Today I saw a headline on the internets: “Cameron Diaz Defends Her Childless Status,” and I thought, why on Earth does she have to defend herself for that?
I haven’t given birth to any babies (or kittens for that matter). I am 42 years old, and if all goes to plan I never will give birth to any babies (or kittens). This is not because I hate children, or put my career first, or don’t have access to sperm, or want to party every night, or can’t afford it. It’s because I don’t want children. As hobbies go, I’m more likely to pick up needlepoint or learn martial arts than raise children full-time.
I don’t feel that Cameron Diaz should have to explain herself, and nor should I, but I’m going to try. It feels like we still carry around this sociocultural idea that women must want to reproduce… or there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. And it seems the vast majority of women do want to reproduce (or at least that’s what they say). Those of us who don’t either lack some vital nurturing instinct or we’re lying.
I beg to differ. In my 20’s I kind of thought I would have a baby one day. Just one — let’s not get carried away! Around the age of 26, I even kind of had the urge to get pregnant. That weird craving for tiny toes to put in my mouth. But I wasn’t particularly motivated, and my-future-ex-husband was nowhere near ready for that conversation. By my early 30’s I had decided: I don’t want babies.
There wasn’t a life-changing moment or tearful conversation. I just thought about it one day and realized I like the shape of my life without babies. My life wasn’t/ isn’t perfect, but when I envision my perfect life it does not include 3AM feedings or potty training. I admire people who go through those years of transitioning a squalling lump into a small person. But I don’t envy them.
Maybe if I hadn’t gotten divorced at 32 I would have changed my mind. I had to decide whether to allow my biological clock to influence my forays into dating… and I didn’t. Women in their mid-30s who need to get pregnant asap are not fun to date. But honestly, I was more relieved than disappointed to let go of that possible future.
My mother is mentally ill, and there is more mental illness in our family history. If I had children, they would have a higher than normal likelihood of suffering severe mental illness and/ or substance abuse issues. I don’t think genetic roulette should keep anyone from having children, but if my child became mentally ill it would feel like punishment. I already lived through a childhood with my mother.
I’m not a pessimist, but I am a realist. I don’t see us doing enough to stop the domino effect of climate change, and while I don’t know if we’ll see apocalyptic floods, fires, droughts, and famines in the next 50 years, we will see some degree of all of those things. People who have kids must think about that… and they must assume that the future will somehow turn out to be floating cities and robot maids. Otherwise, I can’t see how they’d feel comfortable sending their offspring toward a future when they may not be able to go outside half of the year and have to fight starvation every day… during their golden years.
When people asked (and they magically stopped asking when I hit 40) whether I wanted kids, I generally responded, “I can adopt in my 40s if I decide I want that.” And if I become independently wealthy I might consider doing so. More likely, I may get involved with someone who already has kids. 75% or more of men in my dating class are divorced with part-time kids. I’d be a good stepmom, I think, provided the kids aren’t totally obnoxious.
I don’t think it’s strange to live a life without children or the idea of children as a central pillar. In fact, it feels a bit healthier than the people who jump through emotional and medical hoops to produce offspring. But different people have different priorities, and I have profound respect for those who decide to be parents. I just hope they have the same respect for those of us who choose not to.