I recently got into a friendly debate about feminism, children, and how women these days are free to decide whether or not they want children. The OP mentioned in her journal that it's no longer an issue for women in 2010. I have to disagree. While women have a lot more choice these days, thanks to birth control and changing attitudes, the default assumption is that women who get married do so because they want kids. Women are still expected to have babies, and those of us who don't want to are seen as selfish, broken, or worse. We are still cajoled and pressured to become mothers, and sadly, some women do bow to that pressure, even if they don't want to. Some women aren't even given the choice at all. So no, I don't think the issue is resolved.
I am married, and we are childless by choice. But that doesn't stop people from trying to pressure us into having kids. (Actually, John doesn't get a lot of pressure in that regard, because it's more acceptable for men not to want to become fathers than it is for women not to want to become mothers.) I have ranted about this on LiveJournal before. About a year ago, a friend of mine posted a follow-up article to something she read in MacLean's Magazine. I sent her a comment with my thoughts, which she encouraged me to develop into an article to submit to the publication she writes for. My follow-up was ultimately rejected, but I held on to it with the intention of posting it here eventually.
I have included the links to the original articles. Both are still available to read on-line, if you're interested. But let's keep the comments here, please. Both of these articles are almost a year old. (And don't read the comments over at MacLean's, I beseech you. They are poison.)
“No kids” doesn’t always mean “no grief”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the issues raised by Anne Kingston’s article in the August 3rd  issue of MacLean’s Magazine, “No Kids, No Grief”, as well as Barbara Lilley’s response here on MercatorNet, “Children Are Worth Having”. Both articles bring up interesting points. But I feel neither one fully addresses the fact that the choice of whether or not to have children is a very personal one, and should be respected no matter what the decision. Very few people are questioned on their choice to have children, but tell someone you don't plan to, and you face a barrage of questions, criticism and cajoling. And it never, ever stops.
As my husband and I approach our seventh wedding anniversary [eighth anniversary, now -- Ed], the questions about when we're going to have kids are coming up again. The answer, of course, is the same as ever: We're not planning to. (Actually, a lot of the time we sidestep the question, because we know what we're in for otherwise.)
Just about everyone has some sort of negative reaction when we say we don't plan to have kids. Some react in dismay. Some express disbelief. Some are even angry about it. I had a co-worker tell me that I was actually wrong not to have children. My own father threatened to write a proviso in his will saying that I could only inherit if we became parents. Once, someone I barely knew actually suggested I leave my husband, because obviously the reason why I hadn't "filled [my] condo full of babies" (yes, he said that) was because my mean ole husband wouldn't let me. Because (and yes, he said this, too) "all women want to be mothers, and it's the only way [we] can be truly happy". I've been told I'm being selfish, that I'm deluding myself, that I will regret it, that my marriage is a sham, that I will never be fulfilled, that there's something wrong with me. It would be so nice to hear someone say, "I respect your decision."
Even friends and family, who know how we feel about becoming parents, can't resist getting in on the act. My mother has finally accepted the fact that I’m not going to give her grandkids (albeit reluctantly), but my father still harps about it. My brother has lamented it. My best friend nags me all the time, especially now that friends of ours are about to have their first child. Whenever I hold a baby or play with a child, someone says, “You’d make a great mother!” I understand that all this is meant with the best intentions by people who only wish our happiness, but it hurts to know that even the people we love can’t accept our choice.
My husband and I did not come by this decision lightly. We have had many discussions about it, and we still talk about it from time to time. He recently asked me if I resented him for not wanting children. Of course I don't! I knew before we were married how he felt about being a parent, and it's one of the reasons why I married him. I've known for a long time that I wasn't cut out for parenthood, and I was lucky enough to fall in love with someone who knew the same about himself.
I look at parenthood as a calling. Some people are able to answer the call. I have lots of friends with kids, and I've seen their joy as they interact with them. I can tell just from watching those families that this is what they were meant for. I wish all families were as happy as the ones I am privileged to know.
I've never received that call. I've never felt a tug on my heartstrings as I've held a friend's newborn. I've never felt the need to be a parent so keenly that it hurts. I feel for the ones who do, and who can never be. I do love kids. I feel my life has been enriched by the ones I have known-- my niece, my cousins, my friends’ children. I cherish the memories of the little kids I used to babysit, who are now adults themselves. I love being a friend, an auntie, and a “big sister”. And I am happy to leave it at that.
Parenthood is an important job-- you're not raising children, you are raising future adults. You're responsible for the life, well-being and formation of a person, 24/7, for their whole lives. It's too important a job to do it half-heartedly. Too many people who shouldn’t be parents don't recognize that, and we see the consequences of it all the time.
My husband and I have recognized that we are not up to that challenge. We don't have the patience, the discipline, the emotional capacity, or really the will that it takes. And rather than accept that we are self-aware enough to know that much about ourselves, many people try to pressure us into changing our minds. I’ve heard it all: “You don't know for sure,” “You’ll change your mind,” “You'd be great parents” or my personal favourite, “It's different when it's your own baby”.
I don’t understand why the choice not to have children stirs up so much emotion, especially in complete strangers. Why does it have to be an issue? I would never dream of criticizing someone's choice to become a parent. Why is it OK for people to judge me for the choice not to become one?.