Yes, It’s Possible to Love Children and Also Not Want Them
Awhile back, I spent an evening with a delightful blonde gentleman. We listened to Otis Redding and snacked on fresh fruit and watched the shadows get longer.
Then he tried to reach into my nose because I have two piercings there and he likes to poke them.
My little friend is approaching his first birthday and I love him to pieces. I love his sticky hair and his giant smile and his quirky head-tilts. I love his staccato sounds and the way he tries to mimic the adults around him.
I love him because he is sweet and charming, but also because I love his mother, one of my oldest and closest friends, and his father, who I think is one of the best men on the planet. The entire family is warm and clever and kind and giving and I mean it when I tell them I’ll watch their kid any time, in part because I’d do anything to make their lives easier and in part because he delights me.
I’d hardly be the first to write about the wonder of children—hell, the modern internet was founded on women fawning over their big-eyed babies in blog posts about birthdays——so I’ll keep it succinct and say that I really do enjoy their company. Kids are gossipy and unconcerned with their appearance. They’re brazen and just figuring out how to get their way. I love watching them learn. I love helping them learn.
This often surprises people who know that I, myself, have no children and, at age 30, don’t intend on having any.
“Wait, I thought you don’t like kids,” one friend said when I told her I’d be babysitting.
Since I was a teenager, I’ve known that I wanted to do a lot with my life — move to a city, write, maybe teach, stop biting my nails, not be poor anymore — and also that there was one part of “normal” American life that I didn’t want.
Despite the dozens of, if not more, older adults who have told me that I would “change my mind eventually,” I never have. I’ve been called selfish and snobby and immoral and any number of names, but I know what’s best for me. I’m not having biological children (though I have thought about adopting or fostering once I’m a bit more financially stable). It’s just not my path.
She, like a lot of people, conflated child-free with child-hating. Which is, I think, a fundamental miscommunication, or misconception. And I suspect it’s what lead to the overwhelmingly negative view of people who choose to remain child-free.
Just because I don’t have children doesn’t mean I don’t like yours, or that I don’t like you.
When my sister told me that she and her husband—another very, very good man—were having a child, I was overcome with excitement. On behalf of my sister, who wanted to be a mom so badly. On behalf of my parents, who would be excellent grandparents. And on behalf of the world, because I wanted to know that there would be someone who was made up of pieces of my little sister for years to come.
In January, just days after the Inauguration and the millions of women marching in the streets, came her endless labor. I flew back to Oregon and took up residence at the hospital with the rest of my family. We sat around the old magazines like a campfire and waited.
Hovering around the delivery room, I felt a newfound depth of love and respect for my sister, my girl. I have always loved my sister more than anyone or anything else that has ever lived and breathed—she’s my heart—but watching her be so physically strong and capable through days of unimaginable pain was unlike anything I’d seen.
I felt honored just to be in her orbit.
And then when I met this entirely new person, well, it was all over. This impossibly small, pink package—a pouty mouth like her mother, a wail like me, blue eyes like all of us—was an amalgam of every strong and resilient person who’d come before us from every corner of the planet. She was the culmination of so many things.
“Does it make you want to have your own?” a few people asked me after I professed my love for her.
“Sounds like someone’s going to change her mind about babies!” said another when I texted about her perfect fingers, her tiny lashes.
But no. Because the birth of my niece had nothing to do with the future of my reproduction. I think that’s where we tend to get mislead.
There are reasons—my own genetics, my own emotions, and my own limited abilities as a person living pretty publicly with mental illness—that the process of conception, gestation, birth, and child-rearing are not my best options.
It doesn’t mean I don’t delight in children; we are, biologically, wired to delight in children. And I do. I coo at babies in the grocery store. I’m the one who talks to the children at parties whose parents couldn’t get a sitter. Once, I absconded from a particularly dull dinner parter to talk to a little boy about his lizard for a not-insignificant amount of time. It was lovely.
And I love the children that I know because they are something greater than just ounces and dates and the smell of Johnson & Johnson. They are the products of the adults I’ve loved. They are the next wave of discovery and innovation and heartbreak and empathy, and they’ll be marching through their lives containing bits of the adults I cherish.
I love children, in general, because they are a new chance for us, as people, to get it right. To emphasize love and nuance and reason and science and humanity.
Again, all of this surprises a lot of people, who assume that because I don’t want my own children, I must be adverse to the concept of children.
Who can blame them? For years, the image of the child-free woman has been extremely narrow—she’s either stuck in suspended adolescence, vehemently anti-child, or desperately pining for a baby all her own.
There are only a few kinds of child-free women seen in the media: The desperate and unable and the cold and unwilling. So, basically, we’ve defined our child-free opinions by the characters of Sex and the City. It’s no wonder we’ve gone so wrong.
And it is true that some child-free folks don’t like kids. But then, some parents don’t, either; my mother used to always tell us that she hated children except her own.
But don’t get confused about me—not wanting to give birth doesn’t mean I don’t wholesale dislike kids, or that I don’t want to be around yours.
Have I considered expanding my family beyond myself and my partner? Certainly. We both like the idea of bringing an older kid into our home to help get them through school and onto post-secondary life. That is a place we feel we could be nurturing and useful. I’ve even considered egg donation for my friends who, for any number of reasons, aren’t able to have biological children.
But having my own kids?
I don’t feel the need, the pull that my friends with children describe. I think if I did, I’d know already. And it’s certainly too big of a decision to guess and get wrong.
And it’s not as though the world is somehow hurting for more children, or my children specifically; the planet is struggling to bear the weight of us all as it is, and family-planning and being selective in our own reproductive behavior is a powerful way to combat climate change. Which isn’t to say I’m not having children for the sole purpose of reducing my carbon footprint or out of any kind of pious reasoning.
But simply saying “not for me” doesn’t seem a good enough for a lot of folks, so I’ve found myself searching for other things to tell people.
Anyway, I’m a firm believer in making your family in whichever way you deem correct for you. One reason I am an unwavering advocate for choice and access to reproductive health care is not because I want fewer children in the world, but because I want every child that is born to be wanted, loved, and cared for. Because the idea of forcing a person who doesn’t want a child to be a caretaker is, to me, monstrous.
I also believe in chosen families, Friendsgivings, and extended relatives who become aunties and uncles. I believe there is no imperitive to forgive hurtful families. I believe that two makes a family. I believe that one makes a family. And I believe that defining families by the presence of biological children is exclusive and hurtful to those who, for whatever reason, can’t or don’t want to make that choice.
My partner and I are a family; we have our holidays together, we share our lives. We are enough. But I also visit my sister as often as I can and hold that baby for hours and house, marveling at her busy feet and desperation to walk on her own. Both of these things can be true at once.
And if you’d ever like to bring your littles over to my apartment to pet my dog (he likes kids, because they’re usually covered with something tasty) or go to brunch somewhere that has high-chairs and crayons, do please let me know.