I always knew I did not want children. Always. My childhood idol was “Murphy Brown,” the caustic, brilliant, witty, complicated woman played by Candace Bergen on CBS. When her character made waves during the “American Family Values” era of the early 90s by having a child out of wedlock, the adults shrieked with horror over the impropriety, and I remember thinking, “I’ll never be able to relate to this woman’s story line now.” I was eleven.
As I grew older, my appreciation for parenthood and its sacrifices grew while my desire to engage in the entire business diminished. After I married my husband, who is also happy being childless, the self-admitted smugness over my decision was soon replaced with a need for talking points and a PR rep. You see, when you choose not to have children, people are fascinated with your decision. FASCINATED. They want to know all details, from decision-making influences to how I manage the eternal disappointment I have bestowed upon my mother and grandmothers.
This fascination is not limited to my close friends and family, as you would imagine are the only people with the audacity to dive very deeply into your reproductive decisions. I have had all sorts of strangers and mild acquaintances ask me why, oh WHY I would ever deprive the world of a blond, curly-haired, blue-eyed baby (these people are extraordinary visionaries of our unborn babies as well).
To save you from making anyone feel the cringe that innocent questions and comments can mistakenly cause, I have put together some questions and comments that can be off-putting for my mysterious, childless people.
You’ll notice I have geared this commentary toward speaking to childless women, and not men. That is not to say men aren’t ever interrogated for not having kids, but I have never heard anyone make these comments to my husband; yet I hear them on a regular basis. It’s not scientific, but it’s most definitely experiential.
“Why did you decide not to have kids?”
Personally, my list is very long. I could supply at least 20-30 solid reasons I did not become a mother, but my real reason is “I didn’t want to.” That’s it. I am lucky. Many people have a far more nuanced answer. Some people can’t have children, others may be trying unsuccessfully, some may be considering adoption and others may be having that discussion privately in their relationship. Some people are just plain terrified. The point is, you don’t need to know the answer and not asking this question can avoid discomfort.
“Who is going to take care of you when you’re older?”
This one is my favorite. You can actually see the other person picturing you old, alone, eating cat food in an alleyway, crying out for human beings you decided not to create. (At that point, I love to tell them that my family has extraordinary longevity in the family, so it will probably be even worse than they imagine). Everyone plans for their retirement differently, and while mine does not include moving in with my son at 75, it is an extra incentive to save in my retirement plan, take my vitamins, and practice planning habits that ensure I can count on myself to take care of…myself.
“You must hate kids.”
I do not hate kids. In fact, I can’t get enough of a chubby baby or all of the first day of school pictures on Facebook. On top of that, I’m actually GOOD with kids. Little people had nothing to do with my decision, so I assure you I am no Ms. Hannigan.
“You’d never understand–you don’t have kids.”
This is very true. I will never be able to feel firsthand what it is like to parent, to experience all of the squalls and the joys that come with having children. I will never raise a tiny baby into a full-grown adult. However, I promise I understand love, sadness, frustration, time management and that your children are the most important thing in your life. Just because I chose not to be a mother doesn’t mean I don’t have the utmost respect and compassion for the moms and dads out there, and while I don’t understand it, I get it. I get why you’re tired, why you’re stressed, why we haven’t had dinner in two years. I get it, I promise.
And the Grand Imperial Poobah of them all…
“That’s what I said too. Don’t worry; you’ll change your mind.”
Often said with patronizing reassurance, as if I now have permission to abandon this ridiculous, immature notion, this one is the hardest for me. It’s hard coming from strangers (“But you don’t even know me!” I want to yell like a cranky, petulant child), and it’s even harder coming from friends and family (“Don’t you even know me?!?” I want to yell like a misunderstood, tortured teenager). Moreover, as I round the age of 40, it’s just plain awkward.
So I plead: Do not fear us, we are almost just like you, except we have a lot less laundry and we can grocery shop in peace. Just don’t ask us if we think we will change our minds while standing in the checkout line.