No Kids? No Problem

Cover of "I Love You, Mommy (Little Golde...
Cover of I Love You, Mommy (Little Golden Book)

Here’s another salvo in the mommy wars, from writer Erica Jong, in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal:

Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness. Nannies are seldom photographed in these carefully arranged family scenes. We are to assume that all this baby-minding is painless, easy and cheap.

And a great recent essay on not ever wanting to be a mother, by Nanette Varian, in More magazine:

It’s not as if we “intentionals” are so rare. According to U.S. Census data, the percentage of women ages 40 to 44 who’ve never given birth has doubled over the past 30 years or so, and studies have finally begun to separate the nonparents-by-chance from the nonparents-by-choice, an important acknowledgment that, yes, some of us actually did want it this way. When the National Center for Health Statistics broke out the voluntary non-moms in 2002, it found that among women ages 35 to 44 who had never given birth, 7 percent (1.5 million) had chosen that route. And that 7 percent is making itself heard. In the past few years, there have been many cultural expressions of this choice: books, websites, blogs, newsgroups, Facebook pages, even entertainments like “Breeder Bingo” cards and drinking games (mark a box or down a shot every time someone chides you with a platitude like “It’s different when they’re your own!”).

As I face my progeny-free middle and older age, it’s comforting to see I’m not the only one waving good-bye, dry eyed, as the baby train leaves the station for good. But who are the other women on the platform with me?

I have no kids and, except for a brief period at the point at which the idea was largely moot — without $10,000-a-pop IVF interventions or international adoption — never wavered from that stance.

The insane fetishization of mothering/parenting/mommyhood is such a powerful way to (re)focus attention away from the larger political and economic forces that still make motherhood, for many women, exhausting, expensive and overwhelming. Peer pressure only adds to this.

Have I regretted not having kids? No.

Do I occasionally wish I had someone with my genes and values in the world, someone who would have whispered “I love you, Mommy” and hugged me fiercely? It’s not that simple.

Watching my friends negotiate motherhood has been instructive; for every woman who loves it, another struggles with wildly unequal childcare duties, career conflicts and children who bring as many intense, life-long challenges as joy, whether mild autism or severe mental illness, to name only two.

Many adult kids are now unemployed, some even flat broke and homeless, those who can even now moving back home with their children. The cycle now never ends. Independence is ever more elusive.

Motherhood has become proxy for caring, mentoring, giving of yourself, as if women without kids are incapable of this.

One new friend, a woman in her 40s who lives in Europe, has been called a bitch — to her face! — because she does not have kids (which she had very much hoped for.) Only raising children offers incontrovertible proof to the world (whose business it is because…?) you’re not selfish.

Hah! As if.

I grew up as the only child of a divorcee with chronic health issues and with very few friends in her town. I have never felt free of her needs. As I type this, she is in a hospital bed far away recovering from a broken hip. I’ve flown cross-continent twice for her various cancer surgeries, happily.

But now it never stops….and most of her poor health is self-inflicted.

That’s been quite enough stress for me, thanks.

No kids?

No problem.

8 thoughts on “No Kids? No Problem

  1. When I chat with people I inevitably bring up my kids (what can I say I’m a yuppie suburbanite). Being a non-me-monster I ask if the person I’m speaking with if they have kids.

    They respond one of two ways:
    1. With a great big smile… I respond, good for you: peace and quiet.
    2. With disappointment in their voice… I tell them: feel free to borrow mine — you’ll might not want kids by the time you’re done but you’ll have had the experience(it usually gets a smile unless they’re undergoing round 3 of invitro).

    There was a time when I said I’d never have kids. I did. It’s been quite an experience — impossible at times. But I can say that I’ve gotten so much more than I could have imagined from it.

    Wanna borrow my kids?


  2. As a mother who does indeed love being a mom, I often offer this nugget of wisdom to my friends who think they should become moms because it’s time: you are living the dream of millions of moms. There is a lot to be said for not joining the masses and staying childless. I frequently indulge in the fantasy of the path not taken.

  3. You’re going to get a lot of emails and responses on this one.

    I didn’t want kids because I thought that I would screw them up. (Who knows, maybe I am, and I was right.) But I couldn’t imagine life without my two little ones, and I am actually sad that I won’t have a third to the point that I think about it several times a week.

    My brother never had kids. He and his wife are lawyers with lots of hobbies — horses, electronics, travel, sporting events. His life is as full as mine. Just full of different things.

    There is no right or wrong here. Just individual preference.

  4. Hello from a fellow traveller. I feel for your friend: one of the things I love about London is nobody here seems to care that I don’t have kids, whereas in Australia I was forced to defend my choice at just about every social occasion outside my own circle of friends. And I get let off a lot of flak because my partner has children.

    I can quite honestly say motherhood has never beckoned me. As I approached my thirties, my friends told me my biological clock would kick in once I passed that milestone. It’s more than ten years later and there’s no sign of it. And now when I go for contraception the doctors talk to me about menopause!

    I’m glad to see the responses so far have not been divisive. I am supremely happy with what, for me, is a choice but I have friends who desperately want children and can’t, and others who didn’t want children but did. I see no benefit to anyone in making either group feel bad. But I am thankful that I’ve had the choice.

  5. Great post. I’m with you. I’m in my 30s and have no children – by choice. I have not grown up with the desire to get married, have kids and a house with a white picket fence. Personally, kids are not in my future. I don’t feel maternal and while I like kids, I also like having the option of giving them back to my friends and family when I’ve had enough. The thing that has irritated me the most: people who look at my with sympathetic eyes because I have no children. But most especially, those who inform me that I’m going to change my mind when I meet ‘the right person.’ At this age, I think I’m old enough to know what I want and what I don’t want, thank you very much. Making the choice to remain childless, does not make you a freak, nor does it necessitate pity or sympathy. Flying solo can be awesome.

  6. Love this post! I have no children or the desire to have children! I’ve never had that warm, fuzzy feeling when I see babies. I walk through stores with my iPod blasting in my ears so that I don’t have to hear grown people negotiating with whining children in Whole Foods lol. I agree with Ranndomized that the way some people act toward childless women is awful, as if our lives have no meaning. It’s usually those same people that feel like the rest of the world should change their lives and/or routines to accommodate their children i.e. moving out of the way for their car shopping carts so Johnny can play in the aisles at the grocery store, waiting for Johnny to get out of the middle of the street so I can drive to a meeting (heaven forbid a parent tell their kid to get out the middle of the street), and waiting at the self checkout while mommy teaches Johnny how to push the buttons! Shoot me please!

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