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 can 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, 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, and 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. 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, it simply isn’t fair to negatively judge according to our own needs and wants. We are each of us unique, and the experiences that bring us 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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Pleasure, Pain & Patriarchal Power: Could there be an elephant in the (bed)room?

Firting to Hurting
Photo credit: hiveminer.com

One of the books that I’m reading at the moment is a collection of essays titled Freedom Fallacy: The Limits of Liberal Feminism, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in contemporary feminist issues. Featuring 17 short essays written by academics from across the globe, it’s the kind of book that you can dip in and out of and feel that you’ve learned something important from each time that you do. Over the weekend I delved into Laura Tarzia’s chapter on sexuality, which I’d been looking forward to since my last engagement with the book a couple of weeks ago. Focused on the complex relationship between sexual violence against women and female sexual desire, Tarzia’s chapter raises far more questions than it can possibly answer in a mere nine pages. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

When discussing the relationship between female sexual pleasure and violence in the past I’ve found myself feeling worried that challenging the healthiness of desires that exist outside of my personal experience will lead me to come across as prudish, ignorant, and judgemental of others; or worse, non-feminist. After reading more about it, though, I’ve realised that my concerns aren’t as naive or misplaced as I feared. As Tarzia states, there is a disparity between liberal feminism’s ongoing fight to eradicate sexual violence against women, and its acceptance of degrading sexual practices and experiences as long as they are ‘chosen’ and not unwillingly imposed. This is, of course, an incredibly complex subject to broach, but I strongly believe that it deserves our attention.

The idea that degrading sexual or sex-related experiences can be consented to by women within a patriarchal society is, without doubt, highly paradoxical, and can be further explored when considered in relation to the porn and glamour industries. During a discussion about the proposed discontinuation of Page 3 in The Sun newspaper a few years ago, my partner at the time argued that because the models had chosen to work within the glamour industry their portrayal in the feature wasn’t sexist or degrading. Scrapping Page 3 altogether, he suggested, would pose worrying censorship issues for our publishing industry.

It’s hard to ignore the possibility that our sexual fantasies, behaviours and choices may have been subject to patriarchal influence.

This is an argument that we also often hear in regard to women working within the porn industry and those performing any other work that involves ‘chosen’ objectification or degradation (recent debates surrounding Forumla One’s ‘grid girl’ ban, for example, demonstrate the extent to which the notion of consent in regard to women’s bodies remains a highly contentious issue.) What my partner at the time failed to perceive is the blurry distinction that exists between freedom of expression within the media and the normalised exploitation of women’s bodies (which some of us do willingly participate in). The average annual wage that Page 3 models were able to earn, for example, was not only extremely unstable (ranging from £12000 for beginners to £1M for the very successful), but incredibly modest in comparison to the huge annual profits that their naked bodies helped to rake in for The Sun.

I have personally always been more interested in the reasons behind the choices that women make about their bodies than the fact that they have been granted the autonomy to ‘choose’ in the first place. When we consider the immense power that traditional gender ideals have historically had over women’s lives in both the public and private spheres, it’s hard to ignore the possibility, as Tarzia highlights, that our sexual fantasies, behaviours and choices may have been subject to patriarchal influence. Whether or not a potentially degrading sexual or sex-related experience has been chosen by a woman, in a society founded on masculine ideology the choices that we as women make about our bodies may not always be as freely stumbled upon or empowering as we believe them to be.

In terms of consensual violence against women, BDSM and other such sexual sub-cultures are vital to consider. Existing across gender distinctions and binaries, these sexual practices facilitate the sexual subordination and dominance of both women and men alike. So as well as there being women who desire sexual violence to be inflicted upon them, there are also those who prefer to inflict pain upon their partners. There are also, of course, men within the BDSM and fetish community who desire to be sexually dominated by women, either because they seek to express characteristics that are discouraged in their professional and domestic lives, or because they enjoy seeing women who are routinely disempowered in society take on a different ‘role,’ so to speak. What is evident in all of this is that our sexual preferences and transgressions can be reflective of the power dynamics at play within both our public and private lives.

In a society founded on masculine ideology, the choices that we as women make about our bodies may not always be as freely stumbled upon or empowering as we believe them to be.

Considering also the performative aspect of traditional gender distinctions (within which men play the dominant role), and how this relates to perceptions of power in society, our sexual fantasies and behaviours can be seen to represent far more than simply a gateway to pleasure. In a society which both reveres and rewards men who display (or perform) behaviours that are considered ‘masculine,’ such as sexual prowess, aggression and dominance, it’s possible to see how women (traditionally perceived as less powerful) may be conditioned to both encourage and feel attracted to male violence.

