CANADA / USA
'Young women contemplating motherhood are often pressured to have children with the advice, “if you don’t have a baby, you’ll regret it later”. They don’t know whether this is true because there aren’t that many older women who have chosen to be childfree and can report back on how it turned out. But I am one of those women (63 at the time of writing), and am here to report that it turned out fine. I have absolutely no regrets.
From a young age (about 13), I knew that I was not keen on having children. Yes, I had some dolls, but in general I preferred stuffed animals and, later, toy horses. As a teenager, I hated babysitting: children were hard (impossible) to reason with, messy, and needed far too much attention. As someone with a tendency to anxiety, the idea of being fully responsible for another person, 24/7, for YEARS, was inconceivable to me. So was the idea of changing a diaper! I am a bit phobic about excrement and vomit, and could not imagine changing diapers several times a day. The whole idea of childcare seemed like a lot of work – drudgery, even - with very little reward.
In my teens (in the 70’s), I was first exposed to the concept of exponential population growth. Even as a teenager, I was horrified, and could clearly see that this was not sustainable. Unfortunately, even now, with decimation of natural resources, climate change, and other
serious environmental problems, some governments and individuals are still arguing that we need more people! These arguments seem to be based on two things: first, that growth is needed to sustain the Ponzi scheme that is a capitalism-based economy. More consumers
means more money in the pockets of certain individuals and corporations. This argument is often packaged as: we need more young people to support the aging older population. Not true. What we need is a better way of managing our society.
The second is the tribal-racist argument that “we need more [certain kinds of] people, because if we don’t, the [other race/religion] will take over the world”. This one’s been used by churches and religions as well as nationalist leaders and dictators. They use fear of “the others”
to drive behaviour (procreating) that increases their membership and therefore their money and power. But racing to outnumber other groups comes with the unfortunate prize of an overpopulated, dysfunctional planet. Perhaps it’s better to realize that, when it comes to the future of humanity, it’s more constructive to see us as all one race.
There are other, societal arguments that often come from friends and family. A friend told me recently that her thirty-something daughter was unsure about whether or not to have children. I offered to speak to her about my experience of having chosen not to. My friend declined, saying she wanted her daughter to speak to women who would encourage her to make the other choice. I found this sad. Why did she not want her daughter to have a balanced view and be able to make the choice that was right for her without pressure?
Here are some of the arguments that come from the people around us, and my responses to them.
“You will feel unfulfilled as a woman” – no, I don’t. Motherhood is not the only job available to women, and, just like every woman is not cut out to be a doctor, a police officer or an accountant, not every woman is cut out to be a mother. In my case, I became a lawyer and had a very enjoyable thirty-year career. For most of that time, I managed the legal department of a large insurance company. In many ways it was like having a giant family. I celebrated the births, cried over the deaths, supported people through personal and work-related crises. I also
felt like my brain was engaged and my personal strengths and talents were being used to their full potential. This would not have been the case had I felt like my only career option was motherhood.
“You would be a great mother” – not necessarily. Training someone in how to be a responsible, compassionate, and productive human being seems to me like it would be a very difficult job. While I may be patient, well-organized and generally kind, I would have probably also been
overprotective, anxious and perfectionistic. I would have struggled greatly with letting my child suffer, or risk danger. It would have been hard for him or her to learn and develop naturally by making mistakes and experiencing hurt and disappointment.
“Motherhood is a way to experience pure and unconditional love” – I am sure there are moments of this, but what about postpartum depression? What about a toddler or a teenager yelling that they hate you? Older children acting out or distancing themselves? I’m sure there are good moments that come from having children. But even now, I have friends whose adult children cause them enormous stress and have affected their ability to retire in financial and emotional comfort. And on the flip side, I’ve experienced pure and unconditional love in many scenarios that did not involve children. Children do not hold the monopoly on love. And nor does having them guarantee it.
“You will feel guilty for not providing your husband with children and your parents with grandchildren” – I married a man who did not want children either, so no problem there. Yes my mother would have liked to have had grandchildren (which seems odd, given that she wasn’t much into being a parent the first time around), but she was not located close by and her time with them would have been limited. Did I want to take on a full-time, 18-year commitment to care for people that she might see for a handful of days per year? No, I did not.
“You need to perpetuate your family line/your child might be the one to discover the cure for cancer” – my family line is nothing special, and does not bring anything of unusual value to the world. Of course there is a chance that my hypothetical child might do or be something brilliant – but they also might be a serial killer. In fact, I know more people whose children have killed someone than people whose child has done something of significant value to the human race.
“It’s important to have the community of family” – actually I have usually preferred the company of my friends over that of my family. Friends are chosen specifically for their personality traits and shared interests. Family is often “luck of the draw.” To be honest, I don’t really enjoy big family dinners or get-togethers with people I wouldn’t necessarily have selected as friends, but happen to be related to. My best social moments have been with friends, not family.
“You need someone to look after you when you are old” – first, there are no guarantees that your child will outlive you, and/or be able and willing to step up when you need them. I would rather pay for caregiving when necessary than put that kind of financial and emotional burden on my hypothetical child. I was the primary caregiver when my mother fell ill with her final illness; I was also the executor of her estate and the cleaner-out of her junk-filled house. It was an extremely emotional, stressful and physically debilitating period. I ended up with both physical and mental health problems. The best gift a parent can give a child is NOT to put them through that kind of suffering.
My parents never articulated it, but I always got the sense that they would not have had children, if they had had a choice. In their generation, there wasn’t one. I am constantly grateful for the fact that I did have a choice.
Really, I can’t see that there is anything that I have missed out on by reason of not having had children. I was able to have a career that, unlike childcare, utilized my strengths and talents, and made a contribution to society. Now retired, my time is my own – I have the time to exercise and maintain my health, read books, travel, do volunteer work – in short, do everything I want. I won’t even talk about the financial implications of having/not having children; suffice it to say that I have never had financial worries. I have lots of friends and social connections; I contribute to my community. I am also secure in the knowledge that I have not contributed to world overpopulation, nor do I have to worry about the future of my children or grandchildren. The human race may well solve its problems, and I sincerely hope that it does. But if it does not, so be it. I have no regrets.