Why I Might Not Want Kids, And Why That’s Okay

Choice
Photo taken from Google.com/

One of the biggest decisions that a person will ever make is whether or not they will have children. When I was teenager I thought it was a given that I would, providing it was possible, have at least one child of my own. However, having spent a fair few years thinking about it, I’m not so sure that parenthood is something I personally want.

The responses I tend to receive when I tell people this are, ‘But you’d be a great mother,’ or ‘Don’t you like children?’ both of which miss the point. As it happens I do like children – I absolutely adore my five-year-old nephew, and I love spending time with my friends’ kids. I also have no doubts about my ability to raise a child with all the love and care that it deserves. But does enjoying other people’s children and having faith in my ability to successfully raise my own mean that parenthood is something I should pursue?

The simple (and perhaps controversial) truth is that, as fun and endearing as children are, I have serious doubts as to whether I will thrive in motherhood, or find in it the same level of contentment that I currently enjoy as a childless woman. You might assume when you read this that I just haven’t found the right partner yet, or that it just isn’t the right time for me to think about starting a family. And this is understandable; within our culture wanting to have children is not only an incredibly common experience, but one that is expected, especially of woman. But for some, men and women alike, the idea of raising a child simply isn’t as appealing as it is for others.

Does enjoying other people’s children and having faith in my ability to successfully raise my own mean that parenthood is something I should pursue?

It’s often argued that starting a family is one of the most enriching and satisfying experiences that a person can have (if this is your personal experience then I fully respect that you have made the right decision for you.) But for someone like me who burns out easily, enjoys spending a lot of time alone, and often finds the expectations, needs and demands of others rather stress-inducing, parenthood (especially the pregnancy and early years bit) doesn’t seem all that attractive. Does this mean that I’m not maternal, or that I don’t appreciate children? No, it doesn’t. I’m very much in touch with my maternal side (there are many ways of expressing maternal love and affection) and I also understand from being an aunt just how joyful and life-affirming spending time with children can be. However, the difference between being someone’s parent and being their aunt is enormous, and as much as I adore and am always happy to see the children in my life, I also highly value the freedom that I have to choose both when and how my time with them is spent.

Of course, as well as feeling uncertain about how satisfying parenthood will be, there are a number of other reasons why a person may choose to remain childless, ranging from lifestyle preferences and financial restrictions to anxieties about mental and physical health. Whatever the reason behind the decision, though, it simply isn’t fair to negatively judge others according to our own needs and wants. We are each of us unique, and the experiences that bring contentment in life may vary greatly from person to person. When it comes to creating little human beings isn’t it better for everyone, including our yet-to-be-born/perhaps-never-will-be-born children that we acknowledge rather than ignore our differences?

For many people having children is an enormously rewarding experience, and I hold a huge amount of respect and admiration for every one of my friends and family members who have chosen to pursue parenthood. But common and accepted as wanting to have children is within our culture, it is each person’s right to decide for them selves (without expectation or pressure from others) whether starting a family is right for them. For some people it simply isn’t; let’s please stop judging one another for feeling differently.

 

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For the Love of… Learning?

night-night-sky-nightsky
Photo credit: Foter.com

During my graduation ceremony, the head of my university’s English department boldly stated in his speech that graduates live happier, healthier and more comfortable lives than those who choose not to complete higher education courses. At the time I thought, ‘What a load of tripe!’ Several years down the line I still believe this to be the case.

The notion that university attendance leads to higher levels of personal well-being is, I believe, a gross misconception founded on the outdated belief that academic study leads to higher salaries and, therefore, better quality of life. In a country where over half of the school-leaver population now goes on to enrol at university, holding a Bachelor’s degree in the UK today isn’t likely to improve either employment or salary prospects for most graduating students.

For those who hold unflinching career goals and are naturally gifted in academic study university is, of course, always going to be a beneficial endeavour. As well as being able to easily produce work that receives good grades, high academic achievers are also often blessed with the guarantee of professional well-paid work on completion of their courses, regardless of the subjects they choose to study. But for those who are uncertain about their careers, and who may also struggle to produce consistently good coursework, attending university simply doesn’t have the same benefits. Bearing this in mind, the question that I’d like to focus on is whether there is still value in attending university outside of the ‘happier, healthier, more comfortable’ myth. Personally, I believe that there is.

The knowledge and skills that I gained through studying fiction and poetry will always be worth far more to me than any job title or salary.

When I was choosing which course to study, I wasn’t sure about what kind of job I wanted it to lead to. With no specific career goal in mind, I ended up basing my decision on how enjoyable and interesting I thought any given subject would be. After all, what would be the point in studying for a career-specific degree if I might only lose interest in it later on?

