Niece No. 2, aka my God-Niece, updated her status on Facebook this morning and has not been back to elaborate. Her status currently declares that she “never wants to be a parent”.
Never is a pretty long time. I’m intrigued, and looking forward to asking her what brought this on when I see her next. She’s coming to spend a week with me “doing nothing” on the beach next month. I’m sure it will be an illuminating conversation!
It started me thinking, though, about all the reasons I’ve had over the years for not wanting to have children. All these years, I’ve given the impression that it does boil down to that simple, declarative statement – I never wanted to be a parent. But in reality, nothing is ever that simple.
Growing up, my dolls were never really my babies – they were my friends. I never clamored to be the mother whenever the kids in my neighborhood played “house”. I just never had the drive toward motherhood when I was little.
I was babysitter of choice in my neighborhood when I became a teenager. The kids adored me, and I them. I wrote fabulous tales of adventure and heroism, and put them in starring roles in these epics. I played the best games, and kept their secrets while still keeping them out of harm’s way. I was their friend and guide – but NEVER their mother-figure.
In my late teens, I indulged in a little pipe-dreaming with a particular boy (yes, THAT boy) about “some day” and how it would be when we established our home and our family together – right down to “two cats in the yard”. The scenario included a vague quantity of children, at least two judging from a sketch he drew for me one time. At this point, though, I feel it fair to point out that for me, it really WAS dreaming; I felt very little real identification with the possibility that it could actually come true. At 17-18 years of age, I’d already had a number of experiences that taught me the rug would be ripped out from under me as soon as I became comfortable and happy, so I don’t think I ever actually believed that “some day” would manifest into reality.
Later in life, I had what turned out to be an ill-fated marriage, to someone else. But in the beginning, when I still had every intention of going through life with him, I picked out names; Julie for a girl (Julianna, actually, like the queen of the Netherlands) and Jordan for a boy. This was a nod to the name of the female lead in the musical Carousel. It was my first role after starting to study with Gloria, a radical departure from the roles I’d been playing – I’d learned how to sing like an ingenue. I thought it was neat that “Julie Jordan” had two first names instead of a first and a last. Anyway – eventually, I accepted that I was married to the wrong person, and actively sought to prevent the manifestation of children. I believed he would not pull his weight as a parent; he wasn’t pulling his weight as a partner, and I saw no reason to believe a baby would change any of that. I already felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being an adult, having a household to tend to along with a full time job and a budding stage career. I felt responsible for everything, and I didn’t see the sense in adding to those responsibilities.
I recognized, fortunately, that many men want children for the same reason they’d like a Porsche in the garage. They love being able to brag about having one, but they want nothing to do with the maintenance. I further recognized that a woman who is married to this sort of man is in for 18 years (minimum) of indentured servitude, self-sacrifice and subjugation of all her wants, needs and desires, always putting the needs of the children first, never getting an assist.
I grew up in a very restrictive environment. I didn’t get to make the simplest of decisions for myself; everything was controlled to the nth degree. I had no say in the clothes I wore, the way I styled my hair, the friends I was allowed to have…. no freedom of choice at all. I was tired of external sources dictating every little detail of everything for me. I wanted freedom. The idea of living under restrictions again was not at all appealing.
I feared that, under virtual single-parent conditions, I would become resentful and miserable. This would leak over onto the children. I’d been on the receiving end of something similar. I knew what it was to really hate being treated that way.
Bottom line: I knew it would break my heart to have any child of mine hurt so badly that they would come to hate me. I could not bear the thought of it. I’d been trying to prepare myself for a long time to not make the same mistakes my parents did. I started a diary at age 13 or so, for the express purpose of never forgetting what it is like to be a kid. I thought that would help me to be a better parent. Probably, it would have. Definitely, under the “some day” scenario, with the right partner, it would have worked. But once I piled the wrong partner on top of my fears that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… there was no way I was going to introduce children into the scenario. They would only suffer for it.
So, all these years, many of you reading this have had the understanding that I didn’t WANT children. That is not necessarily the whole truth. As is typical for me, I knew far better what I didn’t want. What I didn’t want was to feel used and trapped. What I didn’t want was to make children who were destined to suffer and to resent me for it. What I didn’t want was to gift someone with a Porsche that I would then be forced to maintain solo.
God is good. Some women who go through chemo lose their ability to reproduce. I was 33 when they finally decided that those episodes whereby my head felt like it was spinning into orbit were actually hot flashes, and that meant I was entering menopause. I was not a candidate for estrogen replacement, because that’s what my tumor ate for a living – estrogen. Therefore, I believe that God picked the right person to visit with this condition. It would have been a real tragedy if God had picked a woman who would have been devastated by infertility. From that perspective, I’m glad God chose me. And it really kind of settled the question once and for all. Want or not want, it was moot – “can’t” was now the operative word, and aside from a mild twinge now and then, I’ve really been ok with it, with the finality of it.
All of this led to my ability to focus some individualized attention (not to mention disposable income) in the direction of my nieces. And now I’m wondering if it also led to an example being set for them of an alternative option. Even growing up in the 60s and being exposed to media coverage of “women’s liberation”, Gloria Steinem, fish having no need of bicycles, etc., I still had some notion that one grew up and got married and had children because that’s what one did. I’m sure the extremely conservative way in which I was raised contributed to that; my parents often said that a young woman did not leave her parents house unless it was to move into her husband’s house.
This hasn’t been true for my nieces, thankfully. They actually get to leave the house and go away to college – without first having to get married! Although I would never want to discourage them from having a family if that’s what they wanted, I do hope that my life has somehow served to let them know that a person can be legitimately productive and happy leading an alternative lifestyle, that there is another choice besides wife and mother. There’s the choice to be childless. When I ask about the mysterious Facebook status update, I might find that this is the case, or I might find that she was just in a very bad mood. Either way – it’s satisfying to know that there are children in this world whom I love, that I’ve not made them suffer and they don’t hate me :) So maybe it was the right choice after all.