8 Women on Choosing Not to Have Kids
January 2, 2019 1:03 PM   Subscribe

 
Awesome post - thank you.
posted by darkstar at 1:10 PM on January 2


When people do express judgment, I try to be compassionate. And I know if someone is angry at me for not having kids, it’s probably because they’ve felt pressured themselves.

If I ever met someone who expressed anger at the number of kids someone has I’d be afraid and looking for the nearest exit and/or cop.

I’m glad the essay touched on childless kids wondering more about why people decide to have kids. For me it’s more a question of how. Are we all expected to have enough money & energy left over to support whole other people indefinitely? Just, how?
posted by bleep at 1:29 PM on January 2 [23 favorites]


But three years in, he admitted he’d always expected me to ‘come around’ to having kids and had assumed I was in a ‘phase.’

grrrrrrrrr hatehatehate
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:38 PM on January 2 [62 favorites]


I wrote childless kids up there when I meant to say childless people. Also raise your hand if you unconsciously think of yourself as a still a kid.
posted by bleep at 1:39 PM on January 2 [82 favorites]


Also raise your hand if you unconsciously think of yourself as a still a kid.

Pushing 50, father of two, mental self-image still stuck in the stammering, sweaty late teens most of the time.

In any case, I'm sorry people who do not want kids are still having to deal with this kind of pushback - it's something I never hear in my DC-based group of friends, who are all over the map in terms of family composition. Makes me wonder if it's more a feature of rural / suburban / exurban life, more conservative parts of the country, etc.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:44 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]


A great read! Thanks!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:54 PM on January 2


Makes me wonder if it's more a feature of rural / suburban / exurban life, more conservative parts of the country, etc.

I live in a bright blue suburb of LA, and I can personally tell you I have had many, many random people weigh in on how I should have children. (e.g. hairdressers, people at the gym, and so on.)
posted by tautological at 1:58 PM on January 2 [13 favorites]


IME it's not so much outright anger as passive-aggression and judgemental comments.

I should say my secondhand experience, because for reasons I can't fathom, I was never pressured that way even in a toxic, patriarchal family of origin. To financially support the family; to be a trophy and bragging object, yes, but never the grandkids line. Huh.

Never felt the calling, in any case, on top of a heavy dose of body horror around pregnancy. Plus, hey, toxic FOO = no (emotionally) safe free child care. That's easily overlooked as a factor.

But I wish I knew what it was that made people not pressure me, because I'd spread that advice far and wide. "Get people to pigeonhole you in some other role" is not something I'd recommend.

I liked the range of experiences in the article, though. Financial, cultural, personal history, goals, The Calling. It's different for different people.
posted by cage and aquarium at 1:59 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


I've spent most of my life telling people I am never having kids. I've said it thousands of times. I have a mock list of all the reasons I'm never having kids that I add things to when my child-having kids tell me about some horrible aspect of pregnancy or parenting, like "Reason #432, cankles".

I'm still not sure if I say that because I genuinely don't want kids or as a defence mechanism. If I say that I don't want kids, then the fact that I am fat and unattractive and single at 41 can't be the reason I don't have them, right?
posted by jacquilynne at 2:14 PM on January 2 [14 favorites]


The fact that I am almost never get such comments directed at me, personally, makes me think that I must be doing something right. Even if it's just projecting "praemunire will murder you if you make unsolicited judgments on her life choices."

It helps that my mom was so thoroughly exhausted by her own child-rearing experience that she's never wanted to push us. Even though, honestly, I know she'd love grandkids. You'd think, with five healthy adult children, you'd get at least one! (She has a step-grandchild, whom she loves, but the step- means she didn't get the whole wee-snuggly-baby-cute-toddler experience.)
posted by praemunire at 2:22 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


I really don't understand how people choose to have children right now. The world is a shitshow, the planet is dying... what kind of future are they going to have?
posted by elsietheeel at 2:22 PM on January 2 [63 favorites]


Because it's always been bleak, the whole human existence thing. But the times is only one very small reason I don't want any kids, so I imagine it's a small con for folks who do.
posted by agregoli at 2:25 PM on January 2 [11 favorites]


Or this is a great denial, and why "children are the future" is such a weirdly popular phrase.
posted by agregoli at 2:26 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


I'm bummed my wife gets asked about this all the time. I got a vasectomy in my twenties, and have never regretted it, but people almost never ask me if we're planning to have kids even if they don't know that. My wife gets all the questions. So many.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:26 PM on January 2 [12 favorites]


I really don't understand how people choose to have children right now. The world is a shitshow, the planet is dying... what kind of future are they going to have?

Roger that.

Honestly, I'm pretty depressed that we still have to have this conversation at all. I'm past childbearing age now, so I don't get it as much, but just the other day someone told me they're sad for me I wouldn't ever have grandchildren. I'm afraid my reaction was...not temperate. The person stammered and backpedaled and said that she was just saying it was a shame because I'd have made such a wonderful mother and blahdeeblahdeeblah, but you know, fuck that shit, hard. I'm just so fucking tired of people viewing woman as baby-bearing machines and acting like we're pathetic or defective when we choose not to be.
posted by holborne at 2:28 PM on January 2 [75 favorites]


The assumption that I didn't know my own mind and would suddenly be all MY OVARIES one day made me so angry. I would get this all the time, especially when I was engaged and married. I would have gone absolutely ballistic if my now-ex husband had pulled that crap on me. To his credit, he never even brought it up after we put it to rest when we were first dating.

I always wonder, if I were open about the abuse I endured as a little girl (not at the hand of a parent, but still), would people have recognized that I have autonomy?
posted by wellred at 2:28 PM on January 2 [10 favorites]


I've never wanted kids. So not having them is not really a choice; it's the absence of a choice. After all, not having children is the default state. We all start out that way.

Having children is a thing that other people do. And that's fine.

There are plenty of valid reasons to not have kids; this is true. But no one needs a reason not to do something they have no desire to do. In other words, I subscribe to the views expressed in the good old Bolivia blogpost.

It's a blessing and a daily joy to have a partner who feels exactly the same way. We have several pinball machines, though.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:38 PM on January 2 [25 favorites]


At some point fairly recently my mom apologized for having ever pressured me to have children, and I had to be like "ok thanks I appreciate that but I never felt pressured??" I mean, she'd say stuff about how she'd like grandchildren, I just... never considered that my problem, despite being her only child. Oddly no one else has ever given me pressure about it that I can remember. Luck? Some kind of aura? The premonition that if they asked I would respond honestly and say that being human seems like such a mixed bag that I wouldn't want to visit it on anyone without their consent?
posted by little cow make small moo at 2:41 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


I used to relate to the ambivalence described by the linked story at the end of the article. People really struggled to get that, as if reproductive decisions are made in binary and if you don't want children then surely you're disgusted by the very thought of their existence. I think they're awesome and I'm a school teacher.

My husband was much closer to not wanting children and for a couple of years I wondered whether I'd end up wanting them, whether this was a deal breaker. We eventually both became sure we didn't want any and now I tell people that we're not planning to have children and that we're happy as things are. That is another can of worms, the stigma of "selfishly" choosing your lifestyle over children. But we're happy. I think I would also be happy if I had children, but that's not the turn my life has taken. To me, that's a neutral statement about possible worlds and possible routes to happiness.
posted by mkdirusername at 2:42 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]


at a "business" dinner (after hours, off the clock, but you know...still coworkers), the three middle-aged white dudes at the table talked about their kids. Oh, one wrecked the car. The other chose NOT to go to her father's alma mater. A third has had the temerity to DATE a MAN, OPENLY, even though she is a GROWN WOMAN, my god, get the shotgun.

After a half hour of this, finally all three wheeled around to look at the 4 women.

"So: got kids?" (Apparently directed to all of us as a collective?)

Me: silent
Coworkers: silent
Boss: "Nope, not one kid among us. Guess we escaped!"

I love my boss.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:48 PM on January 2 [46 favorites]


I'm sorry people who do not want kids are still having to deal with this kind of pushback

It's deeply, deeply complicated, especially for people who grew up in or were raised by people from collectivist cultures, but who then raised their children in individualist cultures. Neither one is necessarily wrong, or bad, but it's really, really hard for people from each to understand each other.

I grew up believing that the needs of the family on the whole were more important than my own individual needs. In some ways, that was really good for members of my family, and it definitely helped The Family continue itself. In some ways, it was hard on members who didn't want to be tied to a larger entity. The struggle between my collectivist family and individualist societal upbringing is a clash each and every day, and nowhere more than in my reproductive choices, which I agonize over multiple times a day.

In my view, where the rubber meets the road is actually in Debbie's story, which is the one I find both most interesting and also heartbreaking. She is a first generation Taiwanese immigrant, and both of her parents sacrificed deeply for the rest of the family. But she intends to have no children, in part because she doesn't want to sacrifice as her parents sacrificed. Which is an eminently reasonable individualist perspective, but from a collectivist perspective is...less easy to emotionally understand.

For those of us whose grandparents sacrificed for our parents, who sacrificed for us, who in turn sacrifice for our children, it sometimes feels as though a social and familial violation has taken place when someone deliberately breaks that chain and chooses not to do it anymore. And I think that's kind of where those pressures come from, at least in some of these circumstances. Not because people intend to be cruel, but because of incomprehension and shock.
posted by corb at 2:52 PM on January 2 [58 favorites]


My (younger) sibling recently got married, which has in turn created a resurgence of prying questions about my own marital and reproductive choices (no and no). Between that and the holiday season, I have about had it with the personal questions from people ranging from family to vague acquaintances, so this article is very timely.

My answer to "What if you change your mind and decide you want kids?" is "It's a lot easier to change that than to have them and THEN change my mind."
posted by assenav at 2:52 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


I am positive neither of my step children will breed. I am reasonably certain one of my bio-children will not breed. The other bio-child, eh, not sure. And that's great.

What I do see among my younger friends is that those who are choosing to have children are doing so willingly and eagerly, and by and large they're very prepared to be parents -- and are pretty damn good ones, too. Like, woke, progressive, thoughtful, caring people who will raise smart, well-adjusted kids.

And I also have a lot of friends who are intentionally childless and will stay that way. And that's cool too!

I am all in favour of this kind of personal choice! The most important one maybe! Make another person? Or not? Let's think about it and decide! Hooray for contraception.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:06 PM on January 2 [13 favorites]


People really struggled to get that, as if reproductive decisions are made in binary and if you don't want children then surely you're disgusted by the very thought of their existence. I think they're awesome and I'm a school teacher.

Yeah, I've had to deal with this, too. A lot of people with children don't seem to trust someone with no children of their own to not harm their children. It reminds me of the "You shouldn't hurt women because you wouldn't want your own mother/sister/daughter to be hurt in the same way" argument.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:14 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


The real answer: I suffer from depression, and I'm too worried that I might:

- pass on my negative outlook to my child, damning them to their own life of depression
- be too preoccupied with my own problems to be a good parent
- burn out from a job and not be able to support them
- kill myself

The answer I tell people: "ehh, I don't really want to settle down right now, but we'll see"
posted by scose at 3:18 PM on January 2 [88 favorites]


The blessing of being over 50 is that I can say, when people ask me (yes, of course they do) if I have children; "Not so far!" ....and they are not able to come back with anything.....
posted by mightshould at 3:23 PM on January 2 [36 favorites]


That is another can of worms, the stigma of "selfishly" choosing your lifestyle over children.

What's really weird to me is the idea of bringing the word selfish into the idea of not having kids, and the sort of corollary that I often (but by no means always) see from parents where any selfishness-by-proxy on behalf of their children is magicked into selflessness and sacrifice. Like hard-ball negotiating a higher salary so you can put your kids into private school is never about hoarding resources for your child, but about sacrifice and hard work to provide for your child. I mean I get that these decisions lie somewhere on a line between selfish and selfless, but there's something about some parents where they put blinders on and anything for their kids is automatically selfless no thought or examination needed.