Across the globe women’s bodies are publicly exploited and degraded on a regular basis. And whether it be through magazines, TV shows, films or pornography, we are all of us exposed every day to images that mirror a fundamentally masculine notion of sexuality. Bearing this in mind, an important question to ask is whether exposure to images and behaviours that openly degrade and objectify women has led us to embody and accept as our own sexual fantasies and beliefs that are rooted in misogyny.

I do not pretend to have any clear or definite answers to the questions raised in this article, nor have I intended to cast judgement or shame upon those who identify with the sexual desires and practices alluded to. One thing I am certain of, though, is that difficult and paradoxical as the notion of consent is when it comes to sexual violence and degradation, it is an issue that deserves our attention.

Stamp Duty

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Second class stamps found in the street

During a recent walk home from work I found myself feeling incredibly excited when I stumbled upon four unused second class stamps, the bright blue packet of which stood out against the dirty grey of the pavement like a lotus flower sitting in the mud. Strangely, it was the same level of excitement that I’ve felt on occasions when I’ve found significant amounts of money in the street. Stamps are by no means expensive, of course. But what they represent and what they are able to facilitate is, in my opinion, worth far more than the small amount of money they cost to buy.

When I was eleven years old my family relocated from noisy, polluted, over-crowded London to the very rural village of Hartland in North Devon. In addition to the isolation I experienced due to the profound lack of public transport to and from the village, the most difficult part of moving to the country was the distance it put between my friends and me. In addition to regular phone calls and visits, something that proved incredibly helpful was writing letters to my friends and receiving their replies in the post. This is something that I continued to not only enjoy but find hugely therapeutic throughout my early adolescence, up until the mid naughties when letter writing was sadly replaced with email and social media.

Some may argue that sending emails back and forth does the same job as letter writing in that it connects you to those you love and miss. And for the last ten years or so my main method of corresponding with friends and family has indeed been via the internet. But whilst email and social media has made keeping in touch incredibly quick and easy regardless of distance, writing and receiving handwritten letters facilitates a level of connection that electronic messaging just can’t compete with.

It was the letters that smelled of Indian spices rather than the typed emails I received that made the distance between us feel less significant.

When you receive a handwritten letter you are given an opportunity to learn a little something about the person who sent it. Are their words cramped together or widely spaced? Are the letters long and sweeping or short and compact? Have they scribbled out any spelling mistakes, or strained over perfectly composed sentences? And what about the stationary? Has your pen pal put effort into their chosen paper and ink, or have they made use of whatever they can find? Have they sprayed the letter with their perfume, or enclosed a little gift to make you smile? All of these details work together in a letter to give a real sense of the person who wrote it. When two of my closest friends left the home that we’d been sharing in Bristol to travel India for three months, it was the letters that smelled of Indian spices rather than the typed emails I received that made the distance between us feel less significant.

And there’s something so incredibly enriching about sitting down to physically scribble thoughts on paper; about kissing the sealed and stamped envelope for good luck before it’s dropped into the postbox, and then eagerly checking the mail every day in the hope that a reply has been delivered. It’s the time and effort that it takes, and the feeling of anticipation. It’s the not knowing if your words will make it to their destination, or if the person you’re writing to will take the time to send a reply. Most importantly, though, it’s the sheer joy that arrives along with a letter, and the feeling of closeness that you feel to the person who wrote it when you read their untidy, or neat, or illegible handwriting. Each person’s handwriting is wholly unique to them, and when you open a letter you touch the very same paper that the writer has touched. No matter how eagerly anticipated, or beautifully composed, emails can never achieve this level of intimacy.

The last time I sat down to write a letter was in 2015 when I was crowdfunding for my post-graduate tuition fees and sent letters of thanks to those who’d donated. Not since my own trip to India in 2010 have I written a letter to a friend just for the sake of it. What better excuse is there than finding a packet of stamps in the street?

Unlocking the Language of Loss

Door
Photo credit: laurabillings via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Before my dad died a few months ago, I had never experienced the loss of a close relative. I had, of course, been exposed to the grieving process through friends and family members who’s loved ones have passed away, but never had I felt the full weight of loss myself. Something that I’ve come to understand over the last few months is that, profound and consuming as grief is when it hits, it is by no means easy to articulate in words.

Part of the reason why grief is so difficult to talk about, I think, is that death itself is something that many of us are scared of, and that most of us try hard not to think about too much. And, unlike other emotional experiences such as love and joy, which are always welcome and even yearned for in their absence, grief is something that we hope to encounter as little as possible.

When we do think about death and losing those we care about, our thoughts tend to focus on feelings of sadness. But grief, I now understand, encompasses many other, sometimes conflicting, emotions. When I found out that my dad had died, and when I was told how it had happened, I felt deeply sad and disappointed that he’d decided his life wasn’t worth holding on to. On the other hand, however, I felt a huge sense of relief, not only that he was finally at peace after years of emotional turmoil, but that his often careless words and behaviour could no longer hurt those who loved him.

