While the decision to have or not have children might seem like a personal one, it’s a choice which is often heavily scrutinized by others. Not content with a simple and brief statement that one is interested (or not) in having children, people probe and poke. Call it insatiable curiosity, if you will, but it often seems rooted in cultural ideas about the ownership of women’s bodies. If you’re not having children and don’t want them, this makes you a threat. If you’re waiting to have children, well, gosh, what’s taking so long? And, if you have children, gee, how could you be so selfish? You just can’t win.
As someone who identifies as childfree, I’m often told that I’m going to change my mind and want children. It’s true, some people who claim that they don’t want children in their 20s do indeed later decide to have children. But I really, really, really do not want children. Not only that, there are actually some solid reasons I have for not wanting to have children. Those basically revolve around the fact that I would not be a good parent, at all, and I recognize that. What’s fascinating, though, is that even when I present people with this reasons, they still say that I’m going to change my mind or feel differently.
So, here are a few good reasons. A few of the reasons I do not have and never will have children. I don’t speak on behalf of anyone but myself, here, but I happen to think that some of these reasons are pretty damn good.
I think it’s been pretty well established that I don’t like children. Some people seem to think that this isn’t a legitimate reason for not wanting them, for some bizarre reason. (It seems to be centered around “oh, well, when it’s your child, you will feel differently.”) But, you know, the thing is, not everyone has to like children. It’s actually ok that some people don’t like them, as long as those people aren’t jerks about it. Not liking children doesn’t give me the right to be nasty to children or their parents, it just gives me the right to exercise autonomy over my body and life choices and not have them. After all, “if you don’t like it, don’t have one” is one of the cornerstones of my personal philosophy.
And it doesn’t mean that I don’t care about children. Things like child abuse make me very angry, just like abuse of dogs makes me angry even though I don’t like dogs. I can advocate for child welfare without needing to like children. I can believe that mothering is difficult and more social support and respect is needed for mothers (like, say, valuing unpaid work). I can believe that parenting is difficult without actually experiencing it.
But it goes beyond this, for me. It’s not just that I don’t like children, it’s that I’m not qualified, financially or emotionally, to care for them. Arguably, finances are something which can change. Emotions? Not so much. I have a serious temper problem. I freely admit this. I am also very much aware that children are one of the things which sets off my temper. I do not want to become a headline story on the late night news, or even an abusive parent who doesn’t do something remarkable enough to make the news. I recognize that children could potentially be endangered by being around me. That, right there? Pretty solid reason to not have children. If you recognize that you could potentially become an abusive parent, I think that gives you the right to take steps to ensure that you do not have children, and, to some extent, that you are never responsible for their care.
What is so weird about recognizing that I would be an unfit parent? I would think that people would respect that, and appreciate that I am self-aware enough to understand that raising children is not something I should be doing, even if I later decide that I want children. Instead, I’m informed that “it will all be different when it’s your child.” Maybe. But maybe not. And do you really want to risk the welfare of another human being to find out?
Furthermore, talking with my friend Hilary, she raised a point which I hadn’t really considered. She said that she would have a tough time making decisions on behalf of someone else, making huge life changing decisions for another person. And I realized, she’s right. I do have a really tough time with the idea of making choices for other people, especially if those choices turn out to be wrong, and parents need to make choices on behalf of their children. All the time, when they’re younger.
What if I have a child who is intersex? Am I ready to pick a sex for someone else, and hope it’s the right one, when the doctor pressures me into making a choice? Or am I going to choose not to perform nonconsensual surgery on another human being, and hope that the child doesn’t endure torment, mockery, and hatred from other children? What if I have a child with a severe medical condition which requires extensive treatment? Am I willing to force treatment on that child? Even if that child clearly doesn’t want it? Am I willing to justify forcing medical care on a minor with the argument that “ou doesn’t really understand” or “it’s all for ou own good”? What if I have to move cross country to take advantage of an opportunity? Am I going to wrench a child away from a familiar place and friends?
I can’t make those choices for other people. I can’t dictate things like that, because I believe that people have bodily autonomy and a right to be involved in decisionmaking. In a preverbal state, a child really is not empowered to make decisions. Or, a child may not be able to comprehend the potential consequences of a decision, for a variety of reasons ranging from mental incompetence to lack of experience. But, I can’t make a momentous choice for someone else. I just can’t. The very idea repels me. I hate the way this culture treats children and teenagers, and I don’t want to be a part of that system; even actively fighting against it as a parent (as some parents do), I would still be contributing to it, and I just can’t do that.
A few good reasons. A few good reasons no one ever seems to listen to, in their drive to meddle in my life and my choices. Funny how we disempower children and the women who have/don’t have them.