There’s a choice among women that is often hushed up but made none the less. It’s a choice that is about as scandalous and taboo as the pro-life debate and the working mother deliberation. It’s the choice, not by nature or biology, but by CHOICE to not have children.
TIME magazine published an article last August entitled, “Childfree adults are not ‘selfish’” and reading it, as well as the subsequent and unavoidable media storm that followed, I came to the realisation that: only those with children can truly understand the decision to remain childfree. Please don’t get me wrong here, my kids mean the world to me, even after a sleepless night and a particularly difficult morning (probably not unrelated.) But I wanted kids. I always wanted a herd of them.
I'm talking about those who choose not to have them at all.
Perhaps it’s re-reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver that got this mental conversation going in the first place. The narrator, Eva, never wanted children. She lists the same reasons cited in articles such as the abovementioned one in TIME magazine, the subsequent responses and when I spoke to my child-less friends. Reasons such as: financial independence and security, not having a childbearing or maternal mindset, loving their life and partner enough to not feel that it was lacking in any way.
I get that. Kids are hellishly expensive, especially once the Disney bug bites. Not to mention education. And loving your life of travel and luxury, or abject poverty might mean that a child will affect this tremendously. In fact, that part is undoubtedly true. If you don’t feel that you have the maternal gene, who are we as society to question it? It doesn’t mean you are a child-hater. Same as, to a far lesser extent, I don’t particularly want a pet kitten. I don’t hate cats; I'm just more of a dog person.
There are also the valid arguments about the fact that the world is over-populated already, why add to that? The uncertainty of our future as a planet, what with global warming and continuously depleting resources. Living in South Africa certainly raises very serious questions about the future of our government and the scarily high crime statistics. These are all valid considerations when bringing another life into the world.
People who choose not to have children will never truly know what they’ve missed out on though. They will never quite get what being a parent entails, and I don’t mean that in a condescending way at all. So I want to share a few of our secrets with them, if my fellow parents don’t mind.
- The luxury of private ablutions is a thing of the past when you have kids. You will certainly battle to shower alone, have a long luxurious bath, or even make a wee, without little hands wanting to help wash you or dry you or wipe you. If you’re the dad, it’s even better when they want to tug on your squishy bits. You will hear pearls of insight such as: ‘Why mommy’s boobies all wobbly?’ ‘Is there another baby in your tummy because it’s SO big?’ or ‘Daddy is so hairy.’ This becomes even more fun when it’s that-time-of-the-month or you are trying to do something like apply hair removal cream to your legs.
- Computers, iPads, cell phones, remote controls, the television… none of these belong to you any more. I applaud Steve Jobs’ approach to technology on a daily basis. Creating such user friendly devices really have set him apart even posthumously while the technological world attempts to catch up. BUT the fact that my one year old has ga-ga-gobble-de-gook conversations with SIRI and accidently deletes apps off my iPad is seriously not cool. The fact that my three year old has her own, albeit hand-me-down iPad and asks for new games from the App Store, also scary. The fact that our default television channel is Disney Junior, scarier than anything else. I used to watch my ‘grown-up’ (American Horror Story, Dexter, Vampire Diaries etc.) television during daylight hours, thus removing the horror elements from them completely. Now I need to wait until late at night when the kids are asleep. It’s not cool because I poop myself watching them in the dark. You are suddenly also well aware of the foul language, sexual permissiveness and violence in so many ‘harmless’ television shows that you are quite grateful for the folks at Disney at times. And as for trying to watch a Youtube clip!
- You will never make love anywhere other than your bedroom, behind a locked door, again. Or at least for the foreseeable future. Don’t really need to elaborate much on that one, but sadly, the walk-in factor becomes a reality the minute that baby takes their first steps.
- No secret is safe. This is once they start talking. They don't stop. And everything is fair game. Your mother will hear about the time her darling granddaughter witnessed 'mommy getting so cross.' Lock the grown-up goodie drawers. Hide the re-gifting gifts up high. And NEVER gossip again.
- Sleep depravation as a torture device is no longer an abstract thought. There are simply no words to aptly described the levels of fatigue parents feel. I say ‘parents’ because these days there are stay-at-home dads, hands-on-dads and of course, smaller homes with thinner walls. We can’t attempt sleep training in our home, for instance, because toddler sleeps in our room with us (night terrors are awesome!) and baby’s nursery is right off our room. According to my Fitbit, (another great Apple gadget,) I average three and a half hours of sleep a night. And you know, when I was a party girl and stayed up until the club closed or went straight from a party to breakfast, I would feel tired, yes. I would even feel a little ill some times. But at least I had awesome stories or photographs to show for it. Now, all I have are dark rings under my eyes and a somewhat pasty complexion at times.
