Why Kids? The Great Debate
Last week, I wrote a post about my conversation with a friend who doesn’t want kids. I talked about how when she told me this it was like she was speaking a foreign language. One that I barely understood. No kids? Never? Never ever? No kids. Ever, she confirmed. Okay. I was a tad anxious about publishing the post because I am well aware that this kids/no kids topic is a thicket of controversy. Thankfully, my anxiety didn’t paralyze me (this time). I published. And waited (like we bloggers do) for the comments to roll in. (Or not roll in. Sob.) And roll in, they did. Amazing comments. Diverse voices. Strong opinions.
I was thrilled at the participation, but more than that I was thrilled at the continuum of reactions. I was heartened by the gentleness, the unanticipated diplomacy, the conspicuous open-mindedness. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who chimed in who: (a) are not parents; and (b) do not plan to be. Don’t get me wrong. I love parents. I am a parent. This is my world. But. These comments from members of the human species who do not have wee ones (and do not crave wee ones) underscored the fact that this blog, however young and sprightly and scattered, appeals to an audience broader than moms. Yay. This blog is not just reaching clones of Aidan! This is exactly what I want. Depth. Diversity. Grays.
But something struck me about the content of these comments. Something upset me. That something? The vast majority of those who declared that they do not want kids also stated that they are constantly asked to justify this life choice to others. I can’t imagine this. Frankly, I am quite the mainstream cliché. I went to college, then law school, then started my career, then married, then popped out a couple of (freakishly cute) kids. No one has asked me to justify my path. Ever. (Wait, not entirely true. A few people asked me to justify the whole novel writing dream. You know who you are.)
Part of me is thankful that no one has asked me why I have made the decisions I have made because, well, I have no idea what I would say. I would stumble and bumble. If I were being honest, I would probably mutter something along the lines of: “Well, I have done these things because these are prudent things, these are things people do. I have done these things because I wanted to. Wait, yeah, I think I wanted these things because these are things people want, right?” Sad. Circular. Utterly unoriginal. Hardly compelling.
Part of me is angry that no one ever asked. School. Career. Marriage. Parenthood. These are big things. Huge. Emotionally and financially taxing. These are major existential steps along the way. And because I chose to navigate a more “mainstream” path, no one took me by the shoulders and asked that all-important question: Why? Why do you want these things? Do you want these things?
So now I will. I will pick one relevant topic: Kids. I will ask this question of myself. Why did I want to have kids? To heed parental or societal expectations? To be less lonely? To continue a legacy? To fulfill a perceived biological destiny? To find meaning? To be a kid again? To escape a high-wattage career? To settle down? Because kids are so deliciously cute? (They are.)
Why did I want to have kids? And why do I want more? (Two, Husband.)
And now I will sit here and sweat and scramble for the answers I don’t have. Ones I’ve never needed to have.
And while I mull this over, I will ask you this same question and I apologize if it makes you uncomfortable. Like it or not, this blog is not a saccharine space where you are invited to roll around in baby pictures and cutesy stories. In this space, you are not meant to feel safe. No. Here, in this virtual classroom, my job is to shake you up, to make you think, to make you doubt what you think you know. To call on you when you’re least prepared. Here, I am going to ask questions. Hard ones. Of me. And of you.
And if you are brave, you will answer these questions. Or at least try to.
If you are a parent, why did you choose to have kids? If you would like kids someday, why?
And now, again, I will publish this. And wait. For you to say something. Anything. And while I wait for your words, I will think about this question, this important question that’s too rarely uttered, and when the time is right, I will try to answer it too.