Once and a while on the very rare occasions I'm asked about having kids I joke that I'd like them medium rare please, or alternately that I can't have enough to justify the investment in equipment for organ farming. I actually like children after they are vocal, but I just don't want any of my own. I like being an uncle though.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:35 PM on January 2 [34 favorites]


I'll raise again that some women just can't win, both selfish for not having kids, and demonized for having kids while poor, disabled, POC, or LGBTQ.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 3:44 PM on January 2 [24 favorites]


In recent months, I was really on the fence about being childless. Up until I got my period a day late in November, I remember thinking "lol it would actually be kind of fun to have a baby?!"

Then, in early December, my stepkids' mom died, and we became full-time custodial parents of three children overnight. I love these kids, and I've known them for years, but the reality of 24/7 living with kids in my house is exhausting beyond my wildest imagination.

And! These are old kids! Like, teenagers! If they were toddlers or babies or had special needs, I truly don't know if I could rise to the occasion. The past month has been a real shit sandwich for my family, but one silver lining for me is that I no longer live with an intense ambivalence about having biological kids. And I am so, so grateful that I was able to dodge the diaper years with my stepkids.
posted by witchen at 3:45 PM on January 2 [48 favorites]


As of this writing, we are at 7.7 BILLION people on this planet. To me, that's reason enough to maybe not add a few more and instead focus nurturing energy on the ones that are already here. I highly recommend a book called Aunting for an interesting look at the role child-free women have played in the lives of the younger folks around them.
posted by ikahime at 3:55 PM on January 2 [33 favorites]


I've never wanted kids. I don't relate to people who do. I mean, I like people with kids and I respect the choice, but I don't even have the experience of thinking "maybe I might want kids some day" - it's just never been something that I pictured myself doing. There's just this gulf of experience. Even when I was a kid, I never play-acted having any kind of family.

I like Kristen's point:
I’m actually more curious about the decision people make to have them. A child affects energy, finances, work life, romantic life, free time, stress levels. Isn’t that a much more interesting choice to make?
People want an explanation for why I don't want kids, and I don't have one. I like kids. I think I would be all right as a parent. And, although I would be worried about my child's future as they faced down growing fascism and an almost certain climate disaster, I didn't want kids long before that.

But for some reason "I just haven't ever wanted them" isn't good enough. Women who don't want children are expected to justify themselves. It's weird.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:58 PM on January 2 [21 favorites]


I have learned that if somebody is tacky enough to ask me why I don't have children there is no answer I can give that will satisfy them.
posted by MaritaCov at 4:00 PM on January 2 [33 favorites]


I agree. Those of us who never had the desire should stop ever offering any rationale. The answer, "I don't want them" is not offensive at all.
posted by agregoli at 4:01 PM on January 2 [9 favorites]


The people I know who are having kids will make excellent parents. My wife and I have chosen not to because 1) There's no aspect of our lives that would be improved by having them and 2) We'll be one of the last generations that will escape fairly unharmed by climate change and I have no desire to subject someone else to that.

We also have a little thing we do whenever a kid at a restaurant is acting up and screaming while trying to make bechamel out of coffee creamer and marmalade at a restaurant or whatever. We stare deeply into each others eyes and say "I love you", overjoyed at the knowledge that that life is not for us.

I also don't have to share my Nintendo.
posted by mikesch at 4:02 PM on January 2 [11 favorites]


I have learned that if somebody is tacky enough to ask me why I don't have children there is no answer I can give that will satisfy them.

a fool: but don't you want CHILDREN
me: oh gosh no thank you, i already ate
posted by poffin boffin at 4:05 PM on January 2 [75 favorites]


I have complicated feelings towards children. I work in a school district, so I KNOW what little shits they can be. But then I talk to them and connect, and I find them wondrous. They are the most terrible monsters sometimes. And other times? They are the reason I live.
posted by SPrintF at 4:05 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


Kids seem like a horrible life suck. But the real reason not to have them is that I couldn't face a minimum ten years of only going to the cinema to see shitty kid's films, which is to say, all kid's films. Reviews that say some child friendly films have something for all the family are 99% a lie.

Happy enough with being an uncle, children work out much better when you can put them down when you get bored with them.
posted by biffa at 4:45 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


I like kids but have never in my entire life wanted kids. We, out of a combination of body horror, general disinterest, and selfishness, decided long ago not to reproduce. Over the last fifteen years or so, mostly around my mid-thirties, definitely had a couple encounters with people who apparently filed us under "creepy couple who don't have kids probably because they hate and or eat them."

Otherwise I continue to have friends with kids, friends without kids, and kids with whom I'm friendly, and that's pretty much ideal.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:01 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Chiming in on the Never Wanted Kids side of the fence. I have 10 nieces and nephews and spend little time with them. They're geographically far from me, but even if they were closer I probably wouldn't see them much. I don't understand them, I have zero maternal instinct whatsoever, and I'm proud to say my sleep is more important to me than raising another human being.

My least favorite response from people when I say I don't really enjoy kids, is "you were one once!" WTF?
posted by yoga at 5:06 PM on January 2 [12 favorites]


My least favorite response from people when I say I don't really enjoy kids, is "you were one once!" WTF?

I have to confess I can't stand Maya Rudolph and never want to see or hear about her, ever, because of this thing she apparently said once:

"I've met people who are baffled by children, as though they were never children themselves. I think that people who don't like kids are awful people."

Yeah, fuck you too.
posted by holborne at 5:24 PM on January 2 [32 favorites]


Our childhood was so horrific that all of us were terribly surprised at ever wanting to have children. We assumed and discussed as siblings that the first surprise kept pregnancy was a complete mistake, and I thought my deep desire to be a mother very very strange and kept it very very quiet. I received letters and warnings when I became an adoptive parent from other siblings how much of a disaster it would be as I, like all of us was bound to be an awful parent etc. Sheer bafflement from them. Two others became later parents for their partners' sake and it has been good or a total disaster. We just don't talk about our children at all, they're sort of separate from our family of origin where the ideal is to be childless.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:27 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]


I'm in my 30s, don't have kids, don't want kids, and have faced zero judgement/comments/questions from friends, family, workmates etc. I don't say this to gloat, just as a data point that attitudes do seem to be changing (at least in my progressive, coastal, middle-class bubble).
posted by retrograde at 5:44 PM on January 2


Metafilter: it has been good or a total disaster.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:45 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


I seriously do not know how my coworkers with kids do our draining jobs and then don't go home and murder their families because oh my god, the needy. I never wanted to give birth or be primary parent, so I pretty much avoided relationships after my last ex refused to take "no" on kids for an answer. Sigh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:46 PM on January 2 [9 favorites]


I feel like I have one foot in the best of both worlds - an only child. She's great. We have a lot of fun with her. It's really amazing to see the world through her eyes. We got lucky.

But, it's terrifying. I don't know, really, how to plan for a good life for her. I feel always on the edge. I don't have enough savings. I don't know if saving for college is even possible. I'm an American so I expect any savings to get wiped out in a medical incident, anyway.

Parenthood is either a magical place of familial bliss or it's a hell that will ruin your life, finances and peace of mind. The truth...is somewhere in between.

Let me tell you, though, I was giddy in the days following my partner's vasectomy when we decided one and done for kids and I decided no more birth control for me. I literally was laughing in glee at no longer having to have "serious" pro/con discussions with my female friends (or coworkers, or spouses coworkers, or random people on the bus, or my relatives...) about whether or not I'd have a second one. Or discuss the merits of having an only child versus siblings and listen to people tell me about how wonderful their siblings are or how cute their own kids are together. NOPE! Now I just get to say, "One and done, my husband had the snip, pass the dip, thanks!" And then I cackle and re-fill my glass. People were asking me if I'd have another kid while I was still on pain meds from my C-section! Fucking breeders want to suck you IN!

I think maybe three people have asked my husband his procreating plans in his whole life.
posted by amanda at 5:48 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


Not sure what it says about me that people didn't ask me this much at all. Helps to be single, not particularly "successful" and an introvert I guess.
posted by serena15221 at 5:59 PM on January 2 [9 favorites]


I seriously do not know how my coworkers with kids do our draining jobs and then don't go home and murder their families because oh my god, the needy.

Speaking personally, I've picked up a LOT of slack over the years from coworkers whose parental obligations interfered with their work.

N.B. I am in no way suggesting that parents should not put their children's needs first. I'm simply saying that some parents, and society in general, tend to underestimate how much the efforts of childless people indirectly aid their childrearing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:19 PM on January 2 [43 favorites]


My mother was observing how so many of my generation seem to be opting out of having kids and she was intrigued by it - in the same way she is intrigued by people delaying marriage even when they've been in a committed, co-habitating relationship for years - but ended it with "but won't they be so lonely when they get old?" And she is a very delighted grandmother to my two kids so I get why she feels that way, but also, "someone to keep me company in my old age" is a role I have always assumed would fall to (1) my spouse (2) my longtime bffs who would happily wreak havoc in a nursing home with me. It's never occurred to me that it's my kids' job, so is this particular "this is why you should have kids" a generational thing?

But broadly speaking I think the move from "forced life choices via societal pressure" to "do what suits you and don't entangle yourself in any marriage or parenting relationship you don't actually want" is a good and healthy thing and I don't understand why anyone would think it's bad.
posted by olinerd at 6:21 PM on January 2 [10 favorites]


I really don't understand how people choose to have children right now. The world is a shitshow, the planet is dying... what kind of future are they going to have?

This statement has been said at pretty much any point in history. Yet them babies keep coming.
posted by zardoz at 6:32 PM on January 2 [10 favorites]


at pretty much any point in history women haven't had a lot of choice on whether or not they were going to have children.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:02 PM on January 2 [55 favorites]


This statement has been said at pretty much any point in history. Yet them babies keep coming.

Yeah, except at no point in history has it been so measurably close to objective truth.
posted by holborne at 7:04 PM on January 2 [10 favorites]


Like traditionally women had children until they died specifically from having children. They didn't choose that.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:10 PM on January 2 [37 favorites]


My mother had depression/anxiety, and so do I. As you might imagine, I did not have the happiest childhood, due to the compounding of those two issues. At 33, I’m just finally finding my way into the light. The last thing I could imagine wanting to do is spawn yet another person who would have to spend 30+ years digging themselves out of that hole. I’d feel so guilty it would interfere with my ability to parent (as likely happened with my mom). So much for the joy of parenting.

If, against all likelihood, I feel the desire to become a parent a decade from now when my biological clock has run out, and if I somehow have the time and money to be able to support a kid, I’ll happily adopt. I’m much more attracted to the prospect of raising someone whose issues weren’t caused by my genetics, and whose existence wasn’t my decision.

In the meantime I’m going to revel in the fact that women are now free to do things other than give birth and raise children, even if society hasn’t fully embraced that freedom yet.
posted by mantecol at 7:16 PM on January 2 [12 favorites]


For those of us whose grandparents sacrificed for our parents, who sacrificed for us, who in turn sacrifice for our children, it sometimes feels as though a social and familial violation has taken place when someone deliberately breaks that chain and chooses not to do it anymore.

Okay, but jeez, what is all that sacrificing for, if not for someone to eventually get to stop the chain and just be happy? Because otherwise it's just pointless martrydom.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:28 PM on January 2 [36 favorites]


It's deeply, deeply complicated, especially for people who grew up in or were raised by people from collectivist cultures, but who then raised their children in individualist cultures. Neither one is necessarily wrong, or bad, but it's really, really hard for people from each to understand each other.

This is a really interesting perspective. I think that is a completely different point of view and is very hard to envision the other perspective. After all these years it's still odd to me that people ask whether or not I have children and why. I don't think I've ever asked someone if they had kids.

