“Do you want kids?” It’s a question that might get thrown out by a friend, or a parent. You might get asked over dinner with your family—or, worse, your significant other’s family—as you begin to break out in a sweat.
“Uh, maybe? I’m not sure yet.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure?” “Oh you’ll come around once your biological clock starts ticking!” “I didn’t want kids at your age either but now I have three!” “Don’t worry, you’ll change your mind” “How sad it would be if you spent your twilight years all alone with no one to take care of you…”
Yikes. It seems like everyone these days has an opinion about having kids, whether it be family members insisting your life isn’t complete without them, or friends on the opposite side of the spectrum insisting having them will ruin your life and your lady parts FOREVER. It seems there’s little room for a middle ground. There’s people who insist their life didn’t have meaning before kids and there are people who insist having kids takes away all sense of independence, career advancement, and of course, sleep. So how the heck does one figure out which side they are on?
Well I can’t give you an answer there, but I can tell you that there are plenty of people out there who are on the fence about it as well, and it’s okay if you are too.
When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a mother of three. I knew exactly what they would look like and what their names would be: Christopher Alexander, with blonde hair and brown eyes; Charlotte Rae, with light brown hair and green eyes; and Timothy James, with jet black hair and blue eyes. They had their own personalities too; Chris was the athlete, Charlotte was the brains, and Timmy was my adorable, sensitive, precious lil mamma’s boy. (They were pretty much the kids from The Chronicles of Narnia.)
I knew what I wanted. But then I grew up. I started realizing having kids wasn’t the fairytale or choose-your-own-genetics adventure I imagined it being when I was younger. Kids are exhausting and hard to please. My nieces and nephews were going from adorable and easy to amuse, to talkative and full of energy I couldn’t keep up with. My college girlfriends talked about wanting careers over kids and I began to think of motherhood as an unfair sacrifice of my independence and sense of self, a sacrifice that only women had to make. I began to view it as impossible to pursue my career goals and also to be financially and emotionally stable enough to be a mother. I not only began to think motherhood wasn’t the right choice for me, but it maybe wasn’t even what I wanted.
Soon I was entirely against having kids. There’s was no way I was going to let someone talk me into giving up my career, my sanity, my body, and my sleep for the sake of repopulating an already overpopulated planet.
Then I took some women’s studies courses. I grew up even more and began unlearning the sexist and heteronormative “women can’t have it all” idea that many of us had been taught. Motherhood didn’t have to ruin my career. Plenty of mothers still work and have amazing careers when they have partners that actually share in the responsibility of parenting and housework.
Motherhood didn’t have to ruin my sanity. Breakdowns happen but can be gotten through with love and support and glasses of wine. Motherhood didn’t have to ruin my body. Bodies heal, nothing is “ruined” about having a mother’s body, and you’ll have the strongest badass bragging rights ever for pushing a human out of you. (Like, I literally can’t think of anything more strong a human being can do. Mothers are amazing.)
The not getting sleep thing may be true but that’s what taking turns with nighttime feedings and going on weekend vacations while you drop the kid off at grandma’s are for!
Basically I realized that there are lots ways of doing motherhood, despite what we’ve been taught it is. The old view of motherhood (quitting your job, staying at home, doing all the child care, cooking, cleaning, and domestic work) isn’t the only options for mothers if that’s not what you want. Plenty of women have been forgoing “traditional motherhood” for years (including my own mother and pretty much all the women in my family). And even though that pressure still lingers somehow in American consciousness and societal expectations, you don’t have to follow it. Sure, if that’s your dream life, go for it. But if you’re like me and want a fulfilling career, love your independence, and doing domestic work by yourself makes you want to light yourself on fire then don’t worry, you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to follow societal expectations.
You’re also not an “ice queen” for having a career and not staying at home. More recently, we’ve gotten the message that you’re either a 1950’s stay at home mom or an “ice queen” whose only true love is work. But you don’t have to be that either. You can have a career and be involved in your kids lives. You can be a loving mother and have a job. Fathers have been doing it for decades.
You also don’t have to be a modern woman on the verge of insanity trying to do all of the things it took two people to do before all at once (even more recent trope). The solution to not wanting to be a Stepford wife shouldn’t be to try to be both at the same time. It should be to parent how you want to parent and to ignore the boxes people will try to put you in. Besides, being a mother and having a job is totally doable if you have a partner who pulls their own weight (which every woman deserves).
You also don’t have to been seen as a “failure who can’t provide for their family” if you want to be a stay at home dad. You don’t have to listen to heteronormative narrative that only straight couples should have kids. You don’t have to be seen as less of a parent if your only option is adoption. You’re not less of a woman if you can’t bear children. You’re not less of a man if you want to. You’re not a bad parent if you’re not conforming to one gender or another. You’re not a bad parent for being who you are.
The overall lesson here? You can do what you want.
If you want a career and have your partner stay at home, you can do that. If you want/need both parents to work and have your child be at daycare while you guys work, you can do that. If you want to be a stay at home mom who’s life is dedicated to improving the next generation, you can do that. If you’re a rockstar who’s recording a song you can have nannies for groupies to watch the lil rockstar and have breastfeeding breaks instead of cigarette breaks. If you’re a writer you can have a play pen in your office space. If you’re an actor you can spend daytime with baby and get a baby sitter for evenings. However you want to do things, you can. You don’t have to follow anyone else’s mold but your own.
Of course, not every parent has the financial flexibility to create their dream schedule. Some parents would love to stay at home but can’t, some can’t afford sitters or nannies, some don’t have to support of a loving partner or family. Being able to be the type of parent you want to be is a privilege that not everyone has. But if you have a financial and emotional support to create your parenthood how you like it, do it. Do it for all the people that can’t, all the people who weren’t allowed to, all the people who were pressured out of it.
Be the type of parent you want to be. And love your baby. That’s all you have to do.
As for me, I relearned that I do want a kid someday. And I want a career. And I want to get traveling in there too. I now know that my misgivings about motherhood had more to do with patriarchal expectations than my own personal feelings. Sure kids take up a ton of time and energy and childbirth scares the shit out of me (as it does to literally any woman in labor who has to go) but I’m pretty sure that as long as I have an egalitarian partner and a network of support I’ll be fine. And if I change my mind, that’s okay too.
It’s okay to be unsure. It’s just okay. Even if you’re dating someone who is sure, it’s okay to be unsure. It’s your choice to make, and it’s their choice to be with someone who’s still figuring it out. It’s okay if you’re not on the same page yet. It’s okay if you are. It’s okay to whisper “i never want kids” under your breath when a toddler has a tantrum in the grocery store, even if you don’t mean it. It’s okay to say you want kids and change your mind after watching a live-birth. It’s okay to go back and forth. It’s a complicated decision with a ton of huge pros and cons to weigh. In my opinion, you’re doing the right thing to allow yourself to be unsure instead of rushing into a decision you’re not ready for. You’re doing a good thing by thinking about it. It’s okay.