“Maybe you just don’t realize you want children.”
If you’re a childfree woman, you’ve almost certainly been told that having children is normal. That you’ll regret it if you don’t. That you secretly want children deep, deep down inside.
If you’re beginning to feel like it might not be so bad to give in to the pressure and have a kid, stop. Before you make any irreversible decisions, consider the following.
Maternal instinct isn’t universal.
In an interview on NPR, childfree author Ann Patchett shares what it feels like when friends, family, and strangers tell her she wants a baby, but just doesn’t know it yet.
It would be like if somebody said, “Your car keys are in the drawer.”
And you go and you open the drawer, and not only are your car keys not in the drawer, there’s nothing in the drawer. The drawer is empty.
And you come back and you say, “The keys aren’t in the drawer.”
And they say, “No, go back and look again. They are in the drawer.”
And you go back and you open the drawer and it is empty. And that’s how I always felt. Like people were always saying to me, “Go back and look again. Examine the inner contents of your heart, you will find it.”
And I never did.
Fortunately, Patchett’s self awareness exceeded her self-doubt, and she didn’t give in to the insistence of others. Whether your mom friends understand or not, the truth is for some women that desire really and truly isn’t there.
If you don’t want them now, you likely won’t regret it later.
If you can convince someone that you really don’t want children, the next thing they’ll probably say is “You’ll regret not having them when you’re older.” But let’s look at this. For me personally, there’s never been an instance in which I had no desire for something only to regret not having it later.
To be clear, I’ve wanted things that I’ve talked myself out of. Sometimes I’ve wanted things that I was unable to have. And occasionally I’ve wanted something but been unwilling to admit it. But I have never been wholly indifferent to or repelled by some Thing and later found myself longing for it. Most often, this regret in later life is due to placing your hope for happiness in someone other than yourself.
Having children isn’t the default.
Finally there’s the idea that having a baby is just something a woman should do. I fervently disagree. No one should have a baby unless they deeply want one. Having a child you don’t really want (even if you plan to love and care for as though you did) is like switching the career you like for one that you don’t enjoy because other people tell you to. They say that you’ll like it once you have it, and you’ll regret it if you don’t switch now. Imagine the following exchange:
Person 1: “But I don’t want to be a marine biologists. I don’t really have a passion for sea life at all. I’m pretty indifferent to it.”
Person 2: “Listen, your window of opportunity is closing. If you don’t quit your job, go back to school, and start this new career now, you’ll regret it later. And besides, you’ll love marine life once it’s in your care.”
You would think the second person is crazy, and that the first person is even crazier if she takes this advice.
Devoting the next 18+ years of your physical and emotional life to something you don’t actually desire, but worry you may regret not having later on, is (I’m sorry) very foolish.
To use Ann Patchett’s analogy, the keys aren’t going to suddenly materialize in the drawer just because someone else expects them to. Even if you are persuaded to believe that they’re actually there, and open the drawer (for the hundredth time), this time fully expecting them to be there, they still won’t be there.
What it all boils down to is…
Creating a new human being and raising it isn’t like buying a blouse that you’re not sure about. You can’t just send it to the thrift store a year later when you realize you only bought it because your friend swore you’d look great in it.
In fact, it’s not even like buying a house. “It’s an investment!” people tell you. “You’ll save so much money in the long run, you should buy one now.” If you buy a house when you don’t want one (or really can’t afford one), the very worst scenario is that it goes into foreclosure and you file for bankruptcy.
And if that sounds like a pretty bad worst case scenario, pause for a moment and consider what you’ll feel like when you realize you’ve spent two-hundred and forty-five thousand dollars on something that, though it’s nice, you never really wanted.
The financial and emotional costs are worthwhile if it’s for something you genuinely, deeply desire. But if it’s for something that someone else tells you you might regret later? That there is just a bad decision, any way you look at it.
When it comes to creating a new human, the rationale “People are telling me I should. How bad could it be?” is not a smart approach. If you don’t want children, for the sake of yourself and your unborn, hypothetical offspring, don’t be bullied into it. Your friends may never understand, but they don’t have to live your life.
Want more great resources for single, childfree women? Sign up for the American Spinster mailing list: