I have a full happy life. I’m very fortunate. I also don’t have children. And honestly, I don’t feel like something is missing from my life because of that. I’ve never questioned that. At least not until recently.
Recently, it was brought to my attention that by not having children at my age, I’m selfish. That dumbfounded me, especially since “selfish” isn’t something that I’ve ever even considered myself to be or something that anyone had previously called me. See, I never consciously decided not to have kids, but I’ve also never had the ingrained instinctive desire to have a child that I believe many mothers possess. In other words, my biological clock has never ticked. And if I’ve never felt that urge to have children then how could I possibly consider taking on the life-long commitment of being someone’s parent? I thought that was called being responsible.
I’ve never felt guilty or bad about not having children. I’ve also never felt pressure from my family or peers to procreate. It’s just how things have turned out for me. While my friends were getting married and starting families in their 20s, I was exploring the world and all that it had to offer. Besides working and caring for my pets, I lived a care-free life.
By the time I hit 30, most of my friends had married and were trying for their second children. I was in a long-term relationship with someone who shared my passion for travel, exploring, and adventure. How could we possibly do all the things we wanted to and be responsible for a child at the same time? One of us would be missing out (us or the child) and what kind of parents would we be if we had regrets about things not done. From what I’ve learned, missed opportunities are usually the things we wind up regretting the most. And how could we teach someone to follow their heart and dreams if we didn’t do that ourselves?
Now at 36, having checked off a chunk of things on my bucket list, I’m still in the same committed relationship, and children still haven’t found their way into our home. It’s become our norm, and I’ve taken that for granted.
In the past month, the topic of being childless has come up several times in different circles. More so recently than it ever has in my life in fact. And truthfully, something that I’d never really spent a lot of time thinking about has suddenly become all I think about lately. I continually have an internal dialogue going on with myself. Why don’t I have kids? I like kids–but do I actually want one? Am I less of a woman for not having children? Am I really just being selfish?
When my best friend called me irate that she had just had the battle royal with her family about being married and not having kids yet, I didn’t know what to think exactly. Having never had experienced this kind of invasion of privacy, I wasn’t really sure how to respond. In this day and age, I didn’t actually think these conversations went on anymore. And the theme of the conversation came down to basically, that being our age and choosing not to have children just makes us selfish. It was as if having a child outweighs all the other life accomplishments. Never mind that my bestie is super smart and educated, or that she started her own business, or that she bought her own home all by herself, or that she’s happily married or one of the most all-around amazing people I’ve ever met. Apparently, all those things take second string to being a mother according to some perspectives. And forget the fact that maybe she’s not even sure she’s ready to be a parent or that she may rather wait until she is more financially secure, or what if, God forbid, she and her husband couldn’t have children. How does any of that translate to being selfish?
The whole conversation left me feeling overwhelmed and a little off balance. I wanted to chalk it up to being a generational thing and forget about it. But then I had a random conversation with my step-mom. She’s in her early 60s and never had children of her own. I’ve never asked her why because honestly “the why” never seemed important, and it’s really none of my business. She chose career and travel and the experiences that come with that over having a family. She was telling me that to this day, people still ask her, “How come?” That blew my mind. Really, what possible answer could she give that would satisfy someone that was so invading to ask that in the first place. The decision to have or not have children is such a personal one that should only be discussed by the people involved in the choosing process. It’s not a matter of public opinion. It’s a private, intimate, life-altering choice.
And so after thinking, analyzing, questioning my choices, and replaying both conversations in my head, I had to ask myself, why don’t I have kids? And the answer, well, because I just don’t. It hasn’t been in the cards I’ve been dealt up to this point. I know that as time ticks on, my options become more limited, but I’m not really bothered by that. Do I want kids someday? I truly don’t know. Maybe–but my guess is probably not. I’m happy being the “cool aunt” to my sister’s children and an amazing pet parent to my four-legged brood. I’ve never had the innate desire to be somebody’s human mom. Of course, the thought has crossed my mind over the years, but it’s always fleeting. And that’s a better argument for me not to have a child than it is to have one.
Do I feel like I’m less of a woman for not having children? Just because I’ve never had a child doesn’t make my experience as a woman any less worthy. Women become mothers in different ways all the time, and a lot of mothers never birth children. Like life experiences, some people can relate to yours and others can’t. The same is true for the experience of motherhood. Not all motherhood is the same. Just because it’s not your experience doesn’t lessen it to those who’ve had it first hand.
And lastly, am I really selfish? Really? I don’t think so. To me, that word implies a choice for one’s self-interest. My choice not to have a child is no more selfish than the women who decides, “I want one.” They’re both just choices. Simple as that. When it comes down to it, we’re all just trying to make the best choices for ourselves to live the lives of our dreams. And that’s not selfish…it’s inspiring.
Also by Danielle: Aging Gracefully in Your Thirties
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Photo: Brooke Cagle via Unplash