean water projects around the world instead of kid's clothing and formula.

These areas are where I feel a strong calling. They truly fulfill me in a way that teaching etiquette and shaking baby powder on a chapped bottom cannot. Having no children frees up the time and funds to make it possible. While mothers are doing the admirable work of endeavoring to raise future upstanding members of society, I am doing my own part to help support those who struggle in other ways. Both causes are praiseworthy. Mine just does not directly involve having children under my care.

Here are my hopes for those still reading. 

The next time you feel tempted to persuade a young woman not planning to have children that she should rethink her decision, please pull back. Let her reach this life-altering conclusion with no additional pressure than that which already exists.

If you are blessed enough to have a kid-free friend who enjoys taking your little ones off your hands here and there, please take care not to abuse the service. As much as we appreciate “What would I do without you?” and “You really saved my skin!”, it’s comforting to know that there is still a kinship behind exhausted discussions of bottles and breast pumps. Make time for a girl’s night or lame movie with us after the kids are in bed. We were your friends before the baby came, and while we certainly understand that changes will take place, feeling used is upsetting.

And no, “Don’t you want grandchildren someday?” is not a valid argument for anyone to procreate. Saddling your unborn with expectations they may not want or even be physically able to achieve? What if they choose never to marry or are uninterested in the opposite gender? Loving unconditionally is difficult enough on its own.

To older parents, when you are tempted to whip out a hope chest for grandkids, please keep it to yourselves. No woman should ever feel pressured into having a baby only to realize too late that the void she needed to fill was elsewhere; especially if a marriage was already in jeopardy without the added stress of bringing children into the mix. 

Lastly, to those women who feel pressured to follow along with all their mom friends because it seems like a logical step forward, please evaluate your own circumstances. Do you enjoy being a provider? Are you okay with giving up most of your pastimes in favor of doing right by your future children? It’s okay if the answer is no. Please do not let anyone pull the selfish card on you. It has been said that you will never be sure you are ready, but there may be other areas of your life in need of work first.

One of the beautiful aspects of being a woman in the US is having the freedom to choose. Believe me when I say I am so very thankful to God that I was not born into a culture where a woman’s sole purpose lies in baby-making. Options are a blessing not all women enjoy. 

That said, please endeavor to keep your persuasive opinions surrounding the topic of children to yourselves. Speak positively about your own chosen path and listen politely when others share theirs. Less judgment, more kindness and encouragement. Whether we are wiping runny noses or meeting a friend for a therapeutic walk and talk, we all have the potential to make our own uplifting impact.

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