Unable to fully articulate my feelings in words, I’ve had to find other means of tapping into and expressing my grief.

Along with these conflicting sentiments came additional feelings of guilt, anger and shame, and to rationalise all of this was and still is incredibly difficult. Unable to fully articulate my feelings in words, I’ve had to find other means of tapping into and expressing my grief. One of the most powerful tools that I’ve discovered so far is, perhaps unsurprisingly, music.

Lebanese-born poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran famously described music as ‘The language of the spirit.’ Only now can I fully appreciate this assertion. Feeling particularly low whilst travelling from Bristol to my dad’s wake in London last month, I remembered a piece that was first introduced to me during a yoga class last summer. I don’t often attend yoga classes, and I wouldn’t describe myself as an overtly spiritual person. But the first time I heard ‘The End of Suffering′ (produced by Gary Malkin) in the tranquil setting of the Pyrenees I couldn’t help feeling both soothed and enlightened by its gentle percipience. Listening to it through my headphones on the crowded Megabus that day, its effect was just as evocative and enduring.

Where the words to articulate how I feel about my dad’s suicide often escape me, this piece of music speaks a language that my heart understands, mirroring through its poetry the complexity of grief to open, reach in and draw out of me all the pain that rationality can’t understand.

Like my dad, I’ve always held a deep appreciation for music. Never did I imagine that I would find such comfort and catharsis in a single piece. 

Those interested in guided meditation can listen here to a second version of ‘The End of Suffering’ featuring additional spoken word by a Buddhist monk.

Standing Up for Singledom

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The unmarried goddess Ishtar – photo credit: neilalderney123 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Like most, if not all, people I know, I was raised to believe that being in a loving committed relationship is something that I should not only want, but actively seek out. And, like everyone I know, I have experienced a great deal of joy and pain in both the pursuit and attainment of romantic love. A few years ago I entered into my first serious relationship with someone I cared deeply about. However, like many couples I’ve known over the years, our love didn’t last,  and just four years after getting married we decided to break up.

Before entering into this partnership I had been single for several years, and I was very independent as a result. With only myself to think about, I did whatever I wanted whenever I liked, and enjoyed spending time with whoever I pleased. But rather than appreciating the independence that being single afforded me, all I could think about at the time, and all I wanted in fact, was to be somebody’s girlfriend.

Part of the problem with being single is that we’re constantly reminded how undesirable it is. And this is especially true if you happen to be female: if you’re a single woman having sex then you’re likely to be thought of as a slut, a sexual conquest, or a ‘home wrecker.’ And if you’re not, the chances are you’ll be perceived as sad and lonely, or labelled a frigid spinster (God forbid you’re a cat-lover too!) One has only to think of popular films and TV shows like Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually, How to be Single, and Sex and the City to realise just how pervasive these stereotypes are.

Everywhere I turn there seems to be some hint to the idea that single people are not as happy or content as those lucky souls who have found ‘the one.’

Some might argue that single women are beginning to be portrayed in a more positive light in the media. And whilst this is true, it’s also fair to say that there’s still a lot of work to be done. Bar a few examples, including (suprisingly) the 2012 Disney Pixar film, Brave, in which teenage Princess Merida saves herself from being married off against her will, the ‘damsel in distress’ and ‘happy ever after’ tropes that we’re all so familiar with are, unfortunately, still very much the norm.

However, the perceived undesirability of singledom isn’t only strengthened through our engagement with films, TV shows and books; it’s also reinforced by certain friends and family members who persist in asking whenever they see us whether we’re seeing anyone yet. In fact, everywhere I turn there seems to be some hint to the idea that single people are not as happy or content as those lucky souls who have found ‘the one.’

But being single isn’t always an unhappy experience. For some, including myself at the moment, it’s a perfectly worthwhile and valid choice. Since coming out of my last relationship I’ve been hugely grateful for the freedom and autonomy that being single offers. It isn’t a sad or lonely experience, nor is it characterised by an increased appetite for casual sex with strangers. For me, being without a partner is an enriching and stress-free experience which offers a multitude of learning opportunities. And, most importantly, it’s exactly what I need right now.

And this isn’t to say that I don’t hope to one day meet someone who enjoys my company enough to want to share their life with me—being in a happy and healthy relationship would, of course, be lovely at some point. However, for the time being (and potentially for the rest of my life if this never happens) I’m perfectly content being single, getting to know myself, and learning to feel adequate and complete just as I am.

Should you happen to find yourself wondering whether your single friend or family member has found someone yet, I beg you to reconsider whether this is an important question to ask.