I have 10 nieces and nephews and spend little time with them. They're geographically far from me, but even if they were closer I probably wouldn't see them much. I don't understand them...

This is pretty much how my wife and I are. I probably should have made more effort to be a more involved uncle, but... I'm much more interested now that they're grown.
I don't hate kids any more than I hate hockey or knitting, but I don't have any more interest in them than those things either.

Strangely, my wife has always had fewer questions than I have, and is less interested in kids than I am so maybe it shows, but neither one of us has really had any sort of heavy questioning about it. But we tend to not dance around it too much.

"Do you have kids?"
"No"
"You're not going to have/ You never wanted kids?"
"No"
"You don't like kids?"
"Not really"

It usually doesn't go that far. But I think, like someone said, it's really dependent on your environment. I'm always surprised at the number of people I've read online talk about how people will ask them about their church or religion, and assume that happens to everyone. I would be stunned.
posted by bongo_x at 7:37 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Most of these people are really young, young enough that they are not aunts yet. In my experience, even "childless" women will likely become aunts, if they make it to 60.

and one of them has kids, is already an aunt? interesting.

I would be interested in hearing about women who were in their 60's and have no familial labor introduced to them...
posted by eustatic at 7:54 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


maybe i'm just looking at kinship more broadly, but it's strange to me, this article is so focused on an individualist perspective, it's strangely ahistorical. It could have only been written in the last 30 years, as people have less and less an idea of what a family is.
posted by eustatic at 7:57 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]


Yeah, except at no point in history has it been so measurably close to objective truth.

I don't see how you could possibly be objective about that unless you are literally a historian who traveled back in time to inform us all. I mean, people had babies after the Cuban Missile Crisis. People had babies during the Spanish flu epidemic. People had babies after the second world war, the one that ended with the advent of a literally potentially-planet-destroying bomb. (Maybe that's why they're boomers?)
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:29 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


An earlier me wanted kids, wanted to be a primary parent. But that was before the abusive gaslighting by an partner, less abusive gaslighting from extended family about the shoes I needed to wear, seeing my state pass an anti-gay marriage bill that was really about adoption and domestic partnership benefits, getting told by youth organizations that as a queer and atheist (at the time) I was unfit to volunteer for them, and a few decades later, stepping into those shoes have given me an asston of crazy and a fuckton of debt. And I see how people of unimpeachable character, stable incomes, and good health end up exhausted, drained, and robbed by those systems, and sometimes end up heartbroken by a judicial system anyway.

So I ended up fighting different battles and wars, and now I'm exhausted, drained, and robbed by some of them and can't imagine inviting another person into my life.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:32 PM on January 2 [12 favorites]


I don't see how you could possibly be objective about that unless you are literally a historian who traveled back in time to inform us all.

So wait — you actually think we can’t make judgments about history relative to today unless someone literally travels back in time?

And no, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we face a higher level of continuous danger, and from more threats, than any time before in our history. The threat from climate change alone makes that a reasonable conclusion.
posted by holborne at 9:21 PM on January 2 [10 favorites]


Can anyone here more clearly explain what Charlotte means by “unpaid reproductive labor?” Is there a school of thought that says that bearing a child is a sacrifice a woman makes for society that she should ideally be compensated financially for, or is this not what she means?
posted by Selena777 at 9:33 PM on January 2


I've always been an immature jerk. Never been adult enough to really consider having kids. After my awful childhood, and poorly managed adulthood I have to say I'm happy to be 60 and childless. I've done enough damage without inflicting it on a child.
posted by evilDoug at 9:54 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


serena: Yeah, I don't get it too much either, for the same reason. Nobody expects me to catch a man in time, much less get married and procreate.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:03 PM on January 2


Can anyone here more clearly explain what Charlotte means by “unpaid reproductive labor?” Is there a school of thought that says that bearing a child is a sacrifice a woman makes for society that she should ideally be compensated financially for, or is this not what she means?

Generally that's a reference to three things:

1. Division of household labor is rarely equal, so women generally end up doing more labor where children are involved. This labor isn't paid, nor does it get secondary benefits.

2. Women who take take medical leave for childbirth or time off to care for children often don't get paid for that time, don't get benefits for that time, and suffer from missed chances in terms of promotion and pay increases.

3. Even if we take the position that in traditional heterosexual households a homemaker is "compensated" through increased wages for the primary wage earner and a higher quality of living, that rarely translates into money in the bank the homemaker can save or invest for her long-term financial independence.

So some feminists argue that maternity and childcare leave should be paid leave and that radical disparities in household labor should be treated like a paid job, including independent benefits.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 10:10 PM on January 2 [15 favorites]


I wish I'd thought about it. I had an unplanned pregnancy at 23 and found that (then) I couldn't face the thought of an abortion, even though I support(ed) women's rights to reproductive autonomy. My kids are in their late 20s now and have been my greatest happiness (occasionally), my despair and most of all, my deepest guilt for not being a successful parent (undiagnosed aspergers, useless ex-husband). I suspect that at least one will not reproduce, and the other, if she does, will think very carefully and have no more than one.

Being incredibly gullible, I just bought into the traditional life plan of find a man and get pregnant without thinking about the work and financial cost. I don't wish my children hadn't been born, I wish childlessness through choice had been more talked about 30 odd years ago.

People who worked out what they wanted when the world was determined to push parenthood: you have both my admiration and a little envy.
posted by b33j at 10:56 PM on January 2 [16 favorites]


It could have only been written in the last 30 years, as people have less and less an idea of what a family is.

A societal obligation or expectation? A source of emotional and financial support? A shitshow? Enlighten us, because it seems like people here have a lot of different experiences of what a family is.
posted by biffa at 1:42 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


Not sure what it says about me that people didn't ask me this much at all. Helps to be single, not particularly "successful" and an introvert I guess.

Lol, this was me too. No pressure from family, friends, coworkers... Nothing. I'm pregnant now and people have been politely startled. "Was it planned?" a few people have asked. There must be a vibe I'm giving out.

On quite another note I do wish that all care responsibilities - not just child care - were recognised and that unpaid carers were given given the financial and social support they deserve.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 2:00 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Yeah, except at no point in history has it been so measurably close to objective truth.

That too, is what everyone says, every generation. I mean, I get it, global warming and all that, but that belief, whether or not it turned out to be true (and it often was, from a certain perspective), that belief is not an uncommon thing.
posted by zardoz at 3:39 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


> "you were one once!"

Well it took a lot of work, but I've been reformed for over a decade now.
posted by lucidium at 4:42 AM on January 3 [19 favorites]


For a long time I lived under a cloud of dread about that chain-of-sacrifice idea. I'm a lower-middle-class white person so culture isn't a factor, but I was raised to believe that children have the obligation to bring meaning and validation to their parents' lives. And the sense of sheer probability does stagger me sometimes. All of those people up on the family tree happened to meet in exactly that combination, and not die of something horrible before reproducing, all for YOU. GET TO IT.

Because on one side of the family, my sibling and I are the last of our line. We have second cousins, but no firsts. Neither of us are inclined to have kids for various reasons. And I don't get pressured exactly, but the parent on that side is obsessed with Ancestry and all that. What's the point if it's soon to be snuffed out?

Now I'm starting to think, and maybe it's adolescent of me, but... I didn't ask for their martyrdom. I didn't hang their whole lives on the success of their children. I don't sign off on the mindset that women were obligated to only one life path. I'm not the one who put all of my literal and figurative eggs in one basket. It's not my fault they had those pressures, or that lack of freedom, or didn't get a damn hobby.

Maybe that's bratty. But it's letting me move forward without feeling crushed.
posted by cage and aquarium at 5:53 AM on January 3 [11 favorites]


Makes me wonder if it's more a feature of rural / suburban / exurban life, more conservative parts of the country, etc.

Nope. That's gender privilege you're experiencing.

I'll raise again that some women just can't win, both selfish for not having kids, and demonized for having kids while poor, disabled, POC, or LGBTQ.

This is totally true, though I'd note that tons of people in these situations have kids and struggle to get by and aren't exactly awarded medals for it. The flow of criticism never stops, and a lot of people find "think of the children" to be a convenient stand-in for whatever bias they actually want to express.

For me, I've gotten a lot of crap over time about not having or wanting kids. On one notable occasion I was stuck at a work dinner where my colleague and his wife had recently had a baby, and the wife started in on me about all the typical gross new mom insecurity stuff: "oh, but you'd be so great at it! The baby likes you! It's so fulfilling!" and I was luckily able to prevent myself from going over the table at her and screaming, "your husband won't do his share of the childcare, you're moving back home to be near your mom so you can get some support, and I'm the one who is going to get stuck doing six months of overtime because our other colleague is also about to have a baby, which I will get no thanks and no extra pay for." The rest of our colleagues just smiled like what she was doing to me was perfectly okay and even normal.

I've also had a few clients and other work encounters where people just will not leave me alone about it. One insisted that I'd be a great mom because I'm a good attorney, and thought my ability to be patient and play a long game with the administrative system we were dealing with would mean I'd be a good parent. I tried to brush it off politely and she just wouldn't stop, kept saying "oh you never know! You never know!" to me, and I didn't want to get into it with her at that point, I just wanted her out of my office.

I've been in the position for some time where if I wanted to have children, my situation would be tragic - I'm single and work full time or more but still have 6 figures of crushing student debt, I have a chronic illness that can make me sleep a lot and impacts my energy level and ability to move around, the meds for this are strongly contraindicated for pregnancy, to say nothing of the painkillers. This part doesn't exactly matter because I had a hysterectomy at 34 for endometriosis. I have chronic genetic depression (I'm managing it well, but it's definitely genetic), PTSD that impacts my sleep, and folks in my family with Y chromosomes tend to have dyslexia and trouble with addiction. I'm from an alcoholic family and have literally no idea what functional parenting is supposed to look like. People would find it sad if I wanted kids, but finding that I don't means that instead they dismiss me as a bitch.

Often at this point people are like "but WHAT IF you fell in love with a woman who had kids????" and in fact every time I have ever dated a woman who already has children I've been subjected to a bunch of extremely dull parenting chat, and then they dump me in horrifically rude ways for men. One of them deliberately picked me because being seen dating me would let her get her male ex's attention in a way that he found titillating rather than threatening, at which point she walked off without a word. But as with the constant heterosexist "oh you just haven't found the right man yet!" I'm supposed to keep trying because at least an aspiration to be just like cis straight people makes them feel so much more comfortable, and a lot of them really can't handle that I not only don't want that but don't see why I should.

I am sad to say that this article is the first time I've contemplated having my very own pinball machine, though I sure am thinking about that now especially if I could get an Addams Family machine. That would be so amazing and fulfilling, pinball in my own home whenever I wanted it!
posted by bile and syntax at 5:54 AM on January 3 [22 favorites]


> "you were one once!"

When I was a kid, I hated being a kid, did not like or understand other kids my age, and really only liked the company of adults. Coming up hard on 40, for the first time in my life I feel more or less in tune with and appreciative of my age cohort. I was born 40 in a child's body, apparently, and have just been waiting my whole life to catch up.

I have a lot of personal reasons for not wanting kids, but my entire generation of my family - sibs, half-sibs, step-sibs, cousins - have all decided that the entire family tree stops here. We're just done. Some of that is our various gene pools and upbringings, but I think a lot of it is genuinely generational. We have that choice now, and we have each other to support that choice rather than one of us being the weird black sheep who doesn't want kids, and it makes it a lot easier to stand firm against whatever pushback we get. I'm fortunate that there hasn't been a ton. I think it helps that my partner and I have also chosen not to get married (as we round the bend on 19 years together); not having kids is just one more Quirky Life Choice we've made, vs. being On The Traditional Life Path in every other way with this one aberration that makes people want to poke us for WHY we're not doing this one thing that would make our lives perfectly normal.

