Written by Avery Bowser.
My physical therapist greets me for our second session. “How have you been?” he asks, then follows up, “Have you changed your mind about not having kids?” I smile weakly. While I’m disappointed and uncomfortable, I’m not completely surprised.
Children come up often in conversation these days. It feels like everyone I know has become parents at the same time. I have respect for my friends who’ve embarked on this journey, and I love all the kids in my life. I just don’t want my own.
As a 30-something woman with a purportedly ticking biological clock, I’ve received plenty of feedback on my choice to remain childfree, and I know I’m not alone in that experience. In Women Without Kids, author Ruby Warrington discusses how society views parenting, specifically mothering, as some biological imperative versus a personal choice. She describes “The Mommy Binary,” which splits mothers and non-mothers into two groups: “women who fulfill their duty,” and “sad, lonely, dysfunctional, deluded” women who will undoubtedly regret their choices.
Don’t forget the classic: “Selfish.” I’ve found myself preemptively claiming this label, joking that “I’m too selfish” when justifying my choice. Most days, I don’t actually think I’m selfish or that I will regret my choices. But sometimes, it’s hard not to let the prevailing narrative get to me.
More often than not, I’ve noticed that concerns about my childfree lifestyle come from straight cis men. Rarely do women comment on my choice to remain child free. Maybe it’s because they understand the never ending emotional, psychological, and physical commitment parenting requires of mothers in particular. They may know that this job, while rewarding, isn’t for everyone. Maybe they just know it’s none of their business what other women choose to do with their bodies and lives.
Rarely do women comment on my choice to remain child free. Maybe it’s because they understand the never ending emotional, psychological, and physical commitment parenting requires of mothers in particular.
Speaking of, my Father recently realized I was serious about my decision to not bear him any grandchildren and launched a solo campaign to ensure I’d thought this through. On a phone call he pressed my choice and peppered me for justifications. I provided my default explanations: it’s never been something I wanted, it’s a huge, permanent commitment which I do not take lightly, I wouldn’t want to create a tiny human who depends on me if my heart isn’t 120% in it because that would be selfish, there are other things I want to do, I’m still growing, et cetera.
He responded with typical push backs: “It’s the best decision of my life,” and “You don’t know what you’re missing,” and “I was able to be a parent and have all those other things you said you want, you can have it all!” I considered asking him if he thought my mother would say she ‘had it all’ too, but instead put my head on my desk, mumbled a few feeble counterpoints, and changed the subject. I’ll cut him a little break, because he’s family.
My friend told me recently she was asked by her male boss if her decision to not have children was a “political thing”. Could refraining from having children be considered a political act? Sure, but only if you believe that it is women’s civic duty to pump out children. It is also worth noting that this man has multiple full-time staff that help take care of his kids. Doesn’t really strike me as someone who can empathize with all the factors women consider when making a life-altering decision.
Could refraining from having children be considered a political act? Sure, but only if you believe that it is women’s civic duty to pump out children.
It makes sense that straight men who have (or want) kids are enthusiastic about parenthood because for most of them, their lives are significantly less disrupted by raising the children than women’s lives are. Straight cis men have a lot less to lose by becoming a parent than women do. Rarely do they face years out of the workforce, the taxing emotional labor of running a household, financial disruption, and importantly, the backbreaking and ceaseless unpaid physical work in the home.
Back to the PT. In our first session, he noticed my wedding rings, then asked if I had children. “None,” I said, “Not in our plans.” I was met with an incredulous “What?!” followed by the predictable “Why?” then, “It’s the best thing that’s happened to me” and again: “You don’t know what you’re missing.”
It makes sense that straight men who have (or want) kids are enthusiastic about parenthood because for most of them, their lives are significantly less disrupted by raising the children than women’s lives are.
“And neither do you, bro!” I wanted to shout. The conversation moved on, but clearly this part of our exchange stuck with him, given his greeting at my second appointment. Did he really think he’d convinced me a week prior? Or that it was just a funny inside joke? Neither explanation feels acceptable. But here we are.
I am grateful to the people in life who respect my decisions and trust that I know what’s best for me. I wonder when I will stop feeling the need to explain myself to those who don’t. I was touched by something Warrington said in a recent interview about her own reasoning:
“The decision to become a parent is one of the only decisions that you can’t unmake, and so shouldn’t be entered lightly. And for many people, myself included, although I wasn’t necessarily conscious of it at the time, in deciding not to be a parent, I was automatically buying myself more time for my own inner work… If I had become a parent knowing how challenging parenthood would potentially be for me… the person who would suffer most would be the child.”
About the Author
Avery Bowser is a Brooklyn-based writer and the author of the newsletter Something’s Up. A Healthcare Strategist by day, Avery has more than a decade of freelance writing experience and studied journalism at Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. She writes personal essays and cultural critiques exploring human nature and capacity for growth, across topics including relationships, personal well-being, and career.
Follow on IG: @aabowser |