I have a friend who, at eighteen, knew she did not want children. It had seemed a radical thought at the time and I remember being alarmed by the possibility of not having children. I guess I had had quite the conventional upbringing, where getting married and having children was seen as part of the future, even if having a career was seen as the first part. And yet, I believed her, even understood her, as everyone else thought that the problem would be cured once her maternal instincts kicked in.
They never did. Needless to say, the “problem” remained. Maternal instincts and ticking of the metaphorical biological clock didn’t do the trick. She remained uncured, much to the dismay, and befuddlement, of the society around her. To her luck, she moved away from India, and that made her life much easier. She didn’t have to face the constant barrage of questions about the biological limitations that plagued her or her husband (aunty-types, as we well know, have no tact and believe that asking personal questions is their absolute right). The belief is that if you don’t have kids, it absolutely must be because of a reproductive shortcoming. The fact that a couple could, willingly and quite happily, not want children is unfathomable to society in general. And this does not include only aunty-types, but, scarily, even those who you would could pass off as being more liberal and open minded.
Now, when I get asked about this particular friend, the question is still along the lines of her progeny, or the lack of them. I am rarely asked how she is doing at work, or anything else. There is always this underlying need to get to the bottom of the deep-seated psychological problem that led to “not even trying to have children” (as one person put it).
I was eighteen when I met this friend. I am now in my early forties, as is she. She’s remained true to her feelings and not once has she either dithered or (and this is what really confuses the hell out of people) regretted her decision. I have always marveled at how she knew, that early in life, what it meant to have children. How did she know what a life-changing event it was and how the angst of wanting to live your life and the guilt of not attending to your kids are always at logger heads? I didn’t know any of this at eighteen. Hell, I didn’t know it at twenty-five. But she did.
“I don’t have it in me”, she always said. “I want to be able to get up, read, watch a film, work and travel when I want. Children just don’t fit into my life”. I remember having long, philosophical talks with her as we both went through our twenties and thirties – I wanted children, she didn’t, and we both respected the other’s point of view. Even then, there was a part of me that understood her, despite my own conventional feelings about having a family.
Now, after having kids, I understand her all the more. She lives far away from me now. But I often think about what she told me at eighteen, more than twenty years ago. And how true it all was.
Don’t get me wrong. Just like her, I too have no regrets. I would still marry the man I did and have the children when I had them. But that does not change the fact that having children requires dedication and putting your life, or rather what you may, ideally, want to do with your life aside for a while. And yes, that’s part of the process – of enjoying your children and giving up something in return. Except that more and more I find that women are being open about the fact that they feel an immense amount of angst as they have to, constantly, steer their lives around those of their children. Which is fine for those women who want to do it, but for those who don’t – they are choosing to not have children and live their lives the way they want.
To me it sounds logical. Having children an irreversible, life-changing event. And it should not be done just because it seems to be the natural next step. If you cannot make the changes (and changes there are!) when a child is born, then it’s better to think about it, rather than blindly go into it. Most of humanity just falls into it and then tries to figure it out. In the process, some of us end up psychologically harming our kids as we blame them for our failures and the course our lives took, for no fault of theirs. I know too many women who have scarred their children, as they plodded through the domestic abyss of their lives, wishing for another existence and, albeit unintentionally, directing their anguish onto their children.
There are no simple answers I know. But I do commend women who know their minds and stick to their decisions. My friend is one of them. And the reason she knew this at eighteen was very simple – she has a mother who married young, with rosy ideas about her future, which didn’t turn out quite the way she had imagined it to be. She could not accept her role as “only a mother” and proceeded to become bitter and resentful of her life. She had a nervous breakdown at forty because she thought that life had passed her by. This is when my friend was eighteen.
It takes no genius to know who bore the brunt of the mother’s bitterness.
Crabbymommy writes about the not-so-cute side of parenting. She like to say it as it is, which usually does not make her popular. She’s a writer, blogger and a works as a content head in a company . You can find more of her writings at mommyrage.com