We've pretty much just all opted for pets. I'm a happy aunt to many clever and ruthless cats, and one beautiful horse, and I'm much happier that way than I would be with children as a regular feature in my life.

We don't have a pinball machine, but we do have a motion-activated TV just for the cats that plays video loops of mice and birds and fish whenever they turn it on, so we're doing okay, I think.
posted by Stacey at 6:03 AM on January 3 [27 favorites]


And the only people I know who own pinball machines are parents. That whole sideline amuses me to no end.
posted by cage and aquarium at 6:08 AM on January 3


Christ, I’m not even done raising myself yet.

Yeah but it can make dating women in your late thirties kinda tricky. Being dumped in horrifically rude ways for men aside (which I’ve found pretty consistent with people who don’t have kids, too, tbh), the dealbreaker for me is seeing shitty, hurtful parenting and realizing there’s not a damn thing I can do about it, and the longer I stick around the more attached I’m going to get to that kid.

Anyway. I’m grateful for articles and conversations like this, for anything that treats the decision to have kids as an actual deliberate decision: something you should question, explore, deliberate over. I know some people already do this, but because it’s the default and there’s all this pressure, and then on top of that it’s a HUGE FUCKING QUESTION that is actually really hard to think about because it involves thinking about your Future and a bunch of other things, a lot of people just...don’t.

I’d like there to be all the support in the world for anyone who really wants to be a parent (like beyond whatever they do in the Nordic countries, even), and all the support in the world for people who don’t so that people can make the choice honestly. Not to be all “think of the children,” but like...think of the children. Just better all around.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:08 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


Also, this:
I’m actually more curious about the decision people make to have them. A child affects energy, finances, work life, romantic life, free time, stress levels. Isn’t that a much more interesting choice to make?
Maybe if people talked more about why they wanted kids there’d be less of this...gulf. But I suspect it’s not something people have to affirm very often.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:16 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


1. I would like a pinball machine.

2. Somewhat tangential, but the constant point trotted out about the State of the Planet being, "we have to leave something habitable for our kids and grandkids" really pisses me off.

That's the very thing making the planet sick: MORE PEOPLE. And the most innocent bystanders of all in our planet's declining health, are all the other species that don't abuse everything living or not just because of their fucking ego.

NOTE: I'm not saying all people are abusive. I'm also not saying a bunch of people should expire. I'm saying that everything fucked up about the planet comes back to one thing: people.

For once I'd love to hear it said that we should preserve the planet for the biosphere's sake, because it damn sure deserves it more than people do. /rant
posted by yoga at 6:19 AM on January 3 [13 favorites]


Being dumped in horrifically rude ways for men aside (which I’ve found pretty consistent with people who don’t have kids, too, tbh),

This is totally true and has happened to me more times than I can really count, but it's been 100% of the moms I've dated and they've been so much more cruel about it.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:20 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I think there was some mild "Are you going to have kids?" questioning when I got engaged, and a lot of pressure to have kids from my (now ex-) husband, but I haven't really ever felt general pressure to have kids. And my brother doesn't want kids, and we have no cousins on our dad's side of the family, so that's that, I guess.

Like one of the women in the article said, I just don't have anything like that deep, gnawing need for children that I've heard others talk about. I think I'd be a totally fine parent, but I don't need to be one, and I never wanted to deal with all the gendered bullshit that goes along with being a mother in this society. When I was little I always assumed I'd get married and have kids because that's just what everyone does, and then a childless couple moved in across the street and became friends with my parents, and I remember thinking (maybe I was seven or eight?), "Wait, you can be a grown-up and not have kids? That's what I want."
posted by lazuli at 6:21 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


My ex always wanted kids, and I was okay with it, sometimes even enthusiastic. But here's the thing which I always found interesting. I never found "baby head smell" compelling. I know lots of people just lose their shit when presented with a baby head to smell, especially if it's a blood relation. Something something histocompatibility complex something. Yes, sure, I am totally subject to the pheromonal loopies when I smell a person I want to take to bed or cuddle, but children? They don't smell good to me. I never felt a strong smell attachment to my kids. Which doesn't mean I didn't/don't care. Definitely a mental sense of obligation, of doing the right thing by them. I just don't feel like the "be a parent" gene was expressed well with me. I doubt it was well expressed by my dad, either. Or possibly even my mom. I dunno?

But sure there are some people I know who get super stoned when smelling babies. Men and women alike.

There's probably something about genetic variation about some people being better at child-rearing, and some people being better at doing other shit, but one always gets yelled, yeah?, at for suggesting genetics might play a factor in something like whether or not you want children. Seems stupid for genes to not want to propagate but then again there's a social factor (tribal roles) which complicates things....
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:40 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I am sad to say that this article is the first time I've contemplated having my very own pinball machine, though I sure am thinking about that now especially if I could get an Addams Family machine. That would be so amazing and fulfilling, pinball in my own home whenever I wanted it!

I've recently been getting involved in the pinball community here in Ottawa, and while the pinball community at large is kind of hard on women, in the same way that all nerdy communities are hard on women, the women's pinball community is *amazing*. They are supportive, welcoming to beginners, queer and trans friendly, friendly in general. You don't have to have your own machine to get involved in the pinball life, but once you get involved in the pinball life, you might find yourself with a gnawing wish to have your own machine.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:42 AM on January 3 [13 favorites]


I'm 38 and divorced - at one point in my life I really wanted to have kids, like desperately. Now I feel like I really dodged a bullet.

I was home for Christmas and my sister (who has 3) and cousin (who has one and is pregnant) were just EXHAUSTED. Like tired and cranky and frustrated times a million. Their husbands both help out, but they really take the brunt of all the work in addition to their full time jobs.

I just don't know if I would have been up to it. I cannot tell you how many times people have told me that I would be a wonderful mom, but without a huge budget for extra help I just can't see how anyone makes it work. I'm happy to visit my family once a month or so and be a wonderful aunt and take some of the work off of the mom's hands, but I'm always relived to get back to my quiet, clean apartment.
posted by elvissa at 6:47 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


Kids are a pain in the ass but it seems obvious to me why people have them: we’ve been bred to. Same reason people do weird sex stuff and eat themselves half to death. We’re animals who were born to survive, and if we’re happy, whatever. Pets are irrational as hell, too.

I will say that if you’re working extra because a coworker is out that’s maybe on your boss and not your coworker? Especially if you work at a company that profits from your labor. Don’t believe the hype; the boss makes you work extra, not your coworker.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:26 AM on January 3 [16 favorites]


Now I feel like I really dodged a bullet

My cousins are all in this relentless kid-having marathon and it is Stepford-level horrifying how they are all mere shadows of their former selves.

The other weird thing about being in my late thirties and visually not-super-feminine is that people don’t hide their pregnancy and birthing horror stories from me anymore. Which...maybe warn women in their twenties about this shit? Literally if all of you have PTSD, that seems relevant.

Full disclosure for everyone!
posted by schadenfrau at 7:41 AM on January 3 [11 favorites]


it is Stepford-level horrifying how they are all mere shadows of their former selves.

I think - and I say this gently - this is a statement that gets said a lot, often defensively and rarely ill-intentioned, but I think that this statement is generally unkind and often unfair to other people (usually women) and doesn't really acknowledge the reality of their lives.

It is definitely something that got said about me by a lot of my friends when I had a kid in my twenties and they didn't, because I stopped going to certain kinds of entertainments and spending money in certain kinds of ways. But it's not something I feel from the inside. I had fun then going to parties and drinking and dancing and being loud and in-your-face, and I have fun now quilting and reading books and having serious conversations with a small human that I created and doing union organizing. I don't feel less-than. I feel like my interests have changed, which I was /always entitled to do/.

And it's one of those statements that puts an artificial divide between (largely) women, who desperately need to be uniting. Even if, as I suspect, it's said defensively because the child-having women say things about how their lives have richened and deepened upon child-having and it feels as though they are implying the non-child-having women are less-than, it's still a statement that makes people bristle and may not be fair to say.
posted by corb at 8:05 AM on January 3 [30 favorites]


I'm 33 and have't gotten a ton of "you should have kids! you'd be a great mom!" yet. I actually got more of it when I was in my early-mid 20s and worked at an after-school program; these days, intrusive fretting about why I'm not dating or looking to date seems to take precedence.

The thing is, I actually would like to be a foster or adoptive parent, and have for a long time. Zero interest in biological offspring -- whoever mentioned body horror above, I'm with you -- but I do like kids, and I think I'd be decent at parenting. I spent a year as a classroom aide to a special-needs third grader and found it really rewarding even when it was hard. I was a nanny for several years to kids who'd recently lost their mom. I know I can be patient in the way that kids need, especially when they're coming from a chaotic background the way a lot of kids in the foster system are. Also -- and it feels a little weird to talk about this -- it feels like the right outlet for my sense of social responsiblity / desire to perform tikkun olam in an overt way.

People seem to find that even more baffling that straight-up not wanting kids, though. There's kind of a gross assumption that people only want to foster or adopt because they can't have biological kids -- that it would never be anyone's first choice. The idea that I would actively prefer to be a single parent of a kid who's not biologically 'mine' is apparently just TOO WEIRD for a lot of people.
posted by nonasuch at 8:07 AM on January 3 [12 favorites]


Hmm. Yeah, I get that. I wouldn’t say this about one friend who’s had kids, but she has a partner that puts in equal work and has way more money than my cousins, and I wonder how much that’s a factor. When I say “shadow of their formers selves” I mean like...wraith-like. Like you would expect someone to be if they were constantly overworked and sleep deprived, and like if fluctuating hormones were added to the mix. Like my benchmark for my cousins isn’t social gatherings and going out, because we never did any of that. I’m talking about their ability to follow a conversation and not lose the thread of every other thought halfway through.

It’s — and I’m not being glib about this — on the order of changes I’ve seen in people who’ve gotten really, really sick.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:09 AM on January 3 [12 favorites]


I thought I would have kids (plural), but I have one, and the reason why is heartbreaking and medically complicated. I have a brother who is in the same boat (different medical stuff, but still heartbreaking). While sitting in a chemo treatment room with my mom, my dad had the audacity to bemoan his lack of a significant familial “legacy.” My dad is a not-so-closeted-anymore asshole, but it was mind blowing to hear him turn our very valid reasons for stopping at one into his own personal tragedy. When I got home and told my husband I was so confused until he pointed out that our kid does not share my father’s last name and my brother’s kid is a girl who [in my father’s eyes] will change her name when she marries, so my father’s last name may die out. And I immediately wanted to scream, “FUCK THE PATRIARCHY.” Seriously: fuck you, Dad.

SMASH THE PATRIARCHY. Because that’s what all this societal pressure is about: maintaining a societal structure that places the men at the top and women’s choices at the bottom.

I never really understood the desire NOT to have kids until I had one myself, and the shitshow that is pregnancy and parenthood made me emphatically support the feelings of my child-free friends 110% whereas before it was more of a general feeling of “everyone can make their own choices, I guess.” Life is hard, why should anyone be criticized for not wanting to make it harder?
posted by Maarika at 8:11 AM on January 3 [18 favorites]


No kids here although I was a bit conflicted on it for a while because I generally like kids (and the older I get, the more charming I find them) - I just never felt the urge to have my own. Marrying a woman who felt the same pretty much sealed the deal for me, instead we spoil our two young nephews and enjoy being the crazy aunt and uncle who can take exotic trips without kids in tow. It does feel a bit weird having a small family at times (my two nephews are the only "next generation" - they don't have any cousins) but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

I got a ton of "when are you settling down??" throughout my 20s (I didn't marry till after 30, almost unheard of in my family). Surprisingly not as much after I get married, maybe my family finally got the message by then that I wasn't interested.
posted by photo guy at 8:22 AM on January 3


In my experience, even "childless" women will likely become aunts, if they make it to 60.
What? I don't understand. I have one (estranged) brother and even if he has kids I won't be in their lives. And most of my friends with kids, frankly, seem to regard me with some level of suspicion, because I just don't want kids myself. Kids are fine, I'll hang out with them, I'll babysit (no one ever wants me to babysit though), but I do not have close relationships with children and given my social circle and demeanor I sincerely doubt I ever will.

