If there’s a default expectation for women, it’s Becoming A Mom.
Surely every one of us wants kids. Don’t we?
No, some of us do not.
I don’t have kids and never wanted to. Neither do either of my younger half-brothers. So, sadly — as those of us without kids often enjoy time spent with them — there are no children anywhere in our extended family, no nieces or nephews, no grandkids.
There’s a reason some women don’t want kids, but one we rarely discuss publicly.
Like me, some childfree women were parentified at an early age, pressed into premature service as the adult, the responsible one, the person who reluctantly but efficiently dealt with doctors and teachers and bankers and realtors and lawyers far too young — often because their parent(s) was/were mentally ill, and/or alcoholic or drug users and they had no other family to turn to.
This tends to make for lousy parenting, as your caregivers are often physically or emotionally absent or careless. Worse, they’re often exhaustingly selfish, needy, demanding, immature and insatiable.
Just like a baby.
Except that babies gurgle and coo and smell delicious and are charming as well as exhausting. They grow up and their needs change.
These sorts of parents rarely do. We often spend our childhoods and teen years and early adult years — the ones falsely glorified as a time of totally selfish independence and freedom — dreading the latest email or phone call signaling the next crisis. We may spend savings we barely have to repeatedly rush out and rescue our parent(s), as their own friends and even relatives burn out, give up and turn away.
So, by the time society expects us to start cooing lovingly over our own kids — as well as everyone else’s — you’re simply worn out. The whole idea of starting another job being someone’s caregiver and protector feels, as it is, overwhelming.
Nor do these sorts of parents want to baby-sit for you. Nor might you even trust them to do so, so the sort of automatic family support and love many people assume is normal and take for granted — and which makes parenthood look a lot more affordable and appealing — is never going to happen for us.
We rarely say this publicly because:
It’s not cool. If your Mom gets cancer or your Dad has a stroke, sure. People will be kind because they can relate. There are no pink ribbons for those of us carrying the weight of an alkie or a parent who’s in and out of mental hospitals.
These burdens are ugly and painful, and often only end when that parent dies or ends up in others’ professional care.
Non-mothers are often dismissed as selfish, cold, unloving bitches. Nice!
Non-mothers are pitied, their infertility assumed. It’s almost never seen as a deliberate choice.
Non-mothers are considered people who want nothing to do with children. Wrong! Kids are fine, and often fun. I just don’t want the lifelong responsibility for one, or several.
Here’s an excerpt from Jessica Valenti’s new book about women fed up after having had kids:
In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a “safe haven” law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off at a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.
Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here’s the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family — nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.
The Nebraska state government, realizing the tremendous mistake it had made, held a special session of the legislature to rewrite the law in order to add an age limitation. Governor Dave Heineman said the change would “put the focus back on the original intent of these laws, which is saving newborn babies and exempting a parent from prosecution for child abandonment. It should also prevent those outside the state from bringing their children to Nebraska in an attempt to secure services.”
One father dropped off his entire family.
On November 21, 2008, the last day that the safe haven law was in effect for children of all ages, a mother from Yolo County, California, drove over 1,200 miles to the Kimball County Hospital in Nebraska where she left her 14-year-old son.
What happened in Nebraska raises the question: If there were no consequences, how many of us would give up our kids?
How do you feel about having kids?
Do you feel pressured to become a parent?