- Your thoughts are no longer your own. You may find the opportunity to get away for a few days, escape the mayhem of mommydom and even perhaps, get some ‘me time,’ but just wait: you will see a kid, or hear a baby, or glance at your screen saver on your mobile, and there they will be. You will never again have a moment where you're able to simply forget that you have children. You will never be able to go shopping without considering what little appetites dictate in your home. Or look at a clothing store without drifting through the kiddies section. And even when you do set out, determined to buy something for yourself, you are constantly thinking how wonderful it is to NOT have to think about your kids for a change.
- There is never enough room in the car. Ever. Somehow, with kids, the space dictates how much crap they require. Even fairly large cars seem to run out of space. And even if you go the route of buying a trailer, like my husband sadly did, you still seem to fill it AS WELL AS the car. If you were to look inside my car now, you’d be amazed to see that I have two pairs of gumboots, one pair of ‘angel dancing shoes’ and a pair of fairy wings. I also have art work from the last two days at school and three My Little Ponies. These are all necessary requirements for the drive to and from school. Then there’s the nappy bag and the snacks and the stroller and the re-usable grocery bags. Plus two car seats. It is surprisingly clean. But organised chaos nonetheless. Travelling for a day or for a month requires similar amounts of luggage. Oh, and did I mention that the CD in the car is Clamber Club Action Songs? Because sitting in a cramped car with bags of kiddies stuff all over the space wasn’t fun enough until we had to listen to The Wheels on the Bus a hundred times. Love it.
- There are no words to describe the feelings you experience when your child is hurt or in danger. When someone excludes your child, or picks on them, or pushes them, you literally oscillate between blind rage and total anguish. It taps into the lioness in every mother while feeling as though part of your heart is being placed in a juicer. I love my husband but somehow when he is hurt, all six-foot-eleven and a-hundred-and-five kilograms of him, I know that he will be okay. A child, no matter what age, always seems to need our commiseration and defence. That’s not to even speak of the fear one feels when you think your child is in mortal danger. The next part might rub some of you up the wrong way, but even when our spouses are taken from us, they are replaceable. The person is completely irreplaceable, but the role sadly is. You find widows and widowers, orphans and foster kids. But there isn’t even a word to define a person who’s lost a child. That’s because it doesn’t follow a natural order of things and the emotions you experience when faced with that slight chance are simply indescribable.
- Time is no longer your own. Gone are the days when you simply decide to pop out for a nice quick dinner, or a slow boozy lunch. There is simply no such thing with kids en tow. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a sitter on tap, you will still need to consider timing, needs of spawn and requirements of said sitter. You will probably need to leave numbers, food, drinks, a change of clothing and of course, deal with the tears or questioning from the spawn as to why they can't come. And to make this all so much worse, you will go to dinner or lunch and spend a fair portion thereof discussing the spawn from whom you were so desperate to escape. And if not discussing them, at least thinking of them.
- Nothing will ever be clean again. Properly, properly clean. That old adage of ‘If you wear white, they will eat chocolate. If you wear black, they will have a runny nose.” Well, I can't even begin to tell you the devastation I feel when I open my wardrobe prepared to wear a specific outfit, only to discover that I packed it away without realising there were smudges of foreign matter on the arms, or back. There’s only one way they got there. Or when I rummage through the Tupperware drawer to discover that long, long ago, Toddler chose to store some Basil, (at least I think it was Basil?) in my special storage container. It’s not ideal. Get the floor washed, they tread mud in. Get the windows clean, they come spraying monster spray on them. Get the door handles clean, they come along with gook on their hands. Then sob because the ‘door is locked.’
So, childless friends, you may not think of yourselves as selfish for choosing not to have children but you can understand how us breeders would see the decision that way, right? And again, when I say selfish, I mean it in the nicest possible way. You have your own time, your own technological devices, your own thoughts, freedom of movement, ablutions and copulation, of living a life of free space and cleanliness. That seems quite righteously selfish to me.
That’s not to mention the financial stability and freedom. Travel. Entertainment. Choices. Choices. Choices. It is sometimes incredibly enviable, to be honest. And I respect the decision to go against the flow – sometimes nosy folks can be very pushy and it takes guts to stick by a decision that is not necessarily the societal norm. I personally think it’s quite sad when people feel that children should be the sole reason for life on this planet, as though there is no other reason for our existence.
Yet, I am guilty of feeling that way. The two I've popped out have really become just that. They are a marvel I am utterly astonished to have even had a hand in. Every day solidifies an adoration for them that honestly is other-wordly. They are, to me, clear evidence of Divine Creation. They are also, a legacy of a love I share with an incredible person. They will be the part of me that remains when the flesh is all gone.
I guess choosing not to have children and then arguing that it was not out of selfishness that the choice was made is truly a fair stance. And far be it from me to judge. The part of me that often wishes for a few hours of childlessness gets it. The mother in me hopes that you find some semblance of the joy children bring to our lives in something else. And if, for some reason, you question your decision at some stage and wish to take a kid for a ‘test drive,’ I'm sure you would find many a parent willing to loan you theirs for a few hours.
Watch this for a light take on the subject: Try Not Having Kids: Huffington Post