I have lots of memories of being told I should mother, that I'd be a "good mother," from the guy who grilled me at a group dinner in graduate school and ended up calling me "selfish" when I said I didn't want to put my body through pregnancy, to the friend who told me I'd be a great mom someday when I offered her my Tide pen in my purse when she spilled something on it at brunch, to countless discussions with my own mother (who still believes I will "change my mind someday," lol). A coworker recently told me to "stop putting your life on hold, you should get married and have kids soon!" Me: "Yeah, I'm not going to do that."

Why do so many people think I do not know my own damn self; that they know me better than I do? Saying I don't want kids is always met with a know-it-all grin, as if I am in fact a child for saying I don't want children of my own. It's gross.

I have long believed that it's selfish and foolish to bear a child when so many children throughout the world are without parents. I also have lots of Feelings about adopting a kid, but it seems like--if having a brood was important to me--that is the only logical way to go.

There is no way to be a woman without being harassed and questioned for the choices we make about our lives.
posted by sockermom at 8:23 AM on January 3 [11 favorites]


When I say “shadow of their formers selves” I mean like...wraith-like. Like you would expect someone to be if they were constantly overworked and sleep deprived, and like if fluctuating hormones were added to the mix. Like my benchmark for my cousins isn’t social gatherings and going out, because we never did any of that. I’m talking about their ability to follow a conversation and not lose the thread of every other thought halfway through.

It’s — and I’m not being glib about this — on the order of changes I’ve seen in people who’ve gotten really, really sick.


I am mostly staying out of this thread because I think it's primarily for people who don't have kids and I respect that, but yeah, in the US at least we are extremely extremely bad at supporting parents/caretakers and it's exhausting and stressful. I have a kid and I'm a woman choosing not to have another one because I'm not sure it would be a responsible choice for our family. We are doing fine but with money and time and figuring out childcare and commutes and other family responsibilities and the lack of support if we had another child and they had special needs or if our current kid gets sick or anything, it just feels like too much of a risk. I am really, really sad about it (although dealing with that and feeling better now), but we're pretty sure it's the right decision because everything is so, SO hard even with the comparably ample resources we have.

I am extremely pro-choice, and that includes supporting the choice to have kids as well as the choice not to, and wow we are so shitty at both parts of that. I think any reason someone doesn't have/want to have kids is valid (and you don't need a reason, and whether you have one or not is no one's business), and recognizing that we live in a society that is so unsupportive, especially of women and especially of mothers, that having children will be a huge quality of life downgrade and you are likely to be stressed and miserable and exhausted all the time is a totally appropriate reaction to a shitty situation.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:28 AM on January 3 [20 favorites]


When I say “shadow of their formers selves” I mean like...wraith-like. Like you would expect someone to be if they were constantly overworked and sleep deprived, and like if fluctuating hormones were added to the mix.

Yeah, this is totally valid and to be clear I don't think you had any malice at all! But I would say that this is also probably true for any other group of people working two or more jobs, and we don't usually say it about men that are taking multiple jobs, even if it is true.

So much of what I think is the exhaustion of parenting these days is partially because most families can't get by on a single income anymore, so women nearly by default are taking on two jobs whether they want to or not, and having to pay for childcare into the bargain. I don't think this is the universal state of affairs, and I don't see this kind of bone deep exhaustion among women who are stay-at-home-parents - which makes me think it's less about the hormones of having a baby, and more about poverty of resources and time being inherently shitty.
posted by corb at 8:36 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


Not trying to pile on, just further illuminate: “mothers have no personality” is a really common sexist trope so it’s worth being specific and careful not to play into that. There’s a lot of sexist stuff that is specifically reserved for mothers and women aren’t immune from perpetuating it, so, ya know. Something to think about when talking about /generalizing women who have children.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:43 AM on January 3 [10 favorites]


Just as a point of anecdata, my sister-in-law is a stay-at-home mother, who adopted -- so she doesn't have the hormone issues or the recovery from childbirth issues -- and she is still exhausted nearly all of the time, especially since they brought home the second baby. There are lots of reasons why women with children are exhausted and some of those reasons are that children can be, in and of themselves, kind of exhausting to deal with.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:44 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I actually think consistently interrupted sleep is a bigger deal than the effective second job. I mean, we torture people that way. It seriously fucks you up.

I don’t know if there’s a solution for that, but it seems important, and like a big contributor to the overall physical, emotional, and cognitive toll.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:47 AM on January 3 [18 favorites]


(I mean, obviously I’ve never cared for a child 24/7, so I don’t really know shit about the second job. But in comparing times in my life when I’ve had to work 16 hour days and times when I’ve been woken up by my own hormone fuckery every 45-90 minutes, there is literally no comparison. One of them sucks and the other is dangerous.)
posted by schadenfrau at 8:51 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


Why do people still give a shit what women choose to do with their bodies and their lives? Why are men allowed to do whatever the fuck they want without being fucking interrogated about it? It’s enraging!!!
posted by a strong female character at 8:53 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


Which...maybe warn women in their twenties about this shit? Literally if all of you have PTSD, that seems relevant.

I've already talked here in the past about thinking that "biological clock" was just a cutesy metaphor people used, and not a real, actual feeling or imperative, because I had zero understanding that it described something real because I never had a speck of the feeling myself. One of the many reasons I never had children was I never had that compelling urge.

I don't think I've talked about a phase my husband and I went through where we were still young enough to be waffling on the idea, I guess, and he suddenly got very excited having babies. Now, for me, it caused no small amount of body horror and fear of medical risk and complications, because I read a lot, and I guess I had read the kind of books and information that talked about how risky any pregnancy and childbirth is for the mother, and my mother (who had easy births in the late 60s/early 70s) had talked to me about episiotomies, and I watched a fair amount of TV and loved researching things so I knew about gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and other complications. I also had some idea about how much care an infant needs and early child development due to reading a lot, and a degree in education.

However, my husband, raised in the bubble of 20th century maleness, with boy books and boy entertainment, had no fucking idea about any of that. None at all. He seemed almost to think we could somehow get toddlers from my womb that would quickly turn into eight year olds he could put to work on raking leaves and painting the house. I never took his desire seriously because his naïveté on the subject was so shocking to me. I just kept the subject at arms length.

Then the wife of a friend of his had a terrible pregnancy and almost died during delivery and my husband went to visit her and the baby in the hospital and he came back, very pale and grave and said, "Our friend almost died. I had no idea how dangerous this all is. I would never want you to risk your health and your life for something I don't actually want that much. It's up to you, but I need to let you know it's not very important to me."

I appreciated that he took actual reality into his calculations and got serious, and we decided, for many reasons, not to have kids.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:38 AM on January 3 [29 favorites]


I will say that if you’re working extra because a coworker is out that’s maybe on your boss and not your coworker? Especially if you work at a company that profits from your labor. Don’t believe the hype; the boss makes you work extra, not your coworker.

I was at a small law firm with fewer than seven attorneys. There wasn’t a way to reduce the workload because training a new attorney to do what we did would take longer than anyone was scheduled to be on leave. Had the one guy stayed like he had said he would, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Instead, he literally refused to help his wife with their baby – he would casually mention deliberately messing things up to get out of doing them - so she insisted that they move back to where her mom lived because he was so unhelpful. This meant he quit quite suddenly with less than a month's notice just before the other one went on bed rest. My boss was also working a ton of overtime. So, not my boss, but my shitty ex-colleague's gendered entitlement and no way to compensate for it.

I'd love in general if there were more support for parents, but I'd also love if there weren't a constant unspoken expectation that I have unlimited amounts of time and can just pick up any and all slack because I don't have kids, especially since I have chronic illness. The other attorney who should have been taking on more didn't want to because she was also a mom. She whined the entire time about having to work five days a week rather than four, when a typical week for me was six days and sometimes it was seven. My boss was the only one who expressed gratitude for the amount of work I put in - the parents I worked with had the attitude that because I'm not a parent, I have unlimited free time that I'm somehow obligated to use to support them. This is not a level of support that was ever returned to me except, again, by my boss, who was incredibly supportive of that I was dealing with chronic illness and pain.

So, while I appreciate that capitalism is shitty, my particular situation doesn't fit your model. My boss was a cool person who didn't want to be in that situation any more than I did.

It’s — and I’m not being glib about this — on the order of changes I’ve seen in people who’ve gotten really, really sick.

I would give nearly anything to get my chronic illness to go into remission, and even when it has been at its worst I would rather live with it than have a child, because more of my time is my own.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:16 AM on January 3 [18 favorites]


My least favorite response from people when I say I don't really enjoy kids, is "you were one once!" WTF?

i didn't like kids then either.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:45 AM on January 3 [21 favorites]


One of the first questions my husband asked me was if I wanted children. Too which I responded; "Yuck. No!"
If you are going to make the life long commitment of having children it should be because you want them and I definitively, never wanted them. One of the saddest things to see is a child who is clearly unwanted by their parent(s).

Also I believe children try to kill you via sleep deprivation.
posted by Gwynarra at 11:59 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I will say that if you’re working extra because a coworker is out that’s maybe on your boss and not your coworker?

While I don't doubt that this is true for a lot of jobs, possibly even the majority, there are jobs where it's just not. Sometimes there's x amount of shit that needs to get done by a deadline. And in many jobs there's the question of coverage; the doctor's office isn't going to close down because the receptionist has to leave in the middle of the day. Somebody's got to cover the desk and the phone.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:31 PM on January 3 [8 favorites]


My go to nuclear option "please shut up about this" cynical asshole response is this:

What kind of selfish asshole would intentionally bring an innocent life into being against their will on this fucked up planet?

I have many, many reasons to not have kids but this is honestly closest to the truth for me.

I've only actually had to use it a couple of times, and it usually shuts up assholes who push on the issue for their various self serving and confirming needs, not because they actually want me in particular to have kids. They pretty obviously want me to be as tired, regretful and miserable as they are.

I have friends that have kids. Mainly toddlers. I like these kids. I am glad I do not have my own kids and I get to be a kid with them, and a bad influence. I can tolerate about three days of toddler before I'm done and need a long nap and some quiet time. I swear I've lost several dB points of upper register hearing due to one of my friend's toddlers shrieks that he can belt out anywhere, any time, often just inches from my ears. Kid has to hit 125 dB sometimes, and I've been playing with big ass speakers most of my life and it's so loud it just hurts my bones.

Yep, no kids for.me, thank you.
posted by loquacious at 12:38 PM on January 3 [10 favorites]


So much of what I think is the exhaustion of parenting these days is partially because most families can't get by on a single income anymore

Was there ever a time when they could?

One of them deliberately picked me because being seen dating me would let her get her male ex's attention in a way that he found titillating rather than threatening, at which point she walked off without a word.

That is shockingly loathsome behavior. I'm sorry you went through that. Ugh.

I want to go the alternate universe where there are earnest discussions about limiting the self-replication of the Addams Family von Neumann pinball machines because there are so many of them there aren't enough humans to play them. Maybe instead we shouldn't have the pinball machines give out free birth control and plan B whenever you get a multi-ball? No that's crazy, one and a half billion people is way too many for our beleaguered planet.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:07 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I don't want children and I'm pretty sure I never have.