Having always enjoyed and felt that I was good at writing, I decided that literature was the most appropriate subject for me. And I’m pleased to say that four years after graduating I have no regrets about this choice. Whilst my degree course has not made my life more happy, healthy or comfortable (life is still just as complicated and I’m still struggling on just a little over minimum wage!), the knowledge and skills that I gained through the study of fiction and poetry will always be worth far more to me than any job title or salary.

Of course, some may feel that attending university without having a specific career in mind is a little extravagant considering how expensive it is. However, I strongly disagree with the perceived benefit of education being so closely tied to the salaries and professional statuses that courses can lead to. University is incredibly expensive – that’s an unfortunate fact. But if there is a desire to learn and a feeling that personal development if nothing else may benefit from it, then doesn’t that alone make education a worthwhile investment?

I will likely spend the rest of my life repaying my £20,000+ student loan. But regardless of this ever-growing debt, I’d still rather be educated in a subject that I’m passionate about than spend the rest of my life feeling as though I’ve missed out on a wonderful opportunity. Higher education isn’t something that will benefit everyone in the same way, but regardless of the jobs and wages that university can and does sometimes lead to, the benefits of learning simply for the love of it should never be underestimated.

‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’

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Photo credit: Foter.com

They say ‘Once a smoker, always a smoker,’ and as someone who’s given up and started again more than a few times, I’ve come to accept that this holds a lot of truth for me personally. Like most of my smoker friends I’ve been lighting up since my early teens, and the ritual of rolling and smoking cigarettes has become a long-term habit that I thoroughly enjoy at the same time as wholeheartedly wishing that I didn’t.

Part of the reason I started smoking at the age of 13 was that all of the adults I knew were smokers and so it seemed like a pretty normal thing to do. There was, of course, also a rebellious element as I was totally aware of the health risks that cigarettes pose. Unfortunately I didn’t care too much about this at the time, and persevered through the initial sickness and coughing fits even though I knew that I was damaging myself. Shamefully, though, the biggest draw to cigarettes for me when I was a teenager was the misplaced notion that smoking was something you did if you were cool, which I really wasn’t back then. I was the clumsy fat kid with frizzy black hair and ill-fitting school clothes. And, as all misfits will relate to, I was made well aware of my perceived ‘otherness’ by my peers.

Disliking school for this and many other reasons, I started bunking off on a regular basis. My favourite thing to do in light of there being very little else, was to pester strangers in the street to buy me cigarettes, and then hang around smoking in the park down the road until I was eventually found and dragged back to class. Whilst the desire to bunk off thankfully subsided as soon as I graduated, the pleasure that I found in smoking has unfortunately remained very much in tact.

The biggest draw to cigarettes when I was a teenager was the misplaced notion that smoking was something you did if you were cool, which I really wasn’t back then.

In addition to nicotine, the other substance that I regularly consume and enjoy is alcohol. And like all great pairings, I can’t seem to separate one from the other: the pleasure I find in smoking is significantly amplified when I have a drink in my hand, and alcohol isn’t quite as satisfying on it’s own. The way that I’ve dealt with this in the past when I’ve managed to quit cigarettes for extended periods of time is simply to avoid alcohol altogether. Sounds like a perfect solution, right?

Wrong.

On the surface abstinence seems like a great idea. Not only does avoiding both drinking and smoking have immense benefits in terms of physical health, it also saves a lot of cash; I could probably buy a house with all the money that I’ve spent in pubs over the years! But dig a little deeper, and it poses some problems. I’m by no means reliant on alcohol and (unless I’m under lots of stress) I very rarely drink enough these days to become completely intoxicated. But sharing a decent bottle of wine or having a few beers with friends is something that I look forward to and that I find incredibly relaxing. Whilst I no longer feel the need to binge on alcohol in the way that I used to when I was younger, denying myself the pleasure of drinking at all ignores a large part of who I am. In my experience, and I’ve tried several times, complete abstinence only leads to feelings of isolation, loneliness and sadness. I’d much rather dabble a little and have a good time with the people I love than find myself alone and miserable.

I’m never going to be someone who enjoys sitting in the pub with an orange juice and a packet of crisps as everyone around me drinks and smokes. But rather than beating myself up about my inability to reject everything that’s bad for me, I’ve decided to accept it and relax a little. There’s no denying that smoking is incredibly bad for my health, or that drinking alcohol leads me to smoke more than I’d like to. But the more I tell myself that I’m stupid for doing it and deny myself pleasure for the sake of trying to quit when I’m clearly not ready, the less likely I am to find the determination to stop.

I’m hopeful that there will come a time when smoking feels less desirable to me. Until then, though, the best thing that I can do is savour every single cigarette that I smoke, and wait patiently for the right kind of willpower to emerge.

To Binge, or Not to Binge?

