So, this post is not really about travel, except tangentially. Also, it’s long. Also, pottymouth. You’ve been warned.
Short version: I don’t have children. Here’s why.
It all started when a very good friend of mine wrote a blog post that went viral and made the internet angry (which was not entirely fun for her, but it I found it very entertaining). And then she came over for dinner and we talked about it…a lot.
One of the reasons I can choose to travel as much as I do is that I do not have children. My friend does. In fact, she has three. And they’re amazing kids. Her blog post was about how childless people don’t really get what it’s like to have kids. Except it was self-deprecating and sarcastic, and hysterically funny–and totally her. And a whole bunch of people didn’t get it.
She started in about how people without children think people with children are losers, or have lost themselves, or have forgotten how to have adult conversations. I know people say these things, because, frankly, we’re all a bunch of judgmental assholes sometimes. Also (and bear with me here) sometimes those things are true.
Now, for the record, my friend wasn’t writing about me. I don’t think people with children are losers. So, I didn’t get all panties-in-a-wad offended. But what I said to her was that I feel just as judged by society, if not more so, for my lack of offspring. I mean, I get it. I’m basically not performing the precise function that evolution determined for me. What a slacker and weirdo, right?
See, I didn’t choose to have children. Not because I’m some hardcore zero population growth advocate or because I hate children. There are a lot of reasons I didn’t have kids. First and most importantly, I secretly think I am one of those people who simply was not cut out for it. For a lot of really good reasons. (A lot of my female friends had “that moment”–the one where some primal instinct kicked in and they HAD to have a baby NOW. That one? Never happened to me.)
I always said I’d consider having a child under two very exact and nonnegotiable conditions:
- I had to be with a loving partner in a stable, solid relationship.
- He had to have the potential to be a good father and he had to want to be a father very, very, very much–enough to convince *me* that this was a good idea.
Sometimes I had condition 1. Sometimes I had condition 2. I never had them both at the same time. There is, of course, a whole lot of other stuff that factored in, but I won’t belabor (ahem) the point here. Mainly, I stand by those two conditions. The fact that they never were met tells me I made the right decision. Am I entirely reconciled with it? No. And that’s okay.
I’m okay with being the auntie/cousin to several kids in my life. I’m okay with having the freedom to sleep in, the freedom to travel when I want, the lack of the stress and expense of children. Am I missing out on the love and joy of raising one’s own kids? Of course I am. Am I okay with that? Mostly. I see that bond, and I know that I will never know it. I have accepted that, but does it mean I don’t get a little wistful sometimes? No, it doesn’t.
So, yeah, just like there are idiots who don’t have children who think parents are hopeless and lost, there are people out there in the world (and too many) who say horrid things to and about us nonparent types. For example, “You couldn’t possibly understand my busy, important life, you don’t have children.” Or worse–“You aren’t raising kids; you don’t have a life.” Or former friends who cut me out of their lives once they had children. Or random strangers who assume I’m a socially inept crazy cat lady because I neglected to breed. Or the woman who, at a recent birthday party for my niece: “So, you’re the token child-free adult here?” I mean, come on, WTF?
You know what I want to say? I get it. It’s a different path. You’re right, I can’t “understand” what you’re going through, but I am a sensitive, intelligent person who is also a damn good friend. You’re busy? Let me drive to you. Let me cook you dinner. Let me change a diaper or two. I’m living a different lifestyle from you, but if you make the tiniest effort to keep me in your life (and I’ve had several friends who simply did not want to make this effort because I no longer “fit”), I think you’ll like what happens.
Does this mean I’m some magnanimous hippy aunt who loves all kids? Good christ, no… it does not.
Total stranger in a restaurant? I don’t love your children. I certainly don’t have any desire to enjoy your child’s company while I’m dining. And, by the way, clean up after yourself, you lazy sod. Waitresses work hard enough as it is.
Total stranger who is allowing their child to run rampant, screaming in public/on an airplane/in a meditation area (yes, this actually happened)? No. I do not love your child. But, actually, I love you much less. Because the problem is you. Your undeserved sense of entitlement that society must adapt to (nay, embrace!) your poor parenting, your shitty attitude, your utter lack of basic consideration for those around you. Deal with your own child. The world does not owe you babysitting.