I think I would be a good parent, honestly, but I think it would kill me. I already have pretty sensitive emotions and a lot of anxiety, and the emotional tie and almost constant worry I hear parents talk about... I think it'd be too much for me.

Plus, I just don't have any interest.

I am lucky that I haven't gotten too much flak for it, especially from my family. I think my mom was sad when I told her, but she didn't make a fuss. She asked a few questions, but didn't question my decision.

I do fear that my partner may someday change his mind and say he wants kids. But I really, really hope it doesn't come to that.
posted by rachaelfaith at 1:42 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


> Most of these people are really young, young enough that they are not aunts yet. In my experience, even "childless" women will likely become aunts, if they make it to 60.

I'm an only child. Also I was uninterested in marriage. So not really likely, no.

It turns out that I did wind up with a partner. However, we got together in our 30s and his siblings married and had their kids fairly young AND live some distance away. So while I am technically an aunt, I didn't get to do any significant aunting there.

I do aunt the heck out of my close friends' kids, but absolutely no-one considers this aunting except for my actual close friends and their actual children. Everyone else assures me that it is quite different for all of the usual reasons that people feel the need to demote the concept of chosen family.

People who don't know me well also generally assume that since I don't have children, I probably don't like them and/or are scared of them. They apologize in advance for subjecting me, a childless woman, to the presence of a child. Upon registering my lack of disgust, they move along to automatic distrust that I would have any knowledge of the needs of children at all. They are dumbfounded when I can hold a baby without its head falling off, guess a kid's approximate age, automatically put my hand out to hold when crossing a street.

In fact, I'm a rabid baby-snuggler, a patient toddler picker-up-of-flung-things, a rapt audience for dissertations on coloring books, and a staunch defender of adolescents even in their most surly phase. While I will never claim to feel in my bones the responsibility of actual parenthood, I do point out that I have parents and was once a child. (A reverse of the way that phrase has popped up in this thread so far!)

Most people seem to either definitely want kids or definitely NOT want kids as a strong core feeling about themselves. That's also not my experience. My feeling was always just...maybe? And that if I did, I would want to wait until I was on the older side of things, but I'd decide along the way.? I'm now 45 and am letting the possibility drift by without regret. I do have the occasional selfish pang of knowing that I will be little-remembered after I die compared to someone with children. Even if one doesn't know their parents, they still know that their parents existed. I will quickly fade from living memory, and no-one's even going to curiously stumble across my name unless I do something very meritorious or notorious in the next 40 years or so. I should get on that.
posted by desuetude at 2:04 PM on January 3 [13 favorites]


One of my earlier childhood memories involves the parish priest asking me if I want kids when I grow up. When I responded that I didn't, he smiled patronizingly and told me it would be "different" when I was "older." I still remember distinctly thinking the 8-year-old equivalent of What the everloving fuck? Like, I just told you I wasn't interested!

On the other hand, my completely independent sets of college friends and high school friends both noted, at separate points, that they could never see me getting married or having children.

I don't think Kate Bolick's "Spinster" mentioned motherhood specifically, but I think it would be a decent reading rec to accompany this thread.
posted by snerson at 2:07 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I'm married with kids and when I meet married couples (or people I know are married, like coworkers) of a certain age who don't have kids, I make sure to not ask about their lack of kids. For example at work I'll chat about my own kids, and coworkers with kids will pitch in with their own stories, and the childless person often has nothing to contribute to that particular topic.

I don't ask the childless person about kids. It's not any of my business. There are two main reasons they are childless. One, they don't want kids for whatever reason. And two, they want kids but are incapable of conceiving. The latter especially can be a really difficult topic to discuss, so I'll assume it's that and not bring it up.
posted by zardoz at 2:29 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I make sure to not ask about their lack of kids. For example at work I'll chat about my own kids, and coworkers with kids will pitch in with their own stories, and the childless person often has nothing to contribute to that particular topic.

It's super fun sitting around silent while all your coworkers chat about a topic about which you have "nothing to contribute".
posted by elsietheeel at 2:40 PM on January 3 [32 favorites]


in many jobs there's the question of coverage; the doctor's office isn't going to close down because the receptionist has to leave in the middle of the day. Somebody's got to cover the desk and the phone.

How is it handled when people go on vacation? Or take a doctor's appointment?
posted by corb at 3:11 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


My wife and I are 43 and 45, respectively, have been together for going on 19 years, and recently someone I know said "IF you and [your wife] ever decide to have kids..." That said, as a man I generally didn't get this sort of talk as much as my wife did. I would also never, ever, ever ask anyone about their plans to have or not have children, because it's none of my business unless they choose to bring it up with me.

My eight year-old nephew recently asked me why we don't have any kids, but that was okay because he's just trying to figure out the world around him.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:38 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


It's super fun sitting around silent while all your coworkers chat about a topic about which you have "nothing to contribute".

Ha yeah. Being around people with kids can feel like a constant onslaught of weird othering.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:48 PM on January 3 [15 favorites]


Come to think of it, the last time that happened was when I was with all those cousins. For, like, an hour all they talked about was birth and birthing horror stories and baby horror stories and the rest.

And there’s this unspoken rule that you’re supposed to respond with a kind of surprise and validation that’s really disguised, deprecated praise. and they all keep trying to one up each other with stories, but it’s not like they’re talking about real life; it’s like they’re talking about the NFL or something. And that’s how you’re supposed to treat it. It’s this weird collective fiction that women are just expected to participate in.

So this time I just decided to react honestly. Which was with fucking horror. Like it is genuinely, blood curdling horrifying to hear about what happened to your friend’s abdomen and how she almost died and they had to hold her down in what sounds a lot like assault! Did you know pregnancy rape is a thing?

It didn’t go over well. I kept thinking of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, when she makes the point that self-deprecation from oppressed people is really just humiliation, and how I’d never realized how well that described the way I’ve heard so many women talk about pregnancy and birth.

I dunno. I know it’s different for everyone, and these are all people from decidedly red areas of the state, who are culturally different enough from me that it feels like we’re literally from different countries (and it always has). But this...this was weird. Or rather: this was the first time it registered with me how weird it really was.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:59 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


I don't ask the childless person about kids. It's not any of my business. There are two main reasons they are childless. One, they don't want kids for whatever reason. And two, they want kids but are incapable of conceiving. The latter especially can be a really difficult topic to discuss, so I'll assume it's that and not bring it up.

I follow this rule as well because it seems the safest course. I was "fortunate" to have breast cancer when I was 24, so everybody assumed I couldn't have kids so nobody asked. My doctors never made that assumption, they were insistent that I either have kids or have an oophorectomy. Friends and family that knew I had cancer? Nothing. And then I got pregnant (I was curious if I could) and had a kid and welp, I totally respect people's decisions not to have kids and want to support them (and give them space to vent about societal pressures about having kids).

Not trying to pile on, just further illuminate: “mothers have no personality” is a really common sexist trope so it’s worth being specific and careful not to play into that. There’s a lot of sexist stuff that is specifically reserved for mothers and women aren’t immune from perpetuating it, so, ya know. Something to think about when talking about /generalizing women who have children.

Yup. This is so hard for me to deal with because a lot of the general tropes about parenting (and motherhood in particular) are just tired, but it seems like that's how people relate? I don't know. Now that I'm a mother, I feel even more alienated from most other parents because so much of it is built on a foundation of old fashion gender norms that I find frustrating - even in a fairly liberal area. And it's a balance because I don't want to tell other parents, "You're upholding the patriarchy, just not as much as your parents." But I also know that being a feminist doesn't mean being shitty to people who embody annoying and kind of toxic stereotypes. Being a parent is fucking hard. Life is fucking hard. I think most people get that. And I understand why parents might only talk about their kids and be into family stuff, because that's a huge consuming part of their life. I also think a lot of people want that, that's their ideal, it's pushed on us by society and the media. So if you don't have kids, then what do you have? Well you have your own life. I dunno. I find it much easier to talk to my friends without kids than my friends with kids because we can talk about all sorts of things I find interesting. That's just me though, and that's fine.

I found this article really interesting and it gave me a lot to consider.
posted by kendrak at 4:12 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


It sucks that society views women as defective if they don't center life around their children (a thing I have noticed with friends who have kids, but take steps to preserve some of their own personal time--this is taken to be not sufficiently maternal). Men get to be individuals regardless of the number of kids they have. And I think the depth of that that can be difficult for even the kindest most empathetic/woke dudes to grasp.

I wish there wasn't an inherent set of assumptions for why I haven't had kids (I'm either anti kids or have a tragic story). My personal narrative is not centered around kids/no kids. If I'm being honest, I have always been ambivalent about having a kid because the bulk of the work in caring for and raising a child falls to the mother and I know enough about myself that it would be difficult for me to not resent that. I see how frustrated my mother is with having spent a life doing the emotional labor for a bunch of people who don't all view emotional labor as a thing of value and can't acknowledge that was work she did. Which reminds me that I really need to send a thank you card for xmas gifts.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 4:16 PM on January 3 [8 favorites]


It's super fun sitting around silent while all your coworkers chat about a topic about which you have "nothing to contribute".

Re the intersection of: this, and "but you're aunts": When I do contribute a story about /photo of my nephew to these types of conversations, I am generally met with the same attitude one would get if showing off one's pet rock. Like, "oh my. How extremely sad. Let us not show her how much we pity her. Yes, that is a cute nephew."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:17 PM on January 3 [15 favorites]


It gets even worse when they're your step-niblings' or your cousins' children.

Me: This is my niece, StupidName! Isn't she cute?
Them: She is! Is that your brother or your sister in the picture?
Me: It's my cousin and his wife.
Them: ...oh...
posted by elsietheeel at 4:34 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


The reaction is even worse (again) if said neice or nephew is not related to you by blood or marriage/romantic-relationship. Eventually someone clues in that I’ve mentioned being an only child, and so how could I possibly have a REAL niece and nephew? Answer: because those two adorable munchkins call me Auntie and always have, that’s how.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:56 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


i have a 5 second video of fiona hippo farting hugely underwater that i save for when ppl break out the child photos so i have something to contribute
posted by poffin boffin at 4:57 PM on January 3 [31 favorites]


This is where I admit that when I worked in an office where kids/being a mom was the main topic of conversation, I intentionally decorated my cube with art by my niece and nephews and a picture xmas card of them because I wanted to seem like less of a weirdo to them. I am not normally a decorator of cubes as personal statement.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:35 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


Every single night my husband and I thank each other for not wanting kids, and then we share a joint in bed with our dogs (I mean...we don't share the joint with our dogs, that's not nice and wastes drugs. Fire hazard too.). I don't understand how any adult woman who survived childhood would willingly start the process all over again only in the adult role. I especially don't understand being married to a man and then having a kid--like WHY? It is already so much work having to be responsible for everything and my husband even cooks and changes our oil and all that shit--I STILL have to be the one to remember when that needs to be done, etc etc. I feel guilty all the time for not giving my parents any grandchildren but I am so fucking glad I never had kids when I was younger and more ambivalent about it because I really do not think it would turn out well for me or the child.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 5:39 PM on January 3 [12 favorites]


When people show me pictures of their kids, I generally show them pictures of my cats. If they don't think this is reasonable, I know they're not cool.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:54 PM on January 3 [21 favorites]


I have kids. I’d rather see pictures of your cats.
posted by Jubey at 5:57 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


I get read all the time as someone who was probably formed out of an ancient creature's rib and has no reproductive or romantic ability whatsoever -- I'm almost never asked about children or relationships and when I am it's usually out of obligate pity. There's a deep, deep streak of "but you're a fatty with disabilities, you're a poor blue-collar dropout, why would you reproduce or be loved?" in society.