To Binge or not to Binge
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Like many British millennials, the best part of my teenage years were spent in dingy bedrooms and sweaty nightclubs listening to music that my parents didn’t understand, and drinking as much cheap alcohol as I could lay my hands on. From the age of 14 going right up until I started studying at university in my mid-twenties, pretty much all of my weekends (and even some weeknights) were dedicated to getting drunk. And for a fair few years this proved a pretty fun and carefree pastime. In fact, nothing will ever quite compare to the contentment I used to feel on those lazy post-binge days when I’d spend hours snuggled up with my mates in blankets, drinking tea, eating dirty pizza, and watching endless crap on TV. The hangovers we endured weren’t pretty, of course, but the sense of comfort and belonging that we found in each other’s company made the pain and the sickness feel totally worthwhile.

With alcohol having been such a big part of my life throughout my early adolescence, I can’t help thinking now about why I was so drawn to drinking in the first place. As someone who’s always felt uncomfortable socialising in big groups, maintaining friendships and forging new ones has always been a slightly tricky affair. One of the benefits of drinking alcohol when I was growing up was that it gave me the confidence, albeit fleeting, to talk to people and let loose on the dance floor without feeling self-conscious. Getting drunk was also useful when it came to becoming sexually active, endowing me with the courage to  flirt and have sex without feeling embarrassed or ashamed of my body. Meeting friends at the pub after a busy shift at work was something to look forward to, and the ritual of going out on a Friday  or Saturday night helped to make the responsibilities of adult life feel a little less difficult and serious.

Thinking about all of the fun times I had and great friends I made throughout my heavy drinking days, it’s easy to look back on my teenage years with fondness and nostalgia. But ignoring the dark times just wouldn’t be honest.

And dark times there certainly were.

Immediately springing to mind is the time that I gave myself alcohol poisoning after drinking six cans of Special Brew (more commonly seen in the hands of homeless alcoholics) and spent the whole week afterwards feeling like my insides were being squeezed through a mangle, convinced that I’d eaten a dodgy kebab. Coming in at number one in the regretful memory charts, though, is the night that I drank so much cider that I ended up passed out in the street after leaving my friends at a party and had to be chaperoned to my doorstep by the police. Bragging to my friends the following day about how I’d been sick out of the police car window  on the way home proved pretty funny at the time. But looking back I can only cringe with embarrassment at the thought of how inebriated I must have been.

The ritual of going out on a Friday  or Saturday night helped to make the responsibilities of adult life seem a little less difficult and serious.

For years my weekends were spent binging on whatever booze I could afford – from cheap white cider in the early days, to wine and gin more recently – and not without consequence to my mental and physical health. As well as suffering from recurring kidney infections and bouts of depression and anxiety throughout my twenties, in 2012 I was diagnosed with thyroid disease – a common condition that has links to alcohol abuse (Forefront Health), and one that has seriously affected my overall health and self-esteem. Of course, there’s no way of knowing if I would have developed the condition if I’d drank less or abstained from alcohol altogether, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering if it’s something that could have been avoided.

Health issues aside, though, the other problem I’m faced with now as someone who’s chosen to cut heavy drinking out of my life as much as possible is alienation from certain social activities and a general feeling of impending doom in most, if not all, social gatherings. I can recall many birthday parties, festivals, and events that I’ve taken great pains to avoid over the last few years, not because I don’t want to spend time with my friends or let my hair down, but because it’s no fun being the only sober person at the party, especially when chronic introversion is involved.

Thinking about my personal experience, it’s easy to understand why so many people continue to go out and get pissed even when they don’t really want to. Drinking alcohol and getting drunk is such a big part of British culture and so vital to so much of our social behaviour that choosing not to do it can make you feel pretty boring, not to mention awkward making conversation without that all important dose of Dutch courage. In my case, abandoning heavy drinking has led to me losing a large part of my social life, either due to growing bored with drunken conversation and behaviour, or losing interest in activities that are only really fun when drinking’s involved. Friday night down the pub springs to mind as one example.

However, as much as cutting down on booze has had what often feels like a negative impact on my social life, and caused me to feel like an outsider in my own friendship group at times, I have no desire to go back to how I was. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed my fair share of booze-fuelled bonding sessions. I’ve had many of these, and I shall remember them fondly. But as useful as alcohol has been for breaking down social barriers and helping me to get to know people more intimately, I strongly believe that true friends and dedicated lovers will always make an effort to put the hard work in, regardless of any awkwardness that sobriety may bring.

I can’t deny that some of the best experiences of my life have involved either getting drunk or being hungover with people that I love and care deeply about. But for all the spectacular parties I’ve been to and all the amazing people I’ve met over the years, feeling safe, physically healthy, and stable in my mind is worth far more to me now than any fun night out.