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.