Point is, I am often around people who, by comparison to me, abruptly look very like they should/could have children and should/could have relationships! It's like the cannon of personal intrusion looks at me, decides no inroads should be made for the good of society, and then doubles down harder on an acceptable target who looks more like they should have children (thinner, more anglo, less immigrant, not visibly disabled, white collar 'better' job, university education, probably blonde) according to the rude person's vision of the world. I would love for this to be an isolated thing rather than a pattern, but it very much is a pattern.

(One other thing I'd love for is for other people without children to notice it happening. If someone is really intrusive, they're often compensating for someone they just saw and decided OH GOD NO about, and that's why shrugging them off doesn't work the way it should or usually would. They want to be reassured someone more acceptable to them will pump out children to buttress their fragile world order but they don't want to say it, and the resulting conversations get ... weird, because they're really not about children or choices at all so much as "oh god preserve my ideal social order PLEASE SAY YOU WILL". Seriously, notice this happening. It happens.)

Generally I just break back in and ask for their attention. "Hey, what about my kids?"

Youse, the expressions. Society fails down to the ashes in those moments. The world is doomed. The end of civilisation is nigh. I use the break to ask the poor sod beside me to go get a drink, I clarify "the ones I might have", and the rude shits look like they're about to sit down out of relief. You know how many times I've gotten a reflexive "oh, but you shouldn't" out of people before their brains catch up? Quite a few!

It's all very illuminating.
posted by E. Whitehall at 5:59 PM on January 3 [14 favorites]


The first line of the article reads We talk a lot about the many shapes families take. So, what about those of us who choose not to parent?

For me I'd rather read about the different shapes families can take than the tired discussion of women who don't want to have kids. We don't want to have kids, end of story. Had that conversation many times over. What I haven't heard about as much is when you get past your child bearing years - what kind of family will I have as I get older? After my parents pass on? If I don't date and/or marry? If I don't have children and just have cats and dogs instead? Do friends count as family? What holds people constant if not blood or vows? What about the friends that have drifted over time, that meant well but lost touch or that went on to have kids and disappeared off the radar because you just had nothing in common anymore? How many decades of making new friend 'families' does one need to keep finding?
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 8:20 PM on January 3 [18 favorites]


I've been going back and forth on this for a couple of days now, because this is something where I'm way out of step with my peers and I've spent a lot of time thinking about it. I can't promise this is super-coherent, but I just need to be done with it now. Apologies in advance if this turns out to have been one that accomplished more in the writing than the sharing.

I’m actually more curious about the decision people make to have them. A child affects energy, finances, work life, romantic life, free time, stress levels. Isn’t that a much more interesting choice to make?

I live in New York and am literally the only person I know in my age cohort who has any concrete plans to reproduce. So I've gotten this question, and I have an answer that either satisfies people or freaks them out enough to end the conversation. (I'll provide that answer below, because my parents deserve to have their story told more.)

But the truth is, I don't think this question is really answerable. I have to borrow from the language of logic to explain: Every logical system starts with axioms, which you assume to be true, and from those axioms you derive theorems. You cannot prove the axioms: the derivations only go one way. (This is a simplification: really, you come in with some expectations about what theorems should be provable and you choose axioms consistent with those expectations and maybe some aesthetic ideals too. But let's ignore that; I'm just borrowing the language.)

In the language of axioms and theorems, I would say, this question assumes that "I should have children" is a theorem, to be derived from axioms like "I should have this career" or "I should have this much stress". In my mind they are not. I started with children (or, more abstractly, "the family"), and then I dated people and found a job and moved to a place compatible with that goal. (Sort of. In 2018 America, a family-friendly job and neighborhood and lifestyle are more goals than accomplishments.)

But that's not what I mostly tell people in New York, because I doubt it'll make any sense to them. For them, I found a rationalization that makes sense to them that is also true. Interestingly, my wife's family has been in the country much longer, and she is much, much more Americanized. Her reasoning for wanting children is about what she expects to get out of the experience: fulfillment as a mother, company in her old age, the experience of breast-feeding. It's more individualistic even than I can produce when I'm trying to construct an answer that makes sense to an individualistic audience. It makes me question sometimes to what extent I'm really "continuing the family" by having children, if fundamental values can change so drastically in only a few generations. But I guess my 18th century ancestors would say the same about me, so meh.

Anyway, here's how mine goes:

I come from a similar, though more privileged background, than Debbie and Wudan. My parents were legal immigrants with work authorization and marketable skills.

My father worked two full-time and a part-time job for twenty years, the sort of job where you know exactly how many hours you worked that week because you clocked in and out for every ten-minute break. Many nights, the only way he could get more than five hours of sleep was to work faster than expected, meet his quota early, and then curl up on a sheet of cardboard in a closet. I remember him telling us, as funny story, the various times his boss became curious why there was always this one folded-down shipping carton that they never seemed to throw away, and the various explanations he's given over the years. I'm embarrassed to say how long it took me to figure out that this was not normal or healthy.

My mother worked only one full-time job, but raised two children essentially as a single mother in addition to doing four people's cooking, laundry, and paperwork, the last in her third language. (My father was not as successful with English. At one point, when he had to take a licensing exam, my mother translated all his textbooks and recorded him a bilingual audiobook so he could study in his car during his commute. He passed.) She used to take us back to work after school so she could finish up. It was, in retrospect, not a safe environment for children; I quickly learned that if she said, "Sit there and don't touch anything" she literally meant, your butt in their pants and your feet in their shoes may touch the chair, and that is it. But it was the best she could do and both of us came out fine.

Better than fine, really. In one generation, they brought us from essentially political refugees to solidly middle class. House in the school district with the magnet school, then fancy four-year private colleges for both of us, no student loans, sufficient food and medical care the whole time, no abuse and way less neglect than I've seen in families with much less excuse. Oh, and they brought the grandparents over, too, in one case out of the reach of some abusive step-children. They did a really good job.

It might actually have been Metafilter, ten or fifteen years ago, where I found the language to name what they gave me: privilege. Enormous amounts of privilege, on multiple axes: formal education, English language competency (including the local prestige dialect!), cultural competency (at least enough to pass professionally), able-bodied, straight-up money. In basically every area they had any chance to control, I got the best.

I've had people say that their choices were theirs, not mine, and I shouldn't feel obliged to pay back (or forward) a debt I did not consent to incur. But "they signed up for it" rings pretty hollow when you're talking about twenty years of back-breaking labor. And in my father's case, I'm by now not far off from meaning that literally; there will be no idyllic decades of golfing and gardening for him.

(So, yeah, to read how Debbie's parents suffered to give her better than what they had, and that she chose to break the chain explicitly so that she would not have to suffer what is almost certainly a small fraction of that...corb is right to say that is less easy to emotionally understand.)
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:09 PM on January 3 [9 favorites]


^ cristinacristinacristina, those questions are what led my previously *aggressively* childfree friend to have a kid at 40. She’d lost half her family of origin in a few years, took stock, pivoted *hard*, now wants another one (though the first pregnancy almost killed her) and now won’t stop suggesting I get impregnated. This is the woman who insisted, from the age of 16, that parenting rescue dogs expressed the biggest love possible and was the same as human parental love, and is now waiting, with some eagerness, for her pup to kick it (to make room for another baby). (Meanwhile, I didn’t care, then was ambivalent, am now too tired to even contemplate the question.)

Realistically, I think, yeah if you’re alone now, it’s going to get lonelier. Friends do count as short-term family, but their own interests take over at some point and they withdraw. Having kids doesn’t futureproof against loneliness, but I do think it’s the most certain bet. (Is that a good enough reason, though? I suppose it may as well be if someone wants it to be, considering “got drunk and sloppy” is often a reason. Wouldn’t entice me to put myself through pregnancy at this stage of life, though. My baby-mad friend didn’t see herself all yellow and grim on the gurney, I did.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:32 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Childless-by-choice cis het married woman here, early forties. At Christmas I heard from old friends the same age as me, a lesbian couple who have been together for 20 years, that they are having a baby. I congratulated them, but my feelings are more mixed than they should be. I suppose I had counted on them, of all people, to be childless in their old age and keep me company. It sounds selfish and prejudiced, but there it is, and it feels better already to admit to it. On reflection, I hope I get over myself and that it will be just as companionable being an honorary aunt to their kid in our collective dotage (if we're spared!)
posted by lechatnoir at 1:06 AM on January 4 [4 favorites]


It's super fun sitting around silent while all your coworkers chat about a topic about which you have "nothing to contribute".

My kids are a big part of my life. So sometimes I (and other coworkers who are also parents) talk about them, swap stories about our kids. It would be one thing if that's all anyone talked about, but in truth talking about kids is just one of many topics we chat about at the office, and I find it hard to believe my situation is somehow an outlier. I was just pointing out that I don't want to put any child-less person on the spot with even well meaning questions on their thoughts on kids.

"Nothing to contribute" is not the best wording. By that I don't mean that it detracts from a person's worth in any way, just that, well, he/she doesn't have anything to say about kids and I don't think it's my place to pry. Sometimes the chats revolve around sports, and because I don't care one whit about sports, then I have "nothing to contribute." Ditto when the topic is about the best dance clubs in town; I have no clue. It's not always about me.
posted by zardoz at 4:06 AM on January 4 [3 favorites]


Thanks for your stories, everyone. This is one of those topics that's so fraught and personal that I don't hear about it much in daily life, and so I really appreciate everyone's openness on what can be a very complicated and at times painful topic.

I'm not in a fighty position of "change my mind!," but I'm in a position of wanting to hear and learn and understand others to the extent that I'm able (I've never been where some of you are, so I believe I can never truly understand you -- I mean "understand" in a much looser sense). Not because I think I'm wrong, but because I think it's valuable for its own sake to see different perspectives.

Anyway, thanks all.
posted by cage and aquarium at 4:44 AM on January 4


talking about kids is just one of many topics we chat about at the office, and I find it hard to believe my situation is somehow an outlier.

There are certain office topics that, in many offices, mark you as a member of the in-group, and not being able to participate as out-group. Two of the biggest topics here are heterosexual relationships and parenting, and if you don't get into the gory details of both then you're out. For those of us who are LGBT and don't have kids, it's a double whammy that makes a lot of cis straight parents really, really uncomfortable. They buddy up with other cis straight parents, and it gets very clique-y in a junior high sort of way. I know that a lot of people are going to be like, "well it's not like that at my job!" but if you're a cis straight parent, I'm going to say that you don't know that because you don't walk in our shoes, and even if things are better in your workplace there are lots of jobs where stuff like this is the case, and there are often pay differentials to go along with it as well as the perception that you are "not a team player" because the team doesn't want anything to do with you.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:52 AM on January 4 [27 favorites]


Queer and childfree, here. My boss throws herself at other people with kids because she craves validation from other parents. It def feels Jr high.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 6:02 AM on January 4 [5 favorites]


Sometimes it's a fun game to sit in a meeting room with two other people and time just how long they can go talking about their kids before either of them looks at you and awkwardly realizes you're still sitting there, waiting to have the discussion you're actually all in the room to have. Once it gets to fifteen minutes straight one does start to wonder whether one is actually needed in this room and whether you're ever going to have the actual meeting.
posted by Stacey at 6:33 AM on January 4 [12 favorites]


I'm really not getting my point across very well. Please take the workplace out of all my previous comments. This dynamic happens with friends as well, when we're having chats. The workplace setting is an unintentional derail and not important to my point.
posted by zardoz at 10:07 AM on January 4


Call me whatever but even as a person who doesn't have kids I love hearing about other people's kids. At worst, it's small talk about a thing that's important in their lives. At best, it's a fascinating way to think about humanity, since they're small human sponges that are learning and absorbing from our shared society.

One thing I do try to be cognizant of is trying to expand conversations about parenting to include all types of caregiving - I know that most of us will care for some type of dependent in our lifetimes, and caregiving for adults is often even more isolating and difficult.
posted by mosst at 10:22 AM on January 4 [6 favorites]


Also, seconding cristinacristinacristina in that I question the premise of the first sentence: in my experience, we definitely don't talk enough about the many shapes families take.

My experience with "family" is embarrassingly narrow and pretty much only includes people joined by blood, marriage, or a marriage-like partnership. I know there's much more out there but, while I've read/heard about other forms of family, I haven't spent much time with such groups of people.

I'm not proud of that at all, and that (lack of) experience is very limiting to me in that if I want to build a family in the future (and I do) I can't fully imagine my options other than marriage and/or kids - plus I wouldn't really understand how to pursue those options even if I did know what I wanted. I'm sure I'm not alone in that.
posted by mosst at 10:41 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


I don't want kids, even though I love them, often get along with them better than I do with most adults, and am hoping to work with them once I'm done with my current grad program. At the same time, I am actively put off by babies. I've learned how to make noncommittally positive remarks when people foist pictures of babies (or actual babies) at me, because I read as a woman and everyone around me therefore assumes that of course I go gaga over babies ... it honestly makes me feel like a failed woman and is one of many reasons that I keep thinking that maybe I'm nonbinary (not that nonbinary people are failed men or women, at ALL! Most of my more salient reasons are simply unrelated to this thread). When someone around me expresses cooing, melty love towards an unrelated baby, the only way I can really "get it" is to imagine the baby is a dog because omg I really do want to love on and exclaim over every dog I see - so I can at least understand the impulse, if not the triggering stimulus.

However, I recognize that my distaste isn't really (or entirely) because of something inherent in infants - it's so much more about how they factor into our societal definitions of womanhood. As part of my training in a career that is extremely female-dominated, I have sat in on multiple lectures that have included recommendations for how to respond when parents ask if I have kids myself. I have actively practiced my sadface "oh, I'm afraid that hasn't been in the cards for me" reaction because apparently that is something I'm going to need to perform as a woman who is pretty darned good at working with kids even though she doesn't want any of her own - it's been made clear to me that letting on that I don't want kids is a no-no. Is this something men who work with kids face to the extent that they're trained on how to respond?

I am so damn sick of every TV show I watch telling me that all women really want is babies. I am so tired of women characters who are defined by their babies or lack thereof. I am angry for people who have to deal with relatives who bother them about having kids, with doctors who refuse to consider hysterectomies for women who haven't had kids, with partners who ignore stated preferences because surely they'll "come around and want kids someday". Fuck all of that. OP, thank you for posting this article. I wish stories like this were - heh - propagated MUCH more widely.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:12 AM on January 4 [13 favorites]


At the same time, I am actively put off by babies. I've learned how to make noncommittally positive remarks when people foist pictures of babies (or actual babies) at me, because I read as a woman and everyone around me therefore assumes that of course I go gaga over babies

We have two staff members out on maternity leave right now and, while I will actually be in a new position when they come back so now the point is moot, they're both coming back at the same time and one of my first thoughts was, "Oh, man, am I going to have to pretend to be all gooey about TWO newborns?" I will happily make funny faces at little children in grocery-store lines (I had a lovely moment on New Year's day waving at a little one who apparently had just learned how to wave; she was so delighted that we then clapped at each other for a long time, and that was adorable, too), but babies just... sleep? I don't dislike them, but I don't seem able to summon the expected delight, and so I end up feeling awkward about it.

Which is why I was SO HAPPY to be sitting in a meeting next to a friend when a co-worker started passing around a photo of one of those newborns. My friend, who has two children, passed the phone along without looking at it. "I don't like babies," she said. "I didn't even like my own as babies. Too messy."

Later, another co-worker, apropos of nothing, asked me if I wanted to see a video of her cat opening a door. A++ WOULD CO-WORK AGAIN!
posted by lazuli at 7:18 AM on January 5 [10 favorites]


Having kids doesn’t futureproof against loneliness, but I do think it’s the most certain bet.

Attempting to avoid loneliness seems like a terrible reason to bring a new human into the world. You’re creating a person who will have a separate independent existence from you, and whose purpose is not to alleviate your loneliness in perpetuity. That person could die in childhood, could be murdered, could become a murderer, could suffer terribly from chronic illness, and any number of other horrible things. Is all that risk worth it for the possibility that you might be less lonely?
posted by a strong female character at 8:06 AM on January 5 [15 favorites]


Having children so they will take care of you in your old age is a very common rationale. Not being lonely is just the emotional care aspect of it.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:56 AM on January 5


HELLO CHILD, YOU HAVE BEEN BORN INTO THIS SHITTY WORLD WITH ONE PURPOSE: TO SERVE ME AND CARE FOR ME IN MY OLD AGE!! AHAHAHAHA!
posted by some loser at 2:12 PM on January 5 [7 favorites]


OH BY THE WAY YOU'LL HAVE TO PAY YOUR OWN WAY AFTER AGE 18: I'M ALL TAPPED OUT. WELCOME!
posted by some loser at 2:13 PM on January 5 [6 favorites]


I'm a care worker (specifically on a dementia ward) and I think that's one of the scenarios that people envision when they're like, "who will look after you if you don't have kids?!" It's true that people can become incredibly vulnerable as they get older and need more help, and that isolation and loneliness are very real. But - no surprise here really - having children is no guarantee of having the kind of involved, practical help that people imagine when they think of their children caring for them. Some non-identifying scenarios I've seen play out - people get on well with their kids but they live thousands of miles away; people are estranged from their children for any number of reasons; people's kids are also getting older and are dealing with health issues themselves; people had kids who sadly died, etc, etc.

Of course lots of people I work with also don't have children, never had them. On the balance I think the important thing is to have SOMEONE in your life - it doesn't have to be a partner or extended family. One guy I worked with was visited frequently by members of his former bowling club, another woman was visited daily by her old next door neighbour. For a lot of people I've cared for it's church people, in some capacity, who show up and check in on them and ask questions. These social ties can be powerful even if they seem conditional in comparison to the ties of parent-child.

It's interesting, I once heard someone rattle off that line - if you don't have children who will look after you when you're old? I remember asking them if they were going to move back home to look after THEIR mum if she, e.g., had a stroke and they were like "uh, no". People tend to idealise this sort of care, but they don't necessarily want to do it themselves. There is little practical support for carers so it's quite a burden to expect some imaginary grown up kids to shoulder! I also think that a lot of people would actually prefer not to have their own children exclusively caring for them through the worst of an illness - your adult children seeing you struggle with, for example, personal care can be humiliating.

It's not to say that people don't pull through and care for family members (I've done it myself). I'm also not trying to downplay how daunting it is to face illness or old age without the sort of family ties that, in many people's minds at least, seem to guarantee that there will be someone to care for you. I definitely understand worrying about it. I wish there was more and better support for people as they got older which didn't assume that everyone has family members who can step in to fill in the gaps in our social care system. But I feel strongly that no one should concern-troll people who don't want kids using that line.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 2:22 PM on January 5 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I've been to the hospital both alone and with a friend or family member, and it certainly seems to go more smoothly if you have someone with you, whatever the relationship may be.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:04 PM on January 5


HELLO CHILD, YOU HAVE BEEN BORN INTO THIS SHITTY WORLD WITH ONE PURPOSE: TO SERVE ME AND CARE FOR ME IN MY OLD AGE!! AHAHAHAHA!

As I recall, it worked out SO well in Like Water For Chocolate.

Having kids may or may not work out for you for having at least one guaranteed caregiver, but I think the logic is "well, at least I have a shot at having a caregiver," unlike those of us who definitely won't have one no matter what. I can see why people think it. In my experience in caregiver support group back in the day, it's usually the nearest female child closest to the parents' location.

Yeah, I don't plan on having anyone around for me and all I can do is go "oh well" on that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:08 PM on January 5


It's not even necessarily the day to day acts of elder care that having a child would provide. If an elder is going to get third party care, someone has to arrange it. Someone has to notice that they have gone downhill and need it.

One of the great fears for many single and childless people is that they will grow old and die alone no one will notice and then they will be eaten by their cats. Children are a (risky) hedge against that outcome. Is it a selfish reason to have them? I suppose. But there it is.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:16 PM on January 5 [3 favorites]


Not sure this is on topic but here it is anyhow:

Hi, I'm already caring for my folks to some degree. They are approaching their 80's very quickly (as in, July of this year for one). They're in good health now, relatively speaking, but I'm trying to make sure that I'm the one who will be there for them in their time of need because, well, my sister has a life of her own, a family, children, a good career, etc.. and I'd hate to see her have to shelve all that to take care of my folks. I have no kids, no wife, no dependents.. it just makes sense that I'll be the one to take the hit and take care of them. I love them, even though I do have legitimate complaints and concerns about how and why I was brought into this world. I don't believe they thought that I'd be the one to take care of them, I'm not sure they thought of it at all really (or anything much really, they just kind of did the thing because it's the thing to do I figure). But I think I'd be very much of the opposite opinion if they had made it clear to me that they EXPECTED their children to take care of them, like that was their main purpose. I just think they kinda went with the flow, so to speak. So now they get my sympathy instead of my ire. And my help. Because despite everything, I feel like I owe it to them. Maybe I can be an example to them: our son, who we never expected to do anything for us, is here for us in our time of need, despite the fact that he was just a random egg that got fertilized right before Mom's tubal ligation, more than a decade after they figured they were done with having kids. I'm not sure they even wanted kids TBH, I never got the impression I was wanted, more like an unfortunate inconvenience. That won't stop me from stepping up tho. I'm better than that. (I think? I hope?)
posted by some loser at 4:13 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]


Although this is bringing up a memory from my early childhood. I was always a big kid, I'm a big person now, 100 kilos although my fighting weight is closer to 90 kilos.

Anyways, I must have been 7 or 8 and close to 40 kilos at least, I remember being at the stop light, at the four corners not too far from our little house where I grew up... And I said to my dad: "daddy, give me a piggyback ride!" and he said "ok, but you know, when I'm old and weak, which will happen, and you're big and strong, which will also happen, I might need you to give ME a piggyback ride."

I said I would do it.. And I'm not going back on my word now. I love you dad.
posted by some loser at 7:26 PM on January 5 [7 favorites]


One of the great fears for many single and childless people is that they will grow old and die alone no one will notice and then they will be eaten by their cats

My only fear with regard to this is that no one will find my cats before they die too, trapped with my stinky and increasingly inedible corpse. I'll be dead and not care about myself and I think dying in my own home on my terms is ideal, but my cats - whatever cats I have then - I'll want them to have a backup human and a place to go when I pass, an assurance that they'll continue to have good lives.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:17 PM on January 5 [13 favorites]


I take it from the thread that I clicked over to this from (and I'm guessing from the number of comments) that this eventually gets contentious but I'm finding the early part of it really something like heart-warming. I have sometimes explained to friends with kids that friends-without-kids are as important to me as other friends-with-kids are to them.

File me, too, under "never for a moment wanted them." It's easier when you're a gay man who came out in the 90s--it was enough of an ordeal to adopt them that most people just assumed you wouldn't have any, and very few people have ever questioned my lack of interest in them, but the fact is I didn't want kids before I knew I was queer.

I sometimes wonder if I'd have ended up being at least a little less "what the hell do I say to a kid?" if I'd had nieces or nephews but I didn't and I think people know and take it as part of the package that I just don't really have a lot to say to their kids. Or they talk trash about me after I'm gone, which is also fine.

One interesting thing has been being a social worker who never wanted to work with kids. It's why a huge number of people went into the field, and it's really a lot of the jobs out there.
posted by Smearcase at 3:28 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I've had to deal with this, too. A lot of people with children don't seem to trust someone with no children of their own to not harm their children.

Since odds are that most of the people involved with the horrors at the border have children, maybe we can finally dispense with the notion that procreating automatically breeds empathy.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:52 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


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