And finally–here’s the giant shocker–your kids are beautiful and precious and perfect. Except only to you. To the rest of the planet, not so much.
See me, over here? Living my quiet life that completely does not intrude on yours, like ever? Part of that is I’m just that fucking considerate. Ponder that for a moment while your offspring are shrieking as if they’re being dismembered. Yes, yes, kids will be kids. But you know what? It’s never too early to teach manners. It’s never too early to understand that the world doesn’t actually revolve around you, and public spaces don’t actually mean “free-for-all.”
On the flip side, if you are my friend…you know what? You want free child care? Call me. You want somebody to hold your kid so you can have two seconds to yourself while you gather one shred of what’s left of your sanity? Call me. You want somebody to come change a dirty diaper because if you have to change one more, you are going to have a meltdown? Call me. Need to have a conversation that involves polysyllabic words? I am all yours.
You want someone to come take you out for a fricking cocktail, even though you’re not supposed to drink because you are nursing? Call me. You can have *one* and then I will cut you off, take you home safely to your kids and husband, and give you a giant hug. If they misbehave, have bad manners, or otherwise act like little shits, I will correct them lovingly and gently. They will have love from me, but I will also take no shit (because, like I’d take it from you?). Husband working that very *last nerve*? Call me, and let me talk you out of…or in to…the divorce (hey, whatever’s appropriate! I’m your friend, goddamit).
And by the way, you know that part about how you have children and a husband to come home to, and I don’t?
Pause for just a moment on that.
And how nice it must be sometimes to simply have that. Because some of us don’t, can’t, never managed it or whatever the fuck happened that we’re not really sure why, but it did. And the world did its little spinny thing and the music stopped, and some of us weren’t in the right goddamned seat for whatever karmic reason. And be grateful for what you have. And don’t tell the rest of us all the time about how lucky and blessed you are. Just say it quietly, to yourself, every night as you tuck in those little midgets.
So to those people who judge me and the other 20% of the population who don’t have kids: I am not *less* than you because I have not had children. I am different from you. My life has ended up on a different path from yours. I did not have the same options or make the same choices as you. I respect that difference. I still love you for exactly who you are. Can you say the same? Do you?
I never intended to end up without having children. Please do not speak to me as if I’ve never thought about this, and thought about it with a certain amount of self-doubt. Do not treat me as if I am broken (or worse, an alien species). Do not brag about your children constantly to everyone. Many people have wanted children and could not have them. Or had them and lost them to some tragedy. While I am not one of those people, I occupy that gray area in the middle–and I also can empathize with their pain. That faux brag-complaining isn’t fooling anyone. Too many people take having children for granted–or think it makes them some kind of saint or hero (quick answer: no)–and never give more than condescension to those of us who don’t, or who can’t.
Many people actively do not believe in having children. I am also not one of those people. But I get them, too. I am guilty of rolling my eyes at the family with 5 children pulling out the food stamps at the grocery store. To me, these people (often poor, often uneducated) are perpetuating a cycle. They are caught in it and can’t get out. I also feel sympathy for them. I do not choose their path. I believe their path is an endless cycle of poverty. But I believe that path will go on pretty much forever, and it is exactly how the world works. I will not be marching in the streets to promote the “child-free” agenda (in fact, I only just heard there was one recently, and I could give a rat’s ass about those people and their agenda).
As for me. I am here. I am just me. I cannot say that I have no regrets. I can only say I’ve lived my life in the only way I know how, and that it has not always turned out the way I hoped, imagined, or was raised to believe it would. I know the generic “society” judges me negatively for what I am.
When I am 90 years old, will I regret not having a child? Possibly. Very likely. I hope that the community of people I have cultivated and loved throughout the years will be my village. I don’t know. None of us can possibly know.
However, I have a couple friends whose offspring I am planning on moving in with in my later years–the crazy auntie in the attic, so to speak. I am totally looking forward to that.