Jessica Burnell -5 March 2015
I am about to tell you something that may shock you. Are you ready? Are you sitting down? Okay.
I do not want children.
Now let me be clear, it’s not that I don’t want children right now. It’s not that I don’t want children until after I’m married, or after I’ve paid off my student loan debt, or after I’ve bought a house. There is no caveat to this statement.
I do not want children ever.
If I’m being totally honest, that’s largely because I don’t like children. I’m not good with them. I have spent my whole life as an only child and have utterly loved every minute of being sibling-less. I could be the poster girl for only child syndrome: spoiled, achievement-oriented, impatient, etc. And as such, I don’t really have a ton of experience with children. I’ve never even held a baby (and no, I don’t want to hold yours, thanks for asking). And so, I’m extremely awkward around them. I have no idea how to interact with a child younger than 12. Children are a mystery to me.
My only child-ness has also made me equal parts introverted and selfish. This is, admittedly, not a great combination if you have to sacrifice your own needs and want to constantly care for another, smaller human being who can’t fend for itself yet. And I have no desire to change these things about myself. It’s who I am, and I like who I am. I like the life I have and the childless life I envision for myself in the future.
Now, none of this is meant to be a knock against folks who do want children. If that’s what you want to do, then you should do it. Parenthood is a phenomenal thing that makes so many feel fulfilled and happy. And that’s great, but it’s not for everyone.
We live in a society — in a world, really — where it is assumed that the default desire of women is to have children. Producing offspring is supposedly so hardwired into not only who a woman is, but also who she is supposed to be, so that if she doesn’t want to have kids, there must be something wrong with her. She has deviated from the societal norm regarding what is expected of her, and therefore she’s defective. She’s less than other women who do wish to take advantage of their reproductive systems. Or she is, simply, wrong about what she wants. She clearly does not know her own mind, and if given enough time (and, perhaps, enough patronizing lectures about how a “real” woman is naturally supposed to want children) she will change it. And if you think I am being hyperbolic about any of this, you have clearly never been a woman who has expressed a desire to remain child-free out loud. Believe me, I have encountered all of this rhetoric at one time or another.
There are, rather obviously, a number of things wrong with these stereotypical notions of who women should be and what they should want (thanks, patriarchy). I am convinced that there are few things more frustrating in this world than expressing how you feel, and then being told you are, actually, incorrect. The response I’ve been given the most often when I tell someone I don’t want kids is immediately “Oh, you’re young. You’ll change your mind.” Full disclosure: I’m 22. And yes, I’m still young, but that doesn’t automatically mean I’m incapable of coming to a mature, well-reasoned conclusion about who I am and what I want for my life, you know what I’m saying? The casual dismissal of something you know to be absolutely true about yourself is infuriating at best, and dehumanizing at worst. Let us also acknowledge not only the vast amount of sexism contained within these ideas, but also the cissexism embedded in them as well. Not all women can have children, and not all people who can have children are women. Gender stereotypes like these end up being all the more harmful because they refuse to operate outside of a binary that winds up being exclusionary to the many folks who don’t neatly fit into it.
Throughout my teenage years and now into my early twenties, as I became more and more certain about wanting to remain childless, I unwittingly internalized a lot of these ideas about who I was supposed to be as a woman, and what I was supposed to be wanting and feeling. There’s all this talk about maternal instincts women of childbearing age feel and how they begin yearning to start a family. I wasn’t feeling anything of the sort. I recoiled inside at the thought of having a child instead of being filled with this warm, wistful glow. I didn’t understand. What was wrong with me?
Then, about a year ago, I slowly began to come around to a surprising revelation:
There is absolutely nothing wrong with me.
I do not want to have children, and that’s okay. As it turns out, not wanting kids will absolutely not make me “less” of a woman. I am not defective. I am not wrong. I know my own mind. I have intrinsic value as a singular, autonomous person, and that value is not contingent upon me using my body to produce another person. Wanting to be child-free does not make me any better or worse of a human being than any other person who does choose to have children. It’s just a choice I’ve made about my own life. It’s no less valid a choice than the choice to become a mother. And that, to me, gets at the real heart of feminism: being granted the freedom to make choices for myself without judgment.
Now, if you happen to know any good cats that need homes, call me. I’m positively nuts about cats.
Jessica Burnell works for a think tank in Washington, D.C. She enjoys yoga, ranting about the patriarchy, obsessing over her cat, Alex, and constantly re-